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tech talk: pedals

Posted Mar 31 2009 11:50pm
In building up my Kona 'cross bike, I made some specific decisions:

1. I knew I would set it up as a singlespeed ATB with upright (semi-flat) bars. The older I get, the less comfortable I feel with drops, especially with drops that cause me to lean over very far. (Raising drop bars to a logical height would render the look and handling almost ridiculous. I tried it a few times on the All-Rounder and was unhappy.)

2. I knew that I wanted something that would end up riding like the love child of a mountain bike and a BMX cruiser. I almost thought of finding a BMX cruiser, but I am too tall to ride a 24" cruiser comfortably anymore and 26" cruisers are VERY hard to come by cheap.

3. I knew that I would HAVE to ride with flat pedals. Because of my multiple knee issues I already knew that clipless pedals were absolutely OUT for me. (I did race clipless back in the 90's when I did time-trials with Cyclisme, and my knees and ankles howled in agony. Over the protestations of the directeur sportif I went back to topeclips and straps for the latter half of the season.) I am comfortable with toeclips and straps for commuting and populaires, but the thought of fumbling for the toeclip while I'm trying to learn how to mount and dismount on the fly was just too much to contemplate. So I began looking around for a good strong set of BMX flat pedals.

I had lots of choices, new and used and helped considerably by my ability to buy parts at a discount through work. Ultimately, I settled on the Crank Brothers 5050x. (The single designates non-sealed ball bearings; the xx version indicates sealed bearings.)





Along with the pedals, I bought an extra set of screws to insert into the platform for extra grip.

When the pedals arrived, I was dismayed to find that one of them had a horrible crunchy feeling when spinning, that could only indicate either a bad bearing or a bad bearing race (the surface against which the bearings roll). Sometimes a bad mold or excessive wear in one area will cause a crack to form in the metal which results in uneven rolling.

I opened the dustcap to find that the spindle -- the solid metal shaft which runs through the center of the pedal body -- was only half to two thirds the length of the pedal body -- meaning that I had to use a socket wrench to get at the adjusting nut to try and adjust the bearings. No good. No matter what I did the bearings still sucked, or if I did dial in a decent adjustment there was too much side-to-side play in the pedal. I finally called Crank Brothers and asked for advice. I was told that this model of pedal has "non-serviceable" bearings, and that I should send the offending pedal back for an exchange (at no extra charge).

I appreciated the company's desire to put things right, and sent back the pedal yesterday. But it left me wondering. The loose-bearing version of this pedal retails for between 75 and 90 bucks. The sealed-bearing version (which is "serviceable") retails for between 100 and 120 bucks. 75 bucks is a lot of money for a pedal which cannot be adjusted, let alone overhauled. (I had contemplated overhauling the pedal until I saw how deeply set the bearing surface was -- there'd be almost no good way to reach it to overhaul loose bearings. I understand that this may well be the point, but it's not a point I relish dealing with, as a customer OR a retailer.)

Still, I like the feel of the pedal under my shoe, and since Crank brothers was nice enough to replace it at no extra charge (though that's slightly inaccurate, as I had to pay for shipping it back to the company) I will see how well they hold up after I install them.

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Now that I've figured out the pedals, what about the shoes?

Shoes are no longer sold as apparel in bike shops, they're sold as componentry. Parts. That's because nearly all bike shoes are now designed to be used with clipless pedals. Since I can't use clipless pedals, I have this idea of taking an old pair of BMX sneakers to my cobbler and having him install two or three small "spikes" -- cyclocross style -- at the front of the sole. Trying to run my bike through a muddy bog in BMX flats will be almost impossible, so adding a little bit of traction at the front of the sole (just ahead of where my foot will sit on the pedal) seems to make the most sense. I will ride the bike in those shoes a few times to determine placement of the spikes so they're not in my way when I pedal but they're useful when I need them. I may also place a couple at the heel, but I'm not sure about that yet. Stay tuned.

(Experienced crossers, I welcome suggestions.)

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Special thanks go out to Tarik Saleh, an experienced cyclocross rider who gave freely of his knowledge and experience when I asked a few shy, tentative questions. His clear, detailed answers will help me to devise a plan to get fit over the spring and summer so that I will actually be able to finish the course in my first race.
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