Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pedals and Shoes

Noobies to cycling often comment on the fact that higher end bicycles, particularly road bikes, are usually offered without pedals. I mean, those bikes are a lot of money so why don't you get any pedals?

The thing is that most people who are purchasing bikes at this level will already have a favourite pedal/shoe system which they prefer and people new to serious cycling will be advised of their options.

But what's wrong with a pair of sneakers? You can use straps and cages if you want to be a bit more serious, can't you?

Well yes ... and every cyclist knows of some guy who regularly rides Centuries on his dad's old Schwinn with  pair of Hush Puppies. But modern, clipless pedal/shoe systems are an aid to security, efficiency and safety for most riders.

The most common preconception is that your feet are clamped onto the bike and it's hard to release them. Most pedal systems are adjustable so that it is easy to get your feet out with a little practise. In fact, it's rather easier than getting out of the old cage and strap systems.

But these systems will improve contact between you and the bike, enabling better control and greater pedalling efficiency and comfort.

There are basically two families of cycling pedal/shoe systems; mountain bike and road.

Mountain bike systems usually have a cleat which is up inside the shoes sole, which also has a deep tread for coping with mud an giving a degree of grip. The pedals are double-sided and designed to clear mud and debris to prevent them clogging up.

Road pedals usually have a much larger cleat which protrudes from the bottom of the shoe and a single-sided pedal which spreads the load on the foot more widely.

Mountain bike pedals are frequently used by road riders because they have one significant advantage; it's possible to walk reasonably normally in the shoes. Road shoes make you walk a bit like a duck because of the large cleat which sticks out from the sole. So why use road pedals at all? Well the larger size means the sole of the shoe can be much stiffer so spreads the load on your foot better and the shoe flexes less.

More expensive road shoes tend to have more rigid soles made of carbon fibre or other advanced composites. Mountain bike shoes, by their nature, tend to be more flexible.

Why is a more rigid sole more efficient on a road ride? Imagine spending a couple of hours flexing a bike shoe with your hands ... maybe 80-100 times a minute. That's how much energy which will be absorbed by your shoes instead of being transmitted direct to the pedals.

So the advantage of using a MTB pedal/shoe combination; it's easier to walk, and you can also use the shoes on your mountain bike.

Road pedal/shoes; pressure is spread over a wider area and soles tend to be much stiffer, making the combination more efficient, but walking is not really an option, other than into the coffee stop ...