Learning to ride with Clipless Pedals

Becoming a part of the cycling family involves a few important initiations. One of them is a zero-speed fall when getting used to clipless, or clip-in, pedals.

Fear of this fall often haunts the uninitiated, preventing them from taking the plunge and opting for clipless pedals, but in the long run, we know most of them eventually give it a go.

 

>> Browse Evans Cycles full range of Clipless Pedals here <<

 

Why go clipless?

Riding with your feet clipped into your pedals means you can use both the push and the pull of your pedal stroke – this makes you more efficient. Not only that, but securing your foot with a clip-in pedal means that you’ll cut down on excess movement, which can waste some of your power, and also over time can cause injury.

 

How does it work?

To ride with clipless pedals, you’ll need to buy the pedals (mountain bike or road), cycling shoes, and cleats. Cycling shoes have holes in the bottom, to screw in the cleats, and these little plastic, or metal contraptions make contact with the pedal, giving you a strong pedal stroke. To fit  the cleats, you’ll just need an Allen key or a flat headed screwdriver.

 

>> How to fit pedal cleats to your cycling shoes <<

 

What are the options?

Road cyclist will usually go for road pedals – these are wider, and allow more stability, and thus more efficiency – these are often Look or Shimano pedals. Road cycling pedals are the more efficient, but the most extreme version.

 

 

>> Road bike clipless pedals: SPD SL, Look or Speedplay? <<

 

Mountain bikers usually ride with SPDs, these are smaller pedals which slot into the cleat and are easier to clip in and out of. Not only that, but SPD cleats are recessed into the shoe – so if you want to be able to walk further than a few metres in your cycling shoes without clip-clipping like a small unsteady pony, MTB shoes are best.

 

Finally, a great option for someone new to clipless pedals is an SPD combined with a flat pedal – such as the MT50 Click’r pedal  – this gives you the stronger pedal stroke of an SPD, but still incorporates a flat pedal which can be used between clipping in and out, and provide a sense of security.

 

 

Getting used to clipless pedals

The fear that most clipless-pedal-virgins feel is not completely unfounded: it’s likely that at some point you might suffer a little fall on your first go at riding clipped. However, this is likely to bruise nothing more than your ego.

The majority of ‘clipless moments’ take place at a set of traffic lights. The rider rolls towards the lights, comes to a stop – and forgets to take their foot out of the pedal. The result – a very slow topple, that very rarely hurts.

It will look a bit like this:

 

 

To stop this happening, all you need to do is become used to the fact that before stopping, you need to unclip.

Unclipping is very simple – you just need to twist your ankle outwards, you will hear a satisfying ‘click’ – and can then put a foot to the ground. To clip back in, you just need to make contact between cleat and pedal, and push down – again, a ‘click’ will mark your connection.

The number one top tip is to practice. Practice holding onto a rail. Practice holding onto a doorframe. Practice stationary inside your house. Practice on a safe street outside your house, if you’re nervous on a nice grassy patch.

Most people have pretty clever brains – it won’t take a lot of test runs to get used to the fact that stopping = unclipping in advance. There really isn’t an art to it – over time, this pattern will become second nature.

Another useful tip is to start with your pedals on an easier setting. Most pedals these days have an adjustment, and you can choose a setting that is very firm, and stable, but hard to clip out of, and one that is much slacker. A slacker tension will be best for a beginner.

Do you have any tips for those starting out with clipless pedals? We get lots of questions on this subject, so please share your wisdom in the comments box for your fellow cyclists…

>> Browse Evans Cycles full range of cycling shoes here <<

Comments

Hazel 6/05/2014

hello. I do mountain biking and have always wanted to get cleats but worry about how I would get my feet out if the event of a crash was coming up at high speed? This fear not really helped by the fact I went the wrong side of the handlebars a few weeks ago and currently sporting a broken clavicle… Any support or advice greatly appreciated!

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    Glenn Mealing 7/05/2014

    I’ve got MTB cleats and had several crashes. Without consciously unclipping, I’ve always come out of them ok. I have them tensioned just enough to stay in whilst pulling hard on a climb.

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    Rich 27/07/2014

    Hi Hazel, don’t worry about it too much! I’ve binned it at speed riding clipless a fair few times and I’ve always found that I’ve popped out of the pedals and separated from the bike – usually before I’ve even hit the deck… 😀
    Riding SPDs I’ve found about three clicks in from the slackest setting is good for off road, with enough tension to hold your feet in over jumps and hops but slack enough to let you easily pop a foot free to corner or dab.
    They take a little getting used to but are are well worth it, especially if you tend to ride more cross country than black trail all the time 😀

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Glenn Mealing 6/05/2014

Just to mention something that was omitted is that MTB pedals are double sided, so it’s easier to locate the shoe into the pedal. Also Shimano do a pedal flat on one side and clip on the other, if you sometimes want to cycle in trainers, and also go for a run.

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hazel 7/05/2014

Ok, cheers. So any amount of pressure i n any direction and the foots released? How does the situation of traffic lights (of the video happen if we can get feet out easily enough? You’re opinion gives me a sense of hope, another 4 weeks off work doesn’t

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    cath 9/05/2014

    You can adjust the amount of tension in the clip. I’m a rubbish mountain biker so my MTB cleats are so loose that basically any amount of deliberate lateral movement will release me, but my road cleats are a bit tighter. You will still need to get used to the type of movement required to unclip, so it’s well worth practising on a stationary bike before hitting the road! After long enough it’s second nature. These days I’m far more likely to crash out using toe straps because you have to pull your foot back out of the pedal, it’s just not a movement I’m used to. 

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Tom 11/05/2014

Hi hazel I’m Tom from the Woking Evans we have a fair few riders in our store who ride clipped what I personally suggest and tell all my customers who come in and buy clipped is don’t worry or panic if you do fall off just jump back on pros still fall off and they get paid!! When your home lean against a wall and just practice as they say practice makea perfect!! Hope this is a good bit of info 
Regards 
Tom

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nick 11/05/2014

Clips for the road are a must, however it will be a cold day in hell when i use clips on my MTB, we all crash and personally if im coming off the last thing i want is the bike nailed to my shoes, i want to be as far away as possibleble from it 🙂 just my opinion

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    Ian 12/05/2014

    With you not using clips with the MTB!
    I have tried clips (Time Titanium) – set them to ‘easy’ release etc – but just could not get them to release in the split second that changes in surface require when thrashing through a challenging ride. I ended up wearing the bike too many times and have reverted to flats….
    BTW – look at the roady pile-ups – many could probably have recovered if they’d been able to have a quick ‘dab’ to stabilise themselves?

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DevonbyBike 12/05/2014

Yes, you do need to practise. Practice makes perfect, but find out how to adjust the pedals to allow unclipping with minimum tension. As you get more confident, you can tighten the tension if you wish.

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Lucy 12/05/2014

I’m not sure about the ‘slow topple that very rarely hurts’. I’m currently sprung a purple knee from a slow topple whilst using toe clips. I’m not sure what hurt more,  the large amount of bruising or the lady walking past commenting to her friend “I don’t know. She just fell over! “

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Stephen 14/05/2014

I thought this article was going to tell us about how to use the pedal stroke to be more efficient, about foot position through the stroke and pushing forward and pulling back as well as up and down and how to angle the foot.  Disappointed.  Of course you need to unclip, that almost goes without saying.
My SPD are on the loosest setting and I can still pull hard on climbs and have never accidentally come out of them.

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Dave 15/05/2014

I first bought SPD’s with Specialized MTB shoes for my Brompton, then SPD’s for my hybrid and recumbent. I have not looked back since as they give me a faster and more positive cycling experience. I fell once, and have been in several spectacular crashes and I have found that being clipped in has kept me from getting entangled in the bike frame.
Ittook a bit of practice learning to push and pull with my feet and I had a new set of muscles introduce themselves to me, but once I became used to it my ride impressive dramatically
 

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Aaron 16/05/2014

I fell off while stopping twice on my first long road ride with clipless on my hybrid even though I unclipped well in advance on both occasions.  The reasons I got caught out are something to be aware of.  Had I been stopping in the centre of the road to turn right I could so easily have fallen under a vehicle passing on my left or approaching on my right.  You can go from upright to on the ground in less than a second and passing vehicles would have no time to avoid you.
On the first occasion I unclipped my left foot but I was on bumpy ground and at the last moment my front wheel dropped into a hole.  The bike stopped suddenly and since I was turning slightly right the forks rotated on the front wheel, the frame lent to the right and I couldn’t put my clipped in right foot down.  Lesson 1 for me is to always unclip both feet and always change down to a very low gear to give yourself a chance to accelerate again as a backup plan.
The second fall occurred as I approached a cross roads.  I unclipped both feet in plenty of time and coasted towards the white line but at the last moment I moved my body weight from the saddle onto the left pedal.  Just as I came to a stop my left shoe clipped back in and I bit the tarmac.  The driver of the car next to me watched me struggling to disconnect my feet from the pedals and drove off.  Lesson 2 for me is to unclip then flip the pedals over to the flat side or position my feet so the clips cannot re-engage.
I will persevere because the benefits (especially when standing uphill) are amazing but I’m still nervous when stopping with vehicles around.

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MrCSharp 17/05/2014

Clipless pedals for everything but mountain biking is what I say.  Clipless pedals for roadbikes is a no-brainer since there isn’t all that much clipping in and out of the pedals.  For mountain biking, it’s a whole new strategy to get unclipped while going uphill without much momentum.  When you’re dead tired on a technical steep incline out in the mountains, it’s really unnerving when you want to unclipand pedal with one leg loose.  However, unclipping means that the shoe and the pedal won’t mesh up and slip.  So, you’re clipped in to try and prevent the foot from slipping off the pedal.  But when the momentum dies, you panic and fall over.  It’s way better to use clip and strap pedals or even platform pedals for technical trail riding.  You also don’t see free-riders or trial riders using clipless pedals for a reason.

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gofer 17/05/2014

I’ve been using them for a few months and will persevere it’s getting easier but still toppled at the lights recently.  Share the concern that near traffic need to be much more careful.  
Other issue not mentioned is clipping back in when setting off, my Looks always hand upside down and pushing off whilst clipping in especially uphill is a real problem still.

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Sideshowgaz 25/05/2014

I absolutely hate Clipless pedals on my mtb.  I tried for 6 months and after a zero speed fall at Lee Quarry over the edge of a small cliff I hastened home and threw the stupid murderous pedals in the bin.  Not only that, on wet or muddy days they get clogged and you then can’t get your foot clicked in which is also a problem.  Love them on my road bike though.

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mick davidson 25/05/2014

Whilst cleats are excellent for the reasons stated, they are also dangerous. I’ve used them and fallen off several times because I didn’t have enough time to unclip before hitting the deck. This isn’t a problem I have with toe clips (strapless).
As someone else said, professionals would at least mitigate some of the pain if they could get their feet off the pedals faster. But they’re professional so I can understand why they all use the same sort of system.
As for mere bruising when falling over because you forgot to unclip, well that’s just rubbish. A very athletic friend of mine (a triathlete) recently broke his hip falling over whilst being practically stationary. So, as with me, many of us will get away with a few bruises to limbs and ego, so will really suffer.
Cheers.

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Steve 25/05/2014

Got a set of spd and some shoes,had one slight topple side ways,and thanks to your advice now reaping the benefits,at least one gear higher every where.

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SteveP 26/05/2014

I switched to clipless years ago and have never fallen due to being clipped in, but I have fallen while trying to remount up on a mucky hill with traffic coming – that’s why I much prefer the two-sided SPD pedal like the Shimano A-530s.. I used the “repeat 50 times with each foot” method on the drive to learn and it became second nature. I only use SPDs on all my bikes as “road” cleats make it impossible to walk (carry extra shoes?) off the bike and offer little real benefit to any normal bike rider. I keep my pedals adjusted on the “loose” end and have never had an unintended disengagement (but I am not racing). Note there are different cleats for SPDs – some allow more movement and easier disengagement.

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    mick davidson 3/06/2014

    Thanks for the tips Steve. I’ll have a look at those pedals and do some more research. 🙂

    Reply
    mick davidson 24/06/2014

    Chaps, I bought the pedals and cleats you suggested last Saturday and used them on a 50 mile sportive at Newmarket the following day. I can’t say I noticed any power benefits, but they were good to use and I never forgot to unclip where it was necessary to do so.
    The new pedals and shoes look excellent, which means I look even more like a real cyclist than I did before. Which is the man ting. Thanks for your advice and encouragement! 🙂

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LL 28/05/2014

get shimano sh56 multi release spd cleats with shimano pedals. Can release in all directions. Use on road and mtb, so far no more stationary falls (once in traffic, was one too many), and no accidental uncoupling so far. Cycling along canals, one wants to uncouple asap if any problems! 

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Hazel 29/05/2014

what do the pros use (as in sponsored riders)? Is again individual preference or is it one or the other?

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JimH 10/06/2014

I changed to SPDs from clips and straps on my fixie this week for my commute round London’s North Circular. I was a bit nervous as there are 25 junctions to stop at and get started again. But I soon got the hang of releasing and by the time I arrived at work the first day I could release and get my foot down the instant the bike stopped, even if the stops were at ‘short notice’!Starting off again was more tricky, getting clipped in again, sometimes pedalling one footed while I found the clip, but that’s getting better. One thing I have found is even on the tightest setting my foot can slide or twist on the pedal which didn’t happen with my clips and straps.

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Aaron 24/06/2014

Ref my earlier post.  I have changed my SPD Shimano SH-51 cleats to SH-56 multi-release which have tapered edges allowing you to unclip by lifting at an angle while moving the heel left or right.  They are much easier to unclip in those panic moments when stopping unexpectedly.  They still provide enough retention when lifting the pedals under power.  Very pleased with them.

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Sam H 11/07/2014

AT the age of 43, and as a very experienced (30 odd years) commuter, I did a decent length charity ride last year and finally took the plunge to use cleats. As did my wife. Both on nice new road bikes but while she went straight to road pedals, I went for MTB shoes and cleats.
They were a total revelation for me. Only had one fall, at approx 1mph. Bruised elbow and. My trick / habit I have developed has been to clip out v v early (i.e. well before the hardcore road warriors around me). And if I am in heavy London rush hour traffic I just unclip my standing foot. Helps that I have gone for the touring pedals (flat on one side, clip on the other). It’s all just practice.
 
Nearly forgetting early on at Elephant and Castle was hairy though – I won’t lie. 
 
On a different note, I can’t stand the buffoons that absolutely refuse to unclip at lights and end up track standing, sideways, in everyone’s way, until they topple over. Grrrr 😉

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Ian 14/07/2014

Pleased with my Shimano A-530 double sided pedals.
But note the flat side becomes very slippery in the wet, tempted to try fitting MTB pedal pins to them like I’ve seen on you tube.

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    SteveP 22/07/2014

    Not sure what to suggest re “slippery when wet”. Different shoes? Most MTB shoes that accept clips have quite chunky soles (so the clips can be recessed) and should work OK in the wet. If you are wearing street shoes and using the flat side, I can see the problem. There is a special type of paint for stair treads that has sand in it – you could try that – or try a DIY approach – maybe a thin coat of some glue with sand sprinkled on?
     
    http://www.anti-slip-paint.co.uk/anti-slip-paints-coatings-c-48_50.html

    Reply
steveo 4/09/2014

I bought some Time Atac Carbon XS, but went back to DMR Vaults after a few toppling overs due to unexpected quick stops. 🙁

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Alex 18/06/2016

I MTB with SPD pedals however I found today that when doing an emergency stop (especially uphill) i forget to un-clip. are there any tips to help avoid falling when doing an emergency stop?

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Sarah Nyakazingo 14/08/2017

Do you know training places for clipless pedals? I have bought them and fallen already 3 times in 3 days. I am thinking about this all the time and in trepidation of my next fall and injuries to boot. Should I give up or try the combination ones or something else?

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Richard Lawrence 24/04/2018

When I first started clipping in I toppled over into a ditch at the side of the road. Despite my best efforts the bike remained attached and all passing motorists could see was an upside down bike with just my legs showing above ground level. Fortunately, the ditch, which was about 60 cm deep, was just full of thick grass. A week earlier, following some heavy rain, it was full of water and I may well have drowned before I managed to extricate myself from the bike!
I have also used the double sided Shimano pedals and they are brilliant. If you just want to go for a quick ride you do not have to change into cycling shoes with cleats first.

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John 29/04/2018

I’ve been mountain biking since the mid 80s and have used Shimano SPD pedals since they original came out in 1990.
I think they are one of the single best innovations in mountain biking. Sure, I fell off a few times at the very start but can’t count how many times the bike being attached to me has actually prevented a crash. The bike and you are one and you always have that spilt option to separate.
To any beginners reading, I’d say go for it. I’m at the point that the thought of riding flats is more scary!

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