Saturday, April 18, 2009

To cleat or not to cleat - that is the question.

Pic fm Copenhagen Cycle Chic

The cycling world can be divided into 2 camps, at least as far as pedal types are concern. Those who swear by cleats (the cycling shoe affixes onto the pedal) and claiming power increases by as much as 50% due to additional advantage of being able to "pedal" on the upstroke. The opposing camp (platform pedal) says that is hogwash and cementing your foot onto the pedal is a death trap. Sadly, these debates can get unnecessarily heated.

I can see many advantages using cleat style pedals. An obvious one is that you will not slip and that is especially important in wet weather. Bruised shins are not fun. Also, it will help you to "bunny hop" your bike, jumping over kerbs and obstacles. Better power seems to be a claim that many people make in using cleats and I don't disagree, though 50% better is a bit hard to digest.

My esteem ride buddy Chris of CGOAB fame feels that:

SPD cleats are so efficient, there's no turning back once you get used to it. I've used up more than a dozen and that's spread out over a few bikes. You can push and pull up on the pedals.

Disadvantages can include safety - takes skill to disengage from the pedal during emergencies and spills (I've seen friends falling like pins at traffic stops). Getting stuck with SPD shoes that hamper the way you walk when you get off the bike. Increased cost - getting the shoe/pedal set up can easily add $200 and more.

The freestyle/traditional way is the preferred method for beginner/casual type cyclist. Whatever shoes you wear will work, but a firmer sole is better to transfer the power. Which explains why it remains a favourite among the European commuter cyclists.

No drama pedalling, and easy to jump off the bike if the need arises. Of course, this can be painful when things can slippery. You can forget about jumping your bike and spinning at a high cadence is not as efficient. Also, the lycra brigade will not be caught dead with these "novice" pedals.

Grant Peterson is a strong advocate for pedalling "free" style. He writes:

The most important and liberating thing I've learned in 40 years of riding nearly daily, is that normal shoes and pedaling unconnected is the way to go... and if you're looking for an excuse to head out on a ride in your Hush Puppies, now you have it.

I don't hope to convince you either way but I guess the general rule is if you are looking for that edge in cycling performance, get cleated. If you are just cycling easy to the shops to pick up milk, then platforms rule.

So as an adventure folding bike tourer, what do I prefer? I think the best of both world solution is the Zefal mini toe clip. This is an unbelievable US$8 solution.

I have been touring with this on cycling shoes or Target Crocs sandals with total ease, confidence and comfort. It does the job of keeping my feet from slipping and yet disengages easily when needed.

However, the more important question to ask is which is more your style of riding? Get that answered and settled quickly, then go enjoy quality time on the saddle instead of endless chatting on bike forums. I suspect there is enough room in this big world to accommodate and respect two differing views. Don't you?


Nat said...

Another area for passionate debates :)

I ride t types of pedals on 2 bikes (Shimano's SPD and SPD-SL). I love both (and I suppose any other form of clipless pedals) while on the bike. The positive coupling while starting off th lights on a rainy day is worth all the trouble and expense. Of course, o has to get used to clipping in and out which eventually becomes second nature and everyone has to fall at least once due to not clipping out :)

If I have to choose favorites, I prefer the shoes with recessed cleats (SPD style). One can find decent looking and almost comfortable shoes. A good midway is the one-sided clip less pedals that come with a platform on the other side. A bit annoying at times but again, the trade off seems worth it.

I have not tried straps (have been eying the Power grips when I get regular pedals on another bike. But I suppose at the end of the day, it is easy to get used to any system and ride comfortably.

Michael Khor said...

Cleats are neat. I can't ride properly without it. Frankly, I don't see why it should be a debate -- it's 2 different things for 2 different type of cyclists, whatever shifts your gears -- the ones who prefer to push and pull efficiently with the ball of the foot over the pedal, and those who prefer to be a little more 'kang-kang' in their approach with the middle of the foot over the pedal :)

Back when I was using toe-straps, I had the most embarrassing fall, when I stopped next to the tail of a bus ... just as I put out my hand to prop myself up, the bus scooted off and there I was, falling sideways in slow motion. With today's fast-releasing clipless pedals, I don't suffer such ignominy anymore.

BTW, if you can only bunny-hop with cleats, you're cheating :> True-blue bunny-hoppers lift and sail their bike and self over obstacles without any help from cleats. Anyway, I'm guilty of not doing it thanks to cleats.


mike khor

mat touring said...

I have tour with clipless pedal, pedal with & without strap. I prefer the clipless pedal with recessed cleats. That's why i wear the MTB shoes even when riding my touring & road bike. My pedaling will be more efficient when I use clipless pedal because my foot position on the pedal is consistent and secured. I'm comfortable with high cadence pedaling whether on flat or when climbing. In fact, when climbing a steep hill, instead of the normal kicking and pushing the pedal, I can opt for pulling & pushing it. I can only do this with clipless pedal. Furthermore I can stand on the bike with more confidence without have to worry about slipping from the pedal. So, clipless pedal is my choice.
FYI, I'm riding my Speed 8 with the eggbeater now.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Thks for sharing everyone! Looks like I'm not on board yet with you guys. Keyword: Yet :)

Nikita said...

the good thing is you still can pedal on the normal side if all fails! lol
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