Friday, February 3, 2012

The Ergon: An Ergonomic Pedal

Back in the 90's Iris Schencke and I co-authored Ergonomic Living, a book of everyday solutions for the home and office. Somewhere in this world is a reading light, chair, bed perhaps even a keyboard or desk built just for you. Our book shows you how to find them.




We thought about going beyond the home and office but had to stop when we got to the car simply because automobile ergonomics were set in stone. If you wanted an ergonomic car you either bought a Volvo or a Mercedes—automobile companies that routinely put ergonomics ahead of style—or you learned to suffer silently. I'm 6' 2." I got tired of American car salesmen telling me to "lean way back" and "get used to the seat." I was expected to drive a car while lying on my back! An ergonomic seat makes on demands on you. It does just the opposite: it adjusts to the driver.

Unlike the car, the bicycle is easy to modify and has great ergonomic potential, as long as you don't insist on performing contortions while riding it. There's no need to perch six inches above the handlebars while bent over double in the name of "exercise." Let's face it, you're not Lance Armstrong.** Riding doubled up (as though you've been punched in the gut) is pretty weird, when you stop to think about it. Would you walk around town doubled up to "exercise?" Would you explain that bending forward at the waist helps cut through the wind? You do contortions on a bike for the bike's sake, not for your sake. Riding that way you've surrendered; you've adapted to the bike's needs.

What about your needs? How does your crotch want be treated? What about your back, neck and wrists? Humans did not evolve to walk on their wrists. Supporting half your body weight with your wrists--while pounding away at the joints--for say, four hours, does not qualify as fun; it's a public display of masochism.

Happily, the ergonomic bicycle is well within reach. Brooks saddles tend to disappear while you are riding, Raising the handlebars to seat level immediately relieves pressure on the wrists and neck and makes for a nicely balanced ride. Padded gloves further isolate the delicate wrist joint from constant vibration. And twist shifters, built into the handlebar grips, make it possible to change gears without repositioning your hands. I wish I could tell you to stop by your local bike shop for more ergonomic solutions. Alas, you'll probably end up on an ultra-light frame looking like you've been kicked in the gut. Only a few specialty outfits will point you in the right direction. Rivendell definitely gets bicycle ergonomics. I've been experimenting with their accessories and riding one of their bikes for about ten years ago and have yet to experience any bike-induced aches or pains.

When it comes to pedals we've had two schools of thought: either fasten your shoe to the pedal itself in the hopes of increasing power or settle for a plain vanilla flat platform pedal. Now we have a third choice: the Ergon, a pedal that fits itself to your foot.




Trust me when I say, you want to try an Ergon even if you've already ridden ordinary flat bike pedals. The bottom of your foot is not flat, it's contoured with an extended ridge at the ball just below the toes. Here, finally, is a pedal that takes note of that ridge and fits itself to the human foot. The moment you try an Ergon the ball of your foot finds its way into the forward depression while the gritty surface of the pedal grips the sole of your shoe. Like all ergonomic tools, the Ergon pedal adjusts itself to your body.

When was the last time you did something nice for your feet? You may not go quite as fast on an Ergon but your feet, knees and hips will love this pedal. There's no learning curve and nothing to "break in." Like most ergonomic products I noticed the difference right away as my feet said "thank you!"


Ergon PC2 Contour Pedal from ergon on Vimeo.

Ride Report

On a flat, platform pedal, with or without cleats, your foot tends to slide around while you ride, a sign of poor ergonomics. These foot adjustments may be small...but they are constant. And every time you reposition your foot, the platform pedal is failing you.

Clipless pedals lock your foot into a single position, avoiding the slip/slide issue and (possibly) making the bike faster. But you're back to the racing bike model: adjusting your body--from the foot to the hip--to the needs of the machine. If you have any foot, ankle, knee, hip or back issue that requires flexibility, clipless pedals can rapidly become a torture device.

Pedaling the Ergon my feet felt liberated and secure. There was certainly no "learning curve;" I hopped on the bike and off I went. Right away I noticed how still my foot had become. I hadn't realized how many times I was repositioning it during a typical ride simply to stay on the pedal. On the Ergon my feet remaied in place effortlessly with the ball nicely fitted into the forward depression and the rest of the foot firmly gripped by the rough surface of the pedal. Climbing made no noticeable difference; my feet remained right where I needed them to be.

I moved to clipless pedals years ago for the usual reasons: better climbing and maybe a small speed advantage. Yes, they could be a bit faster, but the jury isn't in even on that claim. Over the past thirty years I've fallen three times. No matter how adept you are in unclipping at a stop light, you're seldom fast enough to unclip in an emergency. All three of my falls would have been easily avoided if I hadn't been clipped in to my pedals. I'm so pleased with the Ergons that I've decided to keep them on my new Rans Stratus. They make an ergonomic bike even more effortless to ride—and definitely safer.

You can buy the Ergon Pedals here, here or here.

** unless you are, in which case, Hi.