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In Praise of Powergrips

Note from James: This is the long awaited first post from guest contributor Michael Downes. His timing couldn’t be better since I am too busy to post anything right now (I’ll probably be back at the end of this week). I really enjoyed reading this post, and I think you will too. Thanks Michael.

The problem with our modern industrial/consumer society, a problem that as an industrial designer I have shamelessly contributed to, is the tyranny of the new. In our collective headlong sprint to the future, perfectly good solutions and ideas are regularly jettisoned in favor of the latest fad or fashion. The bicycle industry, driven like all industries by the needs of profit and the glitter of marketing, is as guilty as the next in foisting questionable products on its customers. We talk a lot, in the industry, about ‘tradition’ but sneer at those who aren’t sporting the latest material or components or whatever other doodad that is giving us wood that year. Tradition, in the lexicon of bicycle marketing, has less to do with good ideas and a whole lot to do with legitimatizing our respective brands and the products that we are trying to sell you. I don’t mean to suggest that all the new products are bad. Far from it. The modern bicycle is a marvel of materials and engineering but in our adulation of the latest we often forget the great products of yesterday many of which are still relevant and still work now just as well as they did then.

Case in point: Powergrips, those deceptively simple foot straps that emerged out of the mountain bike explosion of the eighties. It would be easy to dismiss them as an anachronism to be heaped on the junk pile of history alongside all those Slingshots, Girvin Flexstems, and those stretchy Day-Glo helmet covers we all thought looked really cool. I would argue, however, that Powergrips are so brilliant, so sublime in their simplicity and economy of material, so superior in function and practicality that it is a crime they are not standard equipment on all new mid and entry level mountain bikes, hybrids and city bikes. Simply put, they rock!

For those poor saps who either never heard of them or who have but dismissed them let me explain. The Powergrips consist of a pair one inch wide straps that mount diagonally across your pedals. They are constructed of some kind of nylon-ish, vaguely canvassy material (the actual recipe is a closely guarded secret) that is flexible but stretches very little. The rider inserts their foot into the Powergrip at an angle, heel out as they would unclipping from a clipless pedal. As the rider rotates their foot parallel with the plane of the bike the strap tightens across the riders foot and voila! Unlike those sad toe clips & strap combos we used to endure there is no adjustment necessary. The rider’s foot is securely held. Disengaging from the pedal is as quick as a clipless pedal and much safer than toe clips with there tendency to snag on shoe laces and such.

I can guess what your saying, ‘That’s all good but how are they better than my Spuds?’. Well, I will tell you. Firstly, just like your SPD’s Powergrips have ‘float’ but unlike your clipless pedals it is also possible to adjust your foot fore and aft on the fly. How many of us have bought new SPD compatible shoes and spent the first week dicking around with the cleat to fine tune the position (having first dug out all the gunk that has accumulated in the allen-head bolts)? Or having repositioned the cleat failed to adequately tighten them resulting in an ignominious go down when we pull up at the next stop sign? Secondly, how many of us have experienced total SPD pedal shutdown in extreme mud? You know the feeling: the mud caked cleat sliding across the mud packed pedal. Not a problem with Powergrips, they keep on functioning whatever the conditions. Thirdly and finally is the issue of shoe aesthetics. Let us imagine you want whiz down to your local coffee shop for a low fat, decaf macchiato (if you are man enough to request such a thing) and all your bikes have clipless pedals. Your choice is either a) pull out the Lycra ensemble to go with your snazzy racing shoes which seems a bit silly as the coffee shop is three blocks away or b) just wear your cycling shoes and then feel like a complete tool standing in line while everyone considers how well your garishly colored shoes go with your tan chinos or finally c) just endure the discomfort of riding clipless pedals while wearing brogues. Neither of these options is entirely satisfactory but if you had Powergrips you could wear your Sperry Topsiders and still out sprint that Lycra weenie with the spangley Colnago on the way to the coffee shop. The beauty of Powergrips is that it allows you to have your cake and eat it too. You can look like a normal human being and pedal efficiently.

Powergrips where the invention of Darek (pronounced like Derek) Barefoot, a cyclist and inventor back in the eighties and are currently manufactured and marketed by Mountain Racing Products in Grand Junction, Colorado. In business, as in many things, timing is everything. Powergrips were launched the year before Shimano launched their first SPD and the marketing challenge has always been the same: do you pitch Powergrips as an upgrade from toe clips & straps, as a poor mans SPD or as something else entirely? Despite being overshadowed by clipless pedals sales of Powergrips have remained steady and indeed improved in recent years. With the growth of urban riding and the retro grouch appeal of single speeds and fixies a new generation of riders is discovering the advantages of Powergrips. And don’t think for a moment they are just for the casual cyclist unwilling to give up their Doc Martens. Check out Kent Peterson‘s Blog. Kent rode the Great Divide Race in 2005 sporting Powergrips and speaks eloquently of their virtues over SPD’s. The GDR is an off-road, solo, self supported race that goes from Canada to the Mexico along the Continental Divide. It is 2,490 miles in length with 200,000 feet of elevation gained so if anybody knows it’s Kent!


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19 Responses

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  1. aaron says

    Powergrips seem to be one of those items that has a small but dedicated following. My friend rode 40,000 miles in the past six years using powergrips. Unbelievably, he rode 18,000 miles on one set of tires (continential) and could tell they were getting worn by his computer being off by hundredths of a mile. Yes, my friend is retired.

    I’ve been tempted to try them, but love my eggbeaters.

  2. Simon Clayson says

    Brilliant in 1990 (I had some bright orange ones), but then Shimano released those SPD things…

  3. Pierre says

    I ran for years on a homemade pair of such straps. As you said, plain simple but very effective and secure.
    I didn’t know they were still available.

  4. Anonymous says

    Powergrips not only rock, they rule! If you value simplicity, reliability, economy, durability, security and ease of entry/exit, there is nothing like them. fI sold them for years, and still ride them. Perhaps not the choice for most types of racing, but for everyday practical cycling, fantastic. Val

  5. Fritz says

    I like my Powergrips — great for their flexibility and usability, and the design is good. Recessed cleat clipless are superior in many other ways, though.

  6. Anonymous says

    Never heard of these but they sound perfect for all of the reasons you described. Great post!

  7. James says

    I must admit that I have never used Powergrips, but Michael’s post makes me want to try out a pair. Currently, I have clipless pedals on all of my bikes except for one, but I do end up riding several of my bikes without cleats every once and a while. The problem I might have with Powergrips is this: if I don’t have cycling shoes on, I am usually wearing sandals, so any kind of strap system wouldn’t work very well (I assume). My road bikes and track bike have old style Time pedals, which have a large platform area and work fine with my regular Tevas or Birkenstocks for short trips. My cross and mountain bikes have spd pedals that have very little surface and aren’t very comfy with any street shoes. Still, I have SPD sandals that I can wear with those pedals without looking too weird.

    Maybe I’ll give Powergrips a try on my fixed gear beater bike, which currently has old Deore XT quill pedals. I am always up for trying new bike products. Maybe I’ll even like them with sandals.

  8. Fritz says

    PowerGrips are very easy to slip in and out of, but they’re not as “tight” as clipless. Michael writes about PowerGrips float, but what that really means is that your foot wiggles quite a bit. For a trip to the corner store that doesn’t matter; for sprints to the next light, it means ankling to keep your foot on the pedeal when you slide your foot back from 6 o’clock.

  9. Craig says

    To respond to Fritz’s post, it wasn’t mentioned in the article that Power Grips are adjusted with an allen wrench to more or less exactly fit the size of your shoe. That means they don’t “wiggle” if adjusted properly. If too loose, they will wiggle; if too tight, you will have a hard time turning your foot in to make it straight enough for efficient pedaling. I only had to readjust mine once to get them in the proper position. Of course, you’ll have to use the same width shoe each time, once the Power Grips are adjusted for that shoe. Finally, Power Grips probably don’t let you feel as much “as one” with the bike as clipless pedals, but if adjusted properly, they come close, and are a lot better than toe clips.

  10. Bill says

    I use Powergrips for sprint triahlons and duathlons. While my fellow competitors are struggling changing their shoes, I am gone!

  11. Anonymous says

    The obvious negative is that you have to orient the pedal to the strap is right side up. Also, have you ever hooked a root of tree ‘staub’ with a Power Strap… not good. Clipless have come a long way, and once you gte proficient at using a good clipless pedal, there is no turning back.

  12. Thathertz says

    After reading this article I talked my friend/coworker into buying a set for his fixie. And after listening to his praise I recommended them to a client who was also impressed. So in a round about way I convinced myself to give them a try.

    Styling wise they are about a sexy as duct-taping your shoe to the pedal compared to Shimano’s latest offerings, Christophe’s or the huge marketing giant that is Crank Bro’s. But it would seem that their are a lot of great(cycling)products out their that often are overlooked because they just look ugly. Can Power grips be “blinged” –I doubt it, although a Bedazzler might do the trick. But whatever.

    I have to agree with others when the say that the Power Grips probably don’t offer that unified feel of SPD’s and I certainly don’t expect my power grips to be. I think they would be ideal for riders who are dedicated toe strap users, afraid of SPD’s or don’t want to shell out the money for shoes and pedals, or those who just prefer the convince of toe straps.

    I Haven’t installed them yet -but will post when I have some conclusive feedback.

    P.S. Power Grip sales have increased 300% at my local shop. I bought the last pair.

  13. Anonymous says

    doesn’t you loose power with a flexible street shoe?

  14. Camarillo Brillo says

    I have been using POergrips for over 15 years and love ‘em. I ride hybrid and Mtn bukes nearly everyday. Work great with sandals too!

  15. Stone says

    I’ve been riding with Powergrips for 7 years. Used them Bike-messengering on a track bike and they give such good control and freedom to get in and out with ease…

    They don’t look as cool as eggbeaters, but better than having to change your shoes~

  16. girona says

    I know it’s an old post but…

    I ordered some Powergrips and I am considering the different types of suitable pedals available. I haven’t seen a pair of Powergrips upclose in 10 years so I am unsure about how they mount on the pedal. I have two questions:

    .First. Are pedals with the “flip tab” recommended? There are many mtb pedals with out this tab but I find it very usable with regular toeclips and straps. I’m not sure about how useful they would be with Powergrips.

    .Second. Do you need mounting holes on both ends of the pedal? There are some nice old school Suntour XC Pro pedals on eBay from time to time but they lack mounting holes on the tab end of the pedal.

  17. michael says

    I thought I would weigh in on some of the questions that have come up since writing this post.

    1) The fabric has surprisingly little stretch but is still pliable. The exact recipe of this fabric is a secret but I was told that it is normally used in a completely different application unrelated to sport.

    2) Pedal choice is important. Ideally you need an old school pedal with bolt on rat trap (the black anodised bit). The crucial thing is to have removable bolts (some cheapie models have rivets). These are readily available if not always in stock at your local bicycle store. Also Powergrips sells a kit complete with pedals & straps.

    3) Somebody asked if you need a pedal with the little sticky out nub for flipping the pedal over prior to foot 'insertion'. Personally I have used nubbed and un-nubbed pedals and I can;t tell the difference.

    I hope that answers your questions,

    michael

  18. Anonymous says

    I just ordered a pair of these. I have a pair of Crank Bros mallets on my bike. Maybe it is just me…but I could never get out of my %*@&@ pedals when I really needed to. I am hoping these are a little easier to get out of. There is nothing like getting stuck on a log obstacle, standing motionless…perched at the top…you have just enough time to look around and notice your friends all laughing with that knowing look…he's stuck in his pedals…nah-nah-na-na-na-nahhhhh…then you start the 4 ft drop with bike in tandem.

  19. Iwont Tell says

    Just took my old all-round bike out of moth-balls and had some new hardware and new tyres installed. Runs OK for the first time in years. Better than new, virtually. But the repairman says he can’t put SPD pedals on it. Apparently it’s a 1/2″ vs. 9/16″dilemma or whatever.
    Gonna get some 1/2″ metal pedals and Power grips, problem solved.



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