Tough as flatties
Lately I’ve been trialling Shimano Saint flat pedals for touring and general day to day riding.
It came about as a bit of an accident that I gave them a proper heave ho on a short but rough loaded tour, when my Park Tools multitool kind of exploded while attempting to remove the flats to swap for my usual XT SPD pedals at the road end of the Godley Valley. So much for forward planning, or relying on multitools that promise the earth.
I’m normally an SPD stalwart. Flat pedals are for going to the corner shop or downhilling. And that’s it. SPD’s give you extra power of the pedal upstroke and control to slowly wind your wheels over awkward terrain – especially useful when loaded up and riding the sort of terrain that the Godley Valley offers up, namely a boulder field.
But this time around I had no choice in the matter. Flat pedals, coupled with decidedly un-stiff trail running shoes. Not my ideal combo, but at least I’d be able to walk around at the hut without doing the ‘roadie-two-step’.
The enforced gear change got me thinking of the advantages for touring/exploring by bike. The main one being the need for only one pair of shoes, instead of lugging a small wardrobe of bike shoes and shoes that you can actually walk in, plus sometimes jandals too. I’m a big fan of pairing down the kit list wherever possible and the shoe thing has always been a bit of a compromise in that department.
So preparing for aching insteps and calves, and less power over the bumpy stuff, off we went up the Godley Valley. There are a LOT of stream crossings up the Godley. This is somewhere that clip pedals excel since the current doesn’t drag your feet off the pedals as you splash through the frigid water, particularly when it’s over bottom bracket height. The Saints were surprising well mannered here, the long pins (they come with washers that can be remove to extend the pins, plus you can add extra ones for more stick) giving good grip and even seeming to help pull the cranks through to the upstroke, despite any plans the river had to dislodge them.
I was also surprised to find that my bad memories of flat pedals and soft shoes being ache inducing seemed unfounded. Plus I really appreciated being able to hop off the bike and walk comfortably on the push sections.
The Saints have a large platform, that gives oodles of support and grip. They do stick out a fair way from the crank however, so much that I found myself bashing them on rocks quite often when squeezing through the trickier bits of the boulder fields. I’m sure I would get used to this and compensate naturally over time, but I’m still used to the small size of my SPD’s.
The Saints are quite gorgeous to behold in black and silver anodising, with a little touch of gold around the axle seal. Almost too bling for my beat up touring rig. The axles are made from chromoly – essential for a long touring life, with smooth rolling sealed bearings, all fully serviceable. 9 allen key pins per side screw in from the opposite side of the pedal. These come with washers that can be removed to extend the pins to a respectable shin mashing length and allow you to tune the grip. This also helps prevent the pins from clogging up with dirt.
They are not the lightest out there at 499g a pair, but that extra weight gives confidence especially if you’re out for a long trip, and they appear to be built to take a hammering.
While my SPD’s are still close to my heart (and sole :-)), It think flats might become my go-to choice for any kind of touring where there is significant time off the bike too – the reduction in necessary kit is a big win. There are plenty of decent flat pedals out there that could do the job, but the Saints pedigree (taking over from the perennial DX), and quality of build put it up there with the top choices for flat touring pedals.
Available in the online shop for $119.99