I have an online subscription to Bike Radar and one of their recent emails caught my eye with this Header: The Body Mechanic: Stop Pulling Up on Your Pedals
Allow me to get right to the meat of the article as their main reason one of the Body Mechanic’s customers finished a few mountain bike rides over the course of three seasons with the same time…
… Not because of the fact that Duncan is well on the wrong side of 40. Nor because it was achieved despite the significant degenerative changes in his lower back, or his 18-month history of chronic hamstring issues.
The reason this is worth mentioning is that three months ago Duncan ditched clip-in pedals and cleats in favour of flat pedals for all eight of his bikes. Not only have his hamstring and lower back symptoms improved significantly while riding, but, Duncan notes, “I actually climb better without cleats, probably because I am not knackered when I get to the bottom of the climb!
Well the fact that Duncan isn’t knackered at the beginning of a climb with platform pedals but he was with clipless pedals makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and they certainly don’t attempt to answer the question in the article (because you can’t). Interestingly, they point to a study from 1997 that they say showed there was no difference between platform pedals and pedals with toe-clips but that doesn’t get into clipless pedals at all, which are much better that either the platform or toe-clip pedals.
The idea is, of course, that if you don’t pull up with toe-clips you won’t pull up with clipless pedals. Reality is a little different though. Anyone who has used clipless pedals knows it’s much easier to pedal in circles when compared to the old toe-clips. The toe-clips (except the really high-end models) were more to keep you foot over the axle than to give you a means to pull up on the pedal. With one’s feet firmly locked to the pedal as it is with clipless pedals, pulling on the back stroke is a breeze. The point is, this is what they did: “We compared apples and oranges and came to the conclusion that bananas are yummy”.
Now, getting back to reality on the great pedal debate, I can sometimes see where using platform pedals would be beneficial on a mountain bike. Of course, I can think of just as many where clipless pedals are better. For instance, going over roots and rocks (both uphill and downhill) you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. Second, well does there even need to be a second? Actually there does. When I’m climbing ultra-steep hills, I’m talking north of 30%, and still trying to pick a line between the roots and rocks, I can’t even imagine trying to do that without having my feet anchored to the pedals… maybe I should try it some time, just for giggles.
Finally, and this is important – especially to road cycling, it’s too hard to keep your feet properly planted over the pedal axles with platform pedals. I tried this one time because I forgot my cycling shoes at home and I didn’t realize it till I showed up to the club ride. Fortunately one of my friends (who is a mechanic) had a spare pair of platforms in his car… I made it 13 miles with the group before getting fed up with my feet slipping all over the pedals. I will never bother trying that lunacy again. The benefits of being clipped into my road bike while trying to push between a 90 and 110 cadence are beyond reproach.
Now, I have no doubt that I could get used to riding with platforms if I absolutely had to. I could, but I would never bother unless something (chronic hamstring issues maybe) forced me to. Now, does it make sense to stop pulling up on the pedals? Hey, you say tomato…
However, switching to platform pedals, in my estimation, is bat-shit crazy. I’d sooner buy a beach cruiser and try to ride that on Tuesday nights. With the Cat 3 racers on their $8,000 carbon fiber race bikes. In high heels. And a skirt. And a pair of lace panties over my cycling helmet.
There is certainly nothing wrong with platform pedals and when people have mechanical deficiencies in their body (bad knees, bad ankles etc.) they can even make sense, but I’d never trade in my clipless pedals because one other cyclist in an off-season article has back problems.
While we’re on the problems associated with clipless pedals, let’s look at the biggest, and possibly the one, that would prompt someone to write an article that recommends against the single greatest invention to cycling since they put two wheels, a handlebar, a crank, and pedals on a steel frame… Clipless pedals are not a one size, one setting fits all thing. If you’re going to put a lot of hard, fast miles in on a bike, you must have the angles of the cleats dialed in or risk serious injury or deterioration of joints. Mine took about 45 minutes, a laser plumb line and special contraption that shows heel wobble, and a trained professional (expert in the case of the fella who did mine). The idea is not to line the feet up but find the angle that the feet require for the ankles and legs to line up when pedaling. So, a note of caution. If you end a 40 mile ride with sore dogs, you might want to have your cleat angles looked at.
Ed. I should note that in the linked article, the author advised changing the pedals of at least one bike in the stable to platforms… he just went on to rave about one guy who changed all eight of his bikes. I could possibly see one bike of my five, but don’t hold your breath. I love me my clipless pedals.