Ever bought a new pair of flat pedals, and been left wondering why your old Easton Flatboys are still better??
It would seem like flat pedals would have their work cut out to do their job, after all its just 8 or so small bolts/screws/protrusions (the ‘pins’) and a slab of -usually- metal (the ‘body’) trying to keep your shoe stuck to your bike as you ride. You may also think with it being so simple, that a flat pedal was a flat pedal was a flat pedal…but thats where you’d be wrong; a flat pedal is simple, but there are still good, bad and different variants available.
How does a flat pedal work?
Now the pedal body itself does very little to secure your foot; try removing all the pins from your pedal and going for a ride and you’ll understand. Actually dont, that’s probably dangerous! It really is the pins that do all the work to keep your feet in place. How do they do it? Its pretty obvious really; they embed themselves into the rubber of your shoe, preventing the shoe from sliding around.
The pins have to be placed fairly carefully though- if they’re under a pressure point on your shoe the chances are that theyll dig in enough to eventually cause discomfort, if theyre too far from a pressure point they wont dig in enough and youll be left with no gain- this is why most pedals have pretty similar overall shape and pin placement.
So how can you make flat pedals better or worse?
The pins need to be digging into the sole of your shoe in order to give you a meaningful amount of grip, so its critical to give them the best chance possible to do this. Its only logical that this would mean moving them further towards your shoe than the rest of the pedal, and this could be achieved in 2 simple ways: use longer pins, or move the rest of the pedal body away from your shoe.
Option 1; longer Pins
The former method results in the pins being able to dig much further into the sole of your shoe when your weight is on the pedal. This is great for grip, but if you need to adjust the position of your foot on the pedal you have to lift your foot further away from the pedal, which is awkward while riding. Its an effective method of getting more grip from your pedals nonetheless.
Option 2; Concavity
The latter method of changing the shape of the pedal body can yield much nicer results if done correctly. But if it’s done incorrectly it gives little, if any, improvement. Lets say you remove material where its easiest- this will generally be from between the row of pins at the front and the axle in the middle, and from between the axle and the row of pins at the back.
You can get a fair portion of the pedal away from your shoe by doing this, so surely it works, right? No; that portion around the axle in the middle of the pedal which is still level with the pins is perfectly placed to lift your whole shoe away from the grip-giving pins, and you’re actually left with negligible improvement except for a (potentially) lighter pedal!
What do you need to do in order to make it work? You need to raise all of the pins away from any area of the pedal body that your shoe would come into contact with without having to swallow up a whole pin to get there. This basically means that the very front and very back of the pedal, where the rows of pins are, stay high, and the rest of the pedal body needs to taper away to let the pins do their job.
A concave pedal! Yep, that’s right; a concave pedal works better than a flat one, even if its only the area around the axle which is preventing the pedal from being fully concave. With this concave pedal shape you can use a shin-friendly pin length, and still retain the level of grip you need and the ability to easily adjust your foot placement.
Hold on, why not just put pins on the axle area, or any other high points on the pedal body? Sensible suggestion, but that axle is normally located pretty close to the ball of your foot, so if you go covering it with jaggy pins you’ll soon feel it!
Thats enough on flat pedals for now. Hopefully next time you see a fancy new flat pedal on the market you’ll be able to look past the hype and the marketing and see whether or not it’s really going to help keep you attached to your bike.
Questions? Comments? Let me know!