There is a debate that has raged since 1984.. That’s 37 long years of tireless discussion.
When Look launched the PP65 clipless pedal (which is widely recognised as the first commercially successful clipless pedal system) the cry of “Flat or Clipless” was almost immediately heard across the globe..
Revered as the future of cycling, Look’s pedal was considered to be both safer and higher performing than the traditional clipped (or caged) systems and it came as no surprise when in 1988 the PP65 earned “Le Tour” success. Across the following 32 tours, clipless pedal systems have dominated and are now considered a necessity for any accomplished rider.
But what about those riders that aren’t quite so accomplished? Novice riders, younger riders, older riders, recovering riders or those who simply have less confidence.. being mechanically attached to the bike for such riders can be either physically or emotionally challenging. So we thought, perhaps out of respect for this group, we should pragmatically explore the alternatives.
Flat pedals are the obvious solution.. no attachment, no worries right?
If only life was so simple..
Flat pedals generally means sneakers, and although flat soled MTB shoes are available, the more frugal amongst us would have some difficulty justifying the exorbitant prices demanded for what is, in essence, a Giro branded cross-training shoe. Everyday sneakers or runners however lack support in the sole (remember they are mostly made for flexibility and freedom of movement), consequently when riding for longer periods, the arch of the foot can become fatigued and even strained.
And, whilst considering the health reasoning, let’s not forget the self inflicted agony we feel when you allow your foot to slip sending a sharp toothed flat spinning towards your unsuspecting and ill-prepared shin.. ******* pedals… A well recognised occupational hazard of riding free and flat.
In addition to the medical stuff, we should not under-estimate that most flat pedal roadies don’t want to be a flat pedal roadie. It is an unavoidable fact that too often flat riders feel embarrassed when in the company of the clipless crowd and are often found hiding their feet under the table in the cycling cafe. But why is this? Well in short, road cyclists in particular are a rather vain bunch, whether it is statistically bragging on Stra-vanity or showcasing their latest carbon fibre addition on Instagram, competition amongst peers is fierce.
So this presents a rather large problem..
Too fearful to ride clipless but too bashful to ride flat..
As with most avid cyclists, when we are not riding a bike we are talking about riding a bike.. And the populist social forums give us all the required fix of peer pleasure (and equally peer pressure)..
One of the most popular forums for the female cyclist is Velo Vixens. 9.8K mostly UK based members interacting with startling regularity on Facebook and Instagram.. And during these cycle chick based powwows, what is one of the most frequently asked questions?
“I’m looking to switch to clipless but which are the easiest to get in and out of?”
The resounding top answer is “Shimano SPD”.. however we feel compelled to question whether this is actually the best solution or is it more the most commonly trodden path and in-turn clipless pedal answer #101.
Shimano SPD are promoted and widely accepted as a MTB system. The double sided pedal and two screw recessed cleat are generally much heavier than a road pedal and designed for use with sturdy MTB shoes that are akin to trial running or lightweight hiking footwear. Although Giro and some other manufacturers do offer road shoes with a two screw fitting, most road shoes are not compatible with Shimano SPD.
This raises the question, are more cumbersome, heavier trail shoes and weighty pedals really appropriate for the average lycra-clad weight-conscious road rider? And the answer is no, probably not. Plus, the appropriate apparel quandary once again raises it’s head and the feet once again disappear under the table..
So, if flats have medical and style downsides.. but Shimano SPD really aren’t weighted or designed for road cycling, what are the alternatives..?
Well, how we see it there are 2 options..
1. Inhale a large dose of courage, buy some knee pads and saddle up the Look Keo. The affordable go-to clipless for regular road riders, Keo are a great pedal and the best-selling clipless pedal of all time. Tension can be loosened so there is less resistance when unclipping HOWEVER it remains a typical clipless cleat and pedal system.
2. Buy Bythlon, rock-up and ride.
Bythlon is a 2020 innovation that offers one of the very few viable alternatives to clipless. Using form-fitting technology (think lego!) the rider can step in and out of the pedal rather than having to twist. No more fear of attachment, no more knee or achilles strain and no more sneakers…
Also worth noting, Bythlon is fully compatible with all 3 screw shoes (which is pretty much every road shoe on the market) so whatever your cycle style… you can confidently put your feet up on rather than under the table.
When all is said and done, pedals (and shoes actually) are a subjective matter and each rider will have their own preference, so if you are seeking further advice or independent opinion, GCN and GCN Tech have run a couple of articles on exactly this subject, reviewing all of the products mentioned above..
In this link they use science to tackle the great debate and here they review the Bythlon system.
Shop here to join the Bythlon community.