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Pedal Choice: Clipless Pedals

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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 falling over

  • 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 your bike.

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 comfortable.

  • 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 foot fatigue

  • Flexible sole absorbs some of the power being delivered to the pedals

Road 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.

Pedal Choices

Mountain Bike Pedals

Shimano With 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 clip in.

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.

Road Pedals

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 out.

  • 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, and clipping in and out while coasting.

  • Do 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.

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