In the old days, bike
pedals either were plain (with no straps to hold your foot in place) or they had toe clips
& straps. The toe clip was usually steel (most are now plastic) and formed a space, or
box, at the front side of the pedal that you slid your foot into. Keeping your foot there
is the responsibility of either a leather or nylon mesh strap, which you can pull tight
when you wanted to make sure your foot stays in place, or loosen so you can get your foot
out when you stop.
Toe clips & straps are
still the norm for nearly all bikes between $350 and $1,000. They're very
inexpensive and don't require the use of a special shoe. But when used with
conventional shoes, they tend to focus pedal forces onto a small part of the
bottom of your foot, creating fatigue & pain on longer rides as your foot tries
to bend itself around the pedal.
It's time to enter the
clipless pedal revolution!
With a clipless pedal
system, you wear special cycling shoes (but don't let "special" put you
off...many look similar to normal hiking or walking shoes!) that allow a "cleat"
to be mounted to their sole. This cleat literally snaps into a receptacle on the pedal,
allowing you to quickly (and without having to reach down!) connect your shoes to the
pedals and take off. I'm not sure if this is actually true, but they do
say that your pedal efficiency is greater using clipless pedals as you are able
not only to push down on your pedal, but to pull up as well and thereby increase
power efficiency by up to 30%.
But why are they called
"clipless" when they are actually "clips"? Good question. These
days you'll hear them being called clipless pedals and clipped pedals just to
confuse you even more. Originally they were called clipless to explain how
they were different from the old fashioned "toe-clips" we described above.
Hence "clipless" meant "not-toe-clips" but something new and different.
The name has stayed with us and only recently are people calling them "clip
pedals" now that toe clips aren't seen as much.
A high-quality cycling shoe is designed to be lightweight, comfortable (some optimizing
comfort for both riding and walking, while others are made for riding only), and efficient
at transferring power from you to your bicycle without pain & fatigue. Popular brands
include Nike, Carnac, Shimano & Sidi and prices range from $50-$250. Their durability is very
good, and the workmanship is generally as good as, and sometimes better than, normal
street shoes selling in the same price range. When you are looking at
shoes there are a few things to consider:
weight - lighter is
better - less weight to pedal up a hill!
sole flex - try to
bend the shoe. A shoe that does not flex much (or at all) is better.
material - look for
a shoe that lets your foot breathe - a combination of mesh and leather works
strapping - look for
a shoe with adjustable straps and/or ratchets
size - bike shoe
fits relatively snugly. You do not want your foot slipping about inside
Look Style Pedals - Traditionally
(non-recessed pedals)- these will have a cleat that mounts below the shoe so that the
cleats are exposed. They will sound like tap shoes and may send you sliding across the
freshly-waxed supermarket floors if you're not careful! Exposed cleats were designed originally for
road bikes, and are inappropriate for mountain biking, where getting off and walking occurs
You can avoid the tap dancer
and slip-slide feel by purchasing rubber Kool Kovers. They make
walking about more comfortable and secure. They also protect your
cleats from wear and tear - extending the life of the cleats. The covers retail
from $10 - $25. The best deal I've found is at
Performance Bike where they are selling them for $10.
Considering it costs $12-$20 to replace cleats and the covers last for a
few years, they are a sound
click for larger image
In pre-Kool Kover days I was replacing my cleats every 3-6 months, I now
replace them once a year.
For more info visit the Kool Kovers web site at
SPD Style Pedals
- Traditionally for Mountain
pedals)- these feature a cleat that is recessed into the bottom of the shoe, allowing you
to walk normally when required. These were initially designed for mountain biking, but
it is not unusual to see Road cyclists wearing them as well. This
style is VERY popular with AIDS Riders as people like the convenience of being
able to walk around without slipping or sounding like a tap dancer (which is what exposed
cleats sound like on wood or concrete floors).
Why would you want a shoe that has
an exposed cleat (making walking less practical) when you can opt for one that's
recessed (e.g. SPDs)? Mostly because the shoes will be a bit lighter weight
and also because, with some systems (LOOK, for example), the interface/platform between the shoe
and pedal is larger and, for some, gives a more solid and stable feeling while pedaling. However, great strides
have been made with the recessed cleat designs, and they are now almost as light and
efficient as the non-recessed designs. Some pedal systems also offer the ability to clip into
either side of the pedal (SPD & Speedplay come to mind). You may want to consider this
when purchasing pedals. It can take a bit of practice to master flipping your pedal over
to engage your shoe to the pedal if you do not have a dual sided pedal. Look pedals do not
offer dual-side clip in.
What do the pedals cost?
anywhere from $50 to $300
We have tried to
list some of the main types and prices on our Pedal page.
the new floating-cleat designs have made it far less critical. There are
some basic things to set up for cleat placement
Cleat Angle - For the angle, cleats are
generally set up so that, when the shoe is moved inwards, your ankle won't quite hit the
crank. With this position, most of the pedal systems allow a significant outward angle
from neutral (in line with the bike), meaning that your foot can go just about anyplace it
wants to. The only reason for changing the cleat position so it allows less outward
movement is for those who have difficulty moving their heels out far enough to exit the
For & Aft
Positioning - For fore/aft, there are many schools of thought about exactly
where the cleat should be positioned and there is no definitive answer.
The old rule was that the cleat should be positioned such that the ball of your foot is centered over the pedal.
New thought has it either slightly in front or behind the ball of the foot
depending on shoe size. The main point is to experiment with your cleat
position, making minor changes each time. I would recommend that you
invest in a visit to a really good bike fit person. Incorrectly placed
cleats can lead to horrific pain and life long injury. But a good fit set
you up with a more efficient pedal stroke and a future of cycling enjoyment.
Go to our page about Bike Fit
Forefoot Tilt is another
phenomena to consider. Basically bike shoes and pedals have been designed
for flat footed people but 96% of us have a tilt to our feet, either inward or
outward and not necessarily the same for each foot. I'm personally flat
footed on one side and have a outward tilt on the other. Ever looked at
the tread of a pair of your regular worn out shoes? See how the sole may
have more wear on one side more than the other? This is because of a
naturally tilted foot. So how will this effect cleat placement? Well
the idea of cleat placement is to set the shoe, cleat and pedal up in such a way
as to avoid too much lateral (side to side) movement in your knee. That's
the movement which can help you turn into a hobbling wreck. How can you do
this - with a little thing called a wedge or shim. Paul Swift designed a
shim called "Big Meat Power Wedge" that helps adjust the shoe to avoid
unnecessary lateral movement. We recommend you visit his website to find
out more about these wedges and who you can go to to get them fitted.
Please have a look at Paul's
website for more details and especially his page about the
Leg Length Discrepancy - are
both of your legs the same length? Many of us have one leg slightly longer
than the other and when it comes to cleat placement we are also afforded the
opportunity to rectify this discrepancy with the use of wedges.
But will I fall over?
OK, we'll finally answer the BIG question. Once you get used to clipless pedals, the
chances of coming to a stop before exiting your pedal (and thus falling over) are greatly
reduced. BUT...chances are, in that first day or two, you'll forget that you need to twist
your heel out (instead of pulling back) to unclip. By the time you recognize your
mistake, it's too late, as you've lost all forward speed. And, with no place to go but
down...you get the picture. You will, in very slow motion, and nearly always with people
around to see it happen, fall over. You're not likely to get hurt, but it's terribly
embarrassing. And most likely there's nothing that makes you so special that you'll avoid
the fate shared by just about everyone else. Just try and remember this...
It's almost impossible to
come up with a truly original way to embarrass yourself on a bike. The rest of us have
already, as they say, been there, done that. Just ask your fellow cyclists for
their stories about their first clipless pedal fall.
That said, there
are a few things you can do to make your first time in clipless pedals a little
When you first
get your clipless pedals (what ever the style) have someone put your bike on
a trainer - so that it is stable and stationary - and spend a half hour
practicing clipping in and out of your new pedals.
Have the bike shop set the mechanism on the
pedal a little bit less tight for the first few weeks. Once you are
comfortable clipping in and out of your pedals, tighten the pedal up again
so it holds you more steadily for the long haul. Ask the salesperson
or bike mechanic how to do this for your specific pedal type.
first couple of rides, try to ride in areas that have long periods
where there are no stops. As you are riding along practice
clipping in and out in these areas. You don't have to stop,
just get used to the feeling of clipping in and out. On your first
ride try to find a big empty parking lot to ride about in and try
out the pedals
people will find that they can clip in and out on one side better
than the other. Work out which side this is for you and try
only to clip in and out on that side when coming to a stop. If
you build up this habit you will limit the times when you clip out
with one foot but lean the wrong way and fall over anyway.
look down at your pedal when clipping back in. You can't see
the bottom of your foot anyway so get into the habit of keeping your
eye on the road ahead instead. This is a safety issue more
than anything else. If you feel that you need to look down,
first pedal through the intersection unclipped before looking down
have to unclip one pedal when you are at an intersection. Get
used to leaving the other shoe clipped in. It means one less
pedal to worry about. Also when you start from a stopping
position be sure to have your clipped in foot at about the 1 o'clock
position so that your first stroke is a downward one that will give
you more speed.
is going to sound a bit pessimistic, but as you are getting used to
your clips be sure to pack a little first aid kit in your bike gear
bag. Some antiseptic wipes, band-aids and Brave Soldier road
rash ointment would be ideal. Ideally you should always carry
a basic first aid kit when you ride. You can buy a cycling
specific kit by Brave Soldier from a good bike store or online at
places such as
Bike for around $10. One thing this pack is
missing is a pair of sterile gloves. Try to have these on hand
as well for times when you may need to attend to someone else's