They assume that pedals are pedals — just something that you push down on to make the bicycle
That’s not quite the case — in fact, there are multiple types of bike pedals and the type you use can significantly impact your cycling.
The earliest bicycles did not have pedals. Frenchman Baron von Drais built what is believed to be the first bicycle (called a Draisienne) around 1817. Riders propelled these early two-wheel machines by simply pushing with their feet while sitting on the bike’s seat.
In 1839, a Scottish blacksmith named Kirkpatrick MacMillan came up with the idea of mounting pedals directly to the front wheel of those early push bikes. His pedal bike had a 30 inch diameter wood-framed and iron-rimed wheel with pedals attached to arms that were connected to the wheel’s axle.
Over the years, many different types of pedals have been designed ranging from simple flat ‘push down’ platform pedals to the sophisticated ‘clip in’ pedals that are now common on higher-end bicycles.
Platform pedals are still used today — they’re what you’ll see on most entry-level bicycles and on some bikes used for downhill mountain bike racing.
The advantages of flat pedals is that any type of footwear can be used and new cyclists don’t have to worry about ‘clipping in or out’ of a retention system.
The disadvantages, however, are that the rider’s foot isn’t securely fastened to the pedal and the rider can only produce power when pushing down on the pedal.
If you want to test this yourself, sit on a spin bike or a bicycle mounted on a stationary trainer and try to pedal with only one leg. You’ll quickly see that having your foot simply resting on the flat pedal doesn’t work very well since your foot isn’t secured to the pedal. Flat pedals can be significantly improved by adding toe clips and straps (example: tinyurl.com/toeclip).
Toe clips will mount to most flat pedals, can be used with any type of footwear, and will secure your shoe to make your pedaling more efficient.
There will be a short learning curve as you figure out how to flip the pedal over and insert your foot into the clip.
Although flat pedals with toe clips were the norm for everyone years ago, most serious cyclists today have switched to clip-in pedals (sometimes called ‘clipless’ because they don’t have the toe cages). A good discussion of this type of pedal along with pictures is posted at tinyurl.com/bwo77mx.
Several different types of clip-in pedals are available, ranging from the double-sided mountain bike and touring pedals (tinyurl.com/lw76xox) to single-sided road bike ‘race’ pedals (http://tinyurl.com/pb7vlj8).
Although many new cyclists are worried about not being able to clip out of clip-in pedals, this isn’t a significant problem. The pedals’ retention tension can be adjusted to be very loose and the ‘twist-the-foot-out’ technique used to unclip from the pedal is easy to learn.
All types of clip-in pedals require a dedicated cycling shoe since the ‘cleat’ which clips into the pedal must attach to mounting holes on the shoe’s sole.
You’ll also have to match up the shoe type with the type of pedal since most cleats for single-sided road pedals use a three-bolt mounting system while the majority of mountain bike pedals require a two-bolt mount.
Most recreational cyclists (on both mountain and road bikes) will probably be happiest using a clip-in mountain bike pedal such as the Shimano SPD. These pedals are double-sided so the rider can clip in on either side of the pedal and the compatible shoes have a recessed cleat pocket that makes the shoe much easier to walk in.
If you currently ride using simple platform pedals and want to improve your cycling, upgrading to a better type of pedal may just be the ticket.
Remember - pedals are pedals, but some work much better than others.
Oct. 18: Heart Walk 5K, roadlizards.org
Oct. 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K, westtexashalf.com/
Oct. 25: Armydillo 10K, roadlizards.org/events/armydillow-10k-run/
Nov. 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race, roadlizards.org
Nov. 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race, angelobike.org/6hour-dinosaur
Nov. 15: West Texas Masochist Run II, roadlizards.org/events/masochists-relay-run/