Monthly Archives: March 2016

Clipless Pedals for Touring

For about two years I have been using Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) A530 clipless pedals for bicycle touring and have become a fan of clipless pedals. This year I have switched to the M324 and I personally like them better. There are several reasons.

IMG_2924 small
Shimano A530 Clipless Pedal

Before going into that, I need to present my clipless caveat. There is a learning curve with clipless pedals and involves falling down at least once in the process. I tipped over on my bike at least three times when I was learning to use the pedals. You need to plan ahead and unclip when stopping or when there is a possibility that you will need to stop. If you don’t, you come to a stop and tip over.

Both of these pedals have a clip side and a platform side, which in my opinion is a requirement for touring. The difference is that the A530 has a cast aluminum platform and the M324 a stamped metal platform that is integrated with the aluminum frame. The advantage of both is that you can ride without the special shoes by using the platform side. Sometimes it is also desirable to avoid the clips when you know that you may need to jump off the bike frequently, such as when going up a steep hill with a loaded touring bike.

IMG_2915 small
Shimano M324 Clipless Pedal

The pedals are equally easy to use. I am able to find the clip side without a lot of hunting and without looking down at the pedal. If you use clipless pedals, you should develop your own technique to find the clips without looking because looking down at the pedal and messing around trying to flip it to the clip side is a dangerous maneuver.

The platform side is a different story. The A530 is best suited for occasional use of the platform side rather than a long ride. The platform is large enough, but it does not provide enough gripping power to prevent shoes from slipping off. The cast aluminum “nubbies” on the platform surface are not aggressive enough to grip the bottom of shoes.

The M324 works very well on either side. This week I did a 25 mile training ride using the clips with my Shimano shoes and another 25 mile ride using the platform side with cross training shoes. The platform side of the pedal gripped either type of shoe with no problems. The good news was that the platform side was secure and comfortable for a long ride. For me, that is very important when riding hills on a loaded bike.

In the past I have deliberately swapped the clipless pedals for platform pedals, depending on expected tour or training conditions. I have even carried pedals with me on tours in case conditions warranted one type of pedal or the other. With the Shimano M324 I am confident that I will not need to do that anymore.  In my opinion, the M324 pedals are great for all kinds of bicycle touring conditions.

Toe Warmers Aid Winter Riding

Lack of snow on the local trails has made outdoor cycling in cold weather the preferred alternative to my stationary trainer. Yesterday was a great day at 28 degrees Farenheit with a wind of around 10 mph. I wanted to ride in snow flurries, but the snow that was predicted didn’t happen. Flurries would have been fun, but the important thing was that  I enjoyed a 23 mile round trip on the Minuteman Bikeway.

It was the second day in a row when I had an opportunity to test my toe warmers. I have used two brands, HotHands and Grabber, and both performed well. Both are made in the USA.

Toe warmers come as a pair in a plastic package and they are activated by opening the package, exposing them to the air. The warmers themselves are small envelopes with an adhesive backing. The warmers contain iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal, and vermiculite, all of the ingredients needed for a low-energy thermite reaction to generate heat.

IMG_5245 lowres
HotHands Brand Toe Warmers

The adhesive allows you to stick them to your socks. Follow the instructions: there are warnings concerning proper use to avoid injury or harm. One of the warnings is that you should not apply the warmers directly to your skin.

The socks should be thick so that you get some insulation from them as well as retention of the heat generated by the warmer. They should be used with shoes that do not have mesh or vented toes. The warmers do not get very hot and vented toes will allow cold air to get into the shoes, reducing the heating effect to nearly zero. When it’s cold, I switch to platform pedals so that I can use cross training shoes with closed toes. I have used toe warmers in conditions slightly below freezing. In my opinion they would not be very effective below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, even with appropriate shoes.

When I am finished riding and remove the warmers from my socks, I leave them on a fireproof surface until they are completely dissipated. I am wary about throwing a thermite reaction into the trash where it could cause a fire. They don’t get very hot, but I would rather be safe.

Toe warmers have made cold weather rides much more comfortable for me. Layering over legs and body is also important. Under my helmet I wear a stretch head covering that has a flap that I can use to cover my mouth. I stretch the hood of my sweatshirt over my helmet to cover the air holes. You can buy helmet covers that will also serve that purpose. I use insulated mittens on my hands.

All of this preparation has made riding enjoyable for me below freezing. As long as the trails are snow-free, this extends my cycling season and keeps me in training for tours. My low temperature riding threshold is probably 20 degrees Farenheit, but fortunately the winter is mild and that hasn’t happened very often this year. Still, I will be very happy when spring arrives.