Friday, April 22, 2011

Basket Pedals Are THE DEVIL!

Just looking at this thing makes me cringe.

Buying mountain bike pedals is a lot like biking a difficult downhill line.  You need to commit, and commit hard, or it's going to eat you up and spit you out.

Here we are on the cusp of mountain biking season and there are probably some of you out there thinking about getting into mountain biking for the first time or maybe updating some of the equipment on your standard issue mountain bike.  I want to save you from a rookie mistake that I'm guilty of committing. Hopefully, the two minutes it takes for you to read this article will save you the six months it took me to figure out that I was being an idiot.

You'll be biking shit like this in no time. 
One of the first things that you'll notice as you make that inaugural run down a rock laden trail is that even with all the suspension systems on your fancy bike, your seat is trying to force its way through the seat of your shorts.  Instinctively, you'll stand up on your pedals like millions of mountain bikers before you.  This is a good thing.  You're on your way to developing the classic attack position.  Unfortunately, as you hit the next set of bumps your Air Jordans will fly off those stock-grade platform pedals like you're wearing roller blades, and if you're lucky the seat won't poke a hole in your colon.

As you stand there doubled over in pain above a pool of your vomit, it dawns on you why people would go to all the trouble to buy pedals that attach to their shoes.

You'll also learn, (possibly from whoever has tricked you into taking your bike onto a dry stream bed) that by attaching your feet to the pedals you will not only avoid crushing your gonads, but you can also become more efficient: harnessing the power of your up-stroke by pulling the pedal up with your leg.

However you don't own those ridiculous looking shoes.  And you're a cheap bastard (like me) and see those basket pedals hanging near the register offering an easy solution.

...and when you step off the bike you'll be ready to play
soccer with your Brazilian friends.
After all, why shell out all that money for a new pair of shoes, AND new pedals, when you can just buy the pedals with those handy foot-baskets and you're covered.  You reason that once you figure out if you really love this mountain biking thing you can commit with the big bucks for the ridiculous shoes.  What a great compromise!

What you don't know yet is that those pedals will leave you a scab covered mess begging for your mommy before they get through with you.

Before I go any further, I want you to take a good look at those pedals.

Notice the nylon straps on the sides of the baskets. While these prevent the pedals from bouncing out from under your feet on rocky trails, they also prevent you from sliding your foot out sideways.  This is key.  This means that anytime you want to remove your foot from the pedal (like when you want to stop from falling on your side and crushing your ribs on some rocks) you have to pull your foot all the way out of the basket.  This inevitably leads to many gut busting laugh sessions for your biking friends as you fall in slow motion onto the middle of the trail simply because you came to a stop and can't get your foot out of the basket in time.
Shoes with sockets.  They second as
tap dance attire.

Compare this to most of the "clipless" style pedals which lock into a socket in the bottom of the funny looking biking shoes.  The socket and pedal system are designed so that you simply have to turn your heel slightly inward or outward for the mechanism to release. What takes a full half second with the basket, takes a fraction of that with a clipless pedal.

New rule: pedals should
not look like these.

If you look again at the picture of the basket pedal, you'll notice the shape of the pedal on the bottom.  It kinda looks like a bear trap.  In fact, there are pedals out there that rely on this beartrap design alone, instead of the basket, to keep your feet from slipping off of the pedal.  Unfortunately, this keeps everything else from slipping off of the pedal; especially the skin on your shins.

I sliced up my shins more times than I can count in those first six months with basket pedals.  When I wasn't cutting open my hands from slo-mo sideways falls, I was getting launched into the pedals shins first.   I came home with so many bloody socks that my wife wondered if I was a serial killer in my spare time.

Jobu demands a blood sacrifice!
In fact, it got so bad that my buddy Gered and I began to worry when I DIDN'T pay a "blood tax" to the mountain biking Gods.  We feared we were only making them more angry, and that the next time I would surely pay the price.

This lunacy was of course entirely due to my use of basket pedals. It had nothing to do with my lack of coordination and inclination toward ridiculous superstition.

In any event, it finally dawned on me that I needed to try something new.  I ponied up for a pair of mountain biking shoes with the funny sockets, and bought a set of the Speedplay Frog style clipless pedals.

Not only are the pedals smaller and lighter, they don't aggressively rake my shins.  Best of all, I'm quicker on the draw when I need to use my feet to keep myself from falling over.

In retrospect, I should have gone all-in on the shoes and pedals from the beginning.  As with most things in mountain biking, hesitancy, uncertainty and half-assed compromises will get you into trouble.

Maybe that's why I love it so much.


  1. You are speaking the truth! I think many new bikers are initially resistant to clip-less pedals at first; maybe because they are in sticker shock from their bike purchase. When i first got my bike I thought "basket pedals will hold my feet right?". So I rocked the basket pedals and sneakers for about a month before I saw the light. Now I have forged the connection between man and machine with clip less pedals.

  2. Give blood. Go mountain biking.