After selecting a bicycle that meets your specific needs, getting cycling shoes and pedals will make a huge difference in your riding. We recommend clipless pedal and shoe systems for frequent riders because they more efficiently transfer your pedaling power to the ground and the shoes have stiff soles to support and protect your feet for more comfort.
Borrowed from skiing technology, these trick pedals also provide a better foot-to-pedal connection and more safety by offering almost instant foot entry and release. We like clipless pedals for road and mountain biking and for everything from recreational riding to commuting and racing. They're also great for Spinning classes.
If you're new to bicycling, getting new pedals and shoes (both are required for going clipless) might seem a bit much. The way to decide whether it's worth the expense is considering your cycling. If you ride regularly on loops of 10 miles or more and expect to keep riding for years to come, we think you'll love the way a clipless system enhances the cycling experience by boosting your pedal power, comfort and safety.
What are clipless pedals?
Once you have the cleats bolted to your shoes and the clipless pedals on your bicycle (we're happy to help), you simply put on your new shoes and step on the pedals to click your feet securely in place (most systems make a "click" when you're locked in). When engaged, your feet are connected to the pedals for optimum efficiency. And your feet won't come off the pedals unless you want them to. To get out, you swing your heels to the outside as if you're getting ready to put your feet down, and the pedals release.
Because your feet are locked into the pedals when riding, you have more power throughout the pedal stroke and while accelerating and climbing. Clipless pedals also give you more control by letting you use your feet for maneuvers such as hopping pavement cracks, railroad tracks and more exciting obstacles if you're riding off road.
Plus, because you can get in and out so quickly, you're more apt to get your feet down and land safely should you need to dismount quickly. With all of these advantages, is it any wonder that almost all serious pedalers use clipless pedals today and some new bikes even come equipped with them?
Racers do not need to put their feet down very often, so having recessed cleats is not important. However, standard road cleats that protrude from the soles can make those occasions when you do need to walk a bit awkward. Fortunately, to provide traction for easier and safer walking and to help protect the cleats, rubber cleat covers are available for many different clipless systems. We recommend picking up a pair and carrying them on rides so you can walk easily and save your cleats from wear and tear.
They are also made of synthetic and/or wool blends to breathe and keep your feet dry and comfortable (cotton holds onto moisture). A good pair of cycling socks will last a long time too.
Note that after rainy/wet rides that soak your shoes, you should stuff them with newspaper so they dry nicely and the fit is maintained.
Clips and straps versus clipless
At the least, this is an annoyance. At the worst, it can cause a crash and injury. Also, even if you never slip off the pedals, rubber pedals allow your feet to change positions while you're pedaling, which wastes energy. Ideally, you'll always pedal with the balls of your feet over the centers of the pedals. Because it's difficult to keep your feet in this position when you're pedaling quickly, toe clips and straps were invented (shortly after bicycles were invented, actually).
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. The clips and straps form cages to hold your feet in the correct place on the pedals and keep your feet from slipping off. This is a perfectly viable solution and less expensive than clipless pedals and the special shoes needed to complete the clipless system.
There are drawbacks, however. One is that the clips and straps may cut off the circulation to your feet when they're fastened tightly enough to allow efficient pedaling and control. It's also a fairly tricky two-step process to get out of the clips and straps when they're tightened because you must reach down to loosen the strap before you can pull your foot out. Also, when you're riding off road on the pedal bottoms, the clips and straps hang down where they can snag on roots or sticks, stopping the bike abruptly and possibly causing a crash.
These are just some of the reasons that clipless pedals are now de rigueur for serious cyclists. The only real disadvantage is the initial expense and that they take a little practice to learn how to use (true with toe clips and straps, too).
Many of them utilize a double-sided pedal (photo,left), which means you can click into the pedal on either side so you don't have to look down to get your feet in. Also some of these pedals offer a platform around the piece that engages the cleat.
This is beneficial when you either want to be unclipped or you can’t clip in fast enough — you’ll still have a good base of support. This is also convenient if you’re wearing regular street shoes because you'll have a good pedaling surface even though you're not using your special cleated cycling shoes.
The other system is road (the red cleat in the photo above, right) and as the name implies it's designed for use on road bikes where maximum efficiency, aerodynamics and minimum weight are all important. Road shoes are lighter and stiffer than walkable models because the soles aren't lugged.
The other difference in road clipless systems is that the cleats protrude from the soles of the shoes because the soles are so thin and light. This makes it difficult to walk in the shoes (though there are rubber cleat covers available to protect the cleat and improve traction).
Also, road systems usually are single-sided so you must find the correct side of the pedal to click in when you start out. Most road pedals hang a certain way to make this relatively easy.
Keep in mind that even though most clipless pedals offer float, it's still important to align the cleats carefully. They must be positioned to hold the balls of your feet over the pedals and to match your natural foot inclination. Our bike fitters are experts at this.
Another adjustment many clipless pedals offer is fine-tuning the ease of entry and exit by adjusting the tension that holds the shoes in place on the pedal. Competitive riders often set it very firm because they don't want their feet popping out in all-out sprinting efforts or bumpy, high-speed sections of the trail. Meanwhile, beginners may like a loose setting so that they can get out with very little effort should they need to get their feet down in a hurry.
This adjustment can generally be made two different ways depending on your pedals. The majority of pedals offer an adjustment on the pedal (photo, right), or you can swap to different cleats with a greater or lesser degree of exit angle on other models.
Teach your feet this motion while standing over the bike. You're just going to practice getting your feet in and out, not sit on the seat or ride anywhere. If you're worried about falling over, practice on a lawn or soft surface. Even better, if you have an indoor trainer, mount your bike on it and practice in place.
Click your right foot into the right pedal and remove it 50 or more times, and repeat with your left. It should begin to feel natural and easy. Keep clicking and releasing until you've really got it down. You're training your muscle memory so you can do this without thinking about it — even better: without looking down!
When you're comfortable getting in and out of the pedals, do a short loop around the neighborhood and practice entering and exiting the pedals for real. The trickiest thing the first couple of times is remembering to swivel your heels to get out instead of pulling back (the toe-clip motion). As long as you keep the correct motion in mind you'll get your feet out just fine.
If you're worried about it, plan your neighborhood test loop to end next to a telephone pole you can hang onto for insurance. Remember too that you don't have to stop if you're not ready to get your feet out. Just keep riding and find something to hold onto like a parked car or parking meter, and then click out of the pedals.
If you're still having trouble getting in and out of the pedals, practice some more while standing next to the bike. There might also be something making it harder to get out of the pedals, such as a too-tight adjustment, a misaligned or loose cleat. If that's the case, be sure to bring your bike and shoes in so we can have a look, solve any problems and get you going.
When shoe shopping, don't underestimate the importance of trying them on. Some brands run wider than others. Some sole shapes may fit your feet better than others. Some brands run big and some run small. No matter how much you like the look or features of a shoe, a lousy fit can ruin rides. So, it's always best to come in and try some on. We look forward to answering your questions and helping you find the perfect fit!