In the long and often cantankerous debate between flat vs. clipless pedals, each camp tends to throw out arguments that can be difficult to substantiate.
But one claim that neither side bothers to dispute is the fact that it’s much more difficult for your feet to slide off the pedals if they’re clipped in. It’s that reason – maybe more than any other – that has caused so many flat pedal fans to convert to clipless. The new Catalyst pedal from Pedal Innovations, however, is hoping to reverse that trend by giving flat pedal riders a larger platform that not only helps keep your feet where they belong, but delivers the kind of consistent power to the crank that some critics assumed was only possible by clipping in.
While most standard flat pedals are roughly 4” long, the Catalyst pedal stretches that out to about 5 ¼”. That 1 ¼” might not seem like much of a difference, but it isn’t so much the length as the way that 1 ¼” challenges conventional thinking about pedaling dynamics. Instead of using the ball of the foot to supply power to the pedal – and thereby the crank – the Catalyst pedal is designed to equally support the front and back of the foot’s arch, which positions the arch over the pedal’s axle. This position allows the rider to remain flat-footed on the pedal instead of having to continually flex the foot to deliver consistent power.
James Wilson, the founder of Pedaling Innovations and a longtime strength and conditioning trainer for mountain bikers, posted a video on the Pedaling Innovations website that explains the science behind the development of the Catalyst pedal. In the video, Wilson describes how the act of delivering power from the ball of your foot is naturally meant for times when you’re wanting to have your foot leave the ground – say when you’re running or jumping. But when you want to deliver power without having your feet come off the ground – such as when you’re squatting or doing deadlifts – you keep your feet flat on the surface and power is delivered through the arch of your foot instead. Wilson designed the Catalyst pedals to provide that kind of stable platform for mountain bikers so that we can not only keep our feet on the pedals but also deliver power to the crank more efficiently without having to clip in.
The logic certainly makes sense. And while there will no doubt be those who will debate the science behind the design, once you put these pedals on your bike, it’s pretty hard to argue with the results. While I completely acknowledge the possibility of the placebo effect, there was no denying the difference in my riding from the moment I started using the Catalyst pedals. It wasn’t just that I felt like I had more power to get over especially technical elements on tough ascents, I also had a more stable base that resulted in significantly more control through berms and on rocky descents. Did my feet come off the pedals? Yes. But not nearly as much as they did with traditional flat pedals. And, the more time I spent on the pedals, the less that happened as well.
Like any other significant challenge to conventional thinking, the Catalyst pedal takes awhile to adjust to, but not nearly as long as you might imagine. At first, I found myself fighting the urge to move my foot backward so the ball would land where I had spent years training it to go. But once I stopped thinking (which anyone who knows me will tell you is never a tremendous challenge), and allowed my foot to sit naturally on the pedal, it consistently ended up in the exact place where Wilson said it’s supposed to be. And it stayed there.
There are no doubt people who are completely sold on clipless pedals and will never have any desire to go back to flats, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re one of those people who prefers to have your feet free but switched – or are thinking of switching – to clipless pedals because of the power and stability they promise, it might be worth it to make an $89 investment in a pair of Catalyst pedals instead. Who knows, they might do more than just change the way you ride – they might also change the way you think.