In our forth instalment of the Hannah Reynold’s series, we talk about clipless pedals. Some fear them, others swear by them. Here Hannah looks at benefits, risks and options of riding clipped-in to your pedals…
A secure connection between your shoes and your pedals can make cycling feel easier so before your next trip get to grips with clipless pedals.
One of the first things to clear up about clipless pedals, and a source of confusion for many, is why they are called clipless when you ‘clip-in’ to them. Bike pedals originally had toe-clips and straps but in 1984 a ski-bindings company called Look decided to apply the same technology to bike shoes, allowing cyclists to use a cleat on the sole of their shoes to ‘clip-in’ to the mechanism in their pedals. Toe clips and straps were made redundant so the ‘clipless’ pedal was born.
When you first consider using clipless pedals the idea of attaching yourself firmly to your bike can seem a little bit rash. Some people worry about what will happen if they can’t get their feet out in time or if they crash. Compared with the old style toe clips, clipless pedals are in many ways safer. To release your shoe, it just requires a firm twist of your foot and if you were to crash the pedals automatically release making it much less likely that you will remain attached to your bike which could result in greater injury. The only risk when you are learning is the slow motion sideways fall, normally a result of having forgotten that you are still clipped in and we have all been there, even the pros.
Being clipped into your pedals will help you feel more at one with the bike. Your feet are less likely to slip off as you pedal or shift your weight around. Being clipped into your pedals allows you to pedal more fluidly as your pedals and cranks become an extension of your body. At the end of a long day in the saddle people who have ridden clipped-in to their pedals often feel less fatigue in their legs because the pedal stroke is more smooth.
Riding clipped in you can feel the terrain and grip of your tyres through your feet and by pushing weight down through the pedals you can use small adjustments of your bodyweight to help steer and control your bike. If you are mountain-biking and haven’t fully mastered the skill of bunny hopping being clipped in allows you to cheat a little bit in getting your wheels of the ground.
On steep terrain, on or off-road, when you are pedaling slowly, being clipped in allows you to pull up on the pedals to keep even power transfer throughout your pedal stroke and maintain your momentum and traction. When you sprint or accelerate hard you also pull up on the pedal forcefully which is hard to do if you aren’t clipped in.
Things to consider
If you decide to take the plunge and give clipless pedals a try the first thing to consider is the type of riding you are doing. Mountain bike pedals are dual sided, so you can clip in to either side of the mechanism. Dual-sided pedals are also useful when you are first learning. Some pedals such as Shimano DX have a wide, flat cage around the pedals so it is easy to locate the pedal and your foot remains stable even if not fully engaged with the mechanism. These can be really useful on technical terrain or if you like to take your foot off the pedal to dab.
If you are on a leisure trip and likely to get off your bike to wander around the village and visit a café (let’s face it – who doesn’t?) then touring or mountain bike shoes with recessed cleats are brilliant as you are still able to walk with ease.
Road pedals such as the popular Shimano SPD SL are single-sided with a broad platform and large cleats for a firm connection. They can be a bit trickier to get used to and are designed for long road climbs, high-power sprints and fast cadences. They can feel a bit stiffer to get in and out of than mountain bike pedals, but most pedals have adjustable tension so you can increase it as you gain confidence. Road shoes are altogether sleeker to look at than mountain bike shoes, they have super stiff soles and no tread as they are not designed to be walked in. If you are on a road cycling holiday a set of cleat covers can be handy to keep in your back pocket to help protect the cleats from wear.
Ask in your local bike shop about how to set up your cleats as it is important that you align them correctly to protect your knees and in order to pedal smoothly.
If you are using clipless pedals for the first time give them a go before you go on your trip so you are confident and happy with them before you travel.
Check out our full holiday range to inspire your next cycling adventure! When in doubt, be sure to give us a call and our friendly team can help you choose your perfect cycling holiday, as well as chat you through clipped-in riding options.