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.

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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.
  • Chris Langager

    I love your blog and can’t wait to read about your next big trip. Just wanted to say that I went through the exact same transition from clipless to platforms and have not regretted it. It definitely takes some time to get used to riding on platforms again, especially over rocky terrain, but in the end, the simplicity is completely worth it. I made the swap before a tour across the US a few months ago, and ended up using VP Vice platforms and an old pair of 5.10 Guides. Aside from the shoes not shedding water very well, they both worked great.

  • Thanks for the comments Chris. I am definitely looking forward to not worrying about extra shoes, not to mention clomping around in SPDs through stores and other stops. I’m sure I’ll get a couple nice battle scars from hike-a-biking or bouncing off on a rocky path, but that’s part of the process. Cheers!

  • Skyler D.

    Solid choices. I’ve always avoided clipless for this reason. My combo is N.R.G. Taster’s Choice pedals and Scarpa Dharma Pro approach shoes. Never yet slipped a pedal with this combo. The sticky dot rubber wears out a little quickly for my liking though.

  • Good to know, thanks. I haven’t had a pair of Scarpas in a long while, but loved a pair of backpacking boots I had in college.

  • Chris

    Ah, just as I’ve bought a pair of Teva Pivots and some lightweight Keens for off the bike, I can’t help think that your approach might be the way forward for lighter weight touring…. Although I too love that click…

  • Bricke

    You missed the 45NRTH flat pedals, Heiruspecs: ~100$ for 350gr, great size and great pins!

  • Cool thanks, l’ll check them out. I did just get over 7,500 kilometers out of my blackspires though…

  • Shane

    Great review thanks, Ive been looking for a lighter alternative to my Wellgo platform pedals. I like that these ones can be refurbished :) Though my Wellgo’s did manage 12000km of Africa before they got retired :) . Light, cheap, durable…..choose two and often one :)

  • Hi shane. Wow 12k kms… that’s impressive!

  • Shane

    And still useable just wouldn’t trust them far away, a lot of play on the bearings now :)

  • Cam

    This is such an interesting aspect of bikepacking. I saw some flat-pedalers on the Colorado Trail a few years ago and though they were insane. Winter fat-biking on flats has got me seeing the light on this a bit more, especially for technical trails with lots of hike-a-bike. I’m gearing up for the Arizonal Trail in the spring, and if all goes right I may be on flats.

    One question I’ve got is about the 5.10 shoes reviewed here and their relative stiffness in the sole. I just examined a friends 5.10 Guide Tennies, and they seem super flexible in the sole – not a good characteristic for riding many hours. However, a lot of the bike specific 5.10 shoes have less desirable traits too, like holding water, being clunky or heavy, and having a weird fit.

    I’ve heard the Guide Tennies mentioned as a good alternative, but again they seem to floppy. I’ve not seen the Aescent’s in person – can anyone chime in as to their relative stiffness? Beautiful website by the way.

  • Thanks Cam! I am testing the new Freerider Contacts right now and absolutely love them. Review coming soon…

  • Cam

    Yeah, leaning towards the Freerider myself.

  • RandomRouleur

    Hi Logan,
    Just wanted to say thanks for this article. It, amongst other research, gave me confidence to leave the clipless pedals behind and go with flat pedals for my current tour in South America! One month in, and plenty of Peruvian climbs under the belt, and I can honestly say that I haven’t missed the SPDs.
    Coming from a road background, where I’ve used SPDs, SPD-SLs and Speedplays, I was keen to go clipless as I thought I’d really need it for the long climbs of the Andes. However, I’ve always had niggles (knee pains etc) from SPDs, which were the only real option for touring but which I guess don’t offer enough float for my riding style/physique. I was also really reluctant to take a second pair of shoes, primarily for the space consequences but also for weight.
    I’ve gone with Hope F20s and Meindl Respond GTX hiking shoes. So far, I’ve just put the pins in on one side of the pedals, thereby giving me a completely flat surface (with loads of natural float) for smoother roads and then a ‘pinned’ side for dirt roads, wet conditions or downhills. As noted in the review of these pedals on the website, the pins are quite tall so work well with these shoes, even if they do occasionally gouge skin out of my shins!! I love being able to hop off the bike without thinking twice about my shoes. The flat pedals are also much safer on really sketchy surfaces (gravel, loose rock) and descents, where I’ve several times had to whip a foot out to stabilise things.
    Just thought I’d share my experience for anyone considering the same thing!
    p.s. Did you ride the Cajamarca to Caraz route (as detailed on this site) in Peru? I found the following message in a bottle en route from a ‘Logan’…!

  • Great to hear Campbell. Interesting idea to remove pins on one side. Nope, that’s not my note… funny though!

  • Tee

    Wondering how the El Gordo pedals were? Looking for a flat pedal that’s not huge, but sticky enough for wet weather in most shoes. Did your friend like them? My shoe size is 8.5 women’s. What’s her shoe size?

  • We ended up ditching the El Gordos in favor of bigger Sub4s … here’s the writeup:

  • Oh, and she also wears an 8.5

  • Tee

    Ok, thanks. What did she think of them? Too small? I was going to put them on my commuter/camping bike to keep my feet closer in, as I seem to get knee pain when I am sloppy and just put my feet any old place. Wasn’t sure if they would be too small though. I just have MKS stream pedals on now, but need a strapless half toe clip thingy for Seattle winters. These look like they are the same width as the streams. Was looking for a stickier pedal so I can ditch the toe thingys. Thx!

  • Yeah, too small. Check out their small size. It might be a sweet spot:

  • James Walker

    Great article Logan. I am about to purchase a gravel/touring bike (Orro Terra C) and was wondering what pedals to get for it. I switched over to clipless on my MTB a few years ago basically to encourage my 9 year old son who had to wear them for his MTB kids races. They are good and I completely understand why you wear them but in hindsight since using clipless I’ve had some annoying unnecessary falls just because I couldn’t get my shoe out fast enough. I can’t ever remember falling off my bike without clipless! Weighing those falls up against the benefits of using clipless I’m not sure they are really my thing. The idea of having one pair of shoes is also very appealing.

    Thanks again.
    James, Breitnau, Germany

  • Make sure to check out this article… it has some more up to date options. I also really like the Crankbrothers Stamp —

  • Jesus Ortix

    I would suggest 5.10 Freerider Pro.

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