Starting Off With Clipless Pedals

When I came up with the idea to write about using clipless pedals on our bikes, I thought my audience would be people that hadn’t ever used them and were nervous about moving up to pedalssomething that ties your feet to your pedals. Well these many months later, watching and observing lots of cyclists in different groups, I see that there are many experienced cyclists that need to go out and practice the correct way to get started off with their clipless pedals too, so I hope they’re reading along with everyone else. Let me start off with some history to get everyone on the same page.

What we call clipless pedals are really clip-in pedals, i.e., pedals that with an attachment specific to each brand of pedal, allow the rider to clip their feet into the pedals so that they’re secure for the entire pedal cycle. Back in the day, and maybe still for some touring riders, older riders, or bike fashionistas, our pedals had a metal clip attached to the front of them, with a strap they we would tighten around our shoes. After starting out you’d reach down and cinch the strap tight and then maybe even have to loosen it to get your feet out, somewhat of an awkward situation, so many people just kept them kind of loose. This allowed you to pedal harder without your feet flying off the pedals, but with some issues.

Clipless pedal “systems”, i.e., those without toe clips and straps, which were invented a long time ago, became popular after Look incorporated toe clipstechnology from ski boot bindings to come out with the first modern and truly functional clipless pedals in the mid 80’s. Tour de France riders adopted them early on, which lead to more widespread use among road cyclists, but triathletes quickly embraced them as a way to get in and out of their shoes faster during transitions, looking to save those precious few seconds.

Within years competing types of clipless pedals came out from Time, Shimano, Speedplay, and others. Speedplay became particularly popular with triathletes for their lighter weight pedals (albeit with heavier attachments on the bottom of the shoes), a floating pedal that wasn’t locked in, and a two sided design. One of the early gripes about clipless pedals, just like pedals with toe clips, is that you had to rotate the pedals around to clip in, while the Speedplay’s were pretty much already ready to step onto.

Knowing that a picture, or in this case a video, is worth 1000 words, here’s a link to a five minute video by the people at Performance Bicycles that does a pretty good job of showing you the basics of getting in and out of clipless pedals, which I recommend you watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28IdOvbk7Us

The salient points in this video are the suggestions to practice someplace away from people and traffic, like in your house/garage on a trainer, the position of the pedal when he started out, to pick one leg as the main leg to clip in and out with, and to keep pedaling even if you haven’t clipped in.

In words it goes like this:

  • Pick a leg, start with that pedal around 2:00, clip in and start pedaling
  • As the pedal comes around, step onto the other pedal and clip in
  • If you don’t clip in right away, KEEP PEDALING with the other leg, it’s clipped in!
    • This is the biggest mistake people make, stopping at the bottom of the pedal stroke, losing all momentum and becoming a road block for anyone behind them, who BTW, aren’t going that fast themselves, so they tend to swerve around a lot, hit other people, and/or fall down.
    • Got that? Keep pedaling, eventually you’ll get clipped in, people around you won’t fall down or yell at you, and everyone will start off together, happy and safe
  • Enjoy the ride…

When you’re getting ready to stop it goes like this:

  • Pick a leg, stop pedaling, clip out, let the opposite pedal come to the bottom, lean off to the clipped out foot side
  • Beware that sometimes people or things in front of you force you to suddenly lean the other way, be prepared to quickly clip out the other foot so as not to fall down on that side
  • Also be aware that at some point you, as we all have done, will fall down, unable to clip out for some reason. It’s embarrassing and can be painful, so pay careful attention to this, be prepared to clip out your other foot, and you’re good
  • Don’t come to a stop with both feet clipped out because sometimes you might need to keep moving forward to avoid something in front of you, so if you’re clipped out with both feet you’re pretty much just going to hit that thing or swerve to avoid it and then fall down

One last thing to NEVER DO when starting out, and I’ve seen this too many times, related to people that stop pedaling and then struggle to clip in the other foot, is they use the foot that’s not clipped in to push off on the ground to keep moving forward. I want to remind everyone that the smart people that designed the clipless pedal cleats and shoes never designed them for this use; therefore they offer very little traction on the ground, which can cause more awkward looking moments and more chances to fall, stumble, and look silly. So if you’re someone that does this, hopping along with one foot clipped in, the other repeatedly pushing off the ground, please go out and practice and save yourself from hurting yourself and possibly others.

Whichever pedal system you choose, if you’ve never used them before, watch the video and practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve clipped in and are riding along, in no time you’ll forget all about them and you’ll be enjoying the added power and control that you have with your feet stable and secure on your pedals, as you go out and hammer those hills and sprints! Or maybe you’ll just be happy cruising along and not thinking about your feet coming off the pedals, either way, clipless pedals are the way to go.

Happy riding!

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2 thoughts on “Starting Off With Clipless Pedals

  1. plan your stos, un clip 20 or so feet before you need to stop, i started out on spd style cleats and moved to the plastic shimano style, had a hard time clipping in from a stop, now I’m running speed play and i like them a lot, dual sided it the way to go, way easier less fumbling. P.S. everyone forgets to unclip coming to a stop when they first start riding clip less its almost like eating your cycling stripes. have fun a be safe out there!

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