Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Power Grips: Foot Retention That Even I Can Use!

[edited to addPower Grips was a sponsor of this website September-October 2010. This review was written before that time.]

I do not like the idea of foot retention and generally feel no need for it - whether cycling for transportation or going on long rides. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the very thought of having my feet connected to the pedals fills me with terror. The problem is, that I will soon be riding a fixed gear roadbike (Marianne's conversion was practice), for which it is advisable to use foot retention: When cycling over bumps or potholes, your feet can fly off the pedals on a fixed gear bike and the pedals can then "chew up your ankles" before you have a chance to brake. So yes, foot retention is recommended.

Some have suggested I try Power Grips if I am too nervous to use toe clips or clipless pedals. I have finally gotten up the nerve to give them a try... and so far they have been more or less a success. We installed these first on my Rivendell Sam Hillborne, so that I could get comfortable with them before putting them on the fixed gear. Here are my impressions so far.

Power Grips are basically straps made of a thick, stiff woven fabric, that mount diagonally on the pedals. It is easy to slide your foot in and out, but the diagonal position grips the foot firmly in place once it is all the way in. Note that we mounted these with the logo on the inside. There is also a beige version with an argyle pattern accompanying the logo.

Even as I write this, it sounds implausible that something can both "grip the foot firmly" and "be easy to slide in and out of," but that is the feeling.  Because the band is diagonal, there is a large escape area as soon as you move your foot back a bit. You can also feel the grip getting tighter/looser as you shift your foot forward or backward on the pedal, so there is a natural bodily awareness of the system that works in your favour.  When approaching a stop, I simply slide one foot off the pedal and step down on the ground. Initially I would remove the second foot at stops as well, but eventually I discovered that it was easier to just keep it inside the grip.

I am not qualified to say how effective the Power Grips are in terms of pedaling efficiency; I simply would not know. It feels as if with the grips I can pedal with more power, but it may very well be an illusion. However, none of that is important to me, and what really matters is safety. The Power Grips keep my feet firmly in place when going over bumps, yet are easy to get out of whenever I need to.

I should mention also that the straps come in several sizes, and are adjustable to fit over different types of footwear. They do not squeeze or rub the top of the foot, so I am pretty sure you could wear them even with sandals. 

Another nice thing about the Power Grips, is that if you want to pedal without them, you can easily use the other side of the pedal.  I do not feel comfortable yet wearing the grips in stop-and-go traffic, so when the traffic gets dense I simply cycle with them upside down and my feet are free. The straps do not hang low enough to scrape against the ground. And even if there is an occasional scrape, it is soft and silent (whereas toe clips make screeching, clunking noises).

Some complain that Power Grips don't look attractive on a bike, but I think they are fine: it is just a strap attached to the pedal. They will soon be moved from my Rivendell to my fixed gear bicycle - though I must say it is tempting to keep them here, too. Unless riding in traffic, it actually feels nice to have my feet in the straps, especially when pedaling fast or going over bumps.

I cannot overstate how scared I am of foot retention: I have tried clips and half clips, and was unable to use them. Power Grips seem easier and safer to me than either of these systems. They are also by far more effective than half-clips or loose toe clips. 

27 comments:

  1. I haven't used Powergrips, but there are a number of DIY alternatives on Instructables and other places - basically constructed out of heavy strapping and velco for adjustability.

    I like the idea, though, and if I had a beater bike I didn't want to use MKS toeclips on, I'd definitely consider the Powergrips.

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  2. Whatever works! If you like them, put them on the touring bike as well. On the open road, foot retention helps you to keep your cadence up to spin.

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  3. I have a somewhat off-topic question: Are there any pedals out there that are double-sided like MKS Touring, but narrower? We are building up a vintage road frame as a fixed gear, and I am worried that the side of the touring pedals may hit the ground on sharp leans; the bottom bracket may not be quite high enough for them...

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  4. My LBS suggested clipless pedals as a future upgrade, and I've been extremely hesitant. I ride mostly suburb and city, stop and go, and often for errands. The idea of having to change shoes every time I get on/off my bike seems silly to me.
    Powergrips or some sort of DIY strap system seem like a better way to go. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I've mentioned before that I really love Powergrips and they definitely do give you pedaling power, if you have them set tight enough.

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  6. @Velouria MKS makes a track pedal that's narrower

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  7. Eric - and it's double sided? On the pictures it looked like single.

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  8. I have to say that PowerGrips have been really great for my commuter bike. I love having them when I am going up a steep hill, but I always feel like I can get my feet out easily in stop & go traffic. You will get used to them really quickly.

    I used to ride a pedal with an SPD cleat on one side, which was such a pain - always trying to figure out which side was up.

    On my road bike, I had clipless pedals, but I ended up getting the Crank Bros Candy pedals, which give a bit of a platform so you can ride them not clipped in in stop & go traffic (just for a bit, in a pinch).

    Now that I've moved on to a touring bike, I might just put the PowerGrips or the GripKing pedals on it and be done with it. IMHO, clipless pedals really are unnecessary unless you are racing.

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  9. Having foot retention may be scary at first with the fear of not being able to get your foot out in time to catch yourself if you happen to fall, but you get used to it really quickly. And you get the benefit of being able to have power on your upstroke as well, instead of just your downstroke with no foot retention. This helps with hills and long rides, and I've found it worth the added effort to remove them at stops!

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  10. For double sided pedals you could do what we used to do in the early days of BMX, make homemade cage plates for pedals with bolt on cages. There were some really nice road pedals with bolt-on cages that we would just make new side plates for to make them double sided. We usually made them with bigass scary teeth to grip our Vans and rip our shins to ribbons but that would not be required...Ours were pretty ugly but they would'nt be hard to make "lovely".

    Spindizzy

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  11. ". . . it is advisable to use foot retention"

    Is it? I don't advise it. I have nothing agin it, so go right ahead, I just don't advise it.

    "When pedaling over a bumpy surface on the road, your feet can fly off the pedals"

    Well, yeah, that can happen. Bandits can also hide in the field, leap out, knock you off your bike and steal your lunch money.

    MKS used to make toothed double sided plates for their track pedal body, but I don't see them listed at any of the usual suspects. Ask Harris. Not as nice, but Dimension has a touring pedal now that ought to fit the bill. Just trim the cage ends down a bit and they'll be at least a half inch narrower than yours.

    Dragging a pedal isn't necessarily the instant disaster some make it out to be. I've put one down hard enough to lift the back wheel and suffered nothing worse than a good scare, even without foot retention, but it ain't fun and I don't advise it and I don't think you should go ahead and do it either.

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  12. Both MKS and VO make track pedals, and they're both available from VO, and yes they appear to both be double-sided in the pics. Incidentally, if you (or any readers) want to take a baby step toward clipless, then I highly recommend the Shimano M324 pedals. Cage on one side, SPD on the other. I have them on my do-everything-bike (Surly Cross Check), and they meet all my pedaling needs.

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  13. Velouria the MKS Track is not double sided. What you what is the MKS Sylvan Stream Pedals. They are double sided just like the MKS Touring Pedals, but 3 inches wide compared to 3 1/2 inches for the Touring.

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  14. Hey how much for the blue martian mask?

    I prefer clipless but I've used PowerGrips and I like them. They're simple, casual, inexpensive and they work great. Don't recall ever having a problem getting out of them in a hurry, including when things get wet/muddy. Very safe.

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  15. Thank you so much for posting your fixie adventures! I was worried that I wouldn't be able to ride a fixed gear bike until your posts finally convinced me to build up a frame that has been sitting in my bike space for the past year. I'll give the Power Grips a try, though I do ride with clipless commuter pedals (one side is flat, the other has a SPD clip). Since the fixie will not be my first line bike, however, the Power Grips look much more cost effective.

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  16. Power grips worked fine for me on my commuter bike. Unlike most other cyclists, apparently, I too find being clipped to pedals terrifying. For me it takes the fun out of cycling. On my touring bike, I just didn't want them and somehow managed just fine with no foot retention system on a recent tour.

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  17. Thanks for the pedal suggestions, everyone!

    kfg - On the route that is my "training route" there are a lot of potholes and I am not always able to take evasive action. If I go over them slowly on the fixed gear, I am fine. If I go above 12mph, my feet *do* fly off the pedals. No ankle damage so far, but it's stressful. With the Power Grips this problem should be solved - but of course the question is, will I be able to use them just as easily on the fixed gear.

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  18. I could have used some of those today. Had my left foot slip forward off the pedal and it took a nice chunk out of the back of my heel. :/ I might actually be able to use these. I can't use any other type of foot retention b/c I'm either actually too short for my bikes (they fit fine when I'm on them but I can't remain seated and touch the ground with even the tip of a toe) or my feet are too small, so I would need something that is easy to get feet in and out of.

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  19. Thanks for the review! I have been looking at these for about a year now, wondering if they were for me. Now I feel like I have a better, ahem, grip, on what they could add to the riding experience.

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  20. Amy - That has happened to me with some shoes, and I no longer wear shoes on the bike that I do not feel are 100% non-slip. The Power Grips would definitely prevent this; there is no way for your foot to slip off the pedal forward.

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  21. Velouria - Maybe you need a fixed gear Gazelle Paris Plus? You might need a bit of practice when you put them on the fixed gear, the issue being that you'll be trying to do two things at once there; go through the motions of inserting your foot into the Power Grips, while at the same time going through the motions of matching your foot path to that of pedal before it's planted and secure. If you're already used to them on GG I'll bet you get it in about three.

    Amy - Your fit issue isn't, per se, about you being too short (footed) for your bikes. I have bikes like that as well. It just means I have to lean the bike to get a toe down at a stop. So? Three points is stability.

    The issue is bottom bracket hight. The higher the bottom bracket is off the ground, the farther the ground is from your feet when you take them off the pedals, even though the bike fits just fine.

    Look at several bikes of varying types and you will see that some of them have chainstays that are closer to parallel with the ground than others.

    If you look at a "tarck" bike you'll see that its chainstays are very flat, because this is a bike that's expected to be ridden at high speeds around tight corners and it can't coast. That means it needs a lot of clearance between the pedal and the ground so that when the bike is leaned over at a 40 degree angle the pedals don't hit the ground. The designer and rider of this bike don't care about being able to touch the ground at a stop, they care about NOT touching the ground with a pedal, so the bottom bracket is made as high as is practicable.

    On a mamachari, however, the concern is with keeping the weight low to keep the bike stable, the rider IS concerned about being able to touch the ground and the bike isn't likely to spend a lot of time carving 1g corners. When it is, since it is a coastie, the outside pedal can can be kept down and weighted, preventing pedal strike on the inside. So the bottom bracket is made as low as is practicable.

    We will leave the issue of what is "practicable" for a graduate level course (as it can involve torques and harmonic oscillations).

    Looking at pictures of your bikes, however, I can surmise that you are not what would typically be called a tall person. That brings up the "per se" bit above.

    Your bikes, while short, are not actually proportional to your size. The cranks are the same length as on a taller bike, *so the bottom bracket has to be just as high as on the taller bike* for the desired pedal clearance.

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  22. Sounds like a good solution, I heard about these power grips before.

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  23. The sheer idea of clipless pedals scares me and I've never even used them! My husband uses them because he bikes long distances, but it's a huge pain when we just go somewhere about 5 miles away since he has to always lug an extra pair of shoes with him. He'll ride in regular shoes if we're just going 1-2 miles, but otherwise needs the special shoes.

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  24. You and I have similar issues with biking, balance and fear of foot retention so I love all of these posts. Thank you- I will be pushing things thanks to you.

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  25. Vee - were you clipped in when you did that triathalon last summer?

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  26. It need also be said that the power grip would avoid the consequences of a metal toe clip gnarling one's (lovely) boots while still providing the benefits of being clipped in. : )

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  27. Velouria,
    Power Grips are meant to be adjusted so that when your foot is fully 'in;, if you swing your heel out laterally a bit, the slight tension across the top of your instep is instantly released and your foot just falls our of retention. It really has little to do with moving your foot forwards and backwards as your (otherwise excellent) review infers.
    This is the whole reason for the diagonal location of the strap - loose with your heel out, tight(er) when you swing it inwards. It's all in the instructions that should come with the PowerGrip set.
    IMHO, Power Grips are the best thing I've discovered for commuting and off-road bike touring. I've ridden them very successfully in hiking boots!
    Savvas.

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