File this one under “first-world problems.” Since putting together my belt-drive city bike last fall, I have been looking for a better way to ride (occasionally) with nice leather-soled shoes. Every metal- and plastic-surfaced pedal I tried rubbed unevenly against the shoe, destructively dug into the leather sole with sharp points, or both.
The solution seemed to come in the form of the Moto Urban Pedal, which has an unusually large flat friction surface as well as a distinctive plywood body. Unfortunately, the friction is provided by “strong grip tape.” While their advertised claim is true–that the skateboard-style grip tape provides slip-free contact even with wet leather soles–the manufacturer doesn’t mention that grip tape also destroys leather by grinding it down. As I found out, grip tape is just coarse sandpaper with an adhesive backing. That solution is perfect for the skateboard-industrial complex because it ensures a steady cycle of demand for new skateboarding shoes, but it is unsuitable for my needs.
So I began my Edison-style experiment with every kind of friction material I could get my hands on. I tried several different models of 3M Gripping Material, the amazing stuff that simulates gecko feet, but it quickly became clogged with debris. I tried a textured self-adhesive neoprene product designed for guns (?!), but it lacked the durability and adhesive strength I needed.
Finally, Feldmeier suggested that the best friction material for shoes might be another shoe. From an online cobbler supplier, I obtained two sheets of soling material: a 2 mm SoleTech soling sheet for dress shoes and a 4 mm sheet of Vibram 7175 boot rubber. The Vibram material is amazing but way too thick and heavy for this application, so I put it aside. The SoleTech (check-textured SBR rubber) is perfect.
I made a template of laser-cut acrylic so I could cut perfect pedal-shaped pieces from the sheet with a knife.
Rubber contact cement provides a perfect (although possibly too permanent) bond to the plastic pieces that form the plain bearings in the Moto pedals. It also smells awesome.
The new pedal surfaces are working great so far, wet and dry. And they don’t destroy leather. We’ll see how they hold up in the long term.