Choosing a Pedal System
Choosing a pedal system for your bike can be confusing, so here are a few tips which can help you decide what the best pedal will be for your specific needs.
Pedals come in a variety of sizes, shapes and functions and costs.
To start there are basic dual sided flat pedals. These allow the rider to wear any type of shoe; yes even high heels! The pedal is a flat rectangular pedal and the foot can easily be taken off the pedal and placed on the ground for ease and comfort when stopping. The shoe is not attached to the pedal in any way. Sometimes flat pedals can have “cages or straps” attached to them that the toe of the shoe can slip into….generally these are there to help give the ability to pull up in the pedal stroke much like a traditionally “clipped in” pedal system, but without the shoe being directly attached to the pedal. Flat pedals can be an easy and economical pedal to get started.
Shimano created the flat pedal with an SPD cleat on one side and a plain flat pedal surface on the other. This allows for great versatility if you use your bike for many different types of things and may wish to wear a shoe which clips in to provide climbing and power advantages, but unlike a traditional shoe it is also possible to walk in this particular type of SPD shoe. The Shimano SPD cleat can also be a great transition pedal for beginners who are learning and not yet ready for a fully 'clipped in' pedaling style. Flat pedals work best when starting out on a road bike, on beach cruisers, commuter bikes and when first learning to mountain bike. These pedals provide great value for the rider who uses their bike for multi-tasking and fitness.
Once comfortable on your road bike, most riders want to change to a clipped in pedal system, which is sort of confusing in itself if you are new to cycling since they are called 'clipless' pedals. These types of systems allow the rider’s cycling shoe to be directly connected to the pedal. Special cycling shoes are required, so a purchase of shoes, pedals and cleats (usually comes with the pedals) would be necessary. Wearing a road cycling shoe attached to the pedals give the rider the ability to push and pull on the pedal stroke; pushing on the down stroke and pulling on the upstroke. This makes it easier to climb hills as there is a greater ability to generate more power. Road shoes give you the feeling of being “one” with your bike and will keep the foot well supported while maintaining the proper pedal technique. Road cycling shoes are not made to be walked in, so that limits your ability to multi-task if you need to walk any great distance, but hey, you’re riding so no need to walk! Clipless pedal systems start at just over $100 and go up from there, excluding the cost of a cycling shoe, but are well worth the investment as the overall performance will make riding your bike easier and more enjoyable. These systems are easy to care for and are a long life product regardless of the brand if properly cared for.
There are too many different manufacturers of clipped in pedal systems to mention them all but here are a few basics:
Speedplay offers many options in a “dual sided” pedal. These pedals are shaped much like a lollipop and offer the rider the ability to clip their shoe to the pedal on either side. The pedals can be adjusted on how quickly they release and the position adjusted so they are put in a place that provides for your best pedaling performance based on your bike fit and pedaling style. They come in both road and mountain style. The dual sided mechanism gives some added confidence that the rider will be able to press into the cleat easily and begin pedaling without any additional effort or feel the need to look down at the pedal to see if the pedal is in the right position. Note: looking down is never a good move on a bicycle, so with any pedal system learn to clip and out without looking at the pedal.
Shimano offers a number of pedal systems for single sided entry road pedals. These pedals are also clipped in or clipless making the shoe and the pedal one while pedaling. Again, creating optimal pedaling power and adjustability for bike fit and pedaling style. Shimano pedals are easy to use and the pedal naturally flips to the position needed to clip in with a quick flip of the pedal. These pedals also offer a bit wider platform/base and are compatible with almost any road shoe. They also make pedals for mountain bikes.
Other brands that you will find in your local bike shop are: Time, Look, Xpedo, Crank Brothers, Giant, Electra, Ritchey and Wellgo. Your choice of pedal will depend on budget, your style of riding and what type of shoe you choose to wear. Ask your bike shop and friends who ride for advice and suggestions; it’s always great to hear why a rider chose one system over another as it may influence or relate to your riding or be something you may not have thought of as a new rider.
Once you’ve chosen a pedal system it’s important to learn to use it properly to avoid any type of mishaps such as falling or not being able to clip out and stop. Once your bike shop properly installs your pedals and cleats it’s best to get your bike into a stationary trainer and learn to clip in and out making sure the adjustments for ease of release work for you. Cleats need to be properly lubed frequently and the more you use them, the easier it will become to clip in and out. Once you are comfortable on the trainer using the pedals the next step would be to visit a local park and try riding on the grass to practice clipping in and out, starting and stopping in a safe environment. Don’t move on the road until you are sure you can safely ride, pedal, start and stop without worry. It will only take a short time before it becomes second nature to ride with clipless pedals and an even shorter time for you to realize how much better it feels to go uphill with more ease.