Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Tale of Two Pedals

Rambling Preamble

I thought it would be timely to do a post on pedals since our current poll is about pedals ( the should play if you haven't already).

I'm going to take a look at two pedals (and two shoes as well). The thing about pedals, I have discovered, is the shoe type is just as important. Maybe that's one reason one person likes a certain type of pedal and another hates it. There are a lot of variables involved and unless you're using the same exact pedal/shoe/misc combination, it's hard to make any conclusive statements.

First, a little about my personal pedal history. When I started cycling I used typical cheap platform pedals with a rubber platform. Nothing too thrilling. I then tried clips and straps. Better, but I could never get the hang of tightening down the strap while on the move.

THEN, I graduated to big-boy pedals. The ones with shoes with funny cleats and funny looking pedals. As a cyclist, it was a momentous occasion. I was part of the brotherhood of the serious cyclist (sans spandex and shaving legs...I wasn't THAT serious.) There was a certain pride walking around making the clicking sound with your cleats. People would look down at my shoes and make some remark about how serious I was into cycling.

Yes. The tappa-tappa-tappa was a sure sign of cycling gravitas.

Anyways, for about three years that's all I wore. Literally. I had to change my cleats every three months because I rode in them, did groceries in them and on occasion slept in them. The point is, I loved my clipless shoes/sandals.

One fateful ride made me re-evaluate all that. My girlfriend and I did a short three day tour in the central coast and we hit some of the steepest roads we've ever seen. I had a hard time clipping in on these steep roads with a loaded bike and for the first time was reduced to walking my bike up a hill. To make it worse, one particular hill was steep AND rocky (Refugio Road from the Solvang side, if you want to know). The short bits we could ride were heavily rutted with large rocks and I would get bounced off the bike and couldn't clip out fast enough. More walking (I hate walking).

The whole the time, I was wishing for just some nice platforms so I could put a foot down without having to twist out. Anyway, that led me to take a closer look at SOPs.

Finally, the Pedals!
For your consideration, two pedals that I have been riding in the last few months. One is the Rivendell Grip King (aka MKS Touring Lambda) and the old standby, the MKS Touring Pedal.

First, let's take a look at the Grip King. From an aerial view, they look like battle axes. They have quite a bit of surface area that runs the length of the foot. This makes it great for shoes that aren't necessarily super stiff (like my Merrel's in the picture). The platform is long and wide enough to provide lots of support. They are also really hard to miss when you're trying to find the pedal.

Another advantage of the big surface area of the pedal is that you can move your foot around to different positions. This helps with climbing when you want to relieve and stress other leg muscles by moving your feet.

On climbs when you are standing, the big surface area of the platform makes it feel like a Stair Master. You can stomp confidently up the hill without fear of falling off.

The grip is provided by these dimpled round surfaces that bite into your shoe. I find them great when dry, but when your shoes are wet or there is sand and dirt they do get a bit slick.

Here comes another caveat. The Grip King's are excellent with shoes with a standard size toe-box and some tread for the dimples to grip into (like my Merrels or your Chucks).

Unfortunately, my favorite touring shoe at the moment are a pair of Keen H2s and they have really WIDE toe-box. Suddenly, the big surface area isn't so big and I feel a bit like sliding off the side of the pedal (you can really see it in the picture).

I have toured with this combination and it's still good. Don't get me wrong. But it's somehow less perfect than if I was using the pedal with a regular shoe.

The Good Ol' Rat Trap
The other SOP pedal I use are the very non-sexy MKS Touring Pedals. Your eyes will tear up with boredom just looking at them. Whereas the Grip Kings looked like a cool Medieval weapon, the touring pedals look like...pedals.

But boy are they great!

They are toe-clippable, but I run them as a pure SOP pedal. The grip from the pedal comes from the serrations. These are great. They never clog up and always "bite" into your shoe. I have always thought that if they don't bite enough, you could take a file to them and give the serrations more of a point (haven't done it, but I'm pretty sure it would work).

As you can see in these pictures, the MKS Touring Pedals are wide enough to provide good contact with both my Merrel's and Keen sandals. With the Keen's, there's no feeling of slipping off the side of the pedals like I sometimes get with the GKs.

That being said, the Touring Pedals don't offer as much support along the whole length of the foot! Really soft sole shoes will not be as comfortable. Also, there is less usable surface area, so moving your foot around the pedal to work different muscles isn't as comfortable or easy.


Both the Grip Kings and Touring Pedals are excellent pedals....depending on your shoe.

Grip Kings will work excellently with most shoes, except those with really wide toe-boxes. Touring Pedals will work with almost all shoes (even wide toe-box shoes) but for best performace/comfort a shoe with a stiff sole is preferred.

As far as grippiness, I would give the Touring Pedals a slight advantage because of the uncloggable serrations. However, the GKs come close by providing more surface area and better overall foot support.

The GKs come out on top when it come to providing more pedal positions for your feet as well as providing nice platforms for stomping up hills.

As you can see, there's no clear winner. They're both darn good and one may be slightly better under certain circumstances.


Rat Trap Press said...

I just bought some MKS touring pedals and love them. I used to use some downhill type platform pedals but the little traction pins actually made things too grippy, I'd have to lift my foot off the pedal to adjust my foot position and they started to cause some knee pain. The MKS pedals are just right. I use them with Salomon amphib shoes, they have relatively thin stiff soles.

RussRoca said...

rtp...ive actually never tried pedals with traction pins...what kind did you use?

Anonymous said...

My favorite pedal is my cheapo Wellgo Bmx style black platform pedals. They provide great grip and can be Powergripped if need be.

I'm going to pick up some of the new VO pedals and try those out.

Lyle Jantzi III said...

It's funny, my experience with toe clips was a lot like yours; I could just never master them. I thought about using a pair of Time pedals I got with my used cyclocross bike, but the thought of getting hit in traffic with clipless pedals kinda freaked me out, so I've never tried them (my cyclocross is my daily commuter). I then moved onto the same type of pedal as your MKS Touring pedal (they look the same, I'm unsure if they're the same brand) but the lack of foot support bothered me.

Now, I use Easton Flatboys. They're big, hard to miss and have pins. I also cycle in Keen H2 sandals and have no problem with putting my feet in different positions solidly. The pins dig into the sandals nicely and keep my feet in place even in the rain. The only downside is if you do manage to miss the pedal (what can I say, I'm a clutz), you get some punctures in your shin. This isn't usually a problem unless you're riding rough or unpaved road.

Rat Trap Press said...

They were the Kona Jack Sh*t pedals that originally came with my Kona Smoke. Those pins will tear up your calves and shins if you're not careful.


Robby Kills said...

I enjoyed touring across America this summer with a pair of toe clipped MKS touring pedals and a pair of Specialized Tahos with out a cleat attached

Justin said...

I actually have permanent damage on my ankle from using toe clips. I was hit from behind and my shoes got stuck on the toeclips, as I went over my shoe came loose, but too late. It got trapped under the frame and the chainring dug into my ankle. It just barely missed the achilles. I was on crutches for two months and still have stiffness there, two and a half years later.

Billy said...

I would prefer to use the platform style pedal, but I can't find shoes that would keep my feet from being sore. I'm back to clipless (egg beaters) with shimano shoes. My feet are fine now, but I would prefer to have the platforms.

Can anyone give me recommendations for shoes? I'm not a big fan of the Keens.


Nemo said...

I recently switched from clip-less as well and made the transition to toe-clips and now I am trying a platform pedal strap meant for mountain bikers called "Power Grips". They have been working pretty well. The straps feel like free style but give enough support to power your up-stroke if you feel like it. I can wear pretty much any shoe and they are easy to get out of. You may want to look into them. :)

Joey French said...

Nothing better than the MKS Touring Pedals! I just got a new pair from Velo-Orange and I love them. So comfy, just the right amount of bite, and pretty good looking, too!

alex said...

thanks for an interesting site, russ. my favorite pedals are the stock black plastic grippy nondescript pedals that my local (Berlin, D) dutch bike dealer takes off his new bikes, as he prefers to put on the traditional rubber-and-steel pedals (for ex. from Union). he then sells these plastic pedals for 1EUR/pair: i have loads of them now! plastic is less slippy than aluminum when wet, and it's often wet in Berlin. my foot sticks no matter what i do. shoes are important: i hate to admit it, but old Tevas really ARE super grippy and stiff. i don't wear them with socks . . .

on a similar vein (man/machine interface), i've always been amazed what a difference the fabric your shorts/pants are made of makes in terms of comfort on the saddle, and i've yet to see writings about this. the stiffer, obviously, the better. lycra is not stiff, and needs a pad. a stiffer jean or baggy mtb short (sugoi i have) turns (almost) any saddle into comfy.