Home > Uncategorized > Friends don’t let friends ride junk: the pedals edition

Friends don’t let friends ride junk: the pedals edition

May 2, 2010

Most bikes sold today have these kind of pedals: an all-plastic frame on a chrome-molybdenum axle.  Most likely the pedals on your kids’ bikes are this kind.  To say the very least, these pedals are not a safety feature; the plastic is usually something like HDPE and is slippery even when dry.  It does not provide good grip to your feet.  If you walk through wet grass, then get on your bike, your control of the bike will be seriously impaired.

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I often hear stories that go something like this; “She hit a bump and wrecked her bike, and they took her to the hospital.”  Hitting the bump is not usually what caused the loss of control; often what has happened is hitting the bump caused her foot to slip off the plastic pedal, and then control was lost. 

This aluminum “downhill” or “platform” pedal is much better, at least when it’s new.  It has some fairly serious spikes, or “studs” on it so your feet are less likely to accidentally slip off.*

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In my experience most people react fearfully to the prospect of having pedals like this on their bikes.  Parents, especially, tend to think that their kids’ shins will be injured by the sharp studs.  But if that happens, the superficial wounds from tiny studs are the least of your worries.  And in any event, the plastic pedal, which is likely to cause the accident in the first place, can do almost as much damage as the spiky metal one.  A more serious consideration is the prospect of losing control of the bike, perhaps in traffic.  Keeping your feet securely on the pedal keeps you in control of the bike.

But as well made as the above pedal is, there’s room for improvement.  The pedal and its studs are made of aluminum, which is a soft metal and tends to wear.  Over time the studs can get rounded off, and lose their effectiveness, resulting in slipping off almost as easily as the dangerous plastic pedal.  When this happens, you need to sharpen – yes sharpen – the studs or replace the pedal.

In the following pictures, I show the worn studs, then the “sharpened” studs, which is to say having the worn, rounded top filed flat.  The result is a spectacular improvement in grip and control.  Here’s the spike rounded and worn from two years’ use:

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And here it is what a spike looks like after sharpening.  Use a bastard file and remove only as much metal as necessary to get a sharp edge:

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You’re not sharpening the spike to a little point; you’re squaring it off, giving it sharp edges so it won’t slip along the bottom surface of your shoe.  Obviously you can only do this a couple times before the spike becomes too short to be useful.

Also pay attention to the shape of the studs. The sides of these studs are angled, rather than straight.  Some cast-aluminum pedals have studs on them that are nearly useless right out of the box; they are little more than rounded bumps, so look closely, and don’t be afraid to take file in hand, and sharpen the cleats or studs on a brand-new pedal.  .

I said that there’s room for improvement in the design of this pedal, and this is a good place to start.  More effective studs are made of steel, with straight sides, pressed or threaded into the aluminum frame of the pedal.  Threaded studs are both adjustable (for depth) and replaceable. Non-threaded, pressed-in steel studs are also effective and considerably cheaper.  And in either case steel is much harder than aluminum so the spike will stay sharp and keep protecting you.  This pedal has both pressed-in and replaceable studs:

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Another potential improvement is sealed bearings.  If you ride in all weather, you either plan on rebuilding the pedal each year, or spend extra bucks and get sealed bearings.  This pedal goes half way and has a grease port just above the axle: you can inject grease and force out the old grease without even removing it from the bike.  It was only $35, which was a hell of a deal.  Sealed-bearing pedals can be $100 or more.

But you don’t have to spend that much.  If you shop around, you can find sturdy aluminum pedals with pressed-in steel pins for as little as $20.  And there are other kinds of pedals that do a good job of securing your foot so you can stay in control of the bike, again in the $20 to $40 range.  There are toe-clip pedals, which do a great job (but I never liked them).  There are “bear-trap” and “rat-trap”, ATB or “cage” pedals that do pretty well, if you don’t need the superior durability of one-piece aluminum pedals like those above. 

There is one kind of accident that very grippy pedals can actually cause, until you get used to them.  When you come to a stop, you are accustomed to sliding your feet off the pedals.  With properly designed pedals, you need to lift your feet off.  First time or two (it won’t take you more than that to learn), you might fall over.

An old-style cage pedal; inexpensive but does a good job:

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A more modern cage pedal: plastic or aluminum frame with toothy steel rim.  Inexpensive but does a good job.  Avoid cage pedals with aluminum rim: they tend to break easily.  This particular example had a rough life: reflectors broke off and were replaced with DOT-approved reflector tape.  Screws binding steel rim in place stripped out and were epoxied back into place. 

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Avoid this old-fashioned, unsafe kind – the rubber blocks become slippery when wet:

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And especially avoid this kind:

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Anyway if someone you care about is using plastic pedals, or worse the old rubber-block pedals that “cruiser” bikes sometimes have, replace them with something toothier. 

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