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What’s better than folding pedals? No pedals.

By  Bob Forgrave

Folding pedals, for better or worse, have existed for many years because they attempt to address a common problem.

There are times when bike pedals really get in the way. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Snagging. You’re trying to slide your bike smoothly into the back of your car, but the bottom pedal keeps snagging on everything possible, making a simple job a pain every time.
  • Scratching. You’re trying to put two bikes side-by-side on a car rack outside your car, and the pedals on the other one keep scratching your frame! Do you really need a riding buddy that bad?
  • Discomfort. You’re carrying your bike up steps, and the inside pedal keeps jabbing you in the side, stomach, and . . . other sensitive areas. Carrying your bike is literally a pain!
  • Injury. You’re rolling your bike, because carrying it is a pain, and keep getting your shin scraped raw by the inside pedal. Oh . . . and your pedal has cleats on it. Yowza!
  • Danger. You’ve hung your bike up high, to get the handlebars out of the way . . . and now that obnoxious pedal is at ear height. Enough said.

It’s almost enough to make a person spring for something drastic, like folding pedals . . .

blog - folding_pedals_8085L

Whoooa . . . Hold on there, Pardner. Let’s take a look at what folding pedals really do before we go down that solution path.

 

How much space do folding pedals really save?

At best, a folded pedal collapses to 50% of the previous width. So it’s 50% less likely to get in the way.

Folding pedals unfolded

folding pedals folded

Actually, even that statistic is a bit optimistic. That extra pedal doesn’t go away; it just changes from a horizontal position to a swinging vertical position.

When you move the angle of the frame, it will flop. When you drive over a bump, it will flop. Into what? Hard to say. But it is very easy to say that none of the problems are solved.

And it gets worse. This is a pedal designed to give way. Yes, there’s a latch to make sure this doesn’t happen while riding, but the spindle/axle part of the pedal goes only halfway, with the rest devoted to flopping out of the way. Even in latched position, it’s a bit loose. So your pedal flops while you are using it, consuming valuable energy on uphills and providing another thing to worry about on downhills.

 

What would the ideal solution be?

The ultimate would be a pedal that gets 100% out of the way. Completely disappears.

In a tricky way, high-end bike manufacturers have already been doing that for years–visually only.

For example, consider the three fancy bikes below, built for entirely different uses. High-end, stylish . . . and completely unrideable.

blog - FixieBlog - Roadbikeblog - Mountain

Why? They have no pedals! The general photographic trend among high end bikes for decades may also represent the ultimate pedal solution.

Now  . . . how close can we get to it?

 

Pop-off pedals: the 90% solution

There is actually a whole category of pedals with a separate latch and pedal unit. When the pedal unit is removed, the latch part remains on the pedal crank arm. The benefits of this approach are immediately measurable.

   

The improvement in space savings over a folding pedal is immediately clear. You’re saving over 90% of the pedal space.

One quick note as we get started. . . this whole category routinely trips over its own terminology. laugh emoji   Some manufacturers call these quick-release pedals, entangling them with the clip-in/clipless pedal designs that allow a cyclist’s foot to snap in and release quickly when needed. Others call these snap-in pedals, which isn’t any better. At Flatbike, we’ve called them pop-off pedals from the start, and it’s really added the necessary clarity.

With pop-off pedals, you’re counting on the latch to be secure enough that your feet never knock off your pedals, yet your hands can easily take them off at will. That’s no easy challenge. About a half-dozen manufacturers have tried, and in our opinion, all but one or two have fallen short of the goal.

This design is from Taiwan-based Wellgo, who makes 10% of the world’s bicycle pedals.  And here’s a big reason why our customers like these pedals so much.

 

Where Wellgo really shines

 

When we found and sourced the first Wellgo flat pop-off pedals, we though we were geniuses. Pop-off pedals for everybody!

We soon learned better. The pedals were popular, but not with mountain bikers. They liked the idea in concept, and said “Call me when you’ve got it in MTB.” After all, an MTB pedal needs to handle rough technical riding that involves pedals at different angles, often muddy. This pop-off pedal would need to be large, rugged, and grippy, with lots of cleats.

Back to scouring worldwide markets…

Finding an MTB pop-off pedal version took another year, but we did it! And when we found that option through another supplier, the MTB pop-off pedal was even compatible with the flat pedal, so bike riders can switch back and forth in seconds between pedal types. Brilliant again!

We soon learned better. Now mountain bikers and road bikers were happy, but the super-serious ones who ride clipped in, said “Call me when you’ve got SPD”.

Back to scouring worldwide markets. After another 18 months and connecting with a third supplier, we were at this…

the wellgo pop-off pedal family

A complete family of interchangeable pop-off pedals.

Pop-off MTB pedals are 4″ (100 mm) x 4″ (100 mm), and are optimized for mountain bike use. Because MTB riders on technical track often have pedals at any angle, often dirty or muddy, these pedals are large enough to be found easier with a foot, and feature 9 removable sharp cleats on each side to grip a muddy shoe.

Pop-off flat pedals are the standard size for pedals: 2.5″ (60 mm) x 3.5″ (90 mm), with rounded shoe grippers that give shoe traction without scraping your shins or poking holes in pockets. There will usually be reflectors, depending upon the latest supplier.

Pop-off SPD pedals are specialized. SPD stands for “Shimano Pedaling Dynamics”, which tells us basically nothing except that it’s from Shimano, the behemoth in the component industry. Ask about “cycling shoe” anywhere, and the first thing you’ll see is likely the familiar SPD 2-bolt system.

“Clipping in” to what are sometimes called “clipless pedals”–it’s a bizarre bike history thing. Either go with it or just say SPD—can get you up to a 10% boost in power. This allows you to go faster with the same energy, or the same distance with less energy, explaining the popularity of SPD pedals, even if you need special shoes to make them work.

The only company in the world that makes a compatible family like this is Wellgo. And apparently the only place in the world to get them together is Flatbike.

 

Interchangeability is only the beginning.

The ability to swap pedal types as easily as you changes shoes or your bike changes riders is a powerful thing. But three other benefits might be even bigger.

1. SECURITY.

A bike in the US is stolen approximately every 3 minutes. That’s 175,200 per year according to FBI statistics–and because most bikes thefts aren’t reported, it could be closer to two million.

One reason bike theft is so common is that there are so many effective tools for defeating bike locks: wire cutters, bolt cutters, hammers, hacksaws, angle grinders and more. And then, when the lock is defeated, the bike thief has a built-in getaway vehicle–the bike itself.

Pop-off pedals won’t replace a good lock, but they can remove the getaway vehicle. Remember those unrideable bikes we showed earlier? Add yours to the list. In the memorable words of some security-obsessed New York City in riders at the Five Boro Tour, “Nobody gonna ride away a bike what ain’t got no pedals!”

2. NO SCRATCHES.

There are so many ways this happens…   Lean your bike against your new car, scratch the pristine paint job–and clue the expletives. Go riding with someone else, put their $4,000 e-bike next to yours, and chip off their shiny paint with a pedal cleat.

Or maybe you’re just walking by in the garage, view obscured as you’re focused on taking out the trash, and you give yourself a new shin scar in seconds. Maybe it’s even a significant other doing that–someone who hasn’t been that positive about the bike being there in the first place. This gets awkward fast.

With a pop-off peal, it’s super-simple. There is no pedal to scrape anything. Problem solved.

3. FIT

When traveling or stationary, pedals and handlebars are often the least cooperative parts of a bike. First, because of the bars, your bike has to be some distance away from the wall, so the bars can grab at your pants pockets while the pedals grab at your shins. Then try to slip your bike smoothly into a big, spacious car bet, and the pedals grab at the upholstery while the bars grab at everything.

And putting bikes together on a rack can involve an intricate and delicate fitting process, with each crank arm having only one allowable position for each bike to be close and not scratched.

Pop-off pedals eliminate all crank complexities in an instant. And with a folding THINstem, your handlebars swivel 90 degrees, so that the widest part of the bike is the crank area with removed pedals. Your bike can fit against a wall with ease.

Done Looking. Now I’ll buy some.
I’m interested in a THINstem.

Pedal latch

 

Three things everyone should know about Wellgo pop-off pedals.

A Wellgo pop-off pedal latch consists of a red latch ring that moves up and down, in the same plan as the crank arm, plus a black ring that slides towards and away from the crank arm. When you receive your pedals, the black lock ring will be slid over the red latch ring.

1. THE RED LATCH RING

When the pedal is pushed into the latch all the way–make sure of this–you should hear and see the red latch ring click into place. To release the pedal, push on the red ring where the white dot is. (Fun fact: the red ring is held into place by rare earth magnets; before we at Flatbike ship any pedals, we verify magnet polarity and perform any fixes necessary to maximize the customer first experience).

2. THE BLACK LOCK RING

The red latching ring clicking into place doesn’t secure your pedal! It makes your pedal ready to secure. The critical next step is to slide the black lock ring sideways until it covers the beveled aluminum ring, immobilizing the red ring against movement. Now your pedals are secure!

locking washers

These are not just washers, but an integral safety lock.

This function is especially important to understand if you are having your pedals installed at a local bike shop. Some shops will blow off the verbal and illustrative instructions, toss the beveled locking washers, and say they already know how to install pedals. (If this happens at your local shop, consider it a red flag about any other service that may require following directions).

pop-off SPD pedal

Latched, locked, and ready for riding.

2. GEN1 VS. GEN2

This section matters only if you’re scouring the internet for deals or already have older pop-off pedals.

What we’re showing is Wellgo’s second iteration of pop-off pedals. The first had a pull-out latch that could be operated one-handed, but sometimes chewed off the instep of riders who ride close-in and aerodynamically. The second generation fixes the shoe issue, but likely will need to be operated with two hands.

Interchangeability

Interestingly, and to Wellgo’s credit, the two generations are forwards and backwards compatible. So even if you bought flat pop-off pedals ten years ago and get MTB pop-off pedals today, they can be swapped back and forth easily, across two bikes.

Here’s how I describe pop-off pedals in the Flatbike shop:

 

 

Limitations and troubleshooting second-generation pop-off pedals

Sigh… you knew this was coming. Even great things aren’t perfect, so here goes…

Complexity. Lots of coordinated parts. An extra washer that’s critical, a block lock ring, a red latch . . . it’s a lot to get right, and the internet is one of those places where it often goes wrong. Some online tutorials incorrectly say to push the white dot on the latch to “unlock” your pedal, completely ignoring the role of the actual lock ring and washer. Worse, some shady sites actually sell these pedals missing those critical parts, without any actual locking capability, so their pedals naturally fall off. Caveat emptor indeed.

Supply chain issues. This pedal latch involves rare-earth magnets. Even if the magnets are installed with correct polarity–something we actually check with each set before shipping–availability of this pedal system is subject to severe crunches between deliveries. During COVID, we were out of Wellgo MTB pedals for 18 months.

Occasional stickiness going in. Sometimes we hear of someone whose pedal fell out. We verify that they have the locking washer installed and that they actually closed the red latch into position before moving the black lock ring. (Stretching the black ring catawampus kinda over an unlatched red ring doesn’t count.) Also, sometimes, it helps to push the pedal closer in towards the crank when latching. If it doesn’t latch by itself, then push on the red ring across from the white dot.

Occasional stickiness coming out. The opposite can happen too. If a pedal went in but won’t come out, even with the lock washer unlocked, then here’s how to troubleshoot it.

  • First, make sure the black ring hasn’t turned; The hole in the black ring should line up with the white dot in the red latch ring.
  • Second, push the pedal in toward the crank arm and try the latch again.
  • Finally, if all else fails, tap the pedal on the end and the top with a rubber mallet or shoe sole. It should loosen immediately. Then just for good measure put a dab of grease inside the latch cup to avoid a repeat.

One thing that people often ask about that is not a limitation . . . the black lock ring.  No, it doesn’t break and you won’t need a second one. The only time we’ve seen any ring come apart was when we sawed on one mercilessly with a box cutter as a test. Even that took a while.

 

What pairs well with pop-off pedals?

Basically, any bike you want a little flatter or less “grabby” when you’re trying to put it someplace. All bikes except kids’ bikes and some low-end BMX have the same 9/16″ pedal threading, so any of these pedals should fit on your bike.

The question is, what do you want to accomplish with pop-off pedals? Here are two photos from customers of completely different uses of pop-off pedals–one for a rural mountain bike and the other for an urban Brompton folding bike…

flattened bike in garage

Conveniently flattened MTB in garage.

Flattened Brompton

A flattened Brompton at rest in its natural habitat.

The bikes are in different categories, and the environments could not be more different, yet the end result of making the bike convenient by making it flat is identical. This was made possible with pop-off pedals (of different types) and a folding THINstem for the handlebars.

Another thing that we find very useful is a non-floppy, rugged, water resistant small bag to put the pedals in. And when you’re riding, ad great place for a wallet or phone.

Flatbike bag

The Flatbike Seat Bag is the perfect place to store your pedals between rides.

 

How to install pop-off pedals.

You’ll need just two tools, but they’re a bit specialized.

  • First, you’ll need a wrench to remove your old pedals. Not any adjustable-jaw wrench, but an open-end wrench fixed to 9/16″ or 15 mm that’s narrow enough to squeeze into the space.
  • Second, you’ll need an 8mm hex wrench to install the new pedals. A bit of bike grease isn’t a bad idea either.

The longer a wrench you have, the easier your pedals will be to remove, as long as you’re turning the right way. The big thing to know is that your left pedal is left-threaded, so it won’t self-uninstall when riding. So if you try to turn it the same way as the right side to loosen it . .  you’re actually tightening it. To loosen, your right pedal turns counterclockwise and your left pedal turns clockwise.

You can tell the latches apart by the faces. The left-threaded left latch will have a ring around the opening as shown below:

QRD2 assembly order.

NOTE: The miniscule difference of the small silver and gold washers is left over from Gen1 pedals. It is no longer meaningful. We refer to them here out of consistency.

ASSEMBLE IN THIS ORDER, FROM THE OUTSIDE IN:

  1. Turn the pedal latch threads up. Then, on the shaft, place the… 
  1. Gold washer. This keeps the latch from binding. 
  1. Large beveled washer (bevel side down). This is what the black lock ring slides onto. 
  1. Small silver washer. This will go next to the crank arm when you install the assembly on your bike with an 8 mm hex wrench.

The place the latch threads in the crank arm threading (greased if you have it) and tighten. You’re done!

 

The future of pop-off pedals.

At Flatbike, even though we started with folding pedals years ago, we’re sticking with our commitment to a family of Wellgo pop-off pedals–mostly second-generation, but with just enough first-generation to offer discounts to riders who appreciate a lower price point.

We also have also taken steps to protect our supply chain from disruption and found a way to create a pedal latch that is as secure at the Wellgo Gen2 latch, but as easy to operate one-handed as the Wellgo Gen1 latch. This means we have now designed, prototyped, put through the ISO-4210 destruction suite, and manufactured our own Flatbike pop-off pedals for e-bikes and mountain bikes. These will be launched on Kickstarter in Spring of 2024.

In the meantime, you have everything you need to solve portability and convenience problems that folding pedals aim for but just can’t address. Ready to get started?

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.

flatbike-logo
425-985-6219

6 comments

  1. Mario says:

    Bob. I would love to get these new latches for the mountain bike pedals on my 612. My mangled Nike’s will be forever grateful 🙂 I’ll be checking back to see when they’re available for sale on your components page.

    1. Bob Forgrave says:

      We’re on it, Mario! This would be a special request from Wellgo, but we’re starting to press the issue now. Thanks for your request.

  2. Steve says:

    I have some older QRD1 (raised locking mechanism), pedals and some of the new QRD2 (rounded mechanism wellgo pedals. My newer ones did not come with the locking washer for whatever reason and I have had them release several times. Now I know why. I will be writing Wellgo to see if they are responsive. I have also had abrasion from the older QRDI locking mechanisms on a bike and they eventually chaffed through the straps. Other than that I’ve been happy with the pedals. I use them on my Bike Fridays so I do not have to unscrew the pedals every time I pack the bikes.

    1. Bob Forgrave says:

      Totally agree, Steve. In fact, there are two not-so-obvious components to the QRD-II second-generation latches. The first is the black locking ring. I’ve seen lots of semi-QRDII offerings out there without this lock ring and so far have successfully steered our purchasing around them–hard to do if you don’t know what to look for!

      The other component to look for is the thick washer that the locking ring slides over; otherwise there is nothing for the lock ring to lock on.

      QRD-I with raised latch has its proponents. Changebike ships all bikes this way (unless we ask them not to on our newest models), and I still ride one bike with QRD-I. It all comes down to foot placement–but if you’re using straps or clips, that placement isn’t variable. They rub or they don’t. Glad we could help!

      Bob

  3. Russell says:

    I found this discussion while researching a compatibility question: are QRD-I pedals compatible with QRD-II latches? I’d like to get some more pedals, but QRD-II platforms are hard to find at the moment!

    1. Bob Forgrave says:

      They are. QRD-I and QRD-II pedals are cross-compatible in both directions. And yes, QRD-II is in severely limited supply. Until we get more in stock, we’re limiting QRD-II sales to our Flatten Your Bike kits (pop-off pedals + THINstems) and full-size folding bikes with pop-off pedals).

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