Clipless pedals are among the most
significant bicycle innovations ever. Borrowed from skiing technology,
these trick pedals make you simultaneously more efficient by providing
a better foot-to-pedal connection, and more safe by offering almost
instant foot entry and release. We recommend clipless pedals for road
and mountain biking and everything from recreational riding to
commuting and racing. They’re also great for Spinning classes.
you're new to cycling, 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 continue riding,
we think you'll love the way a clipless system enhances the cycling
experience by boosting your pedal power, comfort and safety.
help you understand this important component, we’ve put together this
buyers' guide (use the table of contents below to jump to the different
What are Clipless Pedals? Clipless
pedals are actually a system comprised of special pedals and cleats,
devices included with the pedals that attach to the soles of clipless
cycling shoes. This means that you'll need to select pedals and shoes
in order to upgrade to a clipless system.
Once you have the
cleats bolted to your shoes and the clipless pedals on your bicycle
(we're happy to help), you simply 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 feet heels first to the outside as
if you're getting ready to put your feet down, and the pedals release.
your feet are locked into the pedals when riding, you'll 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 so many new bikes come equipped with them?
Clips and Straps Versus Clipless If
you’re cycling short distances and casually, basic rubber pedals work
fine. As you pedal more seriously, say to achieve fitness, the speed
and distance that you pedal increases and there’s a risk of your feet
slipping off the pedals. 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 is very inefficient.
always pedal with the balls of your feet over the centers of the
pedals. Because it's difficult to keep your feet in position, toe clips
and straps were invented (shortly after bicycles were invented,
Toe clips and straps (photo, below) bolt to regular
pedals (non clipless) and 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 one less expensive than clipless pedals
and the special shoes needed to complete the clipless system.
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 toe straps hang down where they can snag on roots or
sticks 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 that they take a little practice to learn how to use
(true with toe clips and straps, too), and they’re more costly.
Two Types Just like there are two places to ride, on and off road, there are two types of clipless systems. The most popular are walkable clipless systems, on which the cleats are recessed into the shoe soles.
This means the cleats don't contact the ground when you walk so this
clipless system is ideal for walking and even hiking. Yet, it's still
incredibly efficient for maximum pedal power. Walkable clipless pedals
and shoes are ideal for off-road riding, commuting, touring and century
Many of them utilize a double-sided pedal (photo,
right), which means you can click into the pedal on either side so you
don't have to look down to get your feet in. This also means that if
you ride your bike with regular street shoes, you'll have a decent
pedaling surface even though you're not using your special cleated
The other system is road (photo,
below) 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.
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 cleat
covers available to protect the cleat and improve traction).
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.
Float And Tension Adjustment The
majority of clipless systems today feature float. This is a few degrees
of built-in lateral play allowing your feet to move slightly and find
the optimum pedaling position. Float ensures that you won't injure your
knees by riding with your feet misaligned with your knees, which was a
common problem before pedals with float were invented.
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.
adjustment many clipless pedals offer is fine-tuning the ease of entry
and exit. Competitive riders often set their pedals very firm because
they don't want their feet popping out in all-out sprinting efforts.
Meanwhile, mountain bikers 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. A loose setting is also helpful if you're just starting out
with clipless pedals.
When buying clipless pedals be sure to
tell us how you'd like the pedals set-up so we can get them just right.
We can also show you how to fine-tune the adjustment.
Features & Benefits
pedals keep your feet in place making it easier to pedal at a good
cadence (the speed you pedal measured in revolutions of one pedal per
minute; a good goal is 70 to 90rpm).
the connection between foot and pedal so more of your energy makes its
way into every pedal stroke, which is great for climbing,
accelerating and long rides.
modern systems provide some degree of float allowing your feet to self
align on the pedals. This feature is like a buffer that helps prevent
They help when you’re trying to hop the bike to clear obstacles, such as curbs, logs and rocks.
won’t snag on roots, sticks and debris the way toe clips and straps can
when you’re riding on the bottoms of the pedals or walking your bike
down the trail.
They’re easier to get into than toe clips and straps.
a little practice, they’re safer to get out of than toe clips and
straps because the release motion is simpler and more natural.
They’re comfortable to pedal on when you get shoes that fit your feet and the pedals.
There’s no cage to chafe your foot or cut into your shoe and no strap to restrict circulation.
They’re lighter than regular pedals and pedals with clips and straps.
They look minimal, sleek and cool.
Getting Used To Riding Clipless The
most important thing is practicing before hitting the road or trail.
This is especially important if you started with toe clips and straps,
which require a different foot motion to get your feet out. Clipless
pedals release by swinging your heels outward.
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 30 or 40 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.
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 by a
telephone pole you can hang onto for insurance.
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 or a
misaligned cleat. If that's the case, be sure to bring your bike and
shoes in so we can have have a look, solve any problems and get you
Glossary of Clipless Pedal and Shoe Terms
The speed you pedal measured in pedal revolutions per minute per leg. Experienced cyclists strive to maintain about 70 to 90rpm.
The piece of metal that’s
attached to the bottom of the shoe that allows the shoe to engage the
pedal for the foot-to-pedal connection.
A pedal and shoe designed to be used together for optimum efficiency, comfort and power.
It’s possible to engage both
sides of the pedals; an important feature for riding off road because
it makes getting back on easier.
When your foot is held in one position on the pedal. Some pedal makers offer two cleats, one is fixed, the other offers float.
A pedal feature that allows the
feet to swivel slightly laterally when you’re pedaling so that your
feet are not locked in one position. This reduces the chance of knee
Look- or SPD-compatible, etc.
This term refers to shoes and
it means that the bottom of the shoes will accept the cleats from the
company mentioned. So a Look-compatible shoe will accept Look cleats.
This has more to do with the
design of the shoe than the cleat. But when the term is used it refers
to a clipless system on which the cleats are mounted in a recess in the
sole so that you can walk in the shoes without walking on the cleat.
Off-road pedals/shoes are recessed for more traction when walking.
On these, only one side of the pedal receives the cleat. This saves weight and is the most common road clipless design.
SPD or spud or Shimano SPD
Stands for Shimano Pedaling
Dynamics and refers to any of Shimano’s clipless pedals though the
terms SPD and spud are usually used to refer to Shimano’s mountain bike
A screw or bolt on the pedal
that allows you to adjust how hard it is to get in and out of the
pedal. On double-sided pedals you can set one side looser than the
other if you like.
Any of the clipless shoes on
which the cleats are recessed into the soles and on which there is
tread on the soles suitable for walking.