The concept of a “midlife crisis” is not just a concept. It’s a real thing. If you’re not already there yourself, lemme tell you: Things change when you start to hear that clock ticking. And it ticks fast and loud for folks like me who have more titanium in our bodies than on our bikes. I’ve had a lot of good years, but it won’t be long before the years that are coming will be less good than the ones that have gone. So, when you can’t afford a Porsche, you do the next best thing; you switch to flat pedals.
Or in my case, you expand your use of flat pedals. I’ve actually been riding these twenty6 Prerunner pedals for about 13 years, but until recently, they were only on my dirt-jump bike. Mind you, I don’t mean my pumptrack bike or my skills-park bike. I mean tall, steep, no-dig-no-ride dirt jumps. A discipline where touchpoints are paramount, and from the moment I set foot on twenty6’s second-generation pedals, they were the only points I wanted to touch.
That particular “moment” is important. I bought these in 2009 specifically because they were the best flat pedals you could buy. In other words, the most expensive flat pedals you could buy. At around $200 (or about $250 in 2022 USDs, and even more for the ti-spindle option), these American-made beauties were the bee’s knees. Most flat pedals were thick, square, heavy and small. There were no Yoshimuras or Burgtecs. Crankbrothers was still beating eggs, and OneUp hadn’t even pushed START. It’s the sort of product that would only come from a small, passionate brand who only wants to make what they want to ride. Or maybe I should be using the past tense because twenty6 has been effectively as extinct as their namesake wheel size since 2014.
There were never all that many products under the twenty6 brand. Founder Tyler Jarosz started with some aftermarket brake-lever blades that, at first, were more of a hobby than anything. Jarosz is a whiz at machining metal, and with some of our country’s best mountain biking right in his backyard of Bozeman, Montana, it was inevitable that he would end up making mountain bike parts. The mid-2000s were fertile ground for a mind like his. The sport was changing too quickly for big brands to keep up. And he primarily wanted to serve the fast-growing gravity sector, as evidenced by the name twenty6. By coincidence, Jarosz was 26 years old when he founded the brand, but the name was of course an homage to the wheel size of choice in DH, DJ, and FR. 27.5 wasn’t even on the horizon, and wouldn’t have made for as good a logo anyway.
Jarosz ran twenty6 with a maximum of just one employee, but managed to gain wide enough distribution to make it to several online retailers, and even BTI, a wholesaler I dealt with at the shop I worked for at the time. But the pedals were rarely in stock. In fact, powder-coated white was not my first choice, but I didn’t want to miss my window. Although twenty6 went on to make a third-generation pedal called Predator, I remember worrying that the brand might disappear at any moment. I’d witnessed the disappearance of other cool manufacturers making other cool stuff at the time, and the flat-pedal market was far more niche than it is now. It’s totally acceptable today for any ol’ trail rider to opt for flats over clips. I can’t help but wonder if maybe twenty6 could have survived if times were different when they shut their doors in 2014. So, I asked Jarosz that exact question, but it took a few days to track him down. Not because he’s got his nose to the lathe or has a factory full of paychecks to process. He’s snowboarding. Tyler Jarosz is retired. He’s barely even reached mid-life, and there seems to be no crisis in sight.
As surprising as it may seem when we’re talking about $200 pedals, there’s not much money to be made in that racket. And if he had ramped up production to meet demand—especially today’s demand—it would have required expansion. That means more outsourcing, more employees, mo money, mo problems. Meanwhile, Jarosz’s skills put him in high demand for better-paying projects than making mountain bike parts. Projects where he could be more hands-on than he could have been had he expanded twenty6. After several smart decisions, including buying a building where he had done much of his work, Jarosz was able to achieve his goal of retiring young enough to actually still enjoy retirement.
That makes these pedals that much more special to me, but it’s not what I think of when I ride them. Again, flat pedals have evolved significantly since I picked these up, but at the time, most just didn’t feel right. There’s something about the Prerunner’s shape, which offers grip but not too much grip. It’s easy to reposition my foot if I don’t place it perfectly the first time, or if it gets knocked askew. That’s also thanks to the pins twenty6 designed, pins that I have now run out of and have resorted to using aftermarket ones. That’s another genius element of how twenty6 designed their pedals. Stock builds came with aluminum pins that were essentially disposable. It wouldn’t take much to knock the head off the bolt-style (not grub-screw-style) spike, and the threaded bit left inside would vibrate loose soon after. But what would be left is a perfectly healthy threaded hole, ready for a pin to be replaced. I actually have my little jar of replacement pins in my Tacoma’s glove box.
Or rather, I used to have it. I’m fresh out of pins, which is why the perimeters of these are lined with aftermarket steel pins. In fact, when shooting these photos, I realized that one pin, which I recently knocked out, had left behind a crater of stripped threads.
This was not an issue for my first dozen years on these pedals. Again, they were just for dirt jumping, and the only dirt they saw was fine and smooth. There was never any danger of rock strikes or sharp impacts. I never subjected them to the chaotic high-frequency abuse that my SPD pedals had to face. The occasional case or over-shoot at the jumps just doesn’t concentrate the force quite like smashing cage to boulder on the inside of a blind corner. That may also be why, all these years later, they still don’t show a hint of rattle or play. Until my recent awakening, they lived an exciting life, but a sheltered one.
And now, I’m faced with a choice. This is the oldest, still-running component that I own. We’ve seen a lot together. They were with me when we first set shovel to dirt at The Marina Hills jumps, and they were still with me four years later when the bulldozers came. They were with me when I founded my short-lived BMX brand, and then again when I finally climbed my way out of the debt that it put me in. They were with me when I moved to Los Angeles and was adopted by a digging crew with running water, friendly neighbors, and olive trees. They were with me again when I shattered my tibia under those same olive trees, and when I first rode a bike again six months later.
Can I risk potentially ending that legacy with a poorly chosen line or poorly timed pedal stroke? Can I accept that any ride I take them on could be their last?
Of course I can. You only live once.
Photos: Travis Engel