Cycling

Catalyst pedals

Since the early/mid 90's I've been a die hard clipless pedal user. Both on the road and on the mountain bike. As clipless pedals seemed to be a natural evolution from the days of flat pedals and toe clips, it was easy to buy into the selling points made about their superiority. 

Speaking strictly in terms of mountain biking now; it just made sense that the benefits of clipless pedals were just that: benefits. Looking back, it's evident that maybe I was too easily swayed. 

I recently was turned onto a product by Pedaling Innovations called Catalyst Pedals. No one was trying to sell me on the product, I just happened to test ride a customer's bike and was blown away at how comfortable it was. Not the bike, but the pedals!

Essentially it had modern style flat mountain bike pedals on it,  but with a surface that is much larger than a standard pedal.

The pedals just happened to be the Catalysts by Pedaling Innovations. They are 143mm in length. I think your average flat MTB pedal is around 105mm. 

On their website, they will tell you all about the science behind the Catalysts, so here I am going to just give you MY insights into these pedals. Some of it may overlap with the science, but that's happenstance. I LOVE bicycle science. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to biomechanics, bike fit/positioning, and all that goes into making cycling more efficient AND fun, but I don't want to sacrifice the end goal of 'fun' because the science says otherwise.  So I love the sciences involved in cycling, but fun and comfort are my priorities.

So what is it about these pedals? 

Comfort for one. They are so stable and familiar feeling, yet I've never ridden anything like them. Your feet are so much more supported, that it translates to the rest of your contact points also being more stable and comfortable. You hands on the bars. Your arse on the saddle. They all feel much more connected than ever before.

Due to the forward nature of your foot relative to the pedal axle, lowering your saddle becomes a consideration. Mine is currently about 2 cm lower than it's been in decades (that's a HUGE difference in a world where .5mm can make a difference!). Keep in mind, I'm the science nerd when it comes to bikes. I like using measurements and math to dial in my bike fits. Changing that up, or at least reevaluating how I reach those numbers, was not something that I expected to do so easily. These pedals have changed that. 

A lower saddle means a lower center of gravity. It means a more relaxed position of my handlebars relative to my saddle. It means a more moto style fit and a more moto/BMX style feel when handling the bike downhill or over technical terrain. It translates to MORE FUN. My bike is even more nimble and responsive now. Not only is my saddle lower, but I can adjust it on the trail (in either direction) with no painful side effects (within reason; but any amount is a big deal to someone who uses math to find the 'perfect' saddle height and who almost never changes it once it's set...until now ;).

Getting to that position would normally mean sacrificing some efficiency on the bike, as simply moving your cleats back on your shoe would change your balance point on a clipless pedal. Especially if you have a preference or natural inclination to a "heel up" or "heel down" style. And if you're like me and have some biomechanical quirks with regards to knees, even the slightest repositioning of your cleats can mean disaster. Usually the range of what's "comfortable" is very small in my experiences. In fact, I've only ever been marginally comfortable on two brands of clipless pedals and at my best, it was still just "ok". 

 Speaking of that "balance point" in regards to clipless pedals, that's something that the Catalysts have made me rethink. If you think about the generally small platform of a MTB clipless pedal and cleat combo, you start to realize just how much balance and strength it takes to use such a system. You may not agree, but I can feel it now that I've tried this new way of pedaling. When you are walking with a natural gate, there's no thought about the position your feet or heels take while in stride. Yet, in cycling "heel up" and "heel down" are very common concerns for cycling efficiency and comfort. A lot of small muscles and tendons must come into play to stabilize your lower leg while pedaling. 

That doesn't seem to be the case on the Catalysts. The pedaling motion and your foot position seem to be completely natural and in need of no concentration to maintain your form. A lot of energy seems to be saved because you can relax parts of your legs that you didn't realize were so stressed. You can just pedal naturally!

That leads to my next observation: my legs. I feel MUCH stronger on Catalysts. I feel that my quads and hips have so much more authority in providing power to the pedals. I've noticed that I can go faster with less effort. I can ride sections with the same effort but in higher gears which translates to more speed.

I've really noticed that I can climb very steep technical sections WAY easier. Some that maybe I couldn't climb at all in clipless pedals. 

So my bigger more dominant muscle groups have way more input to the pedals while others can relax far more than they could with clipless pedals. I'm stronger with more power, traction, and balance but with less effort!

Another thing I noticed: I love to ride in the snow and when you have to wear somewhat clunky/bulky waterproof snow boots, the Catalysts really are an advantage. All you fellow fat bikers out there would love these pedals I think. In fact, so far, there's NO ONE that I can think of that I WOULDN'T recommend these pedals too. 

I could go on about my pedals, but I think this gives anyone wondering about them a pretty good scope of benefits that I find in them. Feel free to comment below if you have questions or need me to clarify anything. 

I never thought in a million years I would be swayed to rethink using anything other than clipless pedals. In fact, just a week before making the discovery of the Catalysts, I was very vocal about the superiority of clipless pedals to a customer. I WAS WRONG. 

Prior to ordering my pair of Catalysts, I put on a standard size flat pedal for two weeks and tested the basic outlines of the science behind the Catalysts to see if I could bring myself to see things from a flat pedal perspective. Of course, I could and ended up ordering my own pair. Relative to the standard size flat pedals I tried for two weeks, the Catalysts were still light years ahead in all the benefits!

Consider me a convert until you hear otherwise, but don't hold your breath ;)

~Adam

 

UPDATE: For some reason I'm having issues with the 'comments' section. I wanted to follow up with some of the comments below:

Hello everyone! I just now realized all these comments were here waiting for me. Thanks for reading my words! I'll do my best to answer everyone's concerns (so far) in this post:

1: Long XC rides. YES. I used to spend a good 5-8 hours a day on my bike. These days, it's an hour here, an hour or two there....but yes, the longer you spend on them the more you are glad you are on them.
Because most of my rides have been in snow since changing to the Catalysts, I don't think I've gotten in more than two and half hours on them in a single ride, but I can't wait to spend all day on them when the weather allows. I am considering getting back into some endurance events this spring/summer and part of my motivation is being completely comfortable on my bike for the first time in decades.

2: Road bike? I haven't tried yet, but I WILL. Part of James' philosophy with regards to these pedals made me go back and watch lots of old footage of classic road cyclists...Coppi, Merckx, etc...did you ever notice how low they rode their saddles? How much more upper leg definition they had compared to their calves compared to modern road racers? I believe some of that had to do with the fact that they rode relatively huge pedals by today's standards and wore a more pliable leather shoe. Therefore, I'm looking forward to trying my Catalysts on the road.

3: Pedal strikes: compared to clipless, yes, I notice pedal strikes more. However, compared to a standard size flat pedal? No. Not at all.

4: Handlebar height: It did NOT change. The extra comfort won out over a more aggressive position. Especially since being off road has less aerodynamic benefits to lowering your bars than on the road.
ONE THING that I did do to accommodate the more "Moto" style positioning though was rotate my bars back a hair. It evened out my position over the front of the bike and gave me some added balance.

5: Shoes. I prefer a skate shoe. Vans are my favorite. Something with a vulcanized sole. Otherwise, I'm riding in Sorel waterproof snow boots since it's that time of year here in Colorado ;)

Hope that helps! Feel free to continue commenting and asking questions. I'm happy to give any input I can if I think it will help.

Adam

Comments

Genci January 18, 2017 @11:58 am
 

@James I didnĀ“t know the Catalyst's pins were shorter than usual, that may explain some things. I'll follow your suggestion about trying something with the same shape/length. @Adam Last year I tried for a couple of months some standard flat pedals for the first time and I felt something similar. It was like my legs could push harder and better, using all my leg muscles.

Adam Lopez January 17, 2017 @11:12 pm
 

Hello everyone! I just now realized all these comments were here waiting for me. Thanks for reading my words! I'll do my best to answer everyone's concerns (so far) in this post: 1: Long XC rides. YES. I used to spend a good 5-8 hours a day on my bike. These days, it's an hour here, an hour or two there....but yes, the longer you spend on them the more you are glad you are on them. Because most of my rides have been in snow since changing to the Catalysts, I don't think I've gotten in more than two and half hours on them in a single ride, but I can't wait to spend all day on them when the weather allows. I am considering getting back into some endurance events this spring/summer and part of my motivation is being completely comfortable on my bike for the first time in decades. 2: Road bike? I haven't tried yet, but I WILL. Part of James' philosophy with regards to these pedals made me go back and watch lots of old footage of classic road cyclists...Coppi, Merckx, etc...did you ever notice how low they rode their saddles? How much more upper leg definition they had compared to their calves compared to modern road racers? I believe some of that had to do with the fact that they rode relatively huge pedals by today's standards and wore a more pliable leather shoe. Therefore, I'm looking forward to trying my Catalysts on the road. 3: Pedal strikes: compared to clipless, yes, I notice pedal strikes more. However, compared to a standard size flat pedal? No. Not at all. 4: Handlebar height: It did NOT change. The extra comfort won out over a more aggressive position. Especially since being off road has less aerodynamic benefits to lowering your bars than on the road. ONE THING that I did do to accommodate the more "Moto" style positioning though was rotate my bars back a hair. It evened out my position over the front of the bike and gave me some added balance. 5: Shoes. I prefer a skate shoe. Vans are my favorite. Something with a vulcanized sole. Otherwise, I'm riding in Sorel waterproof snow boots since it's that time of year here in Colorado ;) Hope that helps! Feel free to continue commenting and asking questions. I'm happy to give any input I can if I think it will help. Adam

James January 17, 2017 @05:23 pm
 

@Genci, I just had a thought. If you want to test how the Catalyst pedal might feel with a certain pair of shoes without buying the pedal you could try standing on something that is the same shape/length. Eg. a block of wood. That way you could feel where the pressure is distributed on your foot. Also they come with a money back guarantee so you could always just send them back if you don't like them.

James January 17, 2017 @04:18 pm
 

@Genci, I don't find my Merrell Trail Gloves too soft for the Catalyst pedal. I used to commute on normal flat pedals and that was ok but my commute is very short and flat. I tried my Merrells mountain biking with normal flat pedals and found my foot got tired and sore after a 1hr easy ride because the pedal edge pushed into the arch of my foot. I've done 60km easy rides and 55km hard rides with the Merrell/catalyst combo and my feet feel great. Keep in mind the pins on the Catalyst pedal are relatively short. If you installed longer pins then you might need a thicker soled shoe.

Genci January 17, 2017 @12:35 am
 

@James Thanks for your input about the pedals and shoes on xc rides. I know the Merrells, I'm used to low drop shoes too. But are you feet ok after that rides with such a 'soft' shoes?

James January 16, 2017 @12:29 pm
 

Hi Adam, did you change your handle bar height? I had a similar seat height decrease and I haven't dropped my bar height because I figure the new pedal/shoe stack height is probably not that much different and it currently feels good when standing up (descending & pedaling) and I can't drop my bar height without buying a new stem. @Genci I've been riding clipless for 20+ years and converted to Catalyst this summer. I've done 50-60km mtb rides and the pedals have been great. Doing a 100km race this weekend - I'll post some feedback afterwards. I can say that my feet feel a lot more comfortable after long rides than in my Sidis. I'm currently riding in Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves. I find them super comfy (on and off the bike). They don't hold much water, are light, and reasonably grippy. I've tried on 5.10s and they don't feel great on my feet. Going to look at Shimano AM7s. I like flat/zerodrop shoes so I might stick with the Merrells in the end. Or maybe Merrells for XC riding and 5.10s for downhilling as this christchurchadventurepark.com just opened 10 minutes from home @Demetri - I'm agonizing over this now. My road shoes feel bad now because with the Catalyst pedal there is noticably less stress on your calf & ankle. I'm looking into modifying my road shoes to a midfoot cleat position but putting a set of Catalyst pedals would we quicker and easier. @Alfman - I get more pedal strikes but they are less annoying/painful. It's a bit weird. I think it is to do with your foot not being bolted to the pedal. Your foot might move a little or not at all but you don't get the massive jarring shock through your foot and leg. Adam sorry for high jacking your comments. :-)

Alfman January 16, 2017 @12:00 pm
 

Did you notice any pedal strikes (compared to your previous pedals)?

Damian January 16, 2017 @10:40 am
 

My red pair just arrived! Need slightly warmer temps to ride but can't wait to get on the bike! I tried clipless for a few months but lost both coordination and confidence. I've always preferred the pedal in the mid foot position so clipless were not Ideal.

John January 16, 2017 @10:08 am
 

I too have converted to the Calaysts from a smaller flat pedal and noticed an immediate increase in power of my pedal stroke and that I could climb easily up inclines that in the past would not have been so easy. I felt the power my legs were generating was finally being fully realized. I do have a fat bike, Salsa Bucksaw, and these pedals are great in the winter with boots on.

Demetri January 16, 2017 @09:56 am
 

Hi Adam, what about using it on a road bike? I use a lot of techniques to fire because of my doggie knees, and have to adjust my saddle by 1mm when changing cycling shorts to accomodate for the different chamois thickness.

Genci January 16, 2017 @07:32 am
 

Hi Adam. I'm interested in the Catalyst Pedals too, but I'm not sure if they are good for long XC rides. My only concern are the shoes. Which ones are you using? Cheers

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