By Brett Ratner
Like many adults rediscovering cycling, I started out on a hybrid bike.
The bike in question (a Kona Smoke) quickly became my go-to for getting to work, running to the store, and meeting friends at the bar. In other words, it wasn't so much my "bike" as it was my new-found favorite mode of transportation.
And while the Kona was far from the lightest/fastest/bestest bike one could ride, it was actually quite perfect for getting around on. This was thanks to its full-length fenders, rear rack mount, medium width tires...and in particular, its platform pedals.
Over time, as I became more "serious" as a cyclist, I dumped the Kona in favor of more specialized machines. These were narrowly-focused for tasks like riding fast on the road or tackling singletrack trails. My clothing selection also became more purpose-built for cycling, as did my footwear, which featured proprietary cleats that clicked into teeny metal contraptions barely wider than a spoon (i.e. clipless pedals).
While these changes enhanced my enjoyment of cycling and enabled me to do things and go places I previously couldn't, a downside was that over time I gradually drifted away from using my bike as daily transportation. Granted, I still rode to work every day. But otherwise, if I was on a bike, it was for a cycling-specific purpose like a training ride or a century or a mountain bike trip.
Then, if I needed to actually go somewhere, I'd be more inclined to walk if it was close, and drive if it was beyond walking distance.
The reason, I eventually realized, was that getting on a bike had become somewhat of an ordeal. It wasn't that I didn't like riding my bike anymore, it was that I didn't want to change clothes and shoes just to go to the store two miles away.
So, recently, I decided to get back to my Kona roots by installing platform (flat) pedals on my commuter bike. The inspiration came from my recent job switch.
The switch from clipless to platform pedals made this (shamefully dirty) commuter bike a lot more convenient for short trips.
With my old job, I had a long enough bike commute to the office to justify bike-specific clothes and shoes. Once I was at work, I had lots of places to eat lunch and run errands within a short walk. Therefore, I only needed to change in/out of bike shoes at the beginning and end of the day.
With my new gig, I have a very short commute to the office, but nothing within walking distance in terms of restaurants, stores, etc. The end result was that I was changing shoes anytime I needed to go anywhere. It wasn't the end of the world by any means, but enough of a hassle that I'd find creative ways to avoid having to get on my bike (like hitching a ride with a co-worker or ordering food delivery).
Since making the switch to platform pedals, suddenly I'm finding myself instinctively grabbing my bike for errands the way I used to when I first got into cycling. I can wear whatever shoes I want, and I just roll up my right pant leg and go. It's pretty cool how liberating such a small, seemingly insignificant change turned out to be.
Sure, there have been some downsides. For example, it turns out I subconsciously pull back and up on the pedals, particularly when climbing a steep hill or accelerating from a stop light. This is something I didn't notice myself doing until I suddenly lost that ability.
So, while I lost some efficiency in that regard, once I'm up to speed, the platform pedals aren't a significant disadvantage...as this video demonstrates. All in all, I've found the trade-off worth it for daily, short-distance riding.
If you've had similar experiences and are looking to bring the convenience and simplicity back into cycling, maybe flat pedals could work for you, too.
I, personally, opted for dedicated platforms. I kinda went nuts and installed a set of Shimano Saint pedals...which are meant for extreme downhill mountain biking (and definitely more than I'd ever need for putzing around the neighborhood). That said, they grip well and feel comfortable.
If you don't want to fully commit to platform pedals, there are other options which offer a compromise. Examples include:
Regardless which option you choose, I think you'll be surprised how much you'll enjoy having a bike that doesn't require special footwear.
Brett Ratner (firstname.lastname@example.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.