I destroy pedals. I’m not sure what is wrong with me. I’m starting to get a complex. On my longest two trips I’ve either replaced or rebuilt my pedals multiple times, while others have rarely had to do so.
I don’t hammer on my pedals. I like my knees too much and need them to take me on other adventures. I tend to spin my pedals at a moderately high cadence and rarely stand to grind out a hill. I geared our bikes low so that, while loaded, we would never have to leave the saddle, even during ascents with double digit grades.
For touring I’ve always used some variation of a platform pedal with either toe cages or straps. I’ve never used clip-in pedals while touring. Primarily I like to keep things simple and clips can break (a rare occurrence) or you can lose a screw from the bottom of a cleat (as happened to Sarah when we biked from Yosemite National Park to Portland Oregon) which makes pedaling nearly impossible. Also, I don’t want to carry additional shoes or make tap dancing sounds when I walk because of the cleats attached to the soles of my shoes.
Pedals are mechanical parts and mechanical things wear and break over time. To aid in understanding of how I’ve managed to wreck pedals, it helps to look at the parts that are designed to wear.
Pedals rotate around an axle on either:
- bushings (a metal lining),
- ball bearings (small metal balls),
- roller bearings (a bearing similar to a ball bearing but using small cylindrical rollers instead of balls), or
- some combination thereof
These parts are designed to wear out and not damage the axle or races (the surface where ball bearings contact). There are bearings or bushings on the inboard (side closest to the crank) and outboard side of the pedal. All bearings or bushings are lubricated with grease.
I used the stock pedals (with in- and outboard ball bearings) with toe cages on my Miyata 1000 LT for commuting to work, weekend trips, a partial East Coast USA tour, and tour of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The pedals were rebuilt once or twice before the bicycle was sold. It was my first "adult" bike and I didn't have anything else with which to compare the rate of pedal wear.
It wasn't until I took longer trips and realized that I had a problem with pedals. I am still seeking a twelve step program to wrestle with this demon. I'm on step 1, admitting I have a problem with pedals.
For the England to Singapore trip in 2001-2002, I used MKS Sylvan Road pedals (in- and outboard ball bearings) with Power Grip straps. They started clicking (a sign of the bearings wearing out) before I got out of England. It is possible that the pedals were incorrectly adjusted out of the factory and lead to premature wear.
I picked up a cheap pair of platform pedals from a department store (bushing type, non-rebuildable) that lasted until somewhere in the Czech Republic before the retaining nut snapped off and the pedal went flying onto the berm of the road.
In Prague I had a bicycle shop rebuild the MKS pedals (replaced the ball bearings and grease). I used at least one more pair of cheap bushing type pedals after the bearings in the MKS pedals wore out again. The MKS' were rebuilt at least twice more before arriving in Singapore. I don't recall any of the other three guys in the group ever having to rebuild/replace their pedals on the entire trip.
MKS Slyvan Road Pedals
- Likes: can be rebuilt (ball bearings and grease are cheap), relatively light weight (360 g/pair), straps or toe cages are easy to add
- Dislikes: some skill involved in rebuilding the pedals (adjusting the locknut on the bearing correctly is a skill - too tight or too loose and you end up with premature wear), to have a shop rebuild the pedals (if a shop will touch them) can be about the price of a new pedal, my feet would go numb (The platform where the foot rests is not flat. The center axle, where the ball of the foot rests is below the front and back cage), poor grip due to smooth cage edges
- Retail cost ~$25 - $30
After returning back to the USA in 2002, I bought a pair of clearance Performance Bicycle Forté Campus pedals (chromoly spindle with non-replaceable bushings). One side of the pedal was a platform and the other was a clip-in. I swapped these between my touring bike (I used the platform side with Power Grips) and mountain bike (I used clip side without the straps).
Subsequently, I used these pedals in 2002 on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail (east coast USA to the west coast), where I met Sarah, on weekend trips and a few week Yosemite National Park to Portland tour.
Forté Campus Pedals
- Likes: Flexibility to clip-in or not, straps and toe cages are easy to add, less foot numbness (the central axel housing is thicker than on the MKS pedals, providing a flatter surface)
- Dislikes: Heavy (425 g/pair), bushings cannot be replaced, relatively expensive compared to a rebuildable pedal (about the same price as MKS touring pedals)
- Cost ~$40 - $50
I debated using the Performance pedals to start out from Houston but ultimately decided not to. The clip side was unnecessary and added weight. Additionally there was slight side-to-side play in one pedal which was a sign of wear.
For our tour of the Americas, we ended up using a combination of pedals throughout the trip. We both started with new MKS Sylvan Touring pedals (they use in- and outboard ball bearings) but I did consider buying Velo Orange Touring pedals. The VO pedals use roller bearings and I expected they would last longer than ball bearing pedals. Roller bearings distribute the force over cylinders, rather than a single point of contact as do ball bearings, and theoretically wear less quickly. They were relatively expensive and at the time, I opted for the MKS pedals instead.
My pair of MKS pedals were worn after 5,600 km (3,500 miles) and I had them rebuilt at Hellgate Cyclery along with a headset replacement in Missoula, Montana while waiting for a Phil Wood hub (that eventually died, after being repaired by the manufacturer) to be repaired.
Sarah's MKS pedals lasted about 9,800 km (6,090 miles) before wearing out. We tried to get Sarah's pedals rebuilt in the San Diego, CA area but shops wouldn't touch them ("not worth their time"/cost prohibitive to fix), instead offering to sell us new pedals. I didn't have the tools to fix the MKS pedals myself so we bought a cheap pair of Performance Forté ATB Comp Pedals (with non-replaceable bushings).
This pair of Forté ATB Comp pedals lasted about 6,850 km (4,260 miles), and were replaced in Costa Rica. Subsequently, we replaced Sarah's Forté pedals with a pair of Velo Orange Touring pedals, which I had researched before leaving Texas. I was interested in the durability of the roller bearings hoping they would be longer lasting than pedals with ball bearings or bushings.
My rebuilt MKS pedals made it from Montana to Ecuador, 14,560 km (9,048 miles), before needing to be rebuilt! This is the longest I've ever had a pair of pedals last, a testament to the skilled mechanics at Hellgate. I considered rebuilding them but but wanted to try something new. I experienced intermittent foot numbness with the MKS pedals and so ordered a pair of VO pedals for myself.
MKS Slyvan Touring Pedals
- Likes: can be rebuilt (ball bearings and grease are cheap), straps and toe cages are easy to add , good grip provided by saw-tooth edge of the front and back cage plates
- Dislikes: Heavier than the road version (391 g/pair), shop labor charges (if they will touch them) can be about the price of a new pedal, not flat (the center axle, where the ball of the foot rests is below the front and back cage, and my feet went numb)
- Cost ~$25 to $30
Forté ATB Comp Pedals
- Likes: straps and toe cages are easy to add, second lightest of the pedals in this review (260 g/pair), least expensive of the pedals reviewed hear
- Dislikes: Cannot be repaired (about the same price as MKS touring pedals)
- Cost ~$20-$30
Velo Orange VO Touring Pedals
- Likes: straps and toe cages are easy to add, lightest of the pedals in this review (236 g/pair), central axle housing is relatively high compared to other pedals reviewed (never any foot numbness), roller bearings make the pedal smooth, theoretically rebuildable - outboard bearings are replaceable but...
- Dislikes: ...inboard bearing is a non-replaceable bushing, Expensive - especially considering they are not fully rebuildable.
- Cost ~$55 - $65
I loved the VO pedals, until I didn’t. The roller bearings were smooth, they were lightweight, and most importantly, the platform was grippy and relatively flat (I never had numb feet). But in Argentina, they developed a click. It wasn’t until I took them apart to inspect them that I realized the roller bearings were only present on the outboard side, the inboard side was a non-replaceable bushing. One of the pedal’s inboard bushings had begun to wear. They made it to Ushuaia, but they’re being retired to the recycling bin after 11,720km (7,281 miles). The lack of inboard roller bearings and price made these pedals a disappointment.
Sarah’s VO pedals also lasted until Ushuaia and are anxious to go on the next adventure. They show no signs of wear as mine did. She’ll be using them on our upcoming tour.
I’m speculating that my premature pedal wear problem is due to me possibly putting uneven pressure on the pedal platform (closer to the crank rather than centered on the middle of the pedal). I’m interested to try a pedal with full (inboard and outboard) roller bearings to see if it alleviates the issue.
Future Purple Pedal Experiment (or 🎶I’ll be a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple pedal eater🎶)
For the next trip, I’m trying a new pedal – the VP Components VP-001 pedal. It’s larger than anything I’ve used, definitely grippy, flat (hopefully, no foot numbness), has full roller bearings, but they’re relatively heavy at 345 grams/pair. The best part is that they are purple! I suspect, because of the color, they were on clearance for ~$45 (retail $80). At some point in the future I’ll report if the pedals were worth the money.
I expect, with full roller bearings, they should be long-wearing and smooth.
Unfortunately, I can’t use Power Grips on these pedals and had to opt for a different type of strap. I really like Power Grips (highly recommend if you don’t like toe cages, do not want to use clip-in pedals or want more grip than just pedals alone).