Clipless pedals are a cause of much apprehension for new cyclists but the reality is that they are safe, easy to use and far more efficient than flat pedals or cages. Once you’ve been taught the basics and become competent and confident, you’ll never look back.
The clipless pedal was invented by Charles Hanson in 1895. Interestingly though, it wasn’t until French company Look began producing clipless pedals using a system similar to ski bindings in 1984 and Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France in 1985 using these pedals that their use took off. Given Look’s early entry to this market it is not surprising that Look pedals are amongst the most well known and easiest to use.
The term “clipless” means that the pedal doesn’t have a toe clip (cage). Many people find this confusing given the fact that the cyclist’s shoe is attached to the pedal via the cleat, but when you understand that ‘clip’ refers to the toe clip it makes a bit more sense.
Why use clipless pedals?
Being attached to your pedal brings multiple benefits.
- Safety – as long as you have been taught how to use clipless pedals they are much safer than the alternatives – your foot won’t slide off them as commonly happens with platform (or flat pedals) and you won’t get tangled up in them as happens with toe clips & straps.
- Efficiency – in using correct pedalling technique you’ll engage a much bigger muscle group. Clipless pedals allow you to lift the pedal as well as push down on it so you’re using calves, hamstrings and glutes in conjunction with quadriceps rather than just quadriceps as you would with flat pedals
- Power – engaging this much bigger muscle group gives power throughout the pedal circle.
- Endurance – using a bigger muscle group allows you to ride longer before fatigue sets in and lactic acid starts building up in your muscles.
There are basically two types of clipless pedals which can be loosley categorised as road or MTB. Road pedals and cleats provide a bigger connection with the pedal and therefore greater power transfer. Road cleats are relatively large and the soles of road shoes are deliberately stiff to minimise flex so they’re not good for walking.
MTB cleats on the other hand are small and recessed into the sole of the shoe so they’re far better if you need to walk. MTB pedals may be single or double sided and as the smaller cleats provide less contact with the pedal they’re easier to unclip from the pedal. This allows mountain bikers to quickly unclip to clear obstacles or put a foot down to manoeuvre their bike but leads to less power transfer.
MTB pedal systems are often chosen by commuters because you can walk in the shoes. So, choice of shoes and pedals comes down to your bike and the type of riding you’re planning on doing. Check out our shoe blog for more info on choosing the right shoe.
But I’m scared…
Commonly, new cyclists are scared to try clipless pedals because they’ve heard horror stories from friends who have had a bad experience. However, a good bike shop will coach you in the use of clipless pedals and ensure that you are competent before letting you loose on the world, so if you’re new to clipless pedals make sure you ask about pedal coaching.
Good luck and safe cycling.