In a year that could best be described as a never-ending dumpster fire, 2020 was an unexpected wellspring for flat pedal aficionados in the form of lower prices and refined functionality. Not wanting to miss out on the pedals’ increased popularity, shoe manufacturers responded with more choices for flat-friendly footwear. Is more necessarily better, though? To answer that question, I spent nine months testing flat pedal shoes from Five Ten, Northwave, Pearl iZUMi and Ride Concepts.
It used to be that there were two kinds of flat pedals: the fancy ones sporting alloy platforms and metal pins; and the more basic, composite models with molded-in pins. If you wanted lots of traction, that meant ponying up for the pricier, all-metal pedals. But then, manufacturers figured out how to combine replaceable metal pins with more affordable composite platforms–a win/win for thrifty (or crash-prone) riders. In addition to being less costly, composite pedals are often lighter than their metal counterparts, and many companies now spec nylon-bodied pedals with the same high-quality bearings and spindles found in their pricier, alloy models.
Gravel Wheel & Tire Trends
After spending three days perusing booths at the 2019 Sea Otter Classic, I can say without hesitation that it’s a very good time to be a (gravel) tire nerd. Nearly every tire manufacturer–both big and small–now offers (or will be offering) dedicated gravel tires. But it’s not just tire companies that are sliding into the gravel space. Rim and wheel vendors are responding to gravel riders’ needs with dedicated models designed for mixed-surface use.
Gravel–The New, Old Hotness
California’s Sea Otter Classic (SOC) has long been a major source of new product announcements (at least for North America). But with the demise of the Interbike trade show, Sea Otter can now claim the crown for the premiere cycling event in the United States. In previous years, the gravel segment was represented by a relatively small group of companies. This year’s event, however, saw a major increase in gravel offerings. And as gravel matures, we’re seeing more diversification in the types of bikes being offered. The traditional, road-inspired gravel bike continues to dominate, but specialized models such as dedicated gravel racing machines and bikepacking-influenced rigs are gaining traction.
Based on the popularity of last year’s flat pedal roundup, it’s safe to say that more and more gravel/adventure riders are making the switch from clipless to flat pedals. Why? There are many reasons, but as I mentioned in Part-I of the 2018 roundup, modern flats are bigger, grippier, and offer support that rivals–and in some cases, exceeds–clipless pedals’ performance. OK, but what makes one pedal better than another? The answer is, it depends. Some riders want maximum grip, others favor light weight, while some place more value on ground clearance. Whatever your criterion, though, you’re bound to find at least one flat pedal that meets your particular needs.