First Impressions: Hope Union TC Pedals
Love at first sight
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Take a look at your pedals. They’re probably a wreck, but that’s not your fault. No other piece of metal on your bike gets quite so thoroughly thrashed. Now, grab them and wiggle them a bit. They’re probably at least slightly rattly. Nobody would tolerate that much play in any other bearing, and yet, we tend to hold on to our pedals until they burn out, fade away or fail catastrophically. All we ask of them in the meantime is that they keep performing admirably until the bitter end. As you can see by how relatively fresh they look, I have not spent anywhere near enough time on my new Hope Union Trail pedals to know how well they will hold up in their later years. But I’ve been impressed enough with how they’ve worked so far, that they will stay on my bike until they fall off of it.
That’s not just because they’re so beautiful, though that doesn’t hurt. Hope’s products have long embodied that brutalist, sharp-edged CNC style that has nearly disappeared now that our sport has matured enough for high-end parts to be efficiently mass produced. You can see every cent of the $190 it takes to buy a pair. I’m not knocking the craftsmanship in my Shimano XTR pedals (even though they’re pretty rattly). The three-dimensional steel forging used on even a basic Shimano MT520 pedal is still better reinforced and more complex than the simple folding on the business ends of the Hope Unions. But that’s what I mean about the value in the Hope Union pedals going beyond just their manufacturing. They ride really really nicely, and that starts with the cleats.
The two bolts and side-to-side adjustment of the Hope cleats are the same as what you see on every other mountain cleat. But the stuff in front of and behind it is where Hope started from scratch. And by the way, they didn’t need to now that patent protection on the Shimano cleat design has expired. The shoulders flanking the forward hook are extend farther forward and spread wider than Shimano’s. Same goes for the shape of the rear end of the cleat. Much of the new design relates to giving the outsole more contact with the front and rear wings of the pedal platform, which we’ll get to later, but I appreciated the stability offered by this slightly larger cleat. It’s not by much, but a little bit goes a long way down there. The quest for a more robust shoe-pedal connection is not a new one. Today’s wider “trail” pedals are more efficient and more comfortable largely thanks to the support from the outsole contacting the pedal body on either side of the cleat. But that’s just rubber. The extra metal-on-metal contact helps back that up, and makes the Hope Union TC the most stable trail pedal I’ve ever used. They’re on par with Shimano Saint pedals, but the Hopes are significantly narrower and a lot lighter.
This offers some benefits to pedal efficiency, like better power transfer, less hot spots, yada yada yada. But I mostly appreciate it on the descents, and only in specific situations. When I’m standing straight up with even force on each pedal, the benefits are minor. But in crucial moments like heavy impacts or hard cornering, the extra confidence and comfort in my shoe-pedal interface gave me noticeably more control. Breaking the rear end loose or preloading for a jump leads just a little less distracting flex and pressure in my feet, where those efforts start from. This is why I’m a fan of oversized “platform” clipless pedals like the aforementioned Saints or the Funn Mamba S. But much of the excess material on this style of pedal is meant to do one of two things. Either offer a place to throw your foot in situations too urgent or chaotic to clip in in time, or to add some extra support in front of and behind the cleat. The Hope Union TC offers the same, but in a more subdued, take-it-or-leave-it sort of way.
I decided to leave it. There are four holes for traction pegs on each side of the pedal that are conspicuously empty on my test pedals. I did spend some time with them in there, but when I dutifully experimented with how much traction I had with the pedal mid-foot in an emergency situation, it was no better or worse than other similar pedals. But really, the primary claimed benefit those cleats offer, getting some contact with the pedal’s front and rear “wings,” was slightly more noticeable than on other pedals, but the pegs didn’t add much to that. The contact with those pegs did help subtly damp the free twisting motion before clipping out, but I didn’t notice that the pegs themselves, added any resistance to fore/aft flex.
But what I did notice is that, as with most pedals of this type, the pegs narrowed the angle of attack for clipping in. Hope’s system does make it possible to stamp more directly down on the pedal to clip in, because both the forward and rearward hooks on the pedals are spring-loaded, but I still found it took less force to clip in if I stuck with the toe-first approach that I’d been using for the past 25 years. The closer connection the Hope pegs are able to make with the shoe’s sole when clipped in means that, before you’re clipped in, those pegs would bump the sole and angle the pedal down a few millimeters as my foot approached to clip in. Again, old habits die hard, and had I spent a few more weeks re-learning how to clip in, maybe I could have kept the pegs, but in my use case, I was perfectly happy without them. And either way, clipping out felt totally natural. Hope offers two cleats with the Union TCs, one with more float and a softer release, and one with slightly narrower float and a more solid release. Despite some knee injuries, I found the narrow, solid-release cleats worked great for me. The more positive “click” is more familiar and reassuring, and the tension adjustment on the pedal allowed me to fine tune the actual force I needed to get in and out.
And by the way, that sprung forward hook on the pedal worried me at first. It’s surprisingly light action, and on Time pedals, the sprung forward hook allows my feet to slide forward slightly under heavy braking or on steep trails. But not on the Hope Unions. In every way, these are the most solid, supportive traditional pedals I’ve used. And of course, the most beautiful. For once, I’m going to miss how they look now once I’ve beaten them up for a few seasons. As for how they work, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Photos: Anthony Smith