One of the biggest dilemmas for me this year was the choice of shoes/pedals for the Oregon Outback. I have had great luck with clip-less pedals and Sidi cycling shoes, so going with flats felt like a big risk. I knew that we wouldn’t go more than 100 miles in any one day, but we would be doing it for 4-6 days straight.
On the other hand, I didn’t relish the thought of running around in cleats on rough ground for the better part of a week. They add a certain amount discomfort: slippery footing in some situations, and “duck walking” on the ground. They also introduce unnecessary complexity and technical failure risk if a cleat gets damaged, or a shoe gets lost.
On flat pedals, at least I could comfortably use sandals or bare feet (in a pinch).
I rode on flats for the most part all winter and spring before the ride, with a max distance of about 50 miles. No problems. I have had occasional knee pain that has developed in the past over longer miles, but I was not as worried about it in this case. Both my clip-less setup (SpeedPlay Frogs, Sidi Spider SRS) and flats give my knees plenty of float. I seem to have had the most pain on a relatively locked in SPD setup.
Long story short – flat pedals were great, thin approach shoes were comfy as hell.
About the setup I used:
Pedals: Watch your shins on these pedals – they are grabby and have sharp edges, but after a few nicks, you figure out how to stay away from them. They lock your foot in really well – there were quite a few “holy crap” bumpy, loose, fast downhills we had to traverse, and I never lost my foot on the pedal – something that has happened to me on other pedal/shoe combos, and scary when you are rocketing downhill on single track or loose fire roads. These guys just work, and have a large platform to find purchase on.
Shoes: I’ve got 3 pairs of these – they are the most comfy shoes out-of-the-box I’ve yet encountered. They are a minimalist approach shoe, but are runnable. They wear well – I still use all three pairs, and two pairs have gone on several off-road adventures. Oh yeah – they are fairly inexpensive, too…
I also used some Echo sandals for part of the day when we were in the hotter, more exposed sections of the trail, but I mainly went this route because I had gotten the Cruzers wet, and wanted to dry them out on the back of my bag. This is an added benefit of flats – spare footwear just works.
After several days on the dusty trails, my feet felt great – no pains or aches, and my knees were fine for the distance. I hope other folks try out this sort of combo – the cycling community still really pushes clip-less combos for “comfort”. While some may need an extra stiff sole, I think this may have evolved due to the tiny surface area on most clip-less pedals. Try some big, flat pedals – you may be surprised…
That’s it for now. Let me know if you have found similar flat pedal/shoe combos you like.