I find the overblown fear of clip-in cycling shoes quite interesting because they are not a big deal so my message is – stop overthinking it and just try clip-in shoes on your road bike. 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.
My friend Andrew is very fond of the saying “Stop overthinking it”, and in this situation is very right. He’s also a cyclist and works in the bike shop where I used to work and would agree that riders and particularly women overthink the use of clip-in pedals.
There are some good reasons why you might want to become more attached to your pedals. Clipping in can stop your foot 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 bought 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.
Practice makes perfect
Before heading out for the first time it is a good idea to practice un-clipping while leaning against a wall, or in a doorway or even with your bike on an indoor trainer.
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 (if you live in a country where you ride on the left side of the road) rather than towards them, 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 life-span, 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.
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.