Sunday, April 15, 2007

Changes Afoot

Standing down at Jones Bicycles waiting to pay for a chain-cleaning brush and a can of degreaser, I noticed these pedals in the glass case at the counter.

My complaint about pedals with special latches to hook cycling shoes into is that once you install them, you can’t really ride with anything but cycling shoes.

When I lived in New York, I used to ride with cycling pedals (for complicated reasons, they’re called “clipless,” because a “clip” on a pedal is something different). I used Looks, which were adapted from ski bindings. They were extremely efficient at transferring my leg’s efforts into the drive mechanism, and they let me cycle with both legs at once—pulling up with the hind leg as I pushed down with the front one. Clipless pedals also enforce a better riding position; without them I tend to let my foot slip forward so I’m pedaling with more of my arch than I should.

But once you’ve got Look pedals on your bike, you can’t ride in flipflops or sneakers or anything but your cycling shoes.

Which brings up the other objection I have to specialized cycling pedals—the cost. A typical set of shoes plus pedals can cost more than what I paid for my bike in the first place.

But the profile on these pedals caught my eye. They looked as if you could ride them in flipflops without that eggbeater in the middle sticking up into your foot. So if you want to go on a long ride on a beach trail or a highway, you can use cycling shoes and get maximum speed and endurance from your legs, but if you just want to jump on your bike and go down to the grocery store for some orange juice, you don’t have to strap on anything special, and when you get there you’ll be wearing something comfortable to walk in.

Also they didn’t cost too much. Unless you wanted the titanium version.

The eggbeater in the middle spins freely, and you can clip into it no matter what position it’s in. When you push your toe cleat down into it, the spring in the center gives a little, and the cleat drops in and hooks the eggbeater.

Note the freshly brushed and degreased chain.

The cleats come with the pedals—each pedal manufacturer uses a slightly different system, so they give you cleats that can be mounted to many different biking shoes. The shoes come without cleats, but with bolt holes on a plate that can slide forward and back depending on your riding position and the nature of the clipless system you’re using.

You clip into different pedals in slightly different ways, but the standard for unhooking is that you pivot your heel out slightly, and your foot pops right out. So in New York when I had to slam on the brakes at a treacherous intersection, I could get my foot down on the pavement right away.

These unhook a little more easily than the Looks, which I like. Haven’t decided yet whether they’re easier or harder to clip into, or whether the attachment to the pedal does the same job while you’re up and riding.

As a bonus, I was able to get shoes that had more normal soles than regular road cycling shoes, which are no fun to walk in. These aren’t quite as natural as regular shoes, but they’re a big step in the right direction.

I wore the shoes around on carpet at home for a few days to make sure they fit before I went out and scuffed them up on the road. Sizing can be tricky with bike shoes—you want them snug for efficient energy transfer, but not so tight they cut off blood flow.

And then after I finally put the pedals on, I made sure I jumped on with flipflops to confirm what I’d hoped. The answer is yes: You can ride these pedals comfortably with regular street shoes.

Now I have to decide on my next group ride whether I want to wear these shoes and join the crowd of people popping and clipping at every rest stop. Of course it makes more sense to ride with the new shoes. But I’d lose track of about half the people who recognize me as that crazy guy who rides in flipflops.

Because April is the cruelest month (unless you’re the Internal Revenue Service), I’ve been spending most of the month in front of a computer screen staring at numbers. The shoes are my promise to myself that this too shall pass. I did finally get out on them yesterday morning for about twenty minutes, and I was delighted with how easily they mounted and rode. I came home without pushing down on the pedals at all—only pulling up. It exercises a whole different set of muscles, and leaves your legs better balanced. It felt good to be able to ride right again.

Here’s why I don’t go into bike stores, even to get degreaser and a chain brush: I could tell already, even on a short ride like that, that I need to sit higher above the pedals to get maximum benefit from my upstroke. Where my seat is now, and especially now that I’m pedaling with a more forward part of my foot, my leg doesn’t fully extend at the bottom of the cycle. So I could get more energy from every stroke (down and up, actually) if I raised my seat.

But my seat post is really at maximum extension already. So to raise it I’d need to get a longer seat post.

But to do the job right, rather than overextending my seat post, what I really should be doing is getting a frame with a longer shaft, which would fit my body better. And once you’re getting a new frame . . .

Turns out degreaser is more expensive than you’d expect.

1 comment:

California Girl said...

and here I thought you were working on taxes. silly me.