For all the years I’ve been cycling (as an adult), I’ve spent the majority of them using SPD MTB shoes and pedals. It was so long ago that I don’t remember how I came to make that decision… that point in time when you ask yourself, should I go clipless (aka to clip-in)?
So whether you’re riding a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, gravel or cyclocross, let’s dive into the what, how, why’s and when’s of using clipless pedals.
What Are Clipless Pedals?
First of all, clipless pedals aren’t even actually clipless so to speak as the actual action is to clip, or snap, into them. Back in the day, the most efficient pedals were the ones with toe clips… that kept your foot in place.
So then when they invented a pedal that no longer needed the toe clips… well, we can see where this is going right?!
The actual pedals of course attach to your bike and then you need cleats attached to your shoes which snap into the pedal, locking your foot in place.
The whole point of clipless pedals and locking your foot in place is to help you to generate power on the “upstroke” as opposed to just when you push on the downstroke. That right there is one of the biggest advantages of clipping in…
The Benefits of Using Clipless Pedals
If you’re anything like me, you can do with all the extra power you can get. Power has never been my strong point so being able to recruit as many muscle groups as possible when cycling really helps.
Evening out your pedal stroke – both pushing and pulling – will keep you more balanced in the long term and reduce the risk of injury.
Another area that clipless pedals really give you an advantage is for climbing. Again, the focus isn’t just on the push phase and you can utilise the pull phase to help power you up that hill.
Last (maybe?) but not least, being clipped into your pedals means that your feet are in the best possible position. This will definitely be true if you get yourself a bike fit… something I need to do eventually. It also means your feet will stay in place should you end up riding over some not so smooth surfaces.
Are There Any Disadvantages of Clipping in?
Well, the potential disadvantages aren’t exactly related to clipping in; they’re more really related to the mechanism itself. Like, if your cleat snaps. This happened back in the day to a friend of mine just as we were heading out of [London] city centre towards Richmond Park.
Luckily for us, we were within walking distance of a bike shop. Taking spares, and tools can mitigate this risk but I kinda feel like we could end up taking enough spare parts to build a whole new bike if we worried about everything.
Your best bet is to check your cleats before and after each ride, as the screws can work themselves loose on occasion.
The only other annoying thing I can think of is if there is any walking involved. Technically, you should be riding, but if you’re bike pack or riding to run some errands, shoes with cleats on the bottom are not the safest or most comfortable option to walk in.
You can mitigate this by using SPD MTB cleats on shoes which have a recess meaning the sole of the shoe sits flush with the ground allowing you to walk as normal.
Will You Fall Over When You Clip-in?
Although lots of people say that falling when you first clip in is mandatory, it really is a personal thing. I’ve been lucky and never made it to the floor; as I was approaching a crossing a pedestrian stepped out in the road so I stopped without thinking.
Luckily there was a bus next to me which I used to keep myself from falling even though embarrassingly I landed right next to the drivers window. I don’t remember another incident, so sounds like I got off pretty lightly?!
Either way, I’m pretty sure that the whole clipping in and clipping out does get easier and will become second nature in no time at all!
And here’s a tip to avoid falling – as you’re coming to anything that might require a stop, unclip slightly earlier but keep your foot in place. That way if the lights change or the junction is clear for example you can just clip straight back in and get going. Sorted.
Tips To Gain Confidence Clipping In and Out
Here all all the best tips I could find on how to ride with clipless pedals. Try all the different options to see which ones help you to gain some confidence when clipped in on your bike:
- The tension on your cleats is adjustable so go with the loose(st) setting first and then tighten them over time, if they start to feel too loose.
- Use a turbo trainer to practise clipping in and out,
- Practice with one shoe first and a trainer on the other foot
- Try clipping in and clipping out while stationary to get used to the twist motion
- Go for a short test ride around your living room, garden or around the block
- Work out what your balance foot is and what your power foot is. Personally, I always unclip my right and leave my left clipped in and up, ready to power away from junction. If you can learn to unclip your left then it means your foot won’t be on the ground on the side of traffic.
- Unclip early before you have to stop, when you’re slowing and anticipate leaning towards the unclipped foot
Q: Are they easy to clip in and out of?
As mentioned above you can adjust the tension of your set up. You can also buy ‘light action’ versions which allow for more “float”.
Q: How can I make sure I’m trying to clip in the right side?
Well, I learnt this when doing my research by SPD-SL pedals are weighted so will hang down in the same way each time. I did just look over to my bike (it’s in the bedroom next to me! haha!) and it seems to be true!
The Best Clipless Pedals For Beginners
The Shimano M324 Combination Pedals* are my ride or dies. They were the pedals I put on my hybrid bike I used for commuting, and the pedals I put on my first road bike when my hybrid got stolen.
That particular road bike doesn’t get used at all since I got my Liv Avail Advanced Pro in February 2019 but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get flat pedals put on my cyclocross bike for the winter season. These Shimano GR500 Flat MTB Pedals* look like they will be the best option.
My First SPD SL Pedals
When I got my Avail (named Ava the Adventurer FYI) I decided there was no time like the present to make the transition to SPD-SL rather than solely mountain bike clipless pedals.
I purchased the Shimano PD-R550 SPD SL Road Pedals (see similar) after getting some feedback and advice in a cycling forum. I kinda didn’t wanna splurge on pedals but I didn’t wanna go too cheap as Ava is a beautiful bike, light, with a great specification.
Any other pedals I should check out?
I’ve heard on the grapevine that Speedplays are so good*! Apparently it’s like having Di2 (electronic gear shifting) …you don’t go back to manual!
One really good point that was made to me when chatting about the upcoming cyclocross season is that using SPD MTB was the best option as that is what most people used. In the case of an emergency it means you’re more likely to be able to find someone who can help you out. Good thinking, huh?!
Liv Macha Comp Road Shoes
I think I got these shoes in November / December 2018 and started off using them for indoor sessions on the watt bike as I hadn’t yet switched to SPD-SL on my bike. They’re the only cycling shoes I’ve worn since they arrived.
The Macha Comp Road Shoes first caught my eye, ironically, because they’re all black, sleek and understated. I’m not sure when it happened, but I turned into someone who is super sensitive about not looking like a Christmas tree when on the bike and black shoes will look good with any and everything!
Another feature which made them the best choice of road shoe for me is the fastening mechanism – a dial – that allows you to close the shoe easily to make it the perfect fit for each foot.
In the past, when my shoes were velcro only, there would be gaps gaping and eventually the velcro would lose some of its stickiness.
The fit leaves me enough room to wear socks comfortably and I’ve thankfully never suffered from dumb toes or had any other negative side effects from wearing these shoes on the bike!
I’m Still Using Flat Pedals For Cyclocross
Although I have figured out that combination pedals would be the best option for my next attempt at cyclocross I think budget wise, I will stick to flat pedals.
If I opt for mtb, I’ll also need to get me some new shoes to use. Instead I’ve opted for a pair of Salomon Women’s Supercross Shoes* which are made for trail running so should stand up to some cyclocross action.
Check Out: What To Expect At Your First Cyclocross Race
So, Should You Start Using Clip-in Pedals?
There is no law saying you have to make the switch from flat pedals to clipless. Unless you’re a pro the gains are probably marginal but still worthwhile if you feel comfortable using them. I know plenty of cyclists who choose not to clip in and are still managing to get on that podium in amateur races!
So to clip in or not to clip in… what’s your preference?!