Recent years have brought us a renaissance in flat pedal technology, including a trend towards larger platforms. The Pedaling Innovations' Catalyst pedal was on the front end of the move back to flats. And it takes that idea of 'big' to a whole new level.
First and foremost, these pedals are massive. At their widest they are 95 millimeters, they are 143-millimeters long and 16-millimeters thick. On the Pedaling Innovations' website it says the Catalyst pedal isn't any wider than a normal flat pedal, which is mostly true. But it doesn't really matter. These pedals are way longer than any other pedal you have ever seen. And for that reason, they look, and feel massive.
Over my year of riding these pedals, they have been the subject of countless trailside debates. I might even say they are a ... catalyst ... for conversation. It usually goes something like "Holly shit, those are the biggest pedals I have ever seen! What's the point?"
From here the conversation can go one of two ways. I either give a quick answer of how I get more stability with the bigger pedal, or I delve into the science behind the pedals. Usually I go with the former because I would rather be riding my bike than talking about pedals. But for the sake of this test, let's delve into the science.
James Wilson, the creator of the Catalyst pedal, and also a personal trainer, wondered why he needed a stiff shoe to mountain bike, but not squat or deadlift in the gym. The answer is fairly obvious -- the ground is more supportive than a flat pedal. But Wilson took a closer look, and learned that the foot has evolved around the arch, and is strongest when supported on both ends. Enter the idea for the Catalyst pedal. Wilson wanted a pedal that was long enough to support both ends of his arch.
Wilson took his idea and created a really long pedal. But he also backed up his reasoning for the pedal with scientific studies. The first study was published in 2007 in the Journal of Biomechanics by J.R. Van Sickle Jr, M.L Hull. The study researched how foot position on a pedal effected power. It doesn't. It did however find that a more central foot position reduces stress on the Achilles tendon.
The second study was published by Elmer, S. J., P. R. Barratt, T. Korff, and J. C. Martin in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2011. Wilson claims this study found that the hips play a bigger part in driving a pedal stroke than the quads. In reality, the study is about how crank length effects power coming from joints (not muscles). It doesn't. The study does mention the hips, in conjunction with the knees and ankles, are where most of the power in a pedal stroke is produced, but it isn't quite so clear-cut as Wilson makes it sound.
How does any of this pertain to the Catalyst pedals? Wilson instructs riders to center their foot over the pedal, with the axle lined up in the middle of their arch. The first study illustrates how this foot position doesn't mean you will be losing any power through the pedals stroke, and it will result in less stress on your Achilles tendon.
So the science Wilson presents on his (rather sensational) website doesn't necessarily differentiate the Catalyst from other pedals. But that doesn't mean they don't work.
I have been riding the Catalyst pedals for just about a year, and there is a reason I haven't switched. They do work. Centering my foot on the pedal, with the axle in the middle of my arch took some getting used to at first. The ball of my foot, where I was used to pushing, was now on the edge of the pedal, and if I did end up pushing through the front of my foot, I was liable to slip off. But I quickly got used to pushing directly down through my ankle and keeping my foot flat on the entire pedal.
This new foot position required adjusting the saddle slightly forward to keep my knee and ankle in a comfortable position and make it easier to push directly down as opposed to down and forward. With that adjustment made, after a few rides, I was used to the bigger platform.
With both the front and back of my foot supported on the pedal, I felt I was able to get more power on punches over tech, the slight adjustment forward with my saddle and body position put me in a better position to climb (for the same reason we are now seeing steeper seat tube angles on bikes), and I felt almost no flex in the sole of my shoe. With the Catalyst, a stiffer shoe was not as necessary, since the pedal made up for almost my entire foot. I should mention here that I have relatively small feet. Other riders with a larger shoe size may not feel the same increase in stiffness throughout their foot that I did.
Descending on the Catalyst I felt more planted and connected with my bike. I could rotate my foot forward or backward depending on which way I wanted to move the bike and with my foot centered I found it easier to push through the axle when pumping out of berms, attempting to cuttie, or straight lining through chunder. What I didn't notice was more grip.
At least I didn't notice more grip at first. The pedals ship with short pins installed and longer pins in a little baggie waiting to be installed. The pedals also do not have the concave shape other pedals have adopted to help with grip. The smaller pins and flat pedal made my foot position easy to adjust, but my foot was slipping in the same spots I had slipped with other pedals. Since the Catalyst is so big, my foot would rarely slip off the entire platform, but it would get bounced around.
When I installed the longer pins, I predictably got more grip and the pedals really started to shine. My foot felt glued-down, and I was still getting the extra power and stability the bigger platform offered.
Where size giveth, it also taketh, in both the longer pins and the pedal. The pedals are long, but they are also thick. And adding longer pins didn't help any. I hit the Catalyst on rocks, roots and whatever else happened to be on the trail much more than any other pedal. After a number of rides I was able to adjust, and I now know when I am going over something that I will strike, but with other big pedals flooding the market and staying thin, it is harder to justify the tradeoff.
Finally, with size comes weight. And the Catalyst is not for the weight weenie. My pair of pedals, with longer pins installed, weighed 521 grams, or 1.15 pounds.
If I had been asked a year ago, or even six months ago if I would recommend the Catalyst pedal, it would have been a resounding yes. But now I am not so sure. There are benefits that come with the bigger pedal, and I won't be switching to small flats any time soon, but there are now other options for large pedals. Not quite as large, but large enough. The Kona Wah Wah II is lighter and thinner than the Catalyst and offers just as much grip. The Crankbrothers Stamp also comes in a large size. And the OneUp Aluminum Pedal isn't huge, but it is razor thin. Comparatively, the Catalyst still has advantages over these pedals, but I'm not sure they make up for the disadvantages. If you are a rider who values power, stability and grip over all, the Catalyst is for you. If you prefer to find a balance between weight, size and grip, the Wah Wah II or OneUp Aluminum might be a better bet.