Coombe Pedals
Solutions for Improvements and Extending their life

(All pictures can be clicked to go to a different page of more details)

Coombe Bicycle Pedals

When I started riding again in 2003, my cleated pedals had worn out and I needed to upgrade to the current market of Clipless pedals. After much research and a little trial and error, I found what seemed to be the best pedal available: Coombe, made by Bill Coombe in Colorado. He ran a small shop as a sideline, with their main motivation on innovation. Consequently, they lacked good customer service, put more effort into improving their product line rather than profiting off of a great design, and ended up closing up shop in the spring of 2006.

The Good:
These pedals have the lowest stack height (your foot is closer to the axle for a very efficient stroke and your entire center of gravity is low). There are no springs to overcome, so it is practically impossible to accidentally have your foot come out of the pedal. The pedal is short, so it is really hard to scrape the ground while pedaling through a turn (I've tried) and your shoe would normally hit first, which is much less catastrophic. The minimalist design is very light in weight. The pedals seem like they can last forever.
The Bad:
The cleats usually last about a year, due to the metal on metal contact, even though I put a light lubricant on them prior to every ride. Due to the wear on the cleats, they will start clicking long before they have become bothersome to pedal with. Also, the two small detents that help guide the foot from swaying excessively on rotation, will wear very quickly, soon becoming useless, so that your foot has total free float with no resistance. With the supplier out of business, once the cleats are shot, the pedals can't be used. I wish I had bought 20 more pairs of cleats before they stopped production.

Improving the detent situation:
Having come from cleated pedals, I prefer zero float anyway. Using the Coombe's after a while, both detents will have worn from the foot sliding around and hitting the sides of the detents on each stroke. Not only does this rotation movement wear out the detents, but the cleat to pedal contact is getting rubbed each time, exacerbating the wear of the cleats. If one does not mind losing the feature incorporated into the original design where your foot can release from a rotation inwards as well as the normal outwards, a simple solution can be had.
Worn detents top, new below. Pedals: original left, black oxide coating style right.

My solution is to fabricate a tall detent that stops the heel in rotation entirely. The holes for the detents are just shy of a quarter inch. I purchased a rod of quarter inch aluminum round stock from the local hardware store for a few dollars. I gently file down about a quarter inch length to just fit through the detent hole and still have it not go higher than the rest of the cleat. This takes several fittings and the edge of the hole will make small dents as I work my way on each pass, so I know where it's hitting and needs a bit more filing. Once I have enough filed where a tightly fitting rod will still not come up to the surface of the rest of the cleat (too tall and it will hit while walked upon), I stop and use a Ultra Fine Point Sharpie permanent marker on the back to mark the length. I then cut it off, leaving another one mm of extra. This gives about a 6.5 mm total length when completed.
File just enough to stay below the edge. Mark with an ultra fine marker. Cut another mm extra. Total length = 6.5 mm

Then I insert the new plug into to hole from the sole side, using the hole that will be closest to the pedal. Since the original rod diameter is a bit bigger than the hole, it should not fall through. I gently tap it with a hammer to get a more solid fit, but when finished, there is still some sticking out the back for extra security (there is enough clearance between the cleat and the sole of the shoe that this does not create a problem). Since the pedal only rotates about 30 degrees for engagement, the cross shape of the pedal allows it to clear the new high stop. Now when the cleat engages the pedal, the heel in will not be allowed to travel past the original style detent. I then align the cleats so that my heel in position is right up against this stop with just a slight bit of pressure. Then my foot tends to stay in that one spot and it feels more like a zero float. I don't even bother to put the other detent in for heel out resistance, although one certainly could at this point. If this stop becomes worn, it's a simple matter to punch it out and build a new one. Lately I've been making them about 1 mm shorter so that walking on uneven surfaces has less of a chance to contact the plug and loosening the installation. Also, I've been filing down a bit less so that it takes more hammering to finish the final plug installation for a stronger fit.
Stub remains outside cleat. Rotated pedal clears stop. Engaged pedal. Total stop of heel in.

Worn cleats:
Since the cleats are extremely hard to come by in a new like state, I needed to find a way to extend the life of the cleats so I could continue using these wonderful pedals. There are basically four wear areas that create depressions in the cleats (which are probably softer than the pedals since they show hardly any wear). I consulted several people to find a solution. Having a company manufacture new cleats was prohibitively expensive (an opportunity for someone with the tools). It was suggested that I could plate the worn cleats, but the cleats don't wear evenly at all four contact points and getting just the right thickness of plating would be problematic.
Virgin cleats, Sidi style. Worn after one year. Other Style, virgin.

My solution was to place a shim between the pedal and the cleat to make up the difference of the lost material. I purchased some stainless steel shim stock (6 inch by 50 inch) for about $20 and also some very nice aircraft snips for $23. The new snips made the job a breeze as I could cut about 0.5 mm off at a time (I purchased the Left Cut as I'm right handed and it's easier to cut left turns). I got some 0.010" thick shim stock as my cleats were pretty worn, but you can purchase it as thin as 0.002" (although it gets pretty flimsy).

I cut a circle out the same size as the inner section of the Coombe cleat and a notch for my stop (35.50 mm maximum if you have a way to scribe a precise circle). I carefully cut off little bits at a time and made sure that I first cut a full circle (thus too big to fit inside the cleat just yet). This is done by rotating it around and getting all the edges to fit in pretty smoothly. Then I mark where the stop is with my ultra marker after placing the shim in the lower part of the cleat and carefully cut out the notch. The stainless steel is too hard a material to file down, so the entire job must be done with the snips. The shim can then be curved slightly, putting in the lower end first and prying the top under the upper end. However, there is a bumper area inside this upper end. I mark off where that extra indentation is with my marker and cut off a square section. I want to keep the shim as snug as possible, so that the shim will not want to fall out when not connected to the pedal.

Aircraft Snips Cut perimeter and notch. Round shim hits indent. Mark and cut top indent.

The shim can easily be removed by inserting a small screwdriver under the shim where the other detent would normally go. If the other detent is also used, it creates too great a height and the pedal will be very difficult to engage and disengage, so you'd need a cutaway in the shim for that one as well. With a snug fit from the shim, there should be little fear of the foot feeling like it wants to fall out to the side. Then slide the screw driver around to the side to create a bow in the shim and pop it out from the lip at the top.

Also, the cleats will usually wear more at the sides than front to back. If the shim thickness is correct for the sides, but there is very little wear at the other areas, cuts can be made in the shim so that there is no added material there. Since the pedals are cross shaped, the cuts can provide holes so that the upper and/or lower parts never contact the shim material. However, since the shim is no longer under the overhangs, it will simply fall out and the shim will need to be glued in to stay in place. Since the shim will eventually wear and need to be replaced, do not use a permanent glue, like epoxy or super glue (liquid nails lasts for a while). The cleats have a slight depression in the center so that a thin layer of glue will not create a high point in the center of the cleat. Eventually these other areas may wear further and a full shim can start to be used at some time without glue. The notch for the stop must still fit snugly on both sides of the stop, otherwise the pressure from engaging/disengaging will rotate the shim and break the glue adhesion.

Remove with screw driver. Curve up at center. Finished shim. Top and bottom cuts.

So now I have cleats that stay in place very well and I can control the exact force of snap in and out and remove any slop by just replacing the shims with various shim thickness or cut outs. This system should allow me to continue using the Coombe pedals for a long time to come.

Side Notes
There are other wear considerations as well. The lips on the cleats that lock them in will also wear, both front and back. If there is slop in your pedals or your float occurs frequently, you will also wear out these lips. Also, if you were to put in too tight of a shim, you will excessively wear out these lips. Once these lips are worn completely, the cleat is useless. The front lip is the smaller of the two, so it will fail first.

My first attempt was to use some metal measuring tape (about 0.009) and adhesive them in the sides. This worked, but the pressure of engaging/disengaging would slide the individual pieces, breaking the adhesive bond, and they would fall out after a few days.

I also purchased some 0.003 shim material. I was able to put this on a virgin cleat and still engage the pedal, getting about the same forces I feel with the 0.010 shim on the worn cleat. So there's no reason to go with material quite that thin unless you want to use it on fairly new cleats and wear out the shim material rather than the cleat itself. It is also not very stiff, so it may not have enough spring in it to stay within the cleat without glue.

Front lip wear, virgin on right. Rear lip wear, virgin on right. First experiment.

Put a light lube on your cleats before every ride (e.g. Finish Line dry) after cleaning them thoroughly. This will help cut down on metal to metal wear. At least once a year, remove the plug from the pedals with a screw (it just pulls straight out) and top it off with 90 weight gear oil, available at auto suppliers (don't push the plug too far back in).

Calories Made Simple