As you pedal on your bicycle your legs drive the crank in a 360 degree motion, with your feet providing the power to propel yourself forward, and (slowly) up hills. When the pedal is at the top of its revolution (lets just say for reference 12′o’clock) your foot is able to put much pressure during this part of the stroke passing power all the way down the drivetrain, hereby allowing your opposite foot to prepare for transferring power to the other pedal which has traveled from the 6′o’clock position at the very bottom of the pedal stroke all the way to its 12′o’clock position. And the process repeats, over, and over, and over again – until you reach your destination. While this hypnotic process will get you to your destination you might have gathered that half of your efficiency is being lost as you transfer your weight from foot to foot only applying the power from the 12′o’clock position onwards. Somewhere along the line a cyclist came up with the idea of locking your feet into some sort of apparatus (a cage of some sort) to balance the power being placed on the pedals to provide a near 360 degree power transfer – this time being able to give power when you lift your leg as opposed to just pushing down. They proved themselves immediately, thus beginning a war between cyclists that continues to rage on as to what the right type of pedal to use, how to achieve optimal power transfer, and attachment to the pedal itself.
Obviously if you didn’t have pedals you wouldn’t be able to get far on your bicycle – they are an essential component for bicycle tourists and come in many shapes and sizes and prices. When I first started planning out my trip, I spent hours upon hours reading other bicycle tourists blogs, gear listings and and reports trying to garner information on what they used. I came out of it with a whole lot of spandex, funny looking shoes, and more logos than I could ever want to wear on my body at any point in time with varied choices in pedals which could be split into two major categories – clipless and not clipless. Yes there are other solutions, like the above mentioned ‘cage’ setup, but with newer technologies and methods appearing on the market a very small number of cyclists seem to use this system now a days.
As you can see all of these types work in some way shape or form, offering the benefit of increased pedal power, sometimes at the cost of added expense – apparatuses that require maintenance, special attachment systems to connect to even more special shoes that are only suited for one purpose and may not have features such as water proofing. I hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly 20 years when I decided to embark on a long term bicycle journey and commenced my research. I came the conclusion that:
- Over the course of my journey based on wear and tear of other cyclists gearI was looking to replace my pedals – or at the very least perform an overhaul of bearings and internals at some point in time. Based on this, I wondered if I would be able to settle on a pedal set that would be available globally that I would feel comfortable on, or not be discontinued with advances “latest” technologies/buzz in the industry. I figured 150,000km was an adequate global distance to cycle, and based upon reports I saw that pedals could last from 5,000km to 40,000km+ based on the quality, the road conditions and of course price.
- Some pedals worked only with a specific manufacturers style of attachment, often an a soaring high cost. If I was to rip a hole in the shoe, would I be able to find a replacement in a 3rd world country? Or would I need to carry not only a spare set of shoes, spare parts for the pedals, maybe even another set of pedals with me so that my shoes and pedals could work asynchronously without one component fitting with the other at all times? Were the shoes multipurpose
- Were the shoes if I was to go with a proprietary system able to be used outside of cycling? I didn’t foresee I would be spending much time in a hotel, more walking through dirt and mud to find a place to sleep for the night, as well the idea of carrying spare shoes dangling off the back of my bicycle by their laces didn’t appeal to me when it started to rain, or worse – losing a shoe due to poor tying ability.
I had put the cheapest pedals I could find onto my touring bike upon purchase knowing that a decision would be made in the future, but at least with $10 pedals on the bicycle I could zip around, run errands and see what it felt like to ride again. It was like riding when I was 11 delivering papers every afternoon, no big deal, but it was apparent that with more and more weight added onto the bicycle I’d soon be wishing that I had all 360degrees of pedaling power available to me.
That’s when I found PowerGrips in the local Bicycle shop, nestled high up in a corner collecting a small layer of dust on their packaging alongside a wall of fancy pedals and shoes. I was curious, at a small bag with little parts that claimed to offer inceased pedaling ability and ease of use without all the hassles of other solutions. At $25 I took them home, eager to test if they stood up to their claims knowing that if they did work it could open doors to the upcoming travels by means of using other types of that could better handle daily abuse and such.
On the market for over 15 years Powergrips maintain a small but loyal global following of cyclists sharing the same pedaling mindset – The product is quite simple. A strap attached to each pedal is angled outwards allowing one to insert their foot into the loop. The cyclist needs to simply twist their foot to cause the strap the tighten lightly to provide the cyclist the 360 degrees of pedaling power they desire, also allowing them to quickly disengage their foot from the strap should they need to stop unexpectedly. Once you have them adjusted for your foot and shoe size they are very comfortable to die in, and don’t pinch the tops of your feet and one will often not notice that they are being used. If you do find yourself having pains, or noticing that they are too tight and causing your feet to pedal on an angle which can cause eventual knee pains they can be adjusted easily in seconds.
Installing the Powergrips is a fairly easy task – Included in the kit is a small metal bracket to attach to your pedals with 2 Phillips (star) screws and lock nuts, and a hexagon screw to provide strap adjustment for those with bigger or smaller shoes. PowerGrips also offers a larger/longer strap for those with abnormally sized shoes. With my Size 12 Hiking Boots I am still able to comfortably shove my feet into the straps without issue, so cannot speak for the longer straps. Installation for both pedals can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. Powergrips uses a small piece of metal to cinch the adjustment screw to the straps to avoid sharp edges puncturing the strap which Out of 30,000km of use I have somehow lost one of these small pieces of hardware likely due to bumpy roads/lack of maintenance/???. Rather than panic and buy a new pair of straps I found that an M5 fine threaded screw would fit, and simply bent a piece of aluminum from a beer can to protect the strap which did the same job. I make a point once a week when performing a more detailed look at my bicycle to quickly check over these parts going forward.
The PowerGrips are made out of Kevlar which I have found to be very durable. Since the loops of the straps do stick out and cause added weight, if you are not riding with your feet in the straps you will by default notice them upside down when pedaling, and depending on how you have them setup they may frequently contact the pavement causing wear to the “forward” side of the straps. This isn’t enough to break them, but is enough to cause a fraying which makes them lose some of their good looks. Also, if you decide not to use them and just step on them while pedaling you might even get the corners of them caught inside your pedal mechanism, which may even cause a strap to rip if they have been well used and abused. This has happened to me once, after the strap itself was well worn with over 14,000km of usage. Luckily, Powergrips can be had for under $20 if you live in the United States of America, and you may just even find them in a Local Bike Shop just like I did hiding behind piles of dust and dirt. They’ve turned out to be a real hidden gem for bicycle touring. Here’s some photos detailing some of the wear on the pedal after repeat use and what can happen however if your shoes are too wide. Keep in mind the boots are well over a year old with 14,000km of riding and countless treks into the woods and up hills with, worn daily non from sunrise to sundown.
I have no desire to upgrade or try different types of pedal systems, as the Powergrips have shown that they can stand up to repeated abuse, allow me to ride with any sort of footwear, and provide the ability to deal with starts and stops with a heavy load on my bicycle in urban areas. They are cheap enough to replace if one gets ripped, and although hard to find in smaller countries, they can be easily found online and shipped by mail order. I’ll continue to purchase Powergrips and the cheap pedals I use for the remainder of the world trip.