The first official article in my "Bike Tip Tuesdays" series! A weekly series on bike tips and thoughts to help you bike more and worry less.
I talk about pedals a lot at the bike shop and while building up a customer's new cargo bike I was reminded about how much a good pedal can change the ride of a bike completely. Here are my musings for pedals on electric and cargo bikes but can probably be applied to any every day style bike.
Platform or Clip-in Pedals?
A few years ago I started switching to platform pedals on all my city bikes because the benefits of clip-in pedals and shoes were very much outweighed by the practicality of getting on my bike no matter my attire. There's a lot to dig into for understanding if you should clip-in or use a platform pedal but in general, my current mentality is that if I'm not wearing a chamois and spandex then I don't need to clip in.
Stack Height of a Pedal
The stack height or width of a pedal is something not often talked about but to me, it is one of the more important pieces when looking at a pedal for cargo or electric bikes. Why? The shorter your pedal then the lower your seat can be while still getting that perfect leg extension. This may not seem like much but I've seen pedal heights fluctuate up to 15mm. The lower your seat height, then the lower your center of gravity and the greater chance you can sit on your seat while on your tippy-toes. These things can really add up when balancing 150 pounds of wiggling kid cargo at the busiest intersection of your commute. You want to feel confident and rock-solid on a heavy electric or cargo bike, a 15mm lower seat height can help with that.
Grip vs Shredding Your Shoes (or shins)
Have your feet every slipped off the pedals when they were wet? It is a terrifying moment if you are pushing into a busy intersection or turning. This is the other big reason I think a lot about pedals. We need to have good equipment under our touchpoints (pedals, saddle, grips) to enjoy our ride! It is easy to add grip to your bike by upgrading your pedals for $20-50.
The downside of the addition could be your shoes or shins though. My two favorite pedals pictured above have small lugs or pins sticking out. The pins are sharp and will scratch up your leather-soled shoes and if you were to slip off the pedal and they catch your shins with shorts on - you'll have some nice scratches.
These days I don't wear many leather-soled shoes and I'm good enough on my pedals that they don't slip off. If you are worried about it, swap out your pedals in the fall until the spring.
Back in my late teens, I used to do urban assault mountain biking - basically jumping off stairs and ledges with my size XS mountain bike. It was during these moments that I learned that platform size and shape of a pedal really impact comfort (either when landing a drop terribly or long-distance pedaling) and the grip of the pedal paired to your shoe.
Some higher-end platform pedals now even come in different sizes! This could be super important if you have smaller feet or outfitting your kiddo with a new pedal, or larger feet that fall off the side. Either way, just make sure your foot is well supported.
My last point on the platform of a pedal is to make sure that your foot doesn't sink into the platform and sit on the middle of the pedal where the axle is. It will give you a hot spot and feel awful on longer rides.
Axle, Bearings & Q-Factor
Most bikes come with budget-priced pedals that probably cost the company <$5 to put on the bike. If you are just starting out THEY ARE FINE to start with! If you ride 500+ miles and start feeling a click in your pedal or they don't spin easily, then figure out what style pedal you want and continue on for durability.
Did you know they make titanium axles pedals with ceramic bearings? Personally, I just want my bearings to be sealed (instead of open ball bearings exposed to the elements) and a good Chromoly axle (that won’t rust as easily). Typically that starts around $40-50. This means that after terrible rain and 300-500 miles the grease in my pedals is still in there and they are spinning freely. Some pedals are double sealed, use nice Glide bearings, and more. If those are for you, you probably aren't reading this article.
Aesthetics and Material
Most of the pedals that fit my needs are now nylon. I like nylon as it doesn't hold in the cold like a metal pedal and I ride my bike under 0º. Nylon pedals can also come in cool colors. Some people prefer the feel or look of metal and there are a ton of those available in black, silver or sometimes even a copper tone!
One random side note on material, I used to own a pair of magnesium pedals when doing that "urban assaulting" and it was really cool to create sparks when hitting ledges or stairs!
My Pedal Conclusion
One of the main reasons I wanted to write these thoughts and musings is to encourage you to think more about your bike ride and what small adjustments you could make to enjoy it more. What could you do to make your bike something you could get on and go whenever you wanted in whatever attire you happened to have on? Maybe it is a more comfortable saddle, a basket or rack, or lights so you go further. There is no "be all" for pedals or any of the things I just listed, it is about being informed and making the perfect bike for you.