Clipless pedals have long been touted as the preferred choice for competitive and recreational riding, but more and more adventure riders are making the switch to flat pedals. Why? Flats offer convenience, comfort, and versatility that clipless pedals just can’t match. And now, with the Catalyst ($99 MSRP) from Pedaling Innovations, you can add increased support and pedaling efficiency to the list of flat pedals’ benefits.
Frustrated by the compromises of soft-soled shoes and flat pedals, Pedaling Innovations founder James Wilson was determined to find a better solution. Stiffer shoes were more efficient, but weren’t as comfortable as their softer-soled counterparts. But what if the shoes weren’t the source of the problem? In his work as a strength training coach, Wilson regularly lifted hundreds of pounds barefooted, yet he never felt unstable. The reason? When lifting–and standing flat-footed–his arches were supported at both ends, thereby increasing balance and support.
The first thing you notice about the Catalyst pedals are their massive platforms. Measuring 143 mm x 95 mm, they’re 140% longer than the typical MTB platform pedal. That extra length isn’t just marketing one-upmanship, though. Pedaling Innovations designed the Catalyst for maximum support and efficiency when the rider’s foot is centered over the pedal. Yes, you read that right, the company recommends that you pedal with the arch–not the ball of the foot–centered over the pedal spindle.
According to Wilson, pedaling with the ball of your foot centered over the spindle places stress on the rider’s calf muscles and Achilles tendons. Positioning the rider’s arch over the center of the pedal moves those stresses to the rider’s hips. Research has shown that there is virtually no difference in economy of efficiency between the two pedaling styles (ball vs arch), and that the rider’s hips—not quads–are the major drivers of the pedal stroke.
Conventional flat pedals rely on a combination of pins and concave to keep the ball of the foot centered over the spindle. Moving the ball in front of the spindle reduces the need for excessive concave because the foot applies more downward force with the arch-over-spindle pedaling technique. The Catalyst’s elongated platform provides the necessary support at both ends of the arch, while still allowing freedom of movement needed for technical off-road terrain.
I had already experimented with the arch-over-spindle pedaling style before testing the Catalyst pedals, but even with the stiffest shoes, that combination proved uncomfortable due to the traditional pedals’ smaller surface area. So when it came time to test the Catalysts, I started with a pair of my most flexible sneakers. The difference was immediately noticeable. Putting all of my weight on the Catalyst pedals felt just like standing a wood floor. By comparison, the combination of flexible shoes and conventional pedals felt like I was wrapping my feet around the rungs of a ladder.
Without access to a power meter, I wasn’t able to quantify the arch-over-spindle technique’s advantages or disadvantages. I can say, however, that the oversized Catalyst pedals proved to be extremely secure when used correctly. Because the Catalyst pedals are optimized for a centered foot position, reverting back to a ball-over-spindle pedaling technique results in less traction and support (which is a good incentive to commit to the centered foot position). During my test period, I found that the arch-over-spindle technique worked best with higher gears and lower cadence (especially in rough, technical terrain).
If you’ve ridden VP Components‘ pedals, you may find that the Catalysts’ design looks somewhat familiar. That’s no coincidence, as VP Components manufactures the Catalyst for Pedaling Innovations. Spinning on sealed bearings and bushings, the 506-gram Catalyst pedals require only an 8 mm socket and 6 mm hex key for servicing (but my samples haven’t required any maintenance after several months of all-weather use). The traction pins are easily replaceable, but the removing them can be difficult if the ends become damaged (this is true of other pedals that use the same, grub-style pins).
Pedaling Innovations recommended arch-over-spindle technique certainly takes some getting used to, but some riders may find it preferable to the traditional ball-of-foot pedaling style. If you’re unsure whether the Catalyst pedals are right for you, the company offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee (as well as a limited lifetime warranty and crash replacement policy).
Disclosure: Pedaling Innovations provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.