Pedal Choice: Clipless Pedals
Featured in womanscycling.ca
What are Clipless Pedals?
The purpose of any pedal is to transfer
power to the bike. Choosing pedals can be overwhelming and
confusing. Should I try clipless pedals and if so which type ? To
start with the name “clipless” pedals makes no sense at all
because we ARE clipped in to the pedals. They really should have
called them “clipped in” pedals. The name originates from when
they replaced the old style “toe-clips” and straps. The shoe fit
in to a clip and a strap was pulled tight over the shoe to keep the
foot in place. This made pedaling more efficient. However, these were
death traps because you had to reach down to loosen the strap to get
your foot out. Not great for quick escapes.
Hence the invention of the “clipless”
pedal system in the mid 1980's. A clip or cleat on the bottom of the
shoe attaches the shoe to the pedal. A simple kick out or in of the
heel and you are out in milliseconds. Definitely a safer system.
Benefits of Cipless Pedals
- More directly transferring power
from the rider to the bike throughout the pedal stroke improves
efficiency, especially on the up stroke, where you can actively pull
up or unload the weight of the opposite leg. This is most beneficial
when climbing out of the saddle or accelerating
Muscles work together more
efficiently in a smooth circular pedal stroke
Improved safety and control- you
don't have to worry about the foot slipping off the pedal
Your feet are always secured in
the same position on the pedal
You can bunny hop over rocks, logs
and up on to curves
Risks of Clipless Pedals
Not disengaging in time and
Improper cleat position can lead
to an injury, particularly the knee
Should I get Clipless Pedals?
I frequently get asked the following
questions “Do I need clipless pedals ?” “Will I be able to get
in and out of them with out falling over?” Being attached to a bike
can be a very scary experience for many novice cyclists. So my answer
is “no you don't
need clipless pedals for recreational riding” Clipless
pedals have advantages, but for a nervous novice cyclist, they can be
dangerous and add a lot of unneeded stress to a ride. You should be
comfortable on your bike, paying attention to the road in front of
you and enjoying the experience.
However, if your ride includes a lot of
hills, or some day you become more serious about cycling, then you
may want to consider giving them a try. But first you should make
sure you are comfortable getting on and off your bike without both
feet touching the ground. It is a disaster waiting to happen if you
are not able to comfortably doing this and add clipless pedals to
Types of Clipless Pedals
There are many different clipless
pedals to choose from. They can be divided in to two different
categories- mountain and road bike pedals. Each pedal system comes
with a specific style of shoe and cleat.
Mountain Bike Pedals
Mountain bike pedals have a small metal
cleat recessed in to the sole of the shoe. They were originally designed for
mountain bikers who need to get on and off their bike quickly
and walk on uneven terrain. They are also very practical for touring
and commuting, but can be used with any type of bike,
including a road bike. If you plan on doing a lot of walking
off your bike, these pedals are for you.
Recessed cleat allows you to walk
around comfortably in your shoes.
Shoe is more like a hiking/walking
type shoe. The softer more flexible rubber sole makes walking more
Dual or multi-sided pedal makes it
easier to clip in
You can still pedal across a busy
intersection without being clipped in, making them safer.
Cleat is small, reducing the
surface contact area. This can make your feet uncomfortable or numb
from the localized pressure.
Shoes' flexible sole can cause
Flexible sole absorbs some of the
power being delivered to the pedals
A larger plastic or metal cleat mounts
on to the surface of the bottom of the shoe. Used for road cycling and longer
rides. If you are more serious about speed and efficiency then these
are a good choice.
Larger cleat distributes the
pressure over a wider area on the bottom of the foot, resulting in
reduced foot pain, numbness and fatigue.
Increased surface area and a
stiffer-soled shoe increases power transfer.
Generally a lighter shoe
Exposed cleat makes walking
uncomfortable and precarious.
Most are one-sided, making it
harder to clip in. You often need to look down and kick at the
pedal, to locate and properly position the platform to clip in.
The cleats get worn down from
walking on them and need to be replaced regularly. There are cleat
covers you can put over some cleats, but they can be annoying to put
on and off every time you get off your bike.
When clipless pedals were first
introduced, the incidence of knee injuries skyrocketed. This was
because you were literally glued to your pedals. Even though cycling
is a fairly linear motion, there is a certain amount side to side
movement of the legs, as you go around the pedal stroke. The hip and
knee joints are not hinge joints, they are ball and socket joints.
Therefore you need float, or free side to side play within the
pedals, to allow your legs to go where they want to go, to follow
their natural path. If the cleats are set in the wrong position and
do not have enough free float, they can cause a twist though the
ankle, the knee, the hip and the back. With repeated motion this can
lead to an injury. Proper cleat placement is essential.
How much float a cyclist chooses can be
a personal preference, but as general rule of thumb, a minimum of 6
degrees of float is preferred. If you have any hip or knee problems
or tightness, you should have a minimum of 9 degrees of float. The
amount of float is set by the design of the pedal itself, or in some
cases by the choice of cleats used.
Mountain Bike Pedals
many different models, Shimano
SPD pedals are one of the most popular choices today. They have
between 5 and 6 degrees of float, are dual sided and are easy to get
in and out of. But beware!, do not buy imitation SPD pedals.
They don't have enough float.
Shimano have a couple of multipurpose
pedals. The PD-M324 pedals have a platform on one side and a
clip on the other side. This way you can use the platform in traffic
and for crossing busy intersections, and clip in on the quieter roads
where it is safer and you are more comfortable. You may also use
regular shoes if you like. The PD-A530 pedal incorporates a
metal platform into the pedal to increase surface area. Great idea,
but with a rubber-soled shoe against the metal platform creates
friction and ultimately there is no float- just a knee injury
waiting to happen.
Crankbrother Eggbeater pedals
have lots of float (15 – 20 degrees) They are multi-sided making
them one of the easiest pedals to get in and out of. They are also
less prone to get clogged with mud, making them a favorite for
mountain bikers. Crankbrother Candy has also added a platform to the
pedal, but it is made of plastic and doesn't seem to affect float.
Time ATAC pedals have 10 degrees
of float. They are easy to clip out of, but require more effort to
Speedplay Frog pedals offer 26
degrees of float and are a cinch to get in and out of. They can be
used for mountain biking and are ideal for road riders who prefer a
recessed, walkable cleat.
Look is the pioneer of road
clipless pedals. The one-sided triangular-shaped pedals come with a
choice of 3 different colored cleats with varying degrees of float.
Black cleats have no float (not sure why on earth they even exist ),
grey have 4.5 degrees and red have 9 degrees. I personally like the
red cleats, but some find they have too much float and prefer the
grey cleats. With only 4.5 degrees of float there is very little room
for error in cleat placement. But if your knees and hips are happy
then stick with the grey cleats.
Shimano road pedals have very
little float, so I am not a big fan of them.
But there are plenty of cyclists who like the smaller amount of float
and choose this system.
Speedplay pedals have tons of
float. Zeros have up to 15 degrees of micro adjustable float, while
the X Series have unlimited float. Some people find these too floaty.
They both are dual sided making it easier to clip in with out looking
down and fumbling to get the right side up like most road pedals.
With some shoes, clipping in is very
difficult. On the website, there is a list of compatible shoes.
Time road pedals have
10 degrees of float. They are one sided and take a little more effort
to get clipped in.
New to Clipless Pedals
If you are a novice cyclist, and
would like to try clipless pedals, I recommend starting with
mountain bike pedals. They are easier to get in and out of, and you
will have comfortable shoes to walk in. A good choice is a Shimano
pedal, with the platform on one side and the clip on the other side,
so you may choose when and where you want to practice riding with
the new clips. Or you may choose a dual sided pedal, so you don't
have to look down to clip in. You can even cross an intersection
resting your foot on the pedal with out actually being clipped in.
Set your cleats to the loosest
setting to make clipping and unclipping easier. But not too loose.
You don't want your foot releasing as you pedal.
Your goal is to be to clip in and
out as quickly and easily as possible, for safety and to avoid
twisting your knee. A simple kick of the heel sideways will get you
If you have a stationary trainer,
this is the best place to start practicing clipping in and out of
your new pedals.
Next, practice clipping in and out
outdoors over and over and over again on a quiet path or road.
Practice starting and stopping,
in and out while coasting.
not try it on uneven grass, as it is harder to get the bike rolling.
You may want an experienced friend
to accompany you for support.
Your goal is to be able to clip in
without looking down. This allows you to look straight ahead when
riding, which is important for safe cycling.
You will find that you have a
favorite side to clip out of first and step down on. It is usually
the right side, which is away from the road on to the curve.
Keep the other foot clipped in at
an intersection. One less thing to worry about to get started again.
Planning ahead and unclipping well
before stopping, is always essential when using clipless pedals.
With practice, clipping in and out
should quickly become second nature.
Warning -Everyone gets the
same initiation to clipless pedals-expect to have one or two “
timbers” where you forget to clip out on time. Usually the
biggest thing you bruise is your ego.
Clipless pedals aren't suitable
for everyone. If after practicing and practicing you are still
finding it is a struggle to get comfortable with them, then clipless
pedals may not be for you.