Our experience w. Catalyst Pedals by Pedaling Innovation after 6,000km in Africa: thorough review. Are they the best flat pedals? Where is the innovation?
The biggest pedals on the market, the Catalyst by Pedaling Innovation look impressive at first sight – they really stand out and make your bike being noticed. For our African bicycle trip we really didn’t want to use clipless, the often terrible road conditions make that a very dangerous choice in my opinion, you really want to be able to put your feet on the ground as quick as possible on the sandy or bumpy tracks.
At the same time, the smaller pedals we used on our cycling trip in Europe on our Stanforth Bikes were really not grippy enough, slippery when wet, and didn’t offer a big enough surface. We wanted something more stable, where our feet could lay safe in all kind of conditions, so we came across the Catalysts. We decided to try them and got two pairs from James at Pedaling Innovation, founder of the company and inventor of the pedals, with the promise to write a field review about the Catalyst Pedals.
Now, after 5 months and 6,000km of very diverse African roads, I feel I can tell something about them – I hope this review would be helpful to understand if these pedals are or are not for you. So, are these the best pedals for bicycle touring?
Disclosure: Some of our articles contain affiliate links, that means we might receive a small percentage compensation if you purchase one of the linked product within a certain time frame. This comes at no additional cost for you and helps us keep this website up and running. (as an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases)
Description of the Catalyst Pedals
With a platform size of 143mm x 95mm, the length of the Catalyst Pedals is at least 18mm longer than the next largest pedal. They are 16mm thick and pretty heavy at 505g x pair. The grip is guaranteed by 18 pins per side, all on the edges and none in the middle. Pins are 4mm long (2mm out) but the company provides spare pins which are double the lenght (8mm/4mm out) for added grip.
Materials are an exclusive mold using 6061 Aluminum with T6 Heat Treatment. Manufactured by VP Components using parts and materials with a proven track record for durability and quality.
Heat treated Cr-Mo Spindle that is compatible with a standard 15mm wrench or 6mm hex key. Dual sealed bearings and DU Bushing internals.
PLATFORM SIZE – 128mm x 95mm
OVERALL PEDAL SIZE – 143mm length, 105mm width, from crank arm
THICKNESS – 16mm
NUMBER OF PINS – 18 x side
PIN LENGTH – 4mm (2mm out)/8mm (4mm out)
WEIGHT – 505g/pair
BEARING ARCHITECTURE – inboard bushing plus two outboard bearings
PRICE – $129
COLOURS AVAILABLE – Black, Grey, Red, Blue
Ergonomics – Where is the Real Innovation?
The whole point of the Catalyst Pedals is one that might make more than a few riders turn up their noses and flinch, that is changing the foot position on the pedals and how to apply force to the stroke.
Indeed the Catyst Pedals are the first bicycle pedals designed to be pushed with the whole foot, what they call a mid-foot position, instead of the ball of the foot, has anyone of has as probably done so far.
“A study by J.R. Van Sickle Jr, M.L Hull, published in the Journal of Biomechanics in 2007 showed no difference between the ball of the foot or the mid-foot position in power or economy. It also showed that the mid-foot position placed less stress on the calf and Achilles tendon and instead suggested that the stress was placed on the hips instead.
This means that the mid-foot position better recruits the hips and that the ball of the foot isn’t “better”. If it was it would have won, not just tied. In fact, from a functional movement standpoint taking the stress off of the smaller ankle joint and putting it at the stronger, bigger hip joint is how the body is meant to move. Your calf needs to act as a stabilizer for the ankle so it can help transfer the power from the hips and when you try to move it to “add” to the power you decrease that power transfer and place extra stress on a more sensitive joint.
And if you look at how kids pedal they are almost always mid-foot on the pedals – this is the natural riding position and unless someone at some point told you that you needed to push through the ball of the foot, odds are you wouldn’t have learned it.” from the Pedaling Innovation Website
See the picture at the end of the article for the correct foot position to ride with the Catalyst Pedals
Changing the rider’s position, bike fit and frame geometry – What you should be aware of
What I immediately noticed once I got the Catalyst Pedals on my Stanforth Kibo was that something felt just not right – the whole relationship between bike and rider had changed.
Indeed placing the mid-foot on the spindle, instead of the ball of the foot, sets your position more forward towards the handlebar, thus reducing the reach and virtually lowering down the angle of the seat tube. This means your bike basically becomes “shorter” while the horizontal distance between the pedal at power stroke (when the crank is pointed forward) is longer.
This might seem, to an unexperienced eye, a minor change but it’s not – it’s pretty big! You will need to completely redo your bike fitting, possibly going for a longer stem and setting your seat back a few millimiters. In my case, since prefer a more sloped angle of the seat tube, I had to source a set-back seatpost to keep that angle.
Flat Platform Pedals VS Clipless Cleat Pedals
The almost-universal belief that being clipped-in gives the rider a more effective use of their energy, because of the pulling-up of the pedal through the cleat, has been debunked already quite some time ago.
The Korff (et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:991-995) and Mornieux (et al. Int J Sports Med 2008; 29:817-822) Cycling Efficiency Studies clearly show that pulling up on the backstroke produces less power and burns more energy than simply driving hard on the downstroke and letting the trail leg come up just hard enough to get ready for the next hard downstroke push.
This video showed a rider who tried to prove that he needed to pull up on the backstroke and instead proved that he was more efficient when he couldn’t pull up on the backstroke.
In this sense, a flat pedal has the exact same efficiency as a clipless, making thus the choice between the two a mare matter of personal preference.
Our Experience with the Catalyst Pedals
In the last 5 months before writing this review, we have been cycling fully-loaded through Lesotho, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia – getting on almost any kind of road, the thick sand of Mozambique, the bumpy and dusty roads of Zambia, the steep tacks of Zimbabwe, the well-paved highways of Kwa-Zulu Natal in SA, the vertical slopes of Lesotho.
The improvement given by the Catalyst Pedals has been huge. The flat position of the foot on the pedal gives a greatly increased grip, no need for central pins, the surface of the shoe was always glued to the pedal, even when riding with flip-flops or crocs-style shoes.
We never lost contact with the pedal even under very wet conditions (which honestly happened very rarely) or in technical downhills. On the steepest of the rocky sections the efficiency gain was most evident, we could go up some slopes which would have been much harder on our previous pedals. On flat and smooth tarmac, the stroke just feels smoother and we feel like reaching our average cruise speed with much less effort.