Let’s End the Pedal Wars!

Sometimes, it feels as if cyclists are divided into two camps on many issues. One of these divisions concerns pedals. There are those who believe that if you don’t have clipless pedals, it’s hardly worth taking your bike outside. Others fervently believe that any foot retention will ruin your enjoyment of cycling.

I’ve never understood this “either – or” attitude. On many of my bikes, I ride clipless pedals (above in Paris-Brest-Paris 2015)…

… but I’ve also ridden 400 km brevets with toeclips and straps. I can’t say that there is a performance difference between the two. I’ve set personal bests and course records on either type of pedals. If you look at the times in Paris-Brest-Paris or in pro races, you’ll see that when clipless pedals became widespread, there was no noticeable jump in speeds.

For me, the advantages of clipless pedals are that my feet don’t get numb on cold days, even after many hours of riding. A disadvantage is that the shoes transmit all the pedaling power, so they must fit perfectly and be tightened just right. If they are just a tad too loose, my feet slide around, which is unpleasant. If they are too tight, they constrict my circulation.

Toeclips and straps have the advantage that I can ride in any shoes. Their disadvantage is that I must remember to open one strap slightly when stopping, so I can remove my foot from the pedal. Natsuko (top photo) prefers half-clips, which allow her to put a foot down anytime, yet they still offer good power transfer.

For shorter rides, flat pedals work great for me. Actually, for quick trips around the city, I often ride in street shoes, even on SPD pedals. It’s not ideal, but it works fine at moderate speeds.

If you don’t use clipless pedals, classic touring pedals are hard to beat: With platforms on both sides, they can be used with street shoes. Add toeclips and straps, and they perform like racing pedals.

Despite their versatility, high-end touring pedals always have been few and far between. Now MKS has updated their popular Sylvan pedals with same silky-smooth cartridge bearings as the company’s other high-end pedals. The new model is called “Sylvan Next” to distinguish it from the lower-end “Sylvan” that has cup-and-cone bearings. (Compass only carries the top-quality MKS pedals. Gritty bearings may not slow you down, but you can feel them as you pedal. A smoothly-working bike is much more fun to ride.)

The Rinko version of the Sylvan Next allows removing your pedals without tools in just seconds. With the EZY-Superior quick-release system, you simply turn the ring on the spindle, push it toward the crank, and pull off the pedal.

Rinko pedals are convenient for travel or storing your bike in tight spaces. And if you want to ride with platform pedals one day and with clipless pedals the next, you can swap between the different MKS EZY-Superior models quickly and without tools. (The photo above shows the USB-Nuevo and the Urban Platform pedals.) We also offer the adapters separately, if you want to use the same set of pedals on several bikes.

The Sylvan Next pedals are now in stock. Click here to learn more about them and the other MKS pedals in the Compass program.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in Components, Pedals. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Let’s End the Pedal Wars!

  1. Matthew J says:

    I’ve happily done multi-day tours on pedals similar to the MKS Allways. Rinko option has me considering switching to Allways as a matter of fact.

  2. Richard says:

    Might be a lot of other reasons, other than clipless pedals, to explain the jump in speeds at Paris-Brest-Paris. Are there reputable studies out there, proving the increased efficiency and power transfer of clipless pedals vs. flat pedals? Perhaps there are, I don’t know.

    • Sorry the post wasn’t quite clear: There has been no jump in speeds in Paris-Brest-Paris, nor in the single-day classics races where the course has remained the same, since the 1960s. Clipless pedals had no effect on speeds whatsoever. I use them, but for other reasons than speed…

  3. ORiordan says:

    Has there ever been any reliable, objective studies into the “efficiency” (if that is the right measure…) of different types of pedal?

    I agree with your “horse for course” point. If I’m using my bike to do ordinary, everyday things like shopping or going out, then I want to wear ordinary, everyday clothes!

    • As to the efficiency of clipless vs. toestraps, I’m not aware of any studies, because there is no doubt that both are equally efficient. Remember that track racers still use toestraps, even though the very first clipless pedals, the 1970 Cinelli M71, were for track use.

      As to foot retention or not, there have been some studies showing that in steady-state pedaling, there is no difference in efficiency. However, during short accelerations or other increases in power output, foot retention is useful. Witness the fact that you tend to pull out of toestraps if they aren’t tight enough…

      • B. Carfree says:

        I still have a set of M71 pedals, complete with new cleats, from “back in the day” in my parts bin. I used them exclusively for road riding (back then that was everything from crits to touring). My wife made me take them off and promise to not use them when the Look pedals came out because we had a few fellow riders snap the spindle on the Cinellis. We nick-named them Death Pedals, and not because you had to reach down and push in the button to release them.

    • Matthew J says:

      Shoes are the primary reason I prefer flat pinned pedals for touring.

      At some point in most of my bike tours I am going to be off the bike hiking or walking around and seeing the sights. Decent walking shoes take up a lot of pannier space. As it is a lot easier to pedal wearing a good walking shoe than walk wearing a good cycling shoe, I prefer to leave the latter for straight road riding.

  4. Dan Eldredge says:

    Jan,

    Does the Rinko system increase the Q-factor for the same model pedals? If so, by how much? Also, will the Rinko connection spin or do the pedal bearings have so little friction that the Rinko connection stays rigid. I am not referring to the threaded connection to the crank arm, but to the quick-release interface itself. Thanks, Dan

  5. kurtsperry says:

    I’d be interested in an empirical study of the measurable effect on speed or efficiency of fitting toeclips/straps to conventional flat pedals. I know there is a strong consensus that adding clips and straps to flat pedals significantly increases pedaling efficiency, but has anyone ever tested and quantified this?

    • Erik says:

      GCN made a video about it (a channel on youtube). The consensus proofed to be wrong: there was no relevant difference, and I am pretty sure that is correct.

      • The video looked at constant power output, and it confirmed the findings of previous studies that there is no difference: You don’t pull up on the pedals. But when you accelerate, it’s a different story: Then, you do pull back and upward. That is the reason you pull out of toeclips if your straps aren’t tight enough. Track sprinters even use dual toestraps to lock their feet in tight enough. For me, this means that with flat pedals, I don’t notice any difference until I get to a small rise. With my feet locked to the pedals, I simply pedal harder and go over the little uphill. With flat pedals, I need to shift multiple times or rise out of the saddle.

  6. Dan Eldredge says:

    Jan,

    Reading my last comment, I realize that Q factor does not change because it is not based on pedal width. My question is asking whether the Rinko system moves the pedal platform farther from the crank arm. Thanks,

    Dan

  7. Smithy says:

    There is a weight advantage too, in using clips and a light pair of trainers – significantly lighter than, say, SPD-style pedals & shoes.

  8. Chad says:

    I currently use SPD pedals on both of my bikes, as do many of my friends. The ability to swap bikes, just for fun, to help in troubleshooting a problem, or any number of other reasons is a strong argument (for me anyway) to keep with the SPD standard. Also, I’d rather not have to swap 2 bikes worth of pedals to a new standard, which could get pricey. I love the idea of being able to swap from clipless pedals to platform pedals using the MKS rinko system, but unfortunately it appears that none of the rinko pedals offered by MKS, within a given rinko standard (EZY vs EZY-Superior) have SPD and platform pedal options. Is there, or will there be, an SPD compatible, EZY-Superior pedal offered by MKS?

    • I agree that swapping bikes is nice. It used to be easy, too, when everybody had toeclips and straps. You are right, MKS doesn’t make a EZY-Superior SPD-compatible pedal. They decided to use the older EZY system, because it allows for a lower build height with the SPD system.

  9. mike says:

    dear jan,
    i think compass bikes is a great bicycle resource, and these remarks on pedals only reinforce my thinking.
    have you read Matthew Crawford’s *The World Beyond Your Head” (2015)?
    compass bikes is advancing a practice and an ethic that is far more important than just bicycles…
    — mike

  10. Ken says:

    Much agreed, Jan. Many people are quite dogmatic and obstinate about what they are used to or what’s been “taught”. It seems as though many just don’t want to “try” and just enjoy the process. It’s all about utilities and/or efficient frontier — there are many happy, and appropriate, points along the same curve.

    On a different note, Jan…why is the 38mm Steilacoom (~420g) lighter than the 38mm Barlow Pass (~460g)?

    Thanks,

    Ken

    • When the casing is impregnated with rubber, the amount of rubber varies slightly from one production run to the next, and even within a production run. Thus, tires from different production runs have slightly different weights. Also, the Steilacoom has very thin rubber between the knobs, since that part doesn’t wear. It makes the tire more flexible. That is one of the secrets behind our knobby tires’ amazing performance.

  11. B. Carfree says:

    I thought the two camps in terms of pedals for cyclists was between so-called road clipless (like Look) and so-called mountain bike pedals like SPD. I didn’t think there was much strife between the folks on platforms and everyone else. but maybe I’ve been riding solo too much to know what’s going on among other riders.

    For myself, once I found the Cinelli clipless pedals back around 1980, I have never looked back. I wear size 51 shoes, so making toe clips work without causing foot pain was a chore, and never truly successful.

  12. Stuart Fogg says:

    I have an ancient pair of Phil Wood platform pedals which have comfortable flat tops and great cornering clearance. However I feel more secure riding with SPD pedals and shoes.

  13. Tim Nielsen says:

    In the mid 90s, I was a rather late adopter of clipless pedals. I once was the last of my kind to start a mtb race with toe straps (at least around here in NorCal). I had a great start that day, but lost contact with the lead group as we headed up a dry wash. I found myself struggling to reach down, give slack to each foot, and hop over the logs, remount, tighten the straps, and then unexpectedly have to repeat the process. Once I even fell over still strapped in, another I couldnt reinsert my feet into the cages cleanly. Anyways I ended up cramping out and just finishing in time to watch the podium ceremony. Fast forward 20 years and I was a King, putting on clinics during cyclocross season on how to smoothly negotiate the double barriers with my SPD style shoes and pedals. All that said and done, I simply love my bare touring pedals and regular street shoes for most all riding. It is simply wonderful. I feel that I don’t have anything like the secure climbing or sprinting bursts that clipless or even toeclips provided. That is offset, however, by my comfort as I now walk up some of the steeper hills and go into art galleries and loaf around small towns, all in the comfort of my regular shoes and socks. Maybe I’ll regret losing that competitive fire and put those other “systems” back on my bike, but I doubt it.

  14. Matt says:

    I actually find wearing clipless shoes makes my feet cold in winter, the bolts sit right under the ball of my foot and transmit cold from outside on longish rides.
    The new Sylvans look lovely so maybe I should stop being lazy and swap to them in winter. I just find it a hassle to take pedals on and off when I’m used to having the same ones on every bike.

  15. Frank B. says:

    I have ended my personal pedal wars with the Shimano A530 single-sided SPD pedals. They have a non-SPD side that is a real platform and is very comfortable to use with street shoes. I also use the platform side a lot when I have my SPD shoes on, for example on long rides: The platform side provides some relief from being locked into the clicked-in position. It also is very useful in city traffic or in tricky trail sections. It’s much better than using SPD pedals with street shoes and I prefer it over swapping pedals: EZY is a no-go here because of theft risk.
    The A530 has rather simple bearings, but my bicycle has fenders, so the pedals don’t suffer much road spray, My current pair survived winter just fine. Because of the long leverage I believe the bearing resistance is negligible. I don’t feel any annoying roughness, but to mee it’s more important that there is no play in the bearings, and in this regard the A530 are fine.

  16. marmotte27 says:

    I use Shimano Deore XT pedals on my randonneur, one side flat to use for commuting and other everyday rides, the other SPD for spirited rides – I like the security on fast rides with bumpy descents. Not really light but very versatile. I’d like to find a similar pedal with a quick release for converting my bike int a rinko bike.

  17. Anthony. says:

    Thank you, Jan. If yer riding a bike, I don’t care if it’s 1980s Moon boots yer donning. G.C.N. did a bit on pedaling efficiency with flat pedals and clipless a couple years ago. I use Crank Bros, Cross and commute, Speedplay road and gravel, and MKS with Converse fer goin to the Market

  18. David Pearce says:

    Well, It’s like the fight between the Dreyfusards & the Anti-Dreyfusards.

    I suppose humans are designed to fight, must make us better somehow, but I can’t see it.

    I love all modes mentioned here, and have them: On my Vélo-Orange Polyvalent 650 b randonneur, I have clipless mountain pedals. On my Brompton, I have a half-clip added to the left road pedal only, for my dominant leg, to draw the crank up to its 1 o’clock starting position, & on my mountain bike, I’ve got those very nice platform pedals with studs, which work so darn well, they were a shock to me!

    End the pedal wars!!

    Propel your steed without pedals 😎!

  19. Richard says:

    There are studies on the biomechanics of the pedal stroke. Here’s an interesting article referencing them
    http://www.over40cyclist.com/correct-pedalling-technique-part-2/

    • Interesting article – thank you for sharing! It confirms what cyclists have been taught for generations: Pull back at the bottom of the stroke as if you were scraping mud from the bottom of your feet. Of course, you need foot retention to do that. That is also why you pull out of toestraps that aren’t tight enough. They’d hold your hoot fine during the upstroke, but the backward movement is what pulls you out of them.

      Of course, there are many rides when the ultimate efficiency isn’t necessary, and the ability to just step on platform pedals in street shoes is just great.

  20. Phillip Cowan says:

    Flats and 5-10’s, even on my road bikes. You get a few fisheyed looks from the style nazis but who cares? I haven’t noticed any increase in my times over known routes.

    The most reputable studies, ones not financed by shoe and pedal manufacturers show that no one is really pulling up on the back stroke, not even track racers in an all out sprint. If this is so then there is no logical reason to have the feet attached to the pedals.

    Probably the best article I’ve ever read on the subject is James Wilson’s “Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto”.

    • HaloTupolev says:

      >”If this is so then there is no logical reason to have the feet attached to the pedals.”

      Confidence on the bike, and not having to think about what the foot is doing on the pedal. I know that I rarely produce much upstroke, and my typical pedaling form translates fine between platforms and retention, but I’ve also had a foot slip while hammering out of the saddle before. That can happen due to a bump, or a bad shift, or whatever… and I find that I can ride better – less form and decision-making concessions – if I don’t have to worry about it.

      • Phillip Cowan says:

        You make a valid point. I should mention that I still ride clips and straps on my fixed gear. I enjoy the traditional look and it prevents embarrassment from getting kicked out of the pedals if you momentarily forget and try to coast. For 95% of my riding the flats have been fine, just don’t let anyone try to make you feel like a cretin if you’re not using some form of foot retention.

      • Matthew J says:

        Perhaps my cadence does not reach a level where it may be an issue, but pinned flat pedals hold my feet to the pedal very well. In the several years I’ve been riding with them, never once slipped.

    • I think it’s great that there are many options. I’ve pulled out of toestraps numerous times, not pulling up, but pulling backward, so I prefer foot retention for spirited riding.

  21. Richard says:

    I was a runner for many years before returning to cycling. Stress fractures in my feet caused me to give up my beloved sport. My local bike shop recommended clipless pedals to go with my new bike. While I enjoyed cycling immensely, I constantly suffered “hot foot” on long rides. I tried everything to stop it– bigger shoes, different cleats, moving the cleats, different pedals. Nothing worked.

    Finally, after reading Grant Pedersen’s “The Shoes Ruse”, I ditched the clipless and tried flat pedals.
    Wow, what a difference! Free at last! My feet have never been happier, and I lost nothing by switching.

    If you suffer foot or knee pain while riding, ditch the clipless. It might help.

    http://www.cyclorama.net/viewArticle.php?id=376&subjectId=9

  22. Archetype says:

    Great post Jan! I use both. Clipless on my main road bike. Flat with half clips on the B bke and double sided flat/clipless on the mtb. Love all iterations.

  23. morlamweb says:

    I use flat pedals sans clips and straps 100 % of the time on my one bike. I just can’t get behind the idea of buying shoes just for the bike; nor can I understand the idea of hunting for one’s “bike shoes” before going for a ride. I don’t like anything that gets in the way of Just Riding. Thus, I don’t ever wear lycra or cycling “pants” (in the British sense of the word), or click-in shoes + pedals, or clips + straps. I just put one foot on each pedal and make circular motions with my feet. Repeat until I get to my destination. It works for long rides, short rides, and over all types of roads.

    I don’t knock anyone who wants to use some type of foot retention system on a bike. I just remember that complex systems often end up getting in the way of riding; or, when putting a foot down at a red light…

  24. Dan says:

    Another endorsement for half clips. I switched to aggressively-pinned platform pedals on my commuter bike for a couple seasons but found that my feet could still slip on bumps or in the rain. And the pins could bite when walking or carrying the bike. Half clips provide all the flexibility and comfort of platforms yet are wonderfully secure.

  25. Charlie T. says:

    Jan et al, If there’s no difference in efficiency between toe straps and clipless, do shoes and sole stiffness still matter, and if they do what shoe models are recommended for riding with toe straps that would still work well off the bike for walking and sightseeing? Thanks!

    • In my experience, the stiffness of shoes matters for comfort, not for speed or efficiency. If the sole is too flexible, your feet will hurt during vigorous pedaling. For touring, I use some old Sidi Touring shoes. They are a bit too flexible for randonneuring, though. For my spd pedals, I cannot speak highly enough of my Dromarti shoes… I don’t use the word “perfect” lightly, but here I think it applies.

Comments are closed.