Barelli Supreme Pedals

These pedals were included in my recent purchase of a 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.  The pedals were new to my knowledge base and were not only lightweight and beautifully made, they also spun more smoothly than any other pedal I’ve ever handled.  With a name like Barelli, I had assumed these were probably made in Italy.  But, upon closer examination you can see from the above photos that these pedals hail from Great Britain.  Taking to the internet for a bit of research provided some background on this one-of-a-kind component.

According to the site, Classic Lightweights UK, these pedals were first introduced in the 1970’s by Cambridge cyclist and engineer Geoff Chapman.  They were featured at the Milan Cycle Show in 1977, and offered at 47 pounds sterling which included a lifetime warranty.  I can’t think of any bicycle component made today that carries a lifetime warranty.  While the 1970’s were different times, offering a such a warranty back then was also unusual, especially for a component subject to as much abuse as the lowly pedal.

Barelli Supreme Aluminum Pedal Cage – catalog insert

Barelli Spec Sheet

While these pedals were typically offered with steel cages, my set has lovely aluminum cages which show very little wear.  The catalog shown first above, indicates that after their initial introduction, Barelli offered these lightweight cages, which brought the total weight for the set of pedals down to an amazing 336 grams.  The second spec sheet shown above is most informative in regard to the bearings, which according to the Barelli catalog are “Deep grooved ball races, giving double thrust and vertical load bearing.  Each bearing is completely sealed independently with special lubricant to ensure free running and reliability, requiring no maintenance.”  With that intriguing clue in mind, I decided to disassemble one of the pedals to see what’s what.

But before doing that, I  noticed that the spindles, which are nickel-chrome steel and still look new, have English left and right hand designations – “L” & “R” and an additional designation on the reverse side:  “D” and “S”.  French designations are given as “D” and “G”, so this has me puzzled.  And, these are not French threaded pedals.  Is this a reminder that the left hand side is reverse threaded?

The dust cap came off easily with a 14mm wrench.  Underneath was not what I expected to see.  There was no cone and spacers.  Instead, a locknut which came off with a 7/16 drive revealed a set of seals, strongly resembling a sealed cartridge bearing assembly.  Since I did not want to disturb the smoothness and perfect adjustment of these 40 year old pedals, I put everything back together for now.  After all, the catalog says “maintenance free” – and that appears to be right.  While I would love to use these pedals on any of my current bikes, they are designed for toe clips, which I no longer use.

One idea is to use them with half-clips which are not so difficult to engage while commuting.  Even without toe clips, one could still flip them around at stops to ensure your shoe is in the proper position, but the Barelli cages don’t have a tab that many other toe-clip pedals have which are designed to make it easier to flip the pedals to the upside.  Even so, it’s tempting to just give them a shot and see what I think, sans toe clips.

The Metal in the Pedal: Vintage Pedals vs. Modern

1946 Peugeot pedal, disassembled.

I usually regard vintage bicycle components as superior to their modern day mass-produced peers.  The quality materials, excellent machining, and innovative designs of vintage parts usually simply overwhelm their contemporary competitors.  The above pedal is a good example.  This 1946 Peugeot pedal has a beautifully machined tapered spindle, with the Peugeot marque incorporated into the pedal cage.  You definitely will not find this attention to detail in any modern pedal.

1950 Raleigh rubber block pedal

1950 Raleigh pedal with clever lockring which engages the cone.

There are really two aspects to a pedal’s design:  the shape and construction of the cage, and the design of the spindle, cones, and bearings.  Many modern pedals are not rebuild-able, so if they fail you have to throw them away.  Vintage pedals were never designed to be thrown out.  They are designed to last through the ages, with adjustable cups and cones and replaceable bearings.  The pedals on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist reflect a real commitment to pedal maintenance:  the lock ring has notches which engage with the cone, so that pedal adjustment is fast and easy.

1947 Aluvac Pedal

Weight of a pedal can also be a factor.  This 1947 Aluvac Pedal is lighter than any other pedal in my collection!  The weight of a component can be a consideration when choosing parts for a build, but in this case, the extremely lightweight pedal pictured above was part of a 1947 Peugeot Mixte.  A bike one would not think of as giving homage to the weight weenie gods.

Recently I have changed out some of the pedals on the bikes I regularly ride for these Shimano Saint Pedals, which I reviewed a while back.  These pedals are totally rebuildable, and offer a large and comfortable platform for one’s foot.  They feature adjustable pins which lock your shoe into position.  For me, someone who rides in rainy, urban conditions, these pins work really well.  They are a great alternative to clipless or toe clip pedals, since they really do lock your feet in place, even when weather conditions are bad.  The shape of the pedal platform, along with the adjustable pins, make these pedals far more useful than most platform pedals I have used.

1973 spindle on top, 1953 spindles below

Marcel Berthet pedals – 1953 vs. 1973.

A while back, I had a component failure on some 1953 Marcel Berthet pedals. When I disassembled the pedals, I found their spindles to be in good order, as compared to their 1970’s counterparts.  But, the threads on one of the spindles failed due to a bad spindle design, which was corrected later by the manufacturer.  Even so, these pedals are quite comfortable when used with toe clips (which is how they are designed).  The foot bed is large and flat, and the toe clip keeps one’s shoe in place.

1940’s Tank Pedals

There are a number of vintage platform pedals that are very comfortable, such as these 1940’s Tank pedals pictured above.  Modern day counterparts include MKS as well as other cage pedal designs.  However, I have found my Shimano Saint pedals to be far more comfortable than a typical cage pedal, and so have installed Shimano Saints on my regular commuting bicycles.  The large platform and adjustable pins really make for a comfortable and safe ride.