Trike Hobo’s personal advice regarding recumbent trike pedals
I’ve learned a lot over the years in the seats of a recumbent tadpole trikes, with some of my hardest lessons coming from my long distance road trips. In my book The Overland Triker, which was revised in 2017, I talk at length about pedals and how they affect the rider during extended outings and/or hard pushing. In fact, one of the reasons I updated the book was to provide new pedal information, because I was still learning what worked best for me when I wrote the original edition of the book back in 2012. Lessons take time to sink in!
the revised 2017 edition
Something that plagued me from the start of my recumbent trike riding was nerve compression syndrome, what is commonly referred to by many riders as hot spots, a condition where the forefeet feel increasingly hot, achy, tingly, and downright uncomfortable. As a recumbent trike rider, I gradually found increasingly better solutions to this nagging and potentially permanent problem, to the point where I virtually eliminated it, but it took a lot of personal road time and judgment miscalculations over the years to reach that point. I had advice from other riders on what to do, so I tried different things, and experimented with what made logical sense to me. I was highly motivated on this front because after my first overland trike journey in 2009, I was seriously wondering if I had done permanent damage. It took a couple of weeks of specific foot and toe exercises while feet-up on a recliner to reach a place where my feet felt normal again.
That is when I started studying NCS, and realized that I had better take it seriously if I wanted to have normal and healthy feet for the rest of my life, not to mention continuing to take long trike treks over hill and dale. My personal evolution with pedals, shoes, and pedaling techniques had begun. I knew I wanted to share my experiences and mistakes with others so they would not suffer the dreaded hot spots, so I wrote about it, but my writing evolved right along with my newly acquired road experiences. This meant that older writings were reflecting thoughts that were still in the evolutionary phase, and would be potentially changing over time (thus the book revision mentioned earlier).
So, the purpose of this post today is to offer what I think I have finally figured out: the final word from the brain of Trike Hobo. I want to provide some final advice to all my triking buddies out there. One thing that helped me to see that recumbent trikes required careful pedal consideration is that since the fall of 2017, I’ve been riding bicycles, those age-old upright things that many in the recumbent trike realm always belittle. On the two bicycles I have owned, I have never suffered from NCS, those ugly hot spots that cause so much agony to recumbent trikers who ride cross country, or take really strenuous rides regionally or locally. I’m free of NCS on bikes, oh the joy!
I’m not going to go into all the physical attributes of how and why the nerves are compressed, or talk about pedaling style solutions here in this post, as I’ve written reams of words on those topics already, which you can read on this website and in my books if you wish. Today, I simply want to make a dramatic, and perhaps dogmatic, statement of personal pedal belief that I feel will make a huge difference for you (assuming you have hot spot issues). By the way, if you are interested in learning more about my triking books, click HERE.
Okay, enough rambling background information here. I shall now make the Royal Declaration on pedals, which, unlike in a monarchy where declarations must be followed under penalty, you are free to disregard if you wish. The following is simply my opinion based on thousands of miles out on the road, nothing more. And I am sure there are other riders with the same or even far more mileage under their belts who will have different opinions. But I speak for me, so here is what “me” says to you:
Do NOT use those small “clipless” pedals that are nothing more than the binding mechanism housed in a minimalist metal frame! I used these for many hundreds of arduous miles before I figured out they were a REALLY BIG part of my nerve compression syndrome agony. Sure, shoes have to also be considered, along with pedaling style, but at the foundational level are the pedals because that is where you experience the extreme pressure of moving your human powered vehicle down the highway. In my book, I even mathematically figure PSI numbers to dramatically demonstrate the damage done to the forefeet on long trips with the wrong pedals.
here is the pedal type NOT to use:
These minimal pedals allow you to clip into the binding mechanism, which is really important on a recumbent trike for long distance riders, but the minimal design is for mountain biking because it keeps mud and debris from collecting in the pedals for off-road riders. But, this tiny contact area delivers MASSIVE amounts of pressure to the forefeet nerves, which ends up damaging the nerves, and can become permanent nerve damage if ignored. Who wants to have tingly, achy, and painful feet all their days?
So, yes, you want what is commonly referred to (counter-intuitively, I might add) as a clipless pedal, which allows you to be bound to the pedal like a skier is bound to the skis, but you definitely don’t want the tiny surface area under your forefeet! These things pound into your forefeet like merciless jackhammers over the endless miles, crushing the delicate nerves. A solid hard-sole shoe helps with this a considerable amount, such as the SIDI Dominator 5 that I used, but still, why not do ALL you can to help your foot nerves rather than just go partway? Remember, we are talking about recumbent trikes here, where the feet are at a gravitational disadvantage with the heart, thus the NCS problem in the first place!
the SIDI Dominator 5
My advice for the best pedal type solution is a platform pedal with the binding cleats. This allows you to be bound to the pedal, but at the same time it distributes the contact pressure out to a much larger area of the forefoot, which GREATLY minimizes any chance of NCS. If you are using a hard sole shoe as recommended, AND the platform “clipless” pedal with the binding mechanism, you stand the best chance of never having hot spots on a recumbent (and this is further reinforced if your pedaling style is refined by experience).
here is the pedal type TO use (example only, as there are many other brands also available):
notice the binding mechanism is the same as the tiny pedals, but it has the huge platform surrounding it
another example of a platform pedal, with a smaller platform:
the larger the platform, the better (the one pictured above is fairly small)
The larger the platform, the greater the pressure distribution on the forefeet, thus the lesser the chance for nerve compression syndrome (NCS). The Shimano pedal shown above will be easier on your shins when you smack one accidentally into your pedal when parked and walking around your trike (I’ve done it, and still have a scar to prove it), but it’s not quite as effective at preventing potential NCS as the larger platform. Okay, that’s about it from my brain! I ride a bike now with platform pedals, and never have NCS issues, so I’m happy as a lark. Oh, and my platform pedals on the bike are not “clipless” as is critical on a long distance trike to keep the feet from accidentally falling off the pedal. These days, I can simply use my Asics running shoes to ride if I desire, which is nice, and even with them, I have no hot spots! If I were to have worn the Asics shoes on a trike, my feet would have been annihilated, and I’d be hobbling around like an old decrepit man.
USE PLATFORM PEDALS
SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!
The little pedals are nice from a trike theft standpoint perhaps, but your foot health is much more important!