Riding with clip-in shoes is a popular topic with new road riders, both men and women, but it shouldn’t be such a big deal – just try clip-in shoes on your road bike, you might love them.
Firstly, let me share my own story. I’m a very risk-averse person. I hate crossing busy roads unless there’s a set of pedestrian lights. I avoid roller coasters, and I’m never ever going to try parachuting, bungee jumping, or anything that removes so much control from me. Despite all this, I have no fear of clip-in shoes. I’ll admit that I was nervous when I first tried them. I’m really lucky that my partner coerced me into riding my road bike with clip-ins from day one and I never looked back.
When I last wrote about this topic in June last year, I got two comments – one which was against the idea of clip-in pedals, and the other that was for them. In the interests of balance, here are those two comments:
Firstly, from E McIntosh who is clearly a fan…..
“After riding off and on for ten years (very casually, not more than 15-20 miles), two years ago I decided to finally try clipless pedals and am so glad I did! I feel much stronger and more confident on the bike and can get more power, especially up hills. I’ve been using SPD pedals and am very used to these (ride road bike). I want to switch to the SPD SL and will soon do so now that I’ve got the bike set up on an indoor trainer. When I first learned clipless, I went to a park with a big grassy field and brought along a cooler with ice packs. I fell repeatedly the first day and got a bit frustrated, it wasn’t too bad in the grass. That night I read some tips on a blog and one nugget of advice made all the difference – clip into one side, then get pedaling/moving before clipping into the other side. Such a simple thing, yet it didn’t occur to me the first time out. I got it on the second day and then was able to ride on the road no problem……. I could never go back to regular pedals! Clipless is wonderful. I can ride so much further (up to 6o miles now). I recently learned how easy it is to adjust the cleat on the shoe to get it situated properly. For the longest time, I was nervous about adjusting it myself, but a few YouTube videos and I was set.” – E. McIntosh.
And now the opposing view from Orlando…
“Clueless pedals aren’t for everyone. They put more strain on your knees than flat pedals do, even with limited float. Tie straps are a great option for the typical rider. Clipless are more suited for racing and high-level riding. Another thing to consider is most weekend warriors and recreational riders make stops during their rides. Whether it’s to socialize at cafes or on charity rides, flat soles, and Mtb shoes allow you to walk and stand in comfort. Try different pedals and find what’s best for you. Ask yourself why would you need clipless? If it’s to fit in, then keep looking. Serious riders okay, But unless you’re training for a race, you don’t need them. They won’t make a power difference for you, and the stopping will wear out your cleats that require replacing and fitting. Improperly mounted cleats will mess up your knees. Look around, don’t buy into the hype. Happy riding!” – Orlando.
From those two opposing views, you can see that the subject is fairly polarising. I suggest that you do your own research and make your decision without feeling the pressure to ‘join the club’.
I believe that there are some good reasons why you might want to become more attached to your pedals. Clipping in can stop your foot from slipping off when applying power, help align your foot to ensure maximum efficiency, and potentially aid your pedal stroke by allowing you to pull up on the pedal as well as push down.
As I said earlier, I was lucky that my partner persuaded me to buy clip-in shoes when I was buying my first road bike so I just got on with it. I would recommend that you take the same path as me, rather than riding with flat pedals and then moving to clip-in pedals later because I think the transition would be harder and definitely open to overthinking. I also choose to use road pedals and road shoes because I think that whoever designed them chose them for a relevant reason, as opposed to using mountain bike pedals on a road bike.
Here are a few tips that might help when you first ride with clip-in shoes:
Reduce pedal tension
Most clip-in pedals can be adjusted to reduce the spring tension making it easier to clip in and out. In most cases, the tension is adjusted by a small Allen key bolt at the back of the pedal; adjusting clockwise will tighten the spring tension, and anti-clockwise will loosen it. It is usually a good idea to start with loose spring tension, and as you build your confidence up in clipping in and out, the tension can be ratcheted up.
Clip in, clip out
To clip in, move your foot down towards the pedal, feel the front of the cleat catch the lip of the pedal, push down and forward with your heel, there will be a ‘click’ as the pedal engages.
To clip out, get ready when you start to break by pivoting your ankle outwards. The pedals will release and you can put your foot down on the ground. It’s good to get into the habit of clipping out when you are coming towards a busy intersection and you know you’ll need to stop.
Choose your foot and stick with it
Some riders have a dominant leg, but if you don’t have any particular habits for what foot you push down on when starting from a standing start, it’s a good idea to leave the right foot clipped in and remove the left from the pedal. This way, if you lose footing or slip, you will fall away from cars rather than towards them (this applies in countries where the vehicles drive on the left side of the road), and you won’t risk damage to your rear derailleur.
Don’t rush it
When commencing from a standing start, a couple of strong pedal strokes will clear an intersection and move you away from the worst of the congestion if riding in traffic. Once you’ve got this little bit of extra space, you’ll be less frazzled and able to safely engage your foot in the pedal if you haven’t been able to get it clipped-in the first time around.
Maintenance is key
It’s also important to keep an eye on the condition of your cleats, as they will wear down over time. To prolong their lifespan, it’s a good idea to swap them from one foot to the other when they’re about half-worn, as the foot that you click out at traffic lights will wear down quicker. You can also buy plastic covers often referred to as ‘café covers’ to put over the cleats when you’re walking.
Practice makes perfect
Before heading out for the first time it is a good idea to practice unclipping while leaning against a wall, or in a doorway, or even with your bike on an indoor trainer.
Invest in nice shoes
My final tip is to buy some really nice bike shoes like my S-Works road shoes and you’ll enjoy putting them on every time.
Like any new activity, it can be very daunting at first, but it’s certainly worth persisting.