Instead of clips or clipless pedals: Notes from Interbike 2009

Instead of clip less pedals — this just in.

I’ve long questioned the full value of clipless pedals, not to mention toe clips. After reading a compelling article in the “Early 2009” issue of the Rivendell Reader (#RR 41), a compelling case is made for ignoring clip systems entirely. And so I began experimenting with using better platform pedals and riding in ordinary shoes. The article’s writer claimed to know of people wearing Crocs on cross-country tours, and so I began trying that too, wearing my bright green crocks and wool hiking socks out and about. How chique. Not. Nevertheless, I think we’re on to something here and have been watching for “better” pedal systems, whether or not they include some sort of cleat or clip.

The other day, after returning from Interbike 2009, I posted the following note to Yahoo’s RANS recumbent rider newsgroup. Recently, a friend and customer — Dan, yellow V-Rex — broke his leg when his shoe cleat refused to release from his clipless pedal. So, both for my own reasons, as well as having his injuries on my mind, I was intrigued by one pedal system I saw there, designed for BMX riders. My note follows.


I just got back from Interbike about an hour ago (2am now here in NYC). Vis a vis pedals, I saw something there that could be great for ‘bent riders and directly addresses Dan’s questions [regarding other pedal systems that people are using].

For two reasons — both my own questions about whether clipless systems are optimal for ‘bents and also knowing about your injury — I have been on the lookout for better pedal systems. Like others, I have had close calls with clipless pedals using metal cleats in the shoes. (Brief note here: be very wary of worn out cleats and pedal clamps that have gone out of adjustment.)

At Interbike, I came across a small enterprise with a product that could be good for recumbents. They appear to have been designed for BMX racing, which is interesting because it seems that BMXers have to be able to get their feet on and off the pedals a lot.

Look up: Proton Magnetic Pedal Locks

The magnetic pedal locks work by using a magnet on the pedal, and then a steel plate on your shoe, where the cleat would normally be. This lets you release far more easily, and I can see no reason why there would ever be a clip-out problem.

Furthermore, this addresses a concern I have with recumbent riders who tend to “pull up” hard on the pedal, to counter the push of the other foot, instead of mainly/only “pushing.” I suspect this “pulling” can lead to knee injury. I find myself sometimes doing this when trying to crank up a hill w/o having a low enough gear. (Our knees seem to have evolved to be better adapted to pushing down against the ground rather than pulling up.)

With Proton’s pedal locks, the magnets firmly hold ones shoes against the pedal so your feet won’t slide off. It’s a pretty interesting idea, easily applied to bents, and I think it could work well.

Other side note, for bents, I have good experience with Keo brand, though they are not walkable. My jury is still out on Speed Play. I seem to keep returning to GOOD — not bad — platform pedals and right now am happily using a pair of big grippy MKS Touring/Cyclocross platform pedals that are so good that I haven’t missed cleats. I have also recently bought a set of Power Grips to test, for which I have high hopes, but haven’t had a chance to try them.

[Addition, Sept. 2010]
Over the past year, I’ve kept the Power Grips on my “beater bent.”  I’ve ridden regularly with them and have done some rather hilly routes.  In summary, they’re good enough.  I don’t feel I get a lot of power in the “pull” direction, but I may get a little.  Best thing is they hold my feet firmly to the pedals and so I believe I get a little more power on the “sides” of the pedal stroke.  A downside seems to be that I get a little knee pain on extremely long rides due to the need to constantly, slightly, twist one’s legs to keep one’s feet “gripped.”  But what I particularly like is that they fit any shoe, so they’re good for riding with boots in cold weather.  I use them with the MKS Touring pedals mentioned above and I’m pleased with the combination.

I hope this proves helpful to folks.

— [Dec. 10, 2009 update] —
A customer recently e-mailed me about the Proton pedals to see if I had more up to date information. We exchanged notes and he sent me a link (below) to a review.

The reviewer is rather luke warm on the pedals. At any rate, personally, since writing the entry here, I’ve been preferring instead to use high quality platform pedals for my urban stop/go/slow riding. It may remain a pretty good basic solution.

—end update—

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.

Leave a Reply