What are Clipless Pedals?

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The term “clipless pedals” is a bit confusing because it implies, logically enough, that the pedals don’t have clips! However you might well also have heard the term “clipping in” which basically means to clip your cycling road shoes into your pedals. So clipless pedals do actually have clips??

Much confusion!

“Clipless pedals” refers to the old toe clip type pedals that I used to ride around with in the 1980’s when I had long hair and thought that being a New Romantic was cool! On this type of pedal there was literally a metal cage around your toes and a leather buckle to hold your foot in. This was supposed to have the same sort of effect as the current clipless pedal arrangement in that it held your foot in close contact with the pedals but, in reality you could never get it tight or firm enough to do a good job. The only way to achieve a firm, tight grip would have been to have a helper to strap you in and, if you had fallen off you would have remained firmly glued to the bike – not nice!

So, fast forward to today and we now have the new fangled “clipless” system where the bottom of the road shoe clips into a sprung pedal via a cleat which is much more efficient and also much safer as, if you do fall off, the pedal and cleat form a sort of quick release system much like you might find on a ski and a ski boot.

So why do people love using clipless pedals? It all sounds like a bit of a fuss to me??

Good question!

Firstly, I don’t know of anyone who has tried using a clipless pedal system and then gone back to not using them. The difference it makes to your power output is amazing, very noticable and the security you feel with your feet planted firmly on the pedals is great. You really don’t realise how much energy you waste trying to keep your feet still on the pedals until you try them!

Going clipless means that you can keep the power going through the pedal not only when pushing downward but through much more of it’s 360 degree journey. Also the security that you feel when standing on the pedals is extremely reassuring as well as the ability to pull the bike quickly upwards to jump to avoid potholes etc. I have to say that for me at least this “bunny hopping” technique is a bit beyond me but for a mountain biker or someone with a much better sense of coordination and balance than I have it would be a great skill to have.

Of course there are a few disadvantages to using clipless pedals as well and most people are concerned about being so firmly clipped to the bike as well as being worried about the possibility of falling off. As with many things that are worth doing you do, of course need to practice. Clipping in and out is a skill that does take a while to learn and you will probably have a few mishaps along the way!

Essentially, whenever you are slowing down and think that you will need to put your foot to the floor you need to clip out in advance. You do this by just twisting your foot to the side and the cleat on the bottom of the road shoe clips out of the pedal. If you leave it too late there is always the risk of just grinding to a halt and falling over sideways and you do have to learn to instinctively unclip with plenty of time to spare.

Clipping in is the opposite and, as you ar setting off again, you have to line up the cleat and the pedal, push down and forward and the cleat will clip back in. This can be a bit tricky as you have to have the pedal the right way round and the cleat and pedal have to be in alignment but, with practice this can become one smooth movement as you push off with your other foot. It is harder on bumpy road surfaces and there will be some times where it takes a couple of attempts but the satisfying click that follows and the security of your foot on the pedal are well worth it!

The other minor problem is that you do of course need to wear road cycling shoes rather than trainers and these are definately not designed for walking in at all! Even walking from your bike for a well deserved slab of cake at a cafe half way round your ride will be a bit of an effort as road shoe soles have no flex in them at all and the cleats on the bottom stick out making it hard to walk. However, once on the bike everything makes perfect sense again!

So, where to start?

Well, you will need clipless pedals, road shoes and cleats. The Shimano R540 pedlas and cleats are a great place to start. Changing your pedlas is a relatively easy job as long as the old pedals aren’t clamped on too tightly and you will need to set aside some time to practice clipping in and out. In the first instance practice by sitting on the bike and leaning against a wall and try to get the hand of clipping in and out of the pedals whilst stationary. You will need to work out which foot feels most natural to keep clipped in and which one to put down to the ground when you come to a halt and then practice clipping in and out with that side only.

Once you have got the hand of that against a wall go for a ride on a quiet piece of road and practice stopping and starting, clipping in and out as you go. You will soon get the hang of it and, as you gain confidence will start to wonder how you ever managed without clipless pedals!



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  1. Hi Andrew, another great article, and I can only agree that the way to go is clippless. I do have a bike with flat pedals and I can hardly ride it nowadays, having to remember I am not clipped in 🙂 Just to complement your suggestion, I have a number of female clients who are nervously moving towards using clippless pedals….but do not want to go the whole way just yet. In these situations I recommend a Shimano M324 combination pedal with SPD shoes. This way they have to option of using the flat side when in traffic and then clip in only when they feel confident – its a compromise admittedly, and after a while they move to the real deal. One other point if you don’t mind me suggesting, is to consider getting the cleats fitted professionally to avoid knee problems, and choose a pedal that allows you movement of the knee (float), especially if you are prone to knee problems.

    1. Author

      Hi Grant, thank you, that’s really helpful. The double-sided pedals sounds like a good compromise. I always think that getting a professional bike fit is a wise investment if only to prevent problems further down the line.

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