Cycling - Knowledge

Cycling Basics: How to Cycle with Clipless Pedals

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Post the selection of your bicycle that meets your specific needs, getting cycling shoes and cycling pedals are the next big step to create that difference in your riding. Our recommendation? Go Clipless! We advocate for clipless pedal and shoe systems since they efficiently transfer your pedalling power to the ground and the shoes bear stiff soles to support and protect your feet for additional comfort.

If you're a beginner in bicycling, getting new pedals and shoes (both are required for going clipless) might seem a bit extreme but the way to decide if it's worth the expense is to consider your cycling. If you are the kind to ride regularly on loops of 10 miles or more and expect to keep riding for years to come, we think you'll love the clipless system. Even if you are a regular cyclist who hasn’t made the switch yet, we’re here to tell you that we understand the fear and trepidation that accompanies locking your feet to the pedals conjuring up a feeling of a loss of control.

Clipless - The Absolute Basics 

The term ‘clipless’ can be confusing to people who aren’t conditioned into the way of the bicycle, predominantly hearing about ‘clipping in’ from seasoned riders. The name clipless stems from the fact that you can rid yourself off of toe clips or straps in favour of a cleat binding system that bolts the outer sole of the shoe to the pedal of the cycle.

Adopted and adapted from skiing technology, these pedals provide a better foot-to-pedal linkage and more safety by offering almost instant foot entry and release. We would like to vouch for clipless pedals for road and mountain biking and for everything from recreational riding to commuting and racing.

road bike pedals
Innovation in Cycling- Clipless Pedal

What is a Clipless Pedal

Clipless pedals are in the literal sense a system which comprises of special pedals and cleats, devices included with the pedals that fasten to the soles of clipless cycling shoes. In order to switch or upgrade to the clipless system, you will need to select pedals and shoes.

If you're the kind to cycle short distances, or just pedal along casually, then basic rubber pedals will work just fine. Toe clips and straps bolt to most regular pedals (non-clipless) that have holes in them to accept the bolts that hold the clips in place. Toe clips and straps are an initial way to go until you’re ready for a clipless pedal/shoe system.

shimano clipless pedals
Going a Pedal Ahead with Clipless Pedal

Why Use Clipless Pedals

Well, there are two main reasons: 

1. Firstly, you get an utmost comfort while riding your bike.

If you’ve ever tried to ride a road bike hard using flat pedals you’ll notice that your feet tend to slip around, leaving you to reposition them every now and then. When your feet are attached to the pedals, they stay put, which also benefits handling, descending and other tasks on a bike when it’s simpler to not have to deal with keeping your feet on the pedals.

2. Secondly, clipless pedals increase your pedalling efficiency.

If you are a cyclist who favours high cadence, you’ll realize that clipless pedals can be vital in achieving those goals without wasting the extra physical and mental energy trying to keep your feet in contact with the pedal during the whole revolution. 

How to Use Clipless Pedals

There are plenty of pedals types available in the market, but the good news for newbies is that no matter which one you choose, they will all work in the similar fashion when it comes to clipping your foot in and out. Once you have the cleats bolted to your shoes, and the clipless pedals on your bicycle you simply step on the pedals to click your feet securely in place.

Most systems make a "click" sound signifying you're locked in.

To begin, move your foot towards the pedal, and while prodding the front of the pedal around with the toe of your shoe, aim the front of the cleat at the top of the pedal. Once the front of the cleat is in, weigh down along the centre of the shoe until you hear the click. With time you’ll figure out which foot you prefer to click in first.

To get the other foot in while you’re moving is to make sure the pedal you’re trying to clip into is at the top of the pedal stroke, so that way you can position your foot correctly and use the motion of pushing down through the pedal stroke to engage the cleat.

When riding, your feet will be connected to the pedals for optimum efficiency, and won't come off unless you want them to. To remove your foot off the pedal, you swing your foot heel first to the outside just as if you're getting ready to put your foot down, and the pedals release.

Since your feet are locked into the pedals when riding, you'll see that you have more power throughout the pedal stroke, while accelerating and climbing. Clipless pedals will also allow you more control by granting you use of your feet for maneuvers.

easiest clipless pedals beginners
Make your Shoes a Part of your Cycle (source)

8 Tips to know while Using Clipless Pedals

  1. Try using double-sided pedals initially, pedals that you can clip onto from either side make the process simpler. An alternative could be using a pedal which you can clip onto on one side, and which has a flat platform on the other so that you have the option to ride sometimes in ‘normal’ shoes. 
  2. Slackening off the spring tension to as far as it will go will make it easy to clip out whenever required. 
  3. Practice unclipping while using support like holding onto a fence, a doorway etc. Try using a swift, clean outward pivot of your heel rather than a gradual slow movement.  
  4. Touring or MTB shoes are the choice to go for in case of stop-start commuting as they are relatively handier whilst clipping in and out at traffic lights. No matter the alignment of the road bike pedals, you can apply pressure on the pedal without the fear of your foot slipping off.
  5. Mountain bike/tourer style shoes which have recessed cleats, are the style of shoes to go for if you intend on doing a fair share of walking. The advantage of a recess is that it helps guide your cleat into place. 
  6. Keep an eye on cleat wear, particularly if are going to be using Look-style pedals as chances are you could wear them thin, and a big effort could easily cause them to snap. Most cleats boast of wear markers, and cleat covers are readily available for easier walking. 
  7. Be up to date with the maintenance of your clipless gear, and keep your pedals from being clogged with dirt, as it could interfere with smooth clipping in and out movements leading to a possible fall. 
  8. In case you have trouble engaging the pedal, check that the lugs on your shoes aren’t the cause. If so, you might need to cut back some of the rubber around the cleat to clear the obstruction. 

Different Kinds of Clipless Pedals and Shoes 

Most of the clipless pedals and shoes fall into the following two categories:

1. Road Riding

For e.g. Shimano SPD-SL, Time and Look

These shoes use a three bolt system, usually sport lightweight ventilated uppers, with mesh for breathability, and have the stiffest soles for maximum pedalling efficiency and minimum weight. They also tend to sport velcro-strap or ratcheting-buckle closures so that any necessary adjustments can be made - tighter for climbing or sprinting, looser in case your feet swell or feel uncomfortable.

Since racers do not face the necessity of putting their feet down very often, having recessed cleats is not important. In road cycling shoes such as used by Shimano cleats tend to protrude from the soles of the shoes since the soles are so thin and light, making it difficult to walk in them. A solution to this though is the availability of rubber cleat covers which protect the cleat and improve traction.

Learning to ride with Clipless Pedals
UseShimano SPD SL for Smooth Riding on Roads(source)

2. Off-Road

For e.g. Shimano SPD, Crankbrothers and Time A-Tac

Off road shoes are less stiff and inflexible in comparison to on road shoes. Off-road shoes are a two bolt system and have recessed cleats and aggressive tread patterns which mean the cleats don't come in contact with the ground when you walk, making this clipless system ideal for walking and even hiking.

There are some shoes which even accept optional screw-in studs near the toes to provide grip on muddy trails. The uppers on these shoe types are usually a little more robust in order to survive brushing through the undergrowth. In case laces are used, they are usually hidden under a protective tongue. 

clipless pedals
Use Shimano SPD for MTB Shoes (source)

The difference between SPD vs SPD-SL pedals lies in their usage.

In the case of the two-bolt systems like Shimano SPD, you can walk easily in the shoes due to the recessed cleats making them popular not only for mountain bikers but also beginners, commuters and touring cyclists. 

On the other hand, the three-bolt cleats used by Shimano SPD-SL project outwards from the bottom of the sole, and you might require practice to walk keeping your weight on your heels, or you'll be degrading away the sensitive cleats quickly.

A bit of additional information on cycling shoes: They are made in a way so as to fit more snugly thereby restricting your feet from slipping around inside while you’re pedalling. What could be of additional benefit is wearing cycling socks which are thin, and they won't stretch out the shoes and ruin the fit. Should be a part of a rainy/wet ride that soaks your shoes, stuff them with newspaper so that they dry nicely and the fit is maintained.

For clipless pedals beginners, SPD pedals are the best choice. Most pedals being double-sided makes learning to ride with clipless pedals much simpler. While standard SPD cleats tend to release only when the rider twists their foot outwards, multi-release cleats will release even if you pull up hard, which is a far more natural action for a clipless beginner. To recognize multi-release cleats all you have to do is look for the large stamp of the letter M. 

Another great choice for SPD beginners is Shimano's PD-M324 combination pedals which have the SPD mechanism on the side and a flat platform on the other. In case you determine that the M520s are a bit small for you, you can always turn to the PD-M424 pedals. 

Cleat Set Up 

Cleat setup is a personal thing that you’ll need to spend some time on before you find out what works best for you. Keep in mind that your cleats are the only fixed interface between the bicycle and the rider, hence getting them into the correct positioning will not just be comfortable but will also ensure your efficiency and avoid injuries. 

The best place to start is to affix the cleat under the ball of the foot and align it such that your foot sits straight on the pedal.

This will give you a starting point from whereon you can start to make adjustments as per any discomfort or strain you feel while riding. A point to keep in mind is that it’s totally possible you will end up needing different cleat angles on both feet. In case you really want to be certain that your cleat position is proper, get a bike fit. Quality bike fitters will be able to scrutinize your pedal stroke and ascertain exactly where it is best for you to have your cleats positioned.

road bike pedals
Set Up the Cleats (source)

Cleat Set Up: Road Shoes 

As mentioned above, start off by positioning the cleat underneath the ball of your foot, and make sure it's on straight. After putting on both your cleats, get onto the bike and take the support of a wall or anything else and pedal backwards to adjust the fore and aft of the cleats. 

To change or adjust the angle sit on a table and let your legs dangle off the side. Resting your shoes on a piece of paper, with the edge perpendicular to the table draw around your shoes. Now place your cleats on the outlines, making sure they are still square to the table edge. The angle you see forming between the centre line of your shoes and the edge of the paper is your cleat angle.  

Cleat Set Up: Mountain Bike Shoes

In the case of mountain bike cleats, cleats can be positioned in three directions: fore and aft in relation to the axle, as well as the angle in relation to your shoe.

Tighten the bolts just enough to keep them in place but do not allow them to dig into the sole of the shoe as this will make fine tuning harder. Now, while wearing your shoes, balance against a wall and clip in. there shouldn’t be any noticeable stress on your joints and your legs hang down naturally. Check the amount of float on either side to ensure evenness. Adjust until the cleat feels comfortable. 

While wearing your riding shoes, but without the cleats fitted, sit on your bike allowing your right foot to hang down in its natural pedalling position. Mark the spot on the sole of the shoe, this is where the cleat will sit in the fore and aft relation to the axle. Approximately, the cleat shout sit under the ball of the foot.

Pedalling the Distance 

Majority of the people who have switched to clipless pedals will have had their very own embarrassing ‘Clipless Moment’ story. It's like a guaranteed that it will take place at the most embarrassing time possible, where there are plenty of people watching you. What’s important is that you practice before hitting the road or trail. If you're concerned about you falling over, just practice on a lawn or soft surface, until it begins to feel natural and easy. While it is arguable of clipless pedals offering various power advantages over flats/clips, there are definitely very few people who have tried a clipless pedal system and gone back to toe-clips or platform pedals. All you have to do is restrain from being put off by the idea of being ‘locked on’ to the bike.

Go ahead, try it and pedal away…..

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