Before going on a cycle-tour or a long distance cycle the most important thing is that your bike is well adjusted and you like your components. Pedals play an important role in this. There are many different types of pedals to choose from, each have their own pro’s and con’s which suit different people and riding styles. Here are the few main types which I think the choice is between when preparing for your cycle-tour.
Standard Flat Pedals:
These are the type of pedals which are most common on bikes. Everyone is used to them and they are cheap and easy to get a hold of no matter where you are in the world. These types of pedals will appeal to cyclist who like wearing ‘crocs’ or sandals to cycle in. They are comfortable and allow you to wear any type of footwear, or even none –though I wouldn’t recommend this. They allow a wide variety of foot positions as well, so this can help if you are prone to tendonitis or similar injuries. However the biggest con in my eyes is that they only allow you to push down. This limited movement means that you are just primarily using your quads therefore they are more inefficient. Also because you will likely not be using a rigid sole with these pedals this can make you more prone to straining your calves. All in all, good for the occasional cyclist or for low mileage cyclists who enjoy wearing sandals. However they are inefficient and can cause calf strains. If you go for this option I recommend going for a metal pedal because they will last longer and tend to have better bearings.
Flat Pedals with Toe Straps: If you are bound by a budget and don’t want to fork out huge amounts of money on special shoes for clipless pedals these are the ones to go for. They are identical to standard flat pedals (only with a cage or strap) and have very much of the same pros and cons. If you want to ride in your trainers these are for you. They do allow a slightly more circular range of movement due to the strap so you can engage more muscles with these pedals. I would choose these over standard flats because the strap allows an extra option even if you don’t use it you can always just take it off.
Road Clipless Pedals: These are great. If efficiency is what you want, go for these. The road shoes will often have carbon soles giving you a very rigid surface to push on. The shoes also clip into the pedals meaning that you can pedal in a completely circular motion, pulling as well as pushing. This is really useful whilst cycling as it lets you use your glutes, quads and hamstrings. The use of all of your leg muscles means your legs won’t tire as quickly and mean you can cycle faster for longer. However the big con for these types of pedals is that you have a large ‘cleat’ on the bottom of your shoes. This combined with the rigid sole makes walking very hard. Therefore you will almost certainly have to take another pair of shoes with you, which can add to weight. This can be combated by buying ‘cleat covers’ which are available and not very expensive. I have not tried these yet but will do when I go on a week long lightweight cycle-tour in Scotland this summer using my road pedals. I will report back on how easy they were to use as up to now I have chosen not to use road pedals because of the difficulty in walking. The cleats are also traditionally plastic which are not as robust as other styles and I have heard a few stories of them breaking, however all cleats will wear out over time.
MTB Clipless Pedals:
In my eyes, the best. You get almost all the benefits of road pedals but none of the negatives. You clip in so can use all of your muscles in your legs yet they have recessed cleats meaning you can walk around easily. There are several different types of shoe with these pedals; you can use MTB shoes which have a harder more rigid sole slightly harder to walk in but much easier than road pedals. However you can also get touring specific shoes these are a doddle to walk in and often have rubber soles, although they are still very rigid. This is why I chose this option. It means you don’t need to take an extra pair of shoes; you can walk without looking silly and clattering around. Performance and comfort. You can also get MTB pedal variations that are the size of normal pedals so can be used with trainers yet also can be clipped into (picture below). These are perfect for if you enjoy cycling in different types of footwear.
There are many different variations of pedals and shoes. My road pedals are shimano 105 and my MTB pedals are shimano SPD. Both are fantastic and I recommend either to anyone. However I think for touring the MTB pedals with cleats are the winners. I think it is definitely worth spending ~£100 on a good pair of pedals and shoes; it will go a long way and last for years. Although a word of warning if you decide to go clipless, it does take a bit of getting used to. I myself had a few embarrassing moments falling over at traffic lights. However now it is totally natural and very easy. A final word of advice make sure you have your cleats properly adjusted, if you are unsure I am sure there will be videos on YouTube or just pop down to your LBS. Keep pedalling.