“What are those pedals on your bike? How do you ride on such small pedals?” Questions of this sort are frequently asked of me the first time people see the clipless pedals on one of my bicycles. When I explain that the pedals are designed to keep my feet locked into them, I often receive an incredulous look and an exclamation of my bravery. However, I am so used to riding clipped-in that I honestly have a difficult time riding flat pedals anymore. I use clipless pedals on all my bikes…road bikes, mountain bikes, even my fixed gear bike. The follow up question is usually, “Why?” So I will answer that today.
First, a quick explanation on how they work. Clipless pedals are so-called because they do not have toe-clips — those cages and straps that hold your feet to the pedals that were used before clipless pedals were invented. Many still use them. Yet, most do not use them correctly. They leave them loose all the time. In fact, if you are using toe clips, you should reach down and tighten them after you have started pedaling, otherwise you will lose most of the benefits. But if you tighten them properly, they are very difficult to get out of in an emergency, since you need to reach down and loosen them before you stop. Clipless pedals grew from the idea of ski bindings to keep you attached to the pedals while still being able to extricate yourself quickly and easily. Just step in to the pedal to click in, and twist your foot sideways a little to immediately and effortlessly get out. There are different styles of clipless pedals, but they all function similarly in that regard.
So, why? Why be attached to the pedals? The biggest reason is that it keeps your feet positioned properly on the pedals for greatest power transfer and comfort. On flat pedals, your feet move around too easily, and it is easy to get the wrong part of your foot on the pedal, which can create hotspots and discomfort, not to mention loss of power transfer. With your feet connected securely, you will always have your foot in the proper position. Out of position feet can cause hotspots on the bottom of the foot as well as pain in the knees, hip, or even back. You also aren’t as efficient pedaling with your feet in the wrong spot or sliding around on the pedal, or especially if your foot comes off the pedal.
Many will say that a big advantage to clipless is that you can pedal full circles since you are attached to the pedal. You obviously cannot on flat pedals. However, although it is possible to pedal in circles with clipless pedals, it is not a big benefit. Why not? Simply because usually people just don’t. Most pedaling is done on the pushing down, very little, and very infrequently do people actually pull up on the pedals for extra power. So although it is possible, it is not actually utilized very often, not even by pros. I can concentrate to make myself pedal circles, but if I stop paying attention, I go back to only applying power on the down stroke. Sometimes on steep climbs at lower cadences I do pull upward on the pedals, and it is a benefit at those times.
For mountain biking, clipless pedals are a huge benefit. Many people are scared to use clipless, what if they are in a techy spot and can’t unclip? With a little practice, unclipping becomes second nature and can be done pretty much as quickly as stepping off a flat pedal. For me, I can’t ride rough, rocky sections on flat pedals very well. My feet bounce off the pedals, and then I have a major lack of control of the bike. With my feet securely clipped in, I maintain control. Of course, if I hit a jump and catch some air, doing certain tricks like no footers is kinda out of the question on clipless pedals. But I wouldn’t be capable of pulling off those tricks, anyway, so I’d rather stay attached to the bike while in the air.
For road biking, clipless pedals are pretty much the standard. Go to any big road ride, and pretty much everyone will be on clipless pedals. Road pedals tend to have the mechanism on just one side. The benefit is that it uses a larger cleat than mountain bike pedals. This increases power transfer and reduces the chances of hotspots on your feet. Mountain bike pedals use a small cleat that can sit recessed in the shoe to make walking easier, since sometimes you have to walk while mountain biking. Walking while road biking is rare, so having the best platform is more important.
Clipless pedals and shoes are one of the best upgrades you can make to your bike. With your feet always in the right place, you’ll find you can ride harder and longer. If you are worried about the transition, there are actually pedals that are clipless on one side and flat on the other. That way you can ride clipless when you want, but also ride in regular shoes when you desire. They are great for town bikes and commuters, too.
If you have any questions about riding clipless pedals, feel free to stop in or give us a call. We’d love to help you make that next step in your riding!