Kicking & Screaming: Platform Pedals for Bike Touring / Bikepacking

Pedals and shoes have taken up a bit of research time recently. For all my past mountain biking exploits and previous travels I’ve passionately ridden SPDs, with clipless pedals as they are oddly dubbed. Not this time. Here is some minutiae regarding my foray into platforms and bike travel shoes.

Update: Make sure to check out our more recent big roundup of Flat Pedals for Bike Touring and Bikepacking. I’ve been something of an advocate for clipless in the past. I love the metallic snap as your foot couples with the bike, and is automatically locked in the ideal position. I love the efficiency of using the upward pull to attack hills, and the certitude that your feet will stay in place when bounding down rock-strewn single track. After swearing I would faithfully holdfast the camp of clipless pedals, here I am waving it goodbye.

On our last tour I burdened myself with a pair of light hikers, a pair of SPDs and a pair of Chacos. That’s a lot of footwear to lug on a bike and it’s pretty ridiculous to travel with half a closet’s worth of shoes. I’m not going to pamper myself with plush comfort in Africa, so it’s time to pair down, literally. Realistically, we are attempting to travel in a slightly more minimalist fashion, so it’s imperative that I make the switch and get comfortable riding flats, for the sake of space.

UPDATE: After this, read the 7,500 km review

Choosing Platform Pedals for Bike Touring

As I started looking into flats, I wanted to make sure they would perform well and hold up on a rugged trip. I had a list of features that were crucial:

1. Chromoly spindles with sealed bearings and proven toughness.

This factor was number one on my list. Although not all of the pedals I explored had the same type of bearings, they are all solid and sealed. I had tried a set of Straightline AMPs with exposed bushings and while they seemed solid, and are minimalist in construction, the lack of spin posed a problem, and I was worried about how they’d hold up.

2. The pedals need to have pins that are removable from the opposite side.

This is a must for me. Having the allen head on the opposite side is preferable because the bolt heads are nestled in the protected recesses of the pedal, and much less likely to get rock-thrashed. Although there is a chance that a pin can get bashed and bent, making it hard to extract, I think the alternative design would be much harder to mend on the road.

3. Platforms needed to be large enough for support, but not too big.

A lot of platform pedals, typically made for downhill mountain biking, are huge. Anything over 100mm is just too wide for a touring platform, for me anyway. Some folks with size 14 shoes may feel differently.

4. The overall weight of the pedals needed to be around 400 grams or less.

There is just no reason to don a pair bullet proof pedals made for 10 foot drops when touring, even if a portion of the route is single track.

Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire El Gordo
Canadian made Blackspire components.

Blackspire Sub4 Pedals

$80-90 / 371g / 92 x 92mm platform

After an obsessive amount of research trying to find the perfect pedal that would tick all the boxes and had proven reviews, I settled on Blackspire Sub4s. Their size and weight are perfect, and I was convinced that these pedals are durable after reading several reviews and forum posts. A few folks claimed to have months on these pedals in ‘all-mountain’ conditions. That bodes well for more lighter style riding. There are a couple of photos floating around the internet of the Sub4’s cage getting snapped as a result of a rider nailing a rock coming off a big drop, but that shouldn’t be a problem for me. The only question is whether the bearings will hold up for a couple thousand miles of spinning. I’ll let you know.

Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire Sub4
The Sub4s are perfect are the perfect size at 92 x 92mm. Just wide enough and long enough to remain comfortable, but still fairly svelte.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire Sub4
Low profile at 17mm with a slight concave for grip.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire Sub4
Ten perimeter pins offer great traction.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire Sub4
Nicely protected allen heads for the removable pins.

Blackspire El Gordos (for her)

$80-90 / 348g / 74 x 92mm platform

The width of the Sub4 seemed a little overkill for Virginia and I had seen the El Gordo during my research. Cynically named, the El Gordo’s platform is a thin 74mm wide and has 2 pins less than the Sub4, but still remain grippy. The El Gordo has the same design characteristics as the Sub4, just slightly more narrow.

Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire El Gordo
The El Gordo is intended for mini BMX and ladies freeride.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire El Gordo
At 74mm wide, it offers a slightly more streamlined design in a lighter package.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire El Gordo
CNC’d from 6061 T6 like their other pedals.
Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire El Gordo
17mm low-profile body is slightly concave to increase grip

A few Other Options

Bike Touring Pedals
Here are a few other pedals I found that didn’t quite do it for me. I was fairly close to moving on the Shimano Saints, but I felt that they are a bit wide. Details below, from left to right (in order of preference):

Shimano Saint MX80 Pedals: $90 / 500g / 95mm wide x 90mm long (platform)

– Weighs 100g over the Sub4s; Slightly bulkier with the platform being out further from the crank than most (see these photos)
– Definitely a proven and tough pedal

Azonic 420 Platform Pedals: $100 / 430g

– At 430g these pedals weigh about 60 grams over the Sub4s; I read about axle fragility on a couple of reviews

VP Vice Platform Pedals: $72 / 378g / 105 x 105mm platform

– Slightly larger than I’d like
– The VP Vice is a well-respected pedal that is slightly cheaper than others on this list

Truvative Holzfeller Platform Pedals: $80 / 590g

– Very heavy

Acros A-Flat: $99 / 465g / 120 x 110mm platform

– Too large; not many reviews

Hope Technology: $160 / 390g

– Way too expensive
– Supposedly the bearings are bullet proof

Bike Touring Pedals - Blackspire Big Slim MK II
Blackspire Big SLim MKII – A great alternative to the Sub4s; same size with 2 additional pins and about 50 grams heavier. I would expect these to be a bit burlier for heavier riders.

Five Ten AEscent – Bike Travel Shoes for all occasions

The next step was finding some shoes that would be stiff enough to pedal a 100km day and comfortable enough to explore craggy city streets. I wanted a shoe that could be just as much at home hiking as it would be on the bike. So I looked into Five Ten’s AEscent. The AEscent is technically an approach shoe, which I think translates to scrambling around boulders and light climbing, so I figured it would be a descent hiker.

Bike Touring Shoes - Five Ten AEscent
The AEscent is a well-built and seemingly sturdy shoe in a nice color scheme.

I briefly had some Five Tens in the past that I used for commuting. The beautiful thing about their sticky Stealth rubber is that it seemingly provides leverage in the six-o’clock to nine-o’clock bit of pedal stroke rotation. Sometimes it actually feels as though you are clipped in. The trickiest part to learning to ride with them, more evident on technical terrain, is getting used to quickly planting your foot in the right position; sometimes they seem almost too sticky and make it hard for micro-adjustments.

Bike Touring Shoes - Five Ten AEscent
An approach shoe by trade, the AEscent has a few reinforced areas that make it a good candidate for rugged travel.

Upon getting the shoes I was immediately impressed with how the sole is plenty stiff, yet the shoe maintains a nice comfortable feel for walking. The AEscent seems to be a very well constructed and durable shoe that should be able to take a beating. So far I’ve only worn the AEscent around town and tried them out with the Blackspires a couple of times, but I think I made the right choice. Only time will tell and I’ll provide updates as I put them through their paces.

Bike Touring Shoes - Five Ten AEscent
Can’t beat the stickiness of the Stealth rubber.

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