Catalyst Pedals: A New Way to Pedal & Power Your Bike
Every now and then a product comes along that's so simple, yet so brilliant in design that it makes you wonder why it never previously existed. The Catalyst Pedal by Pedaling Innovations is just such a product.
Some readers may know that we—Natural Footgear co-founders Drs. Marty and Robyn Hughes—are avid road cyclists. We have been trialing these new pedals for several months now, and we’d like to share with you our experience of them thus far. Familiarizing ourselves with these new pedals has been an interesting and illuminating experience, as they represent a significant departure from conventional flat or “clipless” (i.e., clip-in) pedals and challenge long-held beliefs in the cycling community about the pedal stroke and what constitutes an optimal pedal/shoe setup.
In this review of Catalyst Pedals, we'll drill down on this inventive product for cyclists. Read on to learn more about Catalyst Pedals from Pedaling Innovations.
A Brief Description of Catalyst Pedals
Before I dive deeper into the various aspects of these pedals, I’d like to share with you a brief description of what Catalyst Pedals are and how they help support natural foot health:
The Catalyst Pedal is a flat (aka platform) pedal that allows you to recruit the full power of your main foot arch (and lower body musculature) with every pedal stroke. Longer than other flat pedals, Catalyst Pedals enable natural arch support by allowing you to put both ends of your main foot arch (i.e., the ball of your foot and your calcaneus, or heel bone) on the pedals themselves. This unique characteristic encourages more of a stairclimber-like pedaling motion and allows you to better recruit larger muscle groups, such as your glutes and hamstrings, to contribute to the pedaling action.
The Story & Idea Behind Catalyst Pedals
Catalyst Pedals were created by James Wilson, a Colorado-based strength and conditioning coach who was fed up with the inadequacies of conventional pedals and the foot discomfort that invariably seemed to accompany long bike rides. James' goal was to create a new pedal that took advantage of natural foot and lower body biomechanics to optimize performance on the bike, boost stability and confidence in the rider, and improve cyclists’ comfort—in essence, to entirely redefine the pedaling experience.
With these goals in mind, James set out to create the only pedal in the world that is designed by first looking at optimal foot and lower leg movement during the pedal stroke. In the video posted in one of the sections below, James notes that all other pedals are designed with the false assumption that pushing through the ball of the foot is the optimal method of force transfer. He states that this is a design based on an outdated idea of the pedal stroke, and that this design results in an unnatural or flawed interface between the foot and the pedal. He also (correctly) notes that the only time you want to push through the ball of your foot is when your foot leaves the ground or whatever it’s in contact with, such as during walking, running, jumping, etc.
Your foot acts differently if it doesn’t break contact with the surface upon which it is acting. A good example of this is when you perform squats or deadlifts in the gym, or when you pick up a box or other heavy object from the floor. In these instances, you want your entire foot, including your heel, to remain in contact with the ground or surface and then drive through the whole of your foot, not only through the ball of your foot.
Because your foot remains connected to the pedal during the pedaling motion, the optimal foot action when pedaling should include heel contact with the pedal. The outdated idea of—and collectively held beliefs about—the pedal stroke has resulted in most pedals available to consumers being designed such that only the ball of the foot is in contact with the pedal, which leads to an unstable foot and a diminished ability to recruit the full measure of lower body power, among other problems.
It’s important to James that consumers understand he’s not “anti-clipless” but rather “pro-platform,” and that he sees the utility of clipless pedals in elite racing and other applications. But—and I completely agree with this—he also notes that most people start out with clipless pedals and do not take the time to develop strong pedaling technique first—something that happens as a byproduct of using an appropriate flat pedal. Over time, clipless pedals become somewhat of a crutch that avid and competitive riders rely upon, both physically and psychologically. Using platform pedals in the early stages of a pedaling career can pay big dividends for the rider who wants to develop optimal pedaling technique.
I just don’t feel that new riders need to worry about them [clipless pedals] for at least a year or two, and riders who do choose to switch should spend some time on flats each year to help them improve their skills and pedal stroke [...] It isn't a matter of one pedal system being better than the other, it is about understanding how they exist on the same continuum and how they can work together to create a high-performance rider [...] There is a time and place for both systems and once we stop arguing over which is better the sooner we can learn how to make better use of them both as they relate to [pedaling a bike].
That being said, there are some serious foot health considerations for those who choose to ride exclusively on clipless pedals.
Clipless pedals are almost always used in combination with stiff-soled and narrow cycling shoes and incorporate a very small contact interface between rider and machine. Conventional cycling shoes spring the toes (shifting the protective forefoot fat pad away from its normal location) and restrict natural foot motion, and clipless pedals route the full force of the pedal stroke through a very small surface area on the ball of the foot. This places an extraordinary amount of focal pressure on sensitive ball of foot structures, including nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and the metatarsal heads.
The Catalyst Pedal, on the other hand, enables you to use a shoe that allows your foot to move and articulate the way nature intended and drive—using your full foot—into a solid platform or surface. This spreads the contact force across your foot and represents a huge difference in how force is applied to the pedal and how the corresponding reaction force affects foot structures.
To quote James,
Most of the advantages attributed to clipless pedals are not really in the system itself; it is in the power given to it in the minds of riders told from day one that it is a vastly superior system and a must for all serious riders.
Coming from the world of feet and footwear, this feels very familiar. So many patients and consumers are told that orthotics, shoe cushioning, and motion-controlling footwear are where it’s at for preventing and addressing a wide range of foot issues. I think it’s important that we constantly question conventionally held beliefs and belief systems and keep an open mind about new ideas and approaches.
Why the Medial Longitudinal Arch is Important in the Pedal Stroke
An arch is one of the strongest forms in nature and architecture, but in order to be stable, both ends of the arch must be level and in contact with the surface that the arch is acting upon. If the ends of the arch are not on a level plane, then you don’t have a stable arch configuration, and problems associated with a destabilized arch can arise. Many cyclists adopt a stiff-soled shoe in order to make up for the lack of a heel contact point on the pedal, but this fails to achieve the intended effect, as the heel is still floating freely in space and cannot participate in the driving force through the pedal.
A pedal that’s long enough to accommodate both the ball of the foot and the heel, such as the Catalyst Pedal, enables natural arch support, stabilizes the main foot arch, and changes the pedal stroke in a favorable way by allowing you to better incorporate your large hip extensor muscles. Please see our article entitled What is Natural Arch Support? for more in-depth info about this concept and how it applies to feet and footwear.
Cycling Shoes & Catalyst Pedals
A common belief among cyclists is that a stiff-soled shoe is absolutely necessary for an efficient pedal stroke. Many believe that conventional cycling shoes possess stiff soles for performance reasons when, in fact, stiff-soled shoes are actually an attempt to manage the inherently unnatural clipless pedal interface. Stiff-soled shoes make sense if you are riding on clipless pedals, but they are not mandatory—or even desirable—in the flat pedal paradigm.
On a flat pedal such as the Catalyst, with several square inches of legitimate contact space, your entire foot is able to apply force to the pedal itself. The large platform allows your foot to interact naturally with the pedal instead of relying on an artificial support base (i.e., the sole of conventional cycling shoes). This negates the need for a stiff-soled shoe when using Catalyst Pedals. Continued use of stiff-soled cycling shoes can have long-term foot health implications, so it’s more than just counterproductive from a musculoskeletal health point of view.
Your foot is designed to move in a natural way during physical activity, and that includes when you’re riding your bike. When you place your foot inside a stiff-soled cycling shoe, you essentially “lock” your foot in place (similar to putting your foot in a cast) and unfavorably alter foot and joint dynamics, impeding natural foot movement and predisposing yourself to a variety of foot health ills. Most cycling shoes also possess other design elements, such as tapering toe boxes, toe spring, and heel elevation, that cause numerous foot and toe problems. Indeed, conventional cycling shoes are among the worst offenders when it comes to footwear negatively impacting the function and structure of the human foot.
A Pervasive & Persistent Pedal Stroke Myth
Like with almost everything foot-related, myths abound in the cycling community about footwear, pedals, and how to execute the perfect pedal stroke. One predominant myth involves the upstroke phase of the pedaling motion. Cyclists have long been counseled to “pull up” on the backstroke while pushing down with the other leg. In his Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto, James cites several Cycling Efficiency Studies and EMG recordings that show that trying to pull up on the backstroke, or “spin circles,” actually results in a less powerful and efficient pedal stroke.
The idea behind this pedaling myth is that, by using the hamstrings and hip flexors to pull up, you can add power to the pedal stroke. At first glance, this would seem to be a completely reasonable and rational idea. Indeed, this is how a machine might be programmed to pedal a bicycle. But for humans, this ideal may not actually be attainable. What the studies reveal is that the human body prefers to push down hard and then let the trailing leg return in a passive manner. Something similar happens during running, in that the leading leg pushes hard and the trailing leg pulls up just hard enough to get into position to push hard again. One explanation for this is that we humans simply don’t possess the mental bandwidth to simultaneously focus on both the powerful downstroke and the opposite-side upstroke. As an experiment, try doing both simultaneously during your next ride! See if you can make it work or whether you end up focusing on one or the other movement at a time.
The Benefits of Catalyst Pedals
There are many benefits associated with Catalyst Pedals—such as better performance and confidence on the bike and the development of healthy pedaling habits—but the three benefits that stand out above all others are the following:
1. A More Powerful Foot & Pedal Stroke: The position the foot assumes on the Catalyst Pedal removes most of the “flex” or slack from the foot and ankle. When the slack is removed from all of the flex points involved in the pedal stroke, the majority of the force or energy applied to the pedal stroke can go directly into the crank arm. James notes that the pedals may be worth one extra gear on climbs because of the additional amount of power you’re able to put into the pedal stroke. The large surface area provided by the pedal allows for true maximum force transfer.
2. More Efficient Recruitment of Hip Muscles: Catalyst Pedals allow you to take better advantage of your powerful hip extensors to perform the pedaling action. With the Catalyst Pedal, you can use your heel to drive straight down during the pedal stroke, which is the strongest action for the leg. Conventional flat pedals and clipless pedals (to a lesser degree) involve some forward drive (i.e., shear force) at the top of the pedal stroke, and they do not allow you to recruit your hips (i.e., glutes and hamstrings—the hip extensors) to nearly the same degree as Catalyst Pedals. Catalyst Pedals place your foot in a midfoot position on the pedal, which allows you to optimally recruit the large and strong prime movers involved in the pedal stroke.
Note: For all you anatomists out there, I realize that, technically, the midfoot pertains to the cuboid, cuneiform, and navicular bones. But for the purposes of this article, when I use the term “midfoot,” I'm referring to the general middle section of the foot, from approximately the metatarsophalangeal joint (i.e., ball of the foot) to the anterior part of the calcaneus (i.e., heel bone).
3. Improved Comfort & Stability on the Bike: Catalyst Pedals are extraordinarily comfortable, and if your experience is anything like mine, your feet will still feel great even after multi-hour rides. This is because the pedaling motion encouraged by the Catalysts prevents the repetitive jamming of your toes into your shoe’s toe box—something that occurs with every pedal stroke when using conventional pedals (and conventional cycling shoes). This is especially true when riding out of the saddle. Repetitive toe jamming can cause numb toes and cramping feet and, over time, it can lead to toe deformities such as bunions, hammertoes, and other crooked toes, as well as hot spots. Also, Catalyst Pedals allow you to shift your weight back a little bit when in the “attack position,” which allows you to assume a more comfortable and stable position on the bike. Simply dropping your heels back into space, as occurs with conventional flat and clipless pedals, is nowhere near as stable as actually being able to shift your weight back to your heels.
Here is a video featuring James, the creator of Catalyst Pedals, discussing some of the topics I mentioned above:
I think this video provides a solid introduction to Catalyst Pedals and James’ story and does a great job of illustrating the key merits of this innovative product.
Here are some of the other aspects of Catalyst Pedals that I really appreciate. These pedals:
Have a sleek, low-profile, and aerodynamic design
Reduce pressure on sensitive ball of foot structures
Possess removable/adjustable traction pins for excellent grip
Can be used for road cycling, mountain biking, and bike commuting
Eliminate the frequent need to tighten and reposition cycling shoe cleats and adjust clipless pedal tension
Completely eliminate the likelihood that a cycling shoe cleat malfunction (e.g., debris in the cleat) will derail your ride
Incorporate a simple pedal/shoe interface that makes mounting and dismounting quick, easy, and safe—something that has already saved me from falls on numerous occasions
Can be combined with men's and women's foot-healthy athletic shoes. With the Catalyst Pedal, you are no longer confined to using only a cycling-specific shoe, as a cleat system is not needed. Being able to use foot-healthy shoes for cycling is very important for achieving optimal foot health as well as comfort and power on the bike.
Allow you to use a shoe that can accommodate Correct Toes toe spacers, which in turn helps prevent passive toe deformities—bunions, hammertoes, crooked toes—and other problems associated with conventional cycling shoes (e.g., hot spots, plantar fasciosis, neuromas, etc.)
From both a technical and natural foot health perspective, these pedals have a lot to offer riders of all stripes and abilities.
How Catalyst Pedals Can Help With Foot Pain & Problems
Foot pain and problems are extremely common among cyclists. As noted in the section above, hot spots, plantar fasciosis, and neuromas (as well as other ball of foot problems), are among the most frequently experienced issues that can take the joy out of riding or prevent riding altogether. Other problems, such as bunions, hammertoes, and other types of crooked toes, occur more slowly, as the shape of your forefoot conforms to the aberrant, wedge-like toe box that's so common in conventional cycling shoes.
One of the many ways in which Catalyst Pedals are revolutionary is that they almost entirely eliminate the likelihood of the above-mentioned foot problems that so often befall cyclists. The large surface area of these pedals helps distribute the contact force between the foot and the pedal across your entire foot instead of placing the full measure of this force on just one small area (i.e., the ball of your foot). This significantly reduces the burden on vulnerable nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and bones and allows you to ride with confidence knowing your body will be able to cope with the stress that's placed upon it.
Conventional cycling shoes, with their many design flaws, cause or contribute to problems such as plantar fasciosis—one of the most painful and debilitating of all foot problems cyclists may incur. Because the Catalyst Pedal negates the need for a cleated cycling shoe, this frees you up to choose more foot-healthy options that can accommodate natural toe splay, the biggest factor in preventing or addressing plantar fascia pain and the many types of crooked toes (painful or otherwise) that cyclists so commonly develop.
How Catalyst Pedals Can Benefit the Knee
A disproportionate number of cyclists will experience some sort of overuse injury at some point during their cycling career. For many of these riders, the knees represent one of the most common problem areas. Flat pedals and foot-healthy footwear can help with this. When you use Catalyst Pedals in combination with flat, wide toe box athletic shoes, you shift focal pressure off the ball of your foot and distribute that forcethroughout your entire foot. This helps prevent ball of foot problems, as noted in the section above, but it also allows you to better recruit your hips, boost your power output, and stabilize your knee. This combination of products (i.e., flat pedals and appropriate footwear) reduces stress on your knee by more evenly distributing force through your knee joints. This can help prevent and address knee pain and keep you in fine riding form.
Also, clipless pedals have an inherent flaw that may contribute to knee pain in some riders. Clipless pedals essentially force you to run on your toes—an action that eventually overloads the kneecap (and the tissues associated with it) and causes pain. With Catalyst Pedals, which allow for a midfoot contact on the pedal platform, you transfer force up the leg, and that force then gets distributed to both the front and back of the knee instead of just the anterior (i.e., front) compartment.
Who Should Use Catalyst Pedals?
Catalyst Pedals were created primarily with mountain bikers in mind, though they work great for bike commuters and those road cyclists among us who aren’t counting every single ounce of weight on our bikes. Each pair of Catalyst Pedals weigh about 505 grams, which is about twice as much as a pair of higher-end clipless carbon pedals—a potential downside, or con, to those who are very concerned about weight.
In my experience as a road cyclist, I have truly enjoyed using my Catalyst Pedals and would not trade them for any other pedal at this point. I feel that the benefits I get from them far outstrip any drawbacks associated with their relatively heavier weight. So whether you’re a competitive mountain biker, an avid road cyclist, or a dedicated bike commuter, Catalyst Pedals can be a great option and offer you something that no other pedal can: The ability to realize your strongest and best pedal stroke.
When Should You Use Catalyst Pedals?
One of James’ main points is that using flat pedals for training can help develop or restore good pedaling habits, inject freshness into the pedaling motion, and lead to a better pedal stroke when (and if) you choose to reinstitute clipless pedals for racing or other reasons. I contend, however, that the platform pedals are an end in themselves, not just a means to an end, and that most riders who do not earn a living from riding would benefit from using them almost exclusively. Certainly, this is true from a foot health perspective, but I think also from a performance perspective.
Learning to ride for the first year or two on flats (at the very least) can help you build a solid technique foundation, so that if you ultimately opt to use clipless pedals you’ll get more out of them. And while clipless pedals may increase performance in certain racing situations, it isn’t a massive improvement and clipless pedals should never become a crutch for suboptimal pedaling technique. James has coined the term “barefoot pedaling” to describe the application of barefoot training concepts for runners to cycling, and he believes that barefoot pedaling is an essential experience for every rider. The best way to practice barefoot pedaling, he notes, is to spend some time on flat pedals.
According to James,
To me, “barefoot pedaling” means trying to restore more natural foot movement and posture. This requires a two-part approach. Part one is using flat pedals and shoes that have pliable soles and no arch support. This will help the feet move more naturally and allow for minor deviations in foot placement. Part two is standing up to pedal as much as possible. This will get the neck and spine straight and the hips under the shoulders, and it will promote a more natural movement pattern.
I would add one thing to what James says here about barefoot pedaling, especially as it pertains to using good shoes with pliable soles and no arch support. And that is: Toe splay is another crucial component of true barefoot pedaling, and a wide toe box (widest at the ends of the toes) is an important feature to look for in a foot-healthy cycling shoe. A good cycling shoe will accommodate the use of Correct Toes toe spacers to enable natural, healthy toe splay.
Practicing barefoot pedaling by using Catalyst Pedals—either exclusively or as a training tool you use several times per month, or something in between—is an important consideration for those riders who want to pedal with more power and endurance while causing less wear and tear on their body.
Proper Foot Placement for Catalyst Pedals
Your feet are a key contact point with the bike. If your feet are not positioned properly, you risk pedaling with less power, being less stable on technical terrain, and predisposing yourself to an overuse injury.
With pedaling, as with squats and deadlifts, you want your whole foot to stay solidly in contact with the ground for maximum balance, muscle recruitment, and power transfer. You don’t want to shift all your weight to the ball of your foot because it will actually reduce your strength and balance. So, a “midfoot” position (i.e., a position in which both the forefoot and the heel are engaging the contact surface and the toes are splayed) is optimal for pedaling. Image A above shows the proper foot placement on and dual pressure points associated with the Catalyst Pedal. Image B shows the typical foot placement on and solitary pressure point associated with a conventional platform pedal. Note: The flat pedal in image B could easily be swapped for a clipless pedal, as the foot positioning is very similar for both, though there is, perhaps, even more pinpoint pressure on the ball of the foot in the clipless pedal situation.
A midfoot position will, by its very nature, enable you to better recruit your hips, which are among the strongest muscles in your lower body and the real key to pedaling power. To achieve a midfoot position with Catalyst Pedals, simply place the pedal’s axle in the middle of your main foot arch and try to get at least some aspect of both arch ends onto the pedal.This foot placement enhances your pedaling in three distinct ways:
1. Improved Power: By supporting both ends of your main foot arch, you naturally support the arch itself, which eliminates flex in the foot so that more force is transferred directly to the pedals.
2. Enhanced Efficiency: A midfoot placement over the pedal’s axle balances the foot, which decreases ankle joint stress and promotes better recruitment of the hip extensors.
3. Elevated Stability & Comfort: A balanced foot position yields a more balanced application of force into the pedals and greater overall foot comfort.
Another nice aspect of Catalyst Pedals is that, though the traction pins keep your foot rooted to the pedal, and though you want your foot to maintain that ideal midfoot position, your feet aren’t stuck in one position on the pedals. Feet were never meant to be locked into the same position with every single pedal stroke. Your feet need to do a little work to maintain their position on the pedal. This movement—minor variations in foot placement that occur between pedal strokes—is necessary to keep your musculoskeletal system healthy and balanced; your body will last longer if it experiences some minor differences in how it moves during repetitive activity. In my opinion, a little “wasted energy” is a far better fate than what results when you lock your foot into the exact same position over countless revolutions.
1. Stay the Course: In the early stages of using Catalyst Pedals, commit to using them exclusively. Consider using them for a dozen or so consecutive rides, as this will give you a pedaling proficiency that you might not otherwise achieve with spottier use. Staying the course is particularly important if you are coming from riding clipless pedals because you may be inclined to revert to your older pedals too soon or shift between your clipless and flat pedals and therefore never fully develop the kind of healthy pedal stroke possible with Catalyst Pedals.
2. Prioritize Standing: Standing up more often on your flat pedals is a good idea for a few reasons. First, it keeps your feet “heavy” on the pedals, allowing you to lay down some serious power on climbs and sprints and providing your feet with the best possible purchase on technical descents. Sitting down on the saddle unweights your feet, and though sitting is most definitely a part of cycling, the more time you can spend in an upright position, the better. Second, standing up on the pedals stacks your weight-bearing joints in a healthy way and reduces wear and tear on your knees, hips, and lower back. Standing while pedaling also forces a co-contraction of the quadriceps and hamstrings at the bottom of the pedal stroke, which stabilizes your knee—an important musculoskeletal action and outcome that is less effective when you are sitting.
3. Do Some Running Sprints: Though not entirely intuitive, sprinting is a great way to learn how to use Catalyst Pedals. In fact, sprinting can have a dramatic positive effect on your pedal stroke. The majority of your pedaling power is generated during the downstroke, and the upstroke is all about getting your trailing leg back into position to push down on the pedals again—precisely what occurs when you sprint. By firing your muscles in this manner during the sprint, you’re training your lower body to pedal more effectively, especially when pedaling in the upright position. James recommends doing four sprints of 15-20 yards each and then jumping on your bike and attempting to make your pedaling “feel” the same way as your sprinting. If you can reproduce the feeling of sprinting while on your bike, you are on the right track.
4. Use an Appropriate Shoe: A foot-healthy shoe that lets your foot do most of the work of pedaling is absolutely crucial. A lot of riders who insist they don’t like riding platform pedals have not paired a quality flat pedal such as the Catalyst Pedal with a flat, wide (i.e., widest at the ends of the toes), and somewhat flexible shoe. A good flat-pedal cycling shoe also possesses a sufficiently grippy or sticky sole. Such a sole works really great in combination with the traction pins that are included with all Catalyst Pedals.
Catalyst Pedals Features & Technical Details
Here are some of key product features of Catalyst Pedals touted by the manufacturer:
Bearing & Bushings: Dual-sealed bearings and DU Bushing internals
Multiple Color Options: Available in 4 anodized colors: Black, Blue, Red, and Grey
Traction Pins: 12 pins per side strategically placed to maximize optimal foot position
Bonus Traction Pins: Ships with longer (8 mm) replacement grub screws to swap out for extra traction
Machining: Extruded and Machined with an exclusive mold using 6061 Aluminum with T6 Heat Treatment
Durable Spindle: Heat treated Cr-Mo Spindle that is compatible with a standard 15 mm wrench or 6 mm Allen wrench
Manufacturing: Manufactured by VP Components using parts and materials with a proven track record for durability and quality
Extra-Long Platform: Designed to connect the front and back ends of the main foot arch, making this pedal the longest platform for your foot on the market
And here are the pedals’ tech specs:
Length: 5.6 inches (143 mm). This makes Catalyst Pedals the longest platform pedals on the market.
Width: 3.75 inches (95 mm). The Catalyst Pedal is wide enough to comfortably get the majority of your foot on it. If more than a half-inch of your foot is hanging over the edge of the pedal, then the pedal is not wide enough for your foot and may cause a numb fifth toe.
Thickness: 0.6 inches (16 mm). This pedal has a relatively thin profile. A thinner profile pedal lowers your center of gravity on the bike and improves your power transfer into the crank arms.
Weight: 505 grams (17.8 oz.) per pair. Again, this is about double what you might expect from a pair of higher-end clipless carbon pedals.
Catalyst Pedals: Things to Consider
Though Catalyst Pedals offer cyclists numerous benefits, there are some key considerations that need to be evaluated before adopting these innovative platform pedals.
One major thing you’ll want to consider is pedal weight. At 505 grams, a pair of Catalyst Pedals has some heft. This extra weight, to me, is most noticeable when lifting the bike and not so much when riding. Also, it will be more noticeable on lightweight road bikes than on inherently heavier mountain bikes or commuters. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker for you largely depends on the kind of riding you do, your competitiveness level, and how you feel about carrying a little extra weight up climbs. For me, the tradeoff is worth it, but I do appreciate that some riders are more sensitive to the extra weight.
Another consideration is the reduced turning radius you experience on a bike fitted with Catalyst Pedals. The position your foot assumes on the pedal makes it difficult to execute a 180-degree turn without your foot contacting the front wheel to at least some degree. In the event that I’m making a 180 on my road bike, I find myself temporarily shifting my foot position on the pedals (backward) to create more clearance room for the front wheel. Again, for me personally, it’s not a big deal; I just have to remember to do it.
As with other flat pedals, there are ground contact considerations with Catalyst Pedals. On several occasions, I’ve whipped around sharp corners on the road and, forgetting to keep my inside foot elevated, have scraped the pedals against the pavement, which made for some impressive sparks and a few panicky moments. I realize this has more to do with my riding technique than the pedals themselves, but the pedals, due to their significant width, do put you in closer contact with the road or trail. Just something to bear in mind.
The pedals have a sleek design, and so that means that they also have relatively sharp edges and corners, as do the traction pins. Because the pedals are wider than other platform pedals or clipless pedals (and therefore project more laterally from the bike), it’s important to be aware of their position in space to avoid banging or scraping your shin or calf when transitioning from a stationary (i.e., standing) position to a riding position (or to avoid scraping objects, such as cars, when walking the bike to and fro). I haven’t personally experienced any cuts or scrapes when using these pedals, but I can see the importance of being vigilant when it comes to knowing where the pedals are at any given moment.
Many riders who adopt Catalyst Pedals find that a few minor modifications to the bike are helpful or required to get the most out of the pedals. Here's what Catalyst Pedals founder James Wilson has to say about helpful bike modifications:
As far as tweaks go, what we've found is that most riders will need to lower their seat 2-3 cm and may also need to move their seats forward a bit. This actually leads to one of the little-known advantages of the midfoot position—it brings your center of gravity lower, which helps keep you planted and balanced. It also helps keep weight on the front end when cornering.
These bike modifications should be universal across the various disciplines (and machines) of the sport. James adds,
As far as differences [in bike modifications required] for different types of riding, I haven't found and don't think that it matters. The optimal foot position and general pedal stroke is going to be the same for all cyclists.
I like my Catalyst Pedals as is, but I would also love to see a lighter-weight “performance” version for serious roadies. I do believe that this is a product the Pedaling Innovations team would like to add at some point. I think there are a lot of cyclists out there, roadies in particular, who would pay a bit more for a lightweight, yet durable racing platform pedal. This could open up the door for more elite racers to adopt platforms as their go-to racing and training pedals.
Despite the fact that Catalyst Pedals are the longest platform pedal on the market, I actually wouldn’t mind it if they were even a little bit longer! This one-size-fits-most pedal does a great job of accommodating various foot lengths, but longer-footed individuals have to be extra careful with their foot placement on the pedals to ensure that both the front and back of the main foot arch are in contact with the pedals. I do appreciate that adding more length to the pedals would add more weight and inhibit turning radius on the bike to a greater degree, but I still think a small amount of extra length would be helpful for some. Or perhaps offering different sizes of the pedal (e.g., Small, Medium, and Large) would be helpful for consumers too.
Our Personal Experience With Catalyst Pedals
It's been a lot of fun trialing these pedals and learning about their various nuances. Both Dr. Robyn and I have really come to love these platform pedals for a number of reasons. Here is Dr. Robyn's take on her experience with Catalyst Pedals:
For me, moving away from clipless pedals took some getting used to, as I was very accustomed to the feeling of being clipped in, and I liked it. Now, though, I don't mind being detached from my pedals—but it was a transition. Also, as a result of being able to wear wide toe box athletic shoes, my foot comfort was massively improved; while my cycling shoe surgery was useful, the modified cycling shoes were still narrower than optimal. Using regular shoes is really nice for touring, too, due to the ease of going from cycling to walking (and it's one less pair of shoes to pack).
Also, interestingly: I ride mainly for outdoor enjoyment and don't pay much attention to speed. But I do track my rides on an app, and I was surprised to discover notably faster times on my regular routes compared to previous rides and seasons. Again, this anecdotal finding was surprising because I didn't necessarily feel any stronger during the rides, and I wasn't at all trying to be speedy. In other words, similar perceived effort led to faster times. Also of note: I did sense more ankle and knee stability when using the Catalyst Pedals.
For me, I switched to Catalyst Pedals after having used a flat pedal and toe strap setup (Power Grips) for a number of months, so I was a bit more removed from the clipless pedal scene than Dr. Robyn when I began using the Catalysts. I knew right away that this was the pedal I had always been looking for, and I immediately felt more powerful on the steep climbs in the hills around Asheville, NC. I noticed right away that the pedals worked my lower body in a different way, and there was a relatively long adjustment period as my neuromusculoskeletal system caught up with the new way that force was being applied to it. I suppose I'm still in that transition phase, to some degree, though, by this point, my body has largely accepted the new movement patterns as the baseline norm.
I think a lot of cyclists have this idea in their minds that anyone who rides a platform pedal is not a serious rider, so it's always fun to show up to group or organized rides and surprise people with better than expected performances using what is generally regarded as more “basic” equipment. The fact that both Dr. Robyn and I ride using wide toe box athletic shoes as well (i.e., the type of shoe you might normally see in the gym) generates further bewilderment in our fellow roadies and often makes for a great conversation starter!
I’ve covered a lot of ground in this Catalyst Pedals product review, and if you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve found my comments helpful! All things considered, I think Catalyst Pedals represent the best option for maximizing the cycling experience while preserving natural foot health. Clipless pedals may be the current standard across the various disciplines of the sport, but platform pedals, and Catalyst Pedals, in particular, are catching on. They help improve pedaling efficiency, build a more powerful pedal stroke, improve foot comfort and stability, and reduce wear and tear on the lower body joints. Using Catalyst Pedals is also fun and liberating. And with a 30-day money back guarantee, you can put them to the test and compare them side by side with your other pedals before committing to them for good. Catalyst Pedals are a true cycling innovation and a product that you can use to enjoy a long and enjoyable cycling career.
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Dr. Marty Hughes is a chiropractic physician, or DC. He received his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College (WSCC), now known as the University of Western States (UWS). Dr. Marty has always been interested in foot health, due to the connection between the feet and the spine. He has worked as a freelance writer for LiveStrong.com, for whom he contributed over 2,200 health-and-fitness articles. He is a co-founder of Natural Footgear and an ardent supporter of natural foot care approaches. Dr. Marty enjoys road cycling, hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing as well as exploring the mountains of Western North Carolina.