Joe Biden's tumble perfectly illustrates why fitting entry-level bikes with pedal cages is a terrible idea

Toe cages serve two functions: dangling at the end of cranks in anticipation of toppling the unsuspecting rider, or dragging forlornly along the ground - argues Cycling Weekly's Digital Editor

Joe Biden
(Image credit: Getty )

I admit it: I am not old enough to remember a time when bikes with pedal cages, or toe straps, were 'standard issue'. I cannot recall those halcyon days of 21mm tubs, steel racers, and downtube shifters - the days before the mass production of clipless pedals (which take their name from being devoid of the clips and straps, thus confusing younger riders, who vehemently insist that they are for clipping in to).

However, I would argue that technology moves on for a reason.

In 2022, toe clips or pedals with cages feature in two key scenarios: on entry-level road bikes, or on the bikes of track sprinters who produce immense power. Higher-end bicycles come with no pedals, the expectation being that you'll fit your own pair, having mastered the art of riding clipped in.

I am of the firm opinion that the first scenario - fitting cages or straps to entry-level bikes - is a disastrous decision. I'd even go so far as to call toe straps a cruel choice of specification, evil plastic enclosures dangling at the end of the cranks and waiting to topple their next unsuspecting victim with either embarrassing or painful effect. 

Before accusations fly, my opinion on pedal cages does not stem from a painful personal experience. My first road bike was second-hand and came with clipless pedals, which I practiced using on the grass surface of Preston Park Velodrome, aged approximately 21 years old, if you must know. But the ease at which pedal cages can unseat a rider (even one with plenty of experience) was perfectly illustrated by US President Joe Biden, over the weekend:

On entry-level road bikes, toe straps, or cages, attempt to provide the benefits of the best clipless pedals: unlike flat pedals, they allow the cyclist to utilise the 'pulling up' segment of the pedal stroke.

However, unlike clipless pedals - where clipping out is as simple as twisting your ankle outwards - they can be notoriously difficult to get out of. Not only that, a rider choosing to learn to ride clipped-in will likely have done a little research, and gathered advice from their peers. The first-time cyclist using pedal cages may be completely unaware of the consequences of failing to remove a foot, until it's too late. 

Most beginners would be best served by a good quality flat pedal, which can often be achieved by removing the 'cage' or strap.

If ever you need further support for this crusade against cages, you need only look out for the next commuter you see, riding a supermarket-branded road bike, with the pedal flipped over - foot on the flat platform, whilst the cage drags forlornly along the ground.

I'm not alone in my dislike for the tradition of providing cages or straps to beginner riders, though, perhaps others have made their case in a more balanced manner.

"Obviously the point of them is to position the ball of the foot somewhere near the centre of the pedal consistently," explains bike fitting guru at Warwick's VeloAtelier, Lee Prescott, adding "in practice, most people tend to position the foot correctly anyway once the saddle is at the correct height.

"Toe-clips have several issues, especially for beginner cyclists, such as not being able to get in or out of them effectively - or safely - and also the clip dragging and catching on the floor," he confirmed. 

Asked why manufacturers insist on speccing them on bikes that are very often 'first road bikes', he told us: "My best guess would be to provide an element of looking more 'racey' than a flat pedal on a road bike, so legacy aesthetics rather than function."

Some riders do say that they continue to use pedal cages as they enjoy having the benefit of the upstroke, without the need for dedicated cycling shoes (which, in the case of road-style systems, can leave riders teetering around cafe stops like Bambi on ice). Fair point. "Our advice, if you didn't want to use clipless pedals, would be to fit a good MTB style platform pedal and use a stiffened 'cycling' trainer such as a RideConcepts," Prescott said.

There is only one exception, in Prescott's mind: "As for toe clips they should only ever be seen on vintage bikes at Eroica!"

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And, if Twitter polls are a reliable form of determining public opinion, it seems that (at time of writing), 87.4% of Cycling Weekly readers agree.

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.

Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.