Switching to clipless pedals is a rite of passage for many cyclists, up there with Lycra and strange tan lines. To master the art of riding clipless, you'll need some new kit (cleated pedals and cycling shoes with cleats), and a commitment to learning how to clip in and out of the pedals (more on that below). The quid pro quo is, quite literally, a greater connection with your bike - giving you a more satisfying and efficient pedal.
What does "clipless" actually mean?
The term “clipless” confused me for many years. Why would pedals which clip in and out be called “clipless”? The answer is that up until the 1980s when they were introduced, the options were plain (flat) pedals, or pedals with a toe clip and straps.
The mechanism for these pedals draws heavily on ski binding technology and was made popular by a French ski binding manufacturer called Look. A cleat is attached to the bottom of a rigid cycling shoe and special pedals are attached to the cranks. Most work by positioning the front of the cleat in the pedal and then pressing down until the cleat is engaged with a firm click.
Getting in and, more importantly, out of the pedals can put a lot of people off using them. In fact, many a cyclist has had an embarrassing moment when they stop (voluntarily or perhaps through exhaustion) without clipping out! Below are some tips to avoid this spectacle.
How to clip out - a beginner's guide
- Set the clip tension on the pedal nice and loose. You don’t need them really tight, unless you're performing stunts or want to do very aggressive climbing. Shimano SPD pedals can be adjusted with an allen key in the direction of the minus sign (other types of pedals adjust in a similar way).
- Practise clipping and unclipping while leaning up against a wall, post, fence, etc. Practise both feet, several times - you'll find you have a favoured foot, so practise especially hard with the other one!
- Go for a ride on a quiet road or smooth track. When you've got a nice pace going, clip in and out a few times (without stopping) to get the hang of it.
- When you're ready to stop, give yourself plenty of time to unclip! Remember you can pedal quite easily with one pedal clipped in (your non-standing foot!) and one out, just resting on the pedal, before you stop.
- Unclip with a firm, swift motion, rather than trying to tease your foot out gradually.
- Don’t try to unclip both feet at the same time.
- A beginner's guide to cycling shoes and pedals. Still riding in your trainers? Considering an upgrade to clipless pedals? We talk you through the different options, and review the best entry-level cycling shoes and bike pedals if you’re just starting out road cycling, mountain biking or a bit of both.
- Cycling shoes – our insider’s guide. We review the best road cycling and mountain biking shoes [coming soon]
- Bike pedals – our insider’s guide. How to pick the best mountain bike and road pedals [coming soon]
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