The first bike that got me into cycling, after leaving the sport in favor of a new driver’s license, was a 1980s Univega road bike. Aside from the drop bars and peeling, yellow-walled tires with their baffling Presta valves, something else new to me was the pedals. I wasn’t sure what to do with them at first. With the bike leaning against the wall, they looked like normal aluminum pedals, flat pedals. But hanging beneath them was a mess of hard plastic and nylon—my first look at basket pedals, also known as toe clips or toe cages.
They fit the bike well. Well made, a bit worn, and while old, a step above anything I had ever used before, built to be fast. What at first looked like a mess ended up being a clever and simple system to loosely attach yourself to your bike. A plastic scoop comes from the front and up and over each pedal. A nylon strap comes from either side of the pedal and up through the end of the plastic scoop. This way, I could slide my foot under the nylon strap and against the back of the plastic so that the “basket” was wrapped around my foot, loose enough to let me comfortably move my foot around, but tight enough to allow me to pull up on the pedal.
Basket pedals help you stay more attached to the bike. It moves better with you and you never have to worry about slipping off the pedal as you push harder, or stand up to make a yellow light on your commute. Baskets also make you more efficient as you can put power into the bike throughout your pedal stroke, not just as your feet alternate pushing down. It lets you use your hamstrings to pedal, working more of your leg, and giving you more consistent, efficient power.
The pedals are also adaptable. If I’m just popping to the next corner, I can flip the basket under the pedal and use the pedals like flat pedals, but If I am going further or want to go faster, I can slip into the baskets. Since you don’t need to “clip in” like on cycling pedals, they also allow you to wear whatever shoes you like on the bike, so long as they can slip into the baskets (boots don’t always work great).
Using the pedals can take a bit of getting used to. You can’t just pop your feet on or off them. You have to slide forward into the pedals, and more importantly, if you want to get off the bike, you have to remember to pull your foot backwards first. It’s an easy enough motion, but you need to get used to it before you need to get off the bike in a hurry. It’s best to practice in your own neighborhood, or perhaps even on a grassy field.
Even as I moved on to “clip-less” pedals and bike shoes that more firmly lock you onto the bike, my baskets have never gone far. They’ve grown with me. They’re absolutely perfect on my around-town bike. I can wear normal shoes, slip in and go on my ride. Even knowing the benefits of cycling shoes, if I have a bike that I know I am going to run errands with, I attach my baskets.
Or, if a friend asks me about cycling, saying they are curious about getting into the sport, I am happy to go for a ride with them. I lend them my baskets and off we go. They’re the perfect introduction to the sport, moving fast, and being attached to your bicycle.
I keep investing in better bikes and equipment, but no matter what I do next, I know the baskets will be coming with me. Getting a pair is a great step towards getting more into cycling, getting comfortable being attached to your bike and moving more efficiently.