What’s better than folding pedals? No pedals.
November 10th 2022
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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!
- 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!
- 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 . . .
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 save?
At best, a folded pedal collapses to 50% of the previous width. So it’s 50% less likely to get in the way.
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, 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 disappears 100%. 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.
Why? They have no pedals! Even our own full-size folding bikes from Changebike have photos with no pedals, so it’s not like we’re superior here; we’re just pointing out that 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?
The rise of pop-off pedals
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.
Compare a folding pedal to a pop-off pedal that reduces to just over 10% of its previous space — and a non-dangly 10% at that!
One quick note . . . this whole category routinely trips over its own terminology. 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.
Wellgo, based in Taiwan, is in our opinion the leader in this space. They make about 10% of the world’s pedals, have a reputation for quality, and we have stuck with them for years, through a line extension and at least one major technology transition.
Here’s how we originally showed both the space savings and the flexibility of this approach.
Pull a red latch out to remove the pedal and put it back. People naturally saw the benefit of this approach almost immediately, and started asking for other options we didn’t have. Can I get it in SPD? Can I get larger pedals for my mountain bike?
After about 18 months of searching worldwide, our No turned into this:
And then, we were able to get pop-off MTB pedals, although in much shorter supply. All pedals in this family are interchangeable, so pedal swapping is a cinch.
Suddenly, all five of the problems mentioned upfront in this article were solved, along with others. Riders New York City in particular seemed to be obsessed with the security aspect: “Nobody gonna ride away a bike what ain’t got no pedals!”
Limitations of first-generation pop-off pedals
This was a huge step forward, but not perfect.
When you pedal, you are turning the crank arm around and around. That arm has permanently affixed to it a pull-out latch with corners. That latch doesn’t stick out very far–especially compared to a folding pedal!–but it is there. And if you ride with your feet very close in, that latch may make contact with the instep of your shoe, grinding away at the rubber over time.
We found that this happens with about 20% of riders. I personally found that it happened on my left shoe but not my right, where years of riding had taught me to give the chain a little more room to avoid shredded pants cuffs on my commute.
Armed with this information, we also invested in a supply of 2nd-generation Wellgo pop-off pedals. The one exception was with SPD pedals, where the foot position is predetermined by the clips, and this close-in foot issue cannot happen.
Second-generation pop-off pedals
Second-generation pop-off pedals use the exact same pedal spindle, so pedals and latches are cross-compatible with everything first-generation. We were so right to stick with Wellgo!
The pedal spindles are the same, but the latches are completely different.
Second-generation Wellgo pop-off latches are round and mostly symmetrical, with nothing protruding. The latch is still red.
The mechanism consists of a red latch ring that moves perpendicular to the threaded shaft and a rubberized black collar that slides along it, toward and away from the crank. The reason for that will be evident in a moment. A critical part of the latch is this strange set of washers.
These are not just washers, but an integral safety lock. When installed properly, with large side against the crank, this washer provides a place for the black washer to slide, fixing the red latch in place so your pedals cannot release. Without the washers, your pedals cannot lock into place.
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 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).
This flat pop-off pedal is ready for riding. The black lock ring has been slid smoothly over the locking washer, holding the red latch in place. To take your pedal off, slide the black ring toward the pedal, then push on the red latch at the white dot. Your pedal will disengage and you can pull it out.
This is what your bike looks like with your pop-off pedal removed. It’s almost like having no pedals at all!
Second generation, or QRD2, pedals are available assuming recent deliveries in flat, MTB, and QRD2.
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 may or may not be reflectors, depending upon the latest supplier.
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. Because of their size, these pedals are also popular among e-bike users as well, to better maneuver heavy bikes.
Yes, we’ve even got pop-off SPD pedals in second generation, though in very limited quantity. SPD stands for “Shimano Pedalling 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 he same distance with less energy, explaining the popularity of SPD pedals, even if you need special shoes to make them work.
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. The last outage for MTB pedals has been 18 months, but we will have more at the end of December 2022.
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 it catawampus kinda over an unlatched red ring doesn’t count.) Also, sometimes, it helps to pull the pedal closer in towards the pedal when latching. If it doesn’t latch by itself, then push 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…
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.
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:
ASSEMBLE IN THIS ORDER, FROM THE OUTSIDE IN:
- Turn the pedal latch threads up. Then, on the shaft, place the…
- Gold washer. This keeps the latch from binding.
- Large beveled washer (bevel side down). This is what the black lock ring slides onto.
- 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 are aiming to limit the future effect of supply chain shortages, specifically for MTB pedals, by creating and manufacturing our own design of pop-off MTB-style pedals for mountain bikers and e-bike riders. As you can imagine, this is an enormous engineering and logistical challenge, and it will take as long as it takes to get it right and pass destruction testing and ISO-4210 testing.
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 is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.