Pedaling Innovations Catalyst Review: Big Platform Pedals

Interested in a large platform pedal? How about a massive platform pedal. Pedaling Innovations’ Catalyst promises a more comfortable ride and better performance with their 143mm design. Skyler Des Roches tested a pair over thousands of miles to see if those claims hold water.

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“Wow. Those pedals are huge!”

Yes, thanks. I know these pedals are huge. That’s their deal. They’re huge pedals. The largest pedals on the market, measuring front to back, in fact. And, yes, I know, the brand name is fittingly obtuse. Pedaling Innovations: they’re pedals, and they’re innovative. But are they really?

Pedaling Innovations’ Catalyst pedal is notable for its 143mm length – that’s at least 18mm longer than the next largest pedal I can think of – and its ability to garner comments on the trail. Strangers sometimes simply pointed out their size, as if this was revelatory. My riding friends were typically less reserved, likening them to orthopedic equipment for geriatrics, or those weird round-bottom shoes (I ride with jerks). But, in truth, there is some orthopedic reasoning behind the size of these “dumb giant pedals”.

Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

  • Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals
  • Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

I spent the greater part of a year, with plenty of mountain bike rides, a few singetrack-heavy bikepacking trips, some commuting, and one tough month-long trip testing these pedals to see if the benefits promised by Pedaling Innovations stand up. You’d think I’d be able to tell quicker than that, but (A) long term durability is a key factor for me when it comes to recommending pedals for bikepacking, and (B) testing the Catalyst pedals was complicated by the fact that they’re not just large pedals. These pedals come with a prescription for a mid-foot pedaling position. That is, you’re meant to stand on them so that the spindle is more or less under the middle of your foot.

The innovation in the name comes not so much from the size of these pedals, but from this prescription for a mid-foot pedaling position. Although, this pedaling position isn’t actually new. I’ve been placing my feet on all sorts flat pedals like this for years, but this is the first pedal designed specifically for the idea. And besides, companies just love to throw that I-word around.

Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

A mid-foot pedal position

According to Pedaling Innovations founder James Wilson, this pedaling position promises more efficient and powerful pedaling, by taking stress off small muscles in the ankle and knee, and recruiting larger muscles in the hips and upper legs to do all the work. I do indeed find this to be the case with a mid-foot pedaling position. This benefit has been apparent to me with conventionally sized pedals, too. But the Catalyst’s huge length certainly provides a nice large platform for mashing down on. Furthermore, the length of the pedal supports the foot more fully, which I found to reduce foot fatigue on long, rough descents, and when wearing softer-soled footwear.

The key point of this review is perhaps this: the mid-foot pedaling position works. Without a doubt, I can tell that my legs last longer, and that I can lay down more power when riding like this. It is complicated by one little caveat, however: by sliding your foot forward on the pedal, you are effectively changing your bike’s geometry.

Lately, bike reviewers (myself included) have been paying far more attention to a bike’s seat tube angle, and the effect it has on pedaling position. I have been a strong proponent for steeper seat tube angles, to the point where I had custom DaamBuilt hardtail built with a rare combination of geometry, centered around an unusually steep seat tube angle.

Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

  • Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals
  • Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

In terms of biomechanics, the most important relationship determined by a bike’s seat tube angle is the horizontal distance between the pedal at power stroke (when the crank is pointed forward) and where you sit. By shimmying your foot forward on the pedal, you’re lengthening this horizontal distance between saddle and power stroke, and effectively slackening your bike’s seat tube angle. On my custom bike, where the geometry was chosen based on my preferred mid-foot pedaling position, this is hunky dory. But, my other bikes have rather conventional geometry, with 72.5-73° seat tube angles, as has been widely used in the industry since the days of leather-strapped toe-clips. On these bikes, I find the power and efficiency provided by these Catalyst pedals – and their mid-foot placement – is mostly negated by effectively slackening my seat tube angle even further.

I have all the usual complaints about slack seat tube angles: the increased pedal to saddle set-back seems to promote a slower cadence, requiring higher leg force to push the same number of watts. Going up steep climbs, I feel like my weight is too far back to push downward effectively on the pedals, so it feels like I’m hanging off my handlebar, trying to keep my weight forward. It gets exhausting. Now, I personally blame the frame geo more than the pedals – it’s not the pedals’ fault that bike geo is still catching up to “the science”. The science that has encouraged people to move cleats back on clipless shoes, and has debunked the myth that there are any efficiency gains to be had from “pulling up” on the pedals on the upstroke. Turns out even the world’s best racers don’t do that; the pulling muscles are weak and easily tired out. Humans didn’t evolve to do that.

It’s not the pedals’ fault, but if you feel like you’re already finding your seat tube angle a bit slack, you may want to steer clear of Pedaling Innovations. The Catalyst pedals will only exacerbate the problem. If you’re using a set-back seatpost, or your saddle is slammed back on the rails, it should be relatively straightforward to shift your saddle forward as you shift your feet forward on the pedals.

  • Platform size 128mm x 95mm
  • Overall pedal size 143mm length, 105mm width, from crank arm
  • Thickness 16mm
  • Weight 505g/pair
  • Bearing architecture inboard bushing plus two outboard bearings
  • Price $99
  • Colours available Black, Grey, Red, Blue
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link

How do they compare

The most similar pedals I’ve used to the Catalyst are OneUp Components’ Composite Pedals. Though the OneUps are not as huge, and don’t come with the explicit prescription for a centered foot placement, their convex platform is well-suited to a mid-foot pedal placement, where the thickest part of the pedal rests under the arch of the foot. I like both these pedals, but I my day-to-day preference depends on what footwear I’m wearing.

Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

Wearing flat-bottomed riding shoes, skate shoes, or even flip flops, I find the massive length of the Catalyst exceptionally comfortable, providing support from toe to heal. With hiking or running shoes, or any shoes that have a bit of a pronounced heel lug, I prefer the OneUps. Whereas it can be hard to get a good foot placement on the Catalyst while wearing shoes with a gap between forefoot tread and the heel tread, the convex shape of the OneUps tends to immediately nestle into that gap. That said, I’ll continue to seek out flat-bottomed shoes specifically to use with Catalysts, because the advantages of their size are notable. Beyond the comfort, the full span from ball of foot to back of arch means that rather than spending energy flexing the sole of my footwear with each pedal stroke, 100% of that leg pushing goes into moving the bike forward. I swear it’s more than a placebo.

In terms of grip, both options offer similar traction with 10 well-distributed pins per side on the OneUps and 14 grub screw style pins, clustered more fore and aft, on the Pedaling Innovations. Though neither option quite achieves the class-leading traction like you might find on Race Face Atlas or Spike Spanks, both of which have much sharper pins, the Catalyst’s traction is still adequate for riding down rough trails on a hardtail. That is, unless you plan to occasionally ride with the ball of your foot over the spindle. With this more traditional foot placement, the Catalyst offers pretty poor traction as it lacks traction pins in the center of the pedals. Similarly, in wet weather, the short pins (the pedals are delivered with two lengths of pins) can feel inadequate, as the blank middle section of the pedal can get slippery.

Pedaling Innovations Catalyst review, Big Platform Pedals

Pros

  • Mid-foot pedaling position, combined with full arch support feels legitimately more efficient
  • Bearing/bushing durability has been good after thousands of kms
  • Relatively narrow width (95mm side-to-side) helps reduce pedal strikes
  • 30-day money-back guarantee trial period

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Traction could be better
  • Grub screws are easily rounded from pedal strikes
  • Don’t pair that well with shoes that have a defined heel lug
  • Mid-foot pedaling position can cause cascading changes to riding position
  • 6mm Allen socket on inside of spindle can make it hard to remove pedals on a trip using just a multi-tool (compared to 8mm socket on other high-end pedals)
  • Your friends will make fun of you

Wrap Up

I am an advocate for using flat pedals and non-clipless shoes for bikepacking. There a lot of benefits to wearing regular shoes on a trip that might involve as much living off the bike and hike-a-biking as actual time on the pedals. And I really like the Pedaling Innovations Catalyst for bikepacking. It makes riding in regular shoes, which often lack the stiff soles of clipless shoes, feel much more efficient and comfortable.

I’ll go even further, since I always ride flats. I’ve long suspected that the efficiency gains promised by clipless were mythical at best, and most likely the result decades of marketing groupthink. As much as Pedaling Innovations’ uber-geek, quasi-scientific marketing makes me cringe, a lot of it is not far off from what I experienced on these pedals. Those who have subscribed to the latest trend of touring in soft-soled sandals would do well to use Catalyst pedals. Generally, they pair beautifully with any flat-bottomed shoes. Just be sure to consider the effect that moving your feet forward on the pedals might have to your riding position/body geometry.

The concept behind the Catalyst pedal has proved worthy of further iterations. I hope that the folks at Pedaling Innovations take the Catalyst as a solid proof of concept and continue to improve it as a pedal by experimenting with other pin layouts, moving away from the grub screw pins, and generally seeking to have them competitive with the best pedals out there in terms of traction, weight, and durability. Pedaling Innovations has created a pedal that is exceptional only for its size. Shrunk to a normal size, they are simply one of VP’s many mid-range options that never get reviewed. For now, the concept is excellent, but the execution is merely average. Fortunately, we’ve reached a high average in 2018.

  • Jeremy Sinnard

    Could you please post your sources for the research papers you used for this science? Who conducted the studies? It’s an interesting write up, and I know a lot of people who like flat pedals, but I’m not sure you can math and science about the power and efficiency without a lot of testing and measurements of both types of pedal systems and posting some data.

  • mikeetheviking

    Nice review Skyler!

    Can’t wait to try some of these!
    It would be cool if they offered these in a nylon option also.

  • Skyler

    I’m not aware I did any math or science…I don’t cite any papers, because I don’t use any information beyond my own experience and opinions after spending a long time testing these pedals.

    That said, if you did want to read scientific papers on the subject, they cite dozens on the Pedaling Innovations website. I’ve found some references elsewhere on road racing websites too. I intentionally avoided referring to any of those, because it seems like it could be construed as relying on marketing material. My opinion is all you get.

  • Jeremy Sinnard

    I guess that’s my point. I appreciate your opinion as someone with far more experience than myself, I personally would just look outside of any of the manufacturers claims. Of course pedaling innovations has an marketing agenda as well.

    “The science that has encouraged people to move cleats back on clipless shoes, and has debunked the myth that there are any efficiency gains to be had from “pulling up” on the pedals on the upstroke. Turns out even the world’s best racers don’t do that; the pulling muscles are weak and easily tired out. Humans didn’t evolve to do that.”

  • Skyler

    Well yeah. I mean it’s just a review, so do with it what you will… But, to be clear, I didn’t use any material from Pedaling Innovations, and in fact called their blurring of science and marketing “cringeworthy”…

    The bit you quoted might indeed deserve a citation, but I’ve read those things so many times in the last 5 years that I thought those ideas were pretty pervasive. If you’re pulling on the upstroke, I recommend you read up on that…

  • BortLicensePlatez

    Did you just “by your logic” Skyler, who specificially wrote he cringed at the psuedoscientific claims on the pedals’ website?

  • Nick B

    I have a pair of these catalysts and I have to say this article is spot on. The foot support gain is notable and comfy. The center of the pedal can be very slippery (especially with a non flat sole and wet/snowy conditions) and I have been thinking I might drill and tap a few more choice locations for some extra spikes. I have mostly used these on my fat bike so I haven’t noticed the geometry changing effects on a slack bike. I recently picked up a karate monkey which will be the slackest bike I’ve owned so I guess I’ll see if it changes the feel. I wonder if going to a smaller crank length would be beneficial to negate this effect? I have been thinking that the 175mm cranks on the KM might be a bit long for me anyways, maybe this is worth some investigation. I haven’t put these through a long tour yet but I plan on taking them with me to the Baja this upcoming winter, that should give them a thorough test. But overall, the seem to me a high quality pedal. As someone who had some arch issues on my last long tour I am hoping they will help solve the issue.

    Thanks for the review Skyler,

  • Mark Troup

    I run the MKS Ezy Superior Lambdas on my folding bike, a Tern Verge Tour. The platform is 119mm long, and really demands you center the middle of your foot on the pedal. I always thought it pedaled “easier” than my 29+ rig, but put it down to a 29+ WTB Ranger vs a 20” Big Apple on the folder. Now I’m wondering how much of it is the pedal vs the tires. For comparison’s sake, I run RaceFace Aeffect pedals on my plus rig. A big pedal but not a huge one.

  • Skyler

    Thanks Nick!

    I also hope to play around with modifying the pedals to move pins around and change the type of pins now. I think it’ll be fun, and I can think of a better base for experimentation.

    FWIW, I’ve switched to 170mm cranks on my mountain bikes and really prefer them for spinning up long climbs, and I’m pretty tall. The shorter cranks definitely help mitigate my complaints about slack seat tube angles too (not to be confused with a “slack bike” which is usually referring to the head angle). Mind, my DaamBuilt has a 75° seat tube angle AND 170mm cranks, and I love it best.

  • John Short

    Just like the author, I have nothing to back up my claims but years of riding and then the years of others riding where they went away from flats to pedals where the show attached giving the pedal stroke a full 360 degree s of push pull efficiency. I do agree that these flats make it easy to just hop on a bike with any show and go, but no one out there is going to convince me that pedaling efficiency is even close between flats and clipped systems. Backpacking may be a fresh new way for bike touring to spread into the world of off road biking, but it’s not a new way to pedal a bike. If you want inefficient pedaling in squares, ride those flats, if you want more power and strength in any terrain or surface, stay clipped in. My final case in point, any day I take a roadie clipped in against a flats pedaler up any uphill time trial.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I know the flat v SPD argument has been beaten to death, and ultimately, what works for you, works for you!

    Personally, I do think the ‘upstroke’ claim is something of a myth and I’ve read plenty of reports that support this over the years. But.. I do see the advantages of a very stiff soled/carbon SPD shoe mated to a clipless pedals for a time trail or a road ride (generally at the expense of some comfort). I’ve also found the narrower pedal width of an SPD pedal can be handy for certain types of trail riding, particularly through narrow trenches, rocky gullies and tufty grass. And my SPD shoes tend to last longer, mainly because their soles aren’t torn mercilessly apart by sharp pins.

    All this said… I’m also completely sold on modern, grippy flat pedals for bikepacking and general use. Flat pedals have changed significantly in the last few years, and are a far cry from the crappy ones of old. Now that hoping on a bike with flat pedals is second nature (which took time, and a lot of it), I honestly don’t feel like they’re much to lose when it comes to efficiency – or at least not enough to worry about. And as an aside, I think I’ve become a better/less lazy rider for using them.

    Bear in mind this is coming from someone who recently pedalled half the Baja Divide in trekking sandals… something I’d never imagined I’d ever do… especially back in the day when I was wedded to the idea that SPD + bike shoe = only way to be a serious cyclist and ride long distances.

  • Charly Aurelia

    I am leaning more and more to getting the OneUp Composites on my KM with 170 mm cranks

  • Michael

    I’ve considered these but honestly the otherwise average to slightly below averageness of these has kept me away. Have you noticed any other negative traits like more pedal strikes or your foot rolling over on the pedal?

    As a “midfooter” myself I’d try out a set if or when they bring the quality up.

    P.S. nice to see that Daambuilt again, it deserves a riders rig review, I share many of your geometry preferences. I am considering a custom build now I am curious to see the details you settled on.

  • John Short

    Cass, I sure do not want to squabble about this because in the end, you are correct, what ends up being the comfortable and easy pedal system is going to be what’s used, and if flats get more folks that normally would not ride out on a bike, then I am all in for it. But seriously, a claim that the up stroke and pedaling in a complete circle being a myth is a serious disservice to cycling as a whole. Hey, I am in no way an authority on this and have no lab tests to show or prove anything, just going on an educated base of pure common sense. I could be proved very wrong, but I would think someone out there could take a professional cyclist and utilizing power meters on both pedals that measure watts on the full ped a stroke and it would be proved that clipped pedals and their contribution to power output would be clearly proven over the use of any flat pedal.
    On the flat pedal supporters defense, I do agree that the reason you are saying and agreeing to this myth stuff, is that even the articles you are reading and basing your believes in are written and describing pedaling efficiencies between the two systems by people that just not experienced in using clipped systems. Most, and I am talking high 90’s in percentages of people riding clipped systems do not utilize the full stroke and for those people the efficiencies would indeed seem close. I am in no way saying you guys do not know how to ride clipped pefals, but it is a system that not everyone utilizes to their full capability. Bottom line, in my opinion you will never see a pro cyclist convert to flats because of this myth of the clipped system not being what it is claimed, which is far superior to flats of any kind.

  • Skyler

    Hey John, the study you propose of putting two power meters on the pedals of 100 pro road cyclists has been done. Even the pros don’t pull on the upstroke. Yes, it might seem common sense that putting power down through more of the pedal some would be more efficient, but the muscles needed for pulling are weak, and cost more energy to add power to the upstroke.

    Here’s a 7 year old article about that research: https://roadcyclinguk.com/how-to/bike-fitting-the-myth-of-the-upstroke/

  • John

    I really like this review. After recently rekindling my passion for bikes after 10 years of only casual commuting and building Frankenbikes, I recently purchased my first new bike in 20 years. That process, along with avid reading of this site, has really opened my eyes to the widespread and toxic level of group-think in cycling.

    This review is refreshing in that it addresses the group think about pedals, yet is pretty honest about it’s subjective viewpoint. It also gives praise and criticism evenly, you know, like a real review.

    I am a total skeptic now when it comes to bike marketing, maybe even cynical. So fine, question the ideas these pedals promote, but don’t dismiss them simply because they are out of the mainstream.
    I have been mid-foot pedaling for a long time, and it really helps engage my thighs and gluts. Personally, I like the feel of clip-less pedals, but they promote overuse of my calf muscles. I have been using flats for a while now, and bigger pedals seem like an obvious boon to riding in a wide range of shoe options.

    Cheers!!

  • Skyler

    The side to side width of the Catalysts is kept at a normal width, and significantly narrower than other oversized pedals like the VP Harriers in the comparison photo. So, I find I actually get fewer pedal strikes than with any other pedal that feels big underfoot. I haven’t noticed foot roll.

    To be fair, I opened the Catalysts up after a full summer of riding, and they were in great shape, with clean grease. So, I think the “averageness” really just comes down to the disappointing use of grub screws. With pins similar to those in RF Atlas pedals, for example, I think these would kick ass. The breathing architecture may be traditional, but it’s been getting the job done.

  • Michael

    Thanks Skyler, and thanks for the review. Fair enough, I guess I’m comparing thickness, weight and pin placement/design against the like of the RF Atlas and One-up Alu both thinner, much lighter and offer grips in spades. Not in the same class size wise but surprisingly excellent pedals have been the Xpedo Spry at a spritely 260 grams they are grippy and have taken a pounding by me on a low BB hardtail on Van Island trails.

  • Michael

    They did all this with floppy soled shoes, frankly this invalidates this entire anecdotal video. My personal experience is there is a MASSIVE difference between using a floppy shoe and a properly design bike shoe with a stiff sole.

  • Cass Gilbert

    I don’t doubt there’s some difference, but I guess my point is that it’s very much incremental. I worry that by saying clips are ‘far superior to flats of any kind’ will likely scare people off a system that could be ideal for them. To liken them to “inefficient pedalling in squares” really isn’t how it feels at all. I kick back with my foot as I pedal; the pins on today’s pedals paired with the right kind of shoe make for pretty amazing traction. As I say, flat pedals have their downsides, but night and day efficiency compared to SPDs just isn’t one of them.

    I’m just back from riding and it reminded me that there are definitely situations where I prefer SPDs and see their value. When riding up steps and rockgardens, I sometimes rely on that extra upstroke to help lift me over a lip just as I’m stalling. But for day to day use, I’m happy to interchange the two.

    I’m certainly intrigued by these Catalists. The Kona Wah Wahs I reviewed recently are $50. At that price, they’re a great reason for people to give flat pedal riding a go. I think most will be surprised.

  • They have a video done in a lab that shows no difference at all. It would be interesting to see them do the video again with the same shoes.

  • Jason Liers

    When I raced XC James was one of my coaches. He sold me on flats as a training tool even before he came up with these pedals. That said I bought into these hook line and sinker as soon as he released the idea. I have 2 sets with thousands of miles on them and haven’t had to change the pins or bearings in either pair yet. I never had tough about seat tube angle before this article but it makes sense.

  • Jason Liers

    One of the reasons for his pin placement and lack of them being so aggressive is the surface area of the pedal. With the use of a sticky rubber shoe like a 5.10 freerider the shoe sticks to the pedal really good. Anyone that knows James Wilson knows he is a big advocate of having the right shoe and it played into his design. Plenty of shoes will work just fine, but I have had the best luck with my 5.10’s.

  • John Short

    Thanks for that link, it does show that there are people out there at least seriously comparing the two systems. I guess I am just being pretty big headed about this. I did buy a set of these pedals and I did install and use them on my Tandem and Troll. Even did an overnighter on the Troll so I could wear running shoes and run the trails. The Tandem is not a good platform at all, especially on a heated Tandem and when shifting, even announced, will cause stickers feet to come off the pedals frequently. As far as the Troll overnighter, the ride was acceptable but running shoes are not cycling shoes and if I have to purchase a separate show with a sticky sold to work better with these flats pins then I am still packing 2 pairs of shoes defeating the entire purpose. So, I did give them a shot and with my riding, they just are not for me and it just doesn’t make sense to switch back and forth, take a the spontaneity out of riding.
    I am not s sting that clipped is far superior to flats to scare anyone off of a particular system, I have always agreed that they have there place, and prices are good enough to give them a try. But in no way will i EVER say the two systems are equal in efficiency and power transfer until I see world tour riders making the switch and wearing those very unappealing flats shoes and a huge pair of these flats on their racing bikes. I just can’t help but think that there was a reason pedals went from flat to strapped/clipped for no reason if flats were just as effeicient.

  • Doug D

    I do love a review that gives me some real world experience, sorry to see so much hostility come your way Skyler.
    My question is whether these pack up with snow when temperatures are around freezing. Before I quit clipless altogether, I abandoned clipless for winter because of difficulty finding suitable boots, but I also find that the conventional double-layer platforms get packed up with snow, so I have been using the thin style platforms (my current favourite are VP Harrier). You might not be the right guy to ask and what you mention about grip may make the question irrelevant, but these seem like a good idea otherwise.

  • Jason

    Part of me is really caught off guard by the latest flat pedal Shoot-outs. These included. I guess if you were sold on the “clipless or you ain’t hardcore” argument, I get where flat-pedals is maybe a huge cultural shift. But, dunno, there pedals – you feet go on them – then you turn the cranks…

    $99 for new science (or “just a longer pedal”) and no grip? So, where’s the beni-feet then?

  • Ben Ripley

    Great stuff as always Skyler. I’ve been interested in the geo/biomechanics issues in bike design since your Big Honzo review piqued my interest.

    I have been one of those people using SPDs for years without liking them much – thinking they were somehow ‘better’ – and a recent more technical ride on SPDs made it more hard work than enjoyment. James Wilson’s flat pedal manifesto and now this make me ever-surer of my convictions. But I’m happier on them so the science angle is merely comfort. The flats are back on the bike, and are staying there.

    This is a very interesting concept and I look forward to developments. My own bike has a very average seat tube angle but with longish reach (for me anyway – and I’m not sold on the uber-long reach trend for anything other than high speed downhill tech riding) it means I can run the saddle quite far forwards and I’m looking at shorter cranks when I replace them, which should further steepen the effective seat angle.

    All really interesting, thanks!

  • Simon Bryant

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