Even when you’re comfortable in the saddle and regularly racking up big miles on your bike, you might find there is one last hurdle to overcome: clipless pedals. For some reason, it’s the one aspect of modern cycling that seems to unnerve the uninitiated. However, clipless pedals used in conjunction with stiffly-soled shoes will make your pedalling significantly more efficient and — once you’ve had some sensible practice getting used to the clip in and clip out system — really aren’t that scary.
First of all, why do we call them ‘clipless’ pedals when you have to clip them in and out? Well, they don’t require toe-clips and straps like old-school racing bike pedals did — and those you really couldn’t get your feet out of without some difficulty!
Although there are many different makes of clipless pedals available, they all work in essentially the same way. On the bottom of the cycling shoe is a cleat, which is pushed into the spring-loaded jaws on the pedal. To remove the cleat, the rider simply twists their foot to one side, and the cleat will disengage. Most pedals will allow you to adjust the spring tension so that the forces needed to engage and disengage can be set to suit you.
There are two general types of pedal and cleat: road specific or those suitable for mountain bike, touring or commuting. Road bike pedals and cleats offer a broader and more secure platform, allowing you to get more efficient power out, but road bike shoes with cleats are harder to walk in. Mountain bike, touring and commuting pedals might not be quite so efficient, but they tend to be easier to use and the cleats are often recessed into the shoes, allowing decent ‘walk-ability’ off the bike.
If you’ve never used clipless pedals before, we’d probably suggest starting off with a relatively inexpensive pair of double-sided clipless pedals suited for mountain biking.
Once you’ve bought pedals and cleats, you will have to fit them. Putting on a pair of new pedals is easy enough — just remember the left-hand pedal is reverse threaded, and it’s also a good idea to put some grease or PTFE tape on the thread so they’ll be removable in years to come. Then you have to fit the cleats to your shoes. This is important to get right, but also quite easy:
1. Find the ball of your foot and mark it on the side of your shoe.
2. Line up this mark with the middle of the cleat.
3. Now sit on a table edge so that your hips, knees and ankles are 90 degrees to each other. Look at the angle your feet hang at and try to position your cleats so this is replicated on the bike. You may well find that your feet aren’t pointing straight ahead, but don’t worry, if that’s natural for you, go with it.
4. Screw in the cleat bolts nice and tight once you’re happy you’ve got the cleats in the right position. When you go out for a ride if you find your foot position isn’t comfortable or natural, don’t be afraid to tweak the cleat position.
Before heading out on the open road for the first time it’s very important to get used to clipping in and out of your pedals safely. Clipless pedals are nothing to be afraid of, but the busy highway is nowhere to be testing things out! Try to find somewhere safe, perhaps on a slight downhill slope, to practice on. Locate the cleat by sliding your shoe forwards and down the pedal. Once you’ve positioned the cleat onto the sprung mechanism on top of the pedal, push down with the back of your foot, and the cleat will force the spring open. The cleat will lock into place with a ‘click’. To disengage, twist your heel outwards.
The easiest way to start is to make sure one foot is clipped in before you pedal off. You can then catch and clip in to the other pedal as it comes round. This is why it might be a good idea to use double-sided pedals to begin with — you don’t have to worry about having the correct side of the pedal facing upwards.