Are you a professional racer or perhaps a serious amateur racer? Do you like riding ultra-long distances? When you’re riding your bike, do seconds count? If so, then this post isn’t for you. For everyone else, I would like to propose we think about the unthinkable.
What if we rode our road bikes with mountain bike pedals?
I realize this may seem to be the rantings of a person losing his grip on reality, but please hear me out. For years, I dutifully rode with three hook pedals used on most road bikes. They were fine, until I found the need to get off my bicycle and walk any distance greater than ten feet. At this point, things became cumbersome and annoying. I walked like a duck while my cleats made loud clacking sounds, thus announcing my arrival in any convenience store or anywhere else I traveled that was less noisy than a bus station.
And the damage I caused to my precious shoes! Walking mere seconds on any surface harder than mud caused massive wear on those poor little plastic cleats. Not to fear, said the internet. There are plastic covers you can purchase that provide protection for your plastic cleats. To be more specific, they’ll provide protection until they wear out themselves. Then more need to be purchased.
But what could I do? Everyone I knew did this and the thousands of road cyclists I had come across (or at least took the time to notice) did the same thing. So I made do. I was too cheap to buy the protective covers, so I carefully walked as little as possible while tip-toeing (or at least attempting to do something approximating a tiptoe) when walking in quiet places. I’d replace my cleats once per year and life went on.
Then I went to France.
France is a strange place full of strange people. Except, of course, for Gerry. And John. And anyone else who may be reading this from France. My point is, when in a new place there are often new ways of doing things and the French bicycle rental shop at the foot of The Most Holy Mount Ventoux was a perfect example. They boldly committed the sacrilege of placing mountain bike pedals on my road bike.
It was awesome! Imagine this – every single time Maureen and I decided to get off our bicycles and walk somewhere, we did it without any fuss or bother. The recessed cleats in our “mountain bike shoes” made our bike shoes behave like other shoes in our closet and not like the shoes one normally associates with clowns. We walked into coffee shops. We sauntered over to sites of historic interest. We sashayed on cobble stones to small water fountains (Gerry told me the name of those, but I have since forgotten). It was lovely.
That was in 2018. When we got home, Maureen and I swapped out our road pedals for some mountain bike pedals and we haven’t looked back since. We’ve used them on our tours in Florida and Vermont and all about our home in Northern Virginia. Every time we get off our bicycles, we smile as we stride toward a restaurant/bike shop/whatever without a concern for our shoes and while also looking like human beings. Its a win-win!
So why doesn’t everyone do this? In my opinion, the answer is fear of ridicule. The cycling world can be unforgiving and cliquish and there are a great many rules for those who wish to fit in. I’ve never been overly concerned about fitting in.
In fairness, there actually are a few advantages to proper road pedals. They are less “loose,” meaning the rider has better contact with the pedal and therefore has an improved energy transfer, especially on the upstroke. For most riders, this amounts to a few seconds per mile. On the whole that’s a number approaching irrelevancy, except for those who are in a race.
Mountain bike pedals are also smaller than road pedals, so the rider’s weight is focused in a smaller area of the foot. Over very long rides, this can result in a hot spot on the bottom of the foot, or possibly numbness. Nobody wants that, but it is my personal experience that a properly adjusted mountain bike pedal is good for at least 100 miles. Your mileage may vary.
And finally, road pedals have clips on only one side, so they are lighter than mountain bike pedals. And those grams do add up. Eventually, they will add up to even more seconds – perhaps even minutes! So if that sort of thing is critical to you, then this is definitely not a smart option.
But if you simply want the ability to get off your bike and walk without impediment when the mood strikes you, I strongly urge you to consider mountain bike pedals and let the road bike fashionistas be darned.