Clipless Pedals: What You Need to Know

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Clipless pedals are a game-changer for cyclists of all levels. If you’re new to cycling or have been riding for years, clipless pedals can enhance your performance and make your rides more enjoyable.

Anyway, what are clipless pedals?

Contrary to what the name suggests, clipless pedals actually involve clipping in. Clipless pedals are a system that allows you to secure your cycling shoes to the pedals. Unlike traditional platform pedals, which rely on the grip between your foot and the pedal to stay connected, clipless pedals use a cleat-and-shoe interface for a secure connection.

Clipless pedals consist of two main components: the pedal itself and the cleat that attaches to your cycling shoe. The pedal features a spring-loaded mechanism that allows you to clip the cleat into place. Once clipped in, your foot is securely attached to the pedal, allowing you to pedal with a more efficient and powerful stroke.

Using clipless pedals, you can gain:

1. Improved Efficiency: With clipless pedals, you’ll be able to use your full pedal stroke, pulling up as well as pushing down. This translates to more power and efficiency, helping you go faster and further with less effort.

2. Enhanced Power Transfer: The direct connection between your foot and the pedal ensures that every ounce of power you generate is transferred to the bike. This means you can make the most of your leg strength and pedal with maximum efficiency.

3. Increased Stability: Clipless pedals provide a stable platform for your feet, reducing the risk of your feet slipping off the pedals during bumpy rides or intense efforts. This can greatly improve your confidence and control on the bike.

4. Safety: While it may seem counterintuitive, clipless pedals can actually improve safety. By keeping your feet securely attached to the pedals, you can maintain better control over the bike, especially in challenging situations like steep climbs or technical descents.

Next, we will dive into this type of bike pedals with more details:

Types of Clipless Pedals

Road Bike Pedals

Road pedals are designed for racing or high-performance riding on smooth, paved surfaces. They offer a lightweight and efficient platform that allows you to transfer power directly from your legs to the bike. Let’s explore some of the most popular systems of road pedals and their pros and cons.

1. Look Keo

Look Keo pedals have been a favorite among road cyclists for years. They feature a large cleat surface area, providing excellent stability and power transfer. The three-bolt system offers a secure connection and allows for precise adjustment of your cleats. Look Keo pedals are known for their durability and reliability, making them a top choice for competitive riders.

Advantages of Look Keo pedals:

  • Wide cleat platform for stability and power transfer.
  • Precise cleat adjustment for optimal foot position.
  • Durable and reliable.

Disadvantages of Look Keo pedals:

  • Heavier compared to some other road pedal systems.
  • Limited float adjustment options.
  • Higher price point compared to entry-level pedals.

2. Shimano SPD-SL

Shimano SPD-SL pedals are another popular choice among road cyclists. They feature a three-bolt system that offers a secure and stable connection. Shimano pedals are well-known for their durability and smooth engagement and disengagement. The SPD-SL system provides a wide range of cleat adjustment options, allowing you to find the perfect fit for your feet.

Advantages of Shimano SPD-SL pedals:

  • Wide range of cleat adjustment options.
  • Smooth engagement and disengagement.
  • Durable and reliable.

Disadvantages of Shimano SPD-SL pedals:

  • Limited float adjustment options.
  • Slightly heavier compared to some other road pedal systems.
  • Higher price point compared to entry-level pedals.

3. Wahoo Speedplay

Wahoo Speedplay pedals offer a unique design with a dual-sided entry system. They use a four-bolt cleat system that provides a wide range of float adjustment options. Speedplay pedals are known for their lightweight construction and low stack height, which can improve power transfer and efficiency. They also offer a robust connection and smooth engagement and disengagement.

Advantages of Wahoo Speedplay pedals:

  • Dual-sided entry for easy engagement.
  • Wide range of float adjustment options.
  • Lightweight construction and low stack height.

Disadvantages of Wahoo Speedplay pedals:

  • Smaller cleat surface area compared to some other road pedal systems.
  • Requires regular maintenance and lubrication.
  • Higher price point compared to entry-level pedals.

Gravel Bike Pedals

When it comes to gravel riding, the gravel pedals that are used for off-road riding or commuting. And here are some common and popular clipless pedal systems for gravel riding:

1. Shimano SPD-SL

Shimano SPD-SL pedals are a popular option for road cyclists, and they can also be suitable for gravel riding. Since we have talked about this type of clipless pedals in the road pedal part above, you can head back there to learn about it.

2. Time ICLIC

Time ICLIC pedals are known for their lightweight design and smooth engagement. These pedals use a unique retention system that allows for easy and quick entry and release. The float can be adjusted to suit your preferences, providing some flexibility for your knees. However, the cleats tend to wear down relatively quickly, and the engagement mechanism may require regular maintenance.

Advantages:

  • Lightweight design.
  • Smooth engagement and release.
  • Adjustable float.

Disadvantages:

  • Cleats wear down quickly.
  • Regular maintenance required.
  • Limited shoe options available.

3. Time ATAC: Durability and Mud Shedding

Time ATAC pedals are designed specifically for off-road riding, with a focus on durability and mud shedding. These pedals feature an open design that allows for easy entry and release, even in muddy conditions. The float is adjustable, providing some flexibility for knee comfort. However, the engagement can be less secure compared to other systems, and the cleats tend to wear down faster.

Advantages:

  • Excellent mud shedding capabilities.
  • Adjustable float.
  • Durable construction.

Disadvantages:

  • Less secure engagement.
  • Cleats wear down quickly.

4. Crankbrothers: Easy Entry and Customizable Float

Crankbrothers pedals are known for their easy entry and customizable float. These pedals use a four-sided entry system, allowing for quick engagement from any angle. The float can be adjusted to suit your preferences, providing a personalized riding experience. However, some riders may find the engagement to be less secure, and the cleats tend to wear down faster compared to other systems.

Advantages:

  • Easy entry from any angle.
  • Customizable float.
  • Lightweight design.

Disadvantages:

  • Less secure engagement.
  • Cleats wear down quickly.

Mountain Bike Pedals

When it comes to mountain biking, there are various disciplines, each with its own unique demands. Two popular disciplines are trail riding and freeride riding. Trail riding involves tackling a mix of terrain, including singletrack, climbs, and descents. Freeride riding, on the other hand, focuses on jumps, drops, and technical features.

To meet the needs of these disciplines, mountain bike pedals are designed to provide a secure connection between the rider’s shoes and the bike. This connection is essential for efficient power transfer, control, and stability on the trails.

Among the many mountain bike pedal options available, one stands out as a go-to choice for many riders – the Shimano SPD pedal. SPD stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, and these pedals have become synonymous with clipless mountain bike pedals.

It is a system that uses a small metal cleat on the shoe and a spring mechanism on the pedal to lock the foot in place. SPD pedals are usually two-sided, which makes them easier to clip in and out. They also have a recessed cleat, which means you can walk more comfortably in your shoes when you are not on the bike. SPD pedals are popular among cyclists who want more stability, versatility, and durability in their pedals.

Advantages of Shimano SPD Pedals:

  • Adjustability: One of the key advantages of Shimano SPD pedals is their adjustability. The cleat position can be easily changed to suit your preferences, allowing you to fine-tune your pedaling dynamics.
  • Power Meter Compatibility: If you’re a data-driven cyclist, you’ll be pleased to know that Shimano SPD pedals are compatible with power meters. This means you can measure your pedaling force and track your performance metrics for training purposes.
  • Weight: Shimano SPD pedals are known for their lightweight design. With less mass on each side, you’ll experience less rotational weight, making it easier to spin the pedals and maintain momentum on the trails.
  • Durability: Shimano is renowned for its durability, and their SPD pedals are no exception. Built to withstand the rigors of mountain biking, these pedals are designed to handle the demands of trail riding and freeride riding.

Disadvantages of Shimano SPD Pedals:

  • Limited Platform: Shimano SPD pedals have a smaller platform compared to other pedal options. While this may not be an issue for experienced riders with good pedal technique, beginners may find it slightly less forgiving when it comes to foot placement.
  • Shoe Compatibility: Shimano SPD pedals require specific shoes with compatible cleats. While there are many shoe options available, it’s important to ensure that your shoes are compatible with the SPD system.

How to Choose Clipless Pedals

Factors to Consider

1. Type of Terrain: Consider the type of terrain you primarily ride on. If you’re mainly a road cyclist, road-specific clipless pedals are a great choice. They offer a larger contact surface, which provides better power transfer and efficiency on smooth surfaces. On the other hand, if you’re an off-road enthusiast, mountain bike pedals are designed to handle rough terrain and offer more mud-shedding capabilities.

2. Frequency and Duration of Rides: Think about how often you ride and the duration of your rides. If you’re a casual rider who enjoys shorter rides, entry-level clipless pedals may be sufficient. However, if you’re a frequent or long-distance rider, investing in higher-quality pedals with better durability and performance may be worth it.

3. Performance Level: Consider your performance goals. If you prioritize speed and efficiency, look for lightweight pedals made from materials such as carbon fiber. These pedals often have a larger platform area and a more secure connection to maximize power transfer. On the other hand, if comfort is your priority, pedals with a wider platform and adjustable tension may be more suitable.

4. Shoe and Cleat Compatibility: Check the availability and cost of compatible shoes and cleats for the clipless pedal system you’re interested in. Some pedal systems have a wide range of shoe options, while others may have limited choices. Additionally, consider the cost of replacing or upgrading shoes and cleats in the future.

5. Ease of Use and Maintenance: Consider how easy it is to clip in and out of the pedals. Some pedal systems have a larger contact area and a more forgiving entry and exit mechanism, which can be beneficial for beginners or riders who frequently stop and start. Additionally, think about the maintenance requirements of the pedals. Some systems require regular lubrication and adjustment, while others are virtually maintenance-free.

Tips to Follow

1. Do Your Research: Before purchasing clipless pedals, do some research on different types and brands. Read reviews from other cyclists who have used them to gain insights into their experiences, pros, and cons. Websites like Cycling Weekly, Bicycling, and BikeRadar are great resources for pedal reviews.

2. Test Different Pedals: Visit a local bike shop or demo center to try out different types of clipless pedals. Most shops have demo bikes or pedal display units where you can test how the pedals fit your feet and shoes comfortably without clipping in or out. This allows you to feel how they perform on different surfaces and speeds before making a decision.

3. Consider Your Riding Style: Think about your riding style and preferences. Are you more focused on speed and efficiency, or do you prioritize comfort and ease of use? Understanding your riding style will help you narrow down your options and choose pedals that align with your needs.

4. Seek Recommendations: Talk to fellow cyclists, join online cycling communities, and participate in cycling forums to seek recommendations from experienced riders. They can provide valuable insights and personal recommendations based on their own experiences.

How to Use Clipless Pedals Safely

Steps to Follow

1. Clean and Dry Your Shoes

Before clipping into your pedals, make sure your shoes are clean and dry. Dirt or moisture can cause friction or damage to your cleats or shoes. Take a few minutes to wipe off any dirt and ensure they’re completely dry. This simple step will help prolong the life of your equipment and ensure a smooth clip-in experience.

2. Check Shoe Fit

Proper shoe fit is crucial for comfort and performance when using clipless pedals. Your shoes should have enough room for your toes to wiggle slightly without hitting anything. Tight-fitting shoes can lead to blisters or pressure points, so it’s important to find the right fit. If you’re unsure, visit a local bike shop for a professional fitting.

3. Align Your Cleats Correctly

Next, check if your cleats are aligned correctly with your shoes. Proper alignment ensures optimal power transfer and prevents uneven wear or damage to your cleats or shoes. When clipped in, your cleats should be parallel to each other. Additionally, your heel should be slightly higher than your toe when clipped in. If your cleats need adjustment, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions or seek assistance from a professional.

4. Position Your Feet on the Pedals

When clipped in, it’s essential to position your feet correctly on the pedals. Your feet should be flat on top of the pedal, with the ball of your foot centered over the pedal spindle. This position maximizes power transfer and stability. It’s also important to maintain a slight bend in your knees to ensure comfort and efficient pedaling.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you know how to use clipless pedals safely, let’s discuss some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Neglecting Proper Shoe Fit: Ill-fitting shoes can lead to discomfort, blisters, and reduced performance. Take the time to find the right shoe size and consider professional fitting if necessary.

2. Incorrect Cleat Alignment: Misaligned cleats can cause uneven wear, discomfort, and reduced power transfer. Double-check the alignment of your cleats to ensure optimal performance.

3. Poor Foot Positioning: Placing your feet incorrectly on the pedals can lead to stability issues and inefficient pedaling. Remember to position your feet flat on top of the pedal, with the ball of your foot centered over the spindle.

How to Clip In and Out of Clipless Pedals

Tips for Clipping In

1. Start with one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal: When you’re ready to clip in, position one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal. Make sure the pedal is at the top of the stroke and the cleat on your cycling shoe is aligned with the pedal.

2. Apply pressure and listen for the click: With your foot on the pedal, apply some pressure until you hear a satisfying “click” sound. This means you are securely clipped in. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it, so be patient.

3. Repeat with the other foot: Once you’ve successfully clipped in one foot, repeat the same process with the other foot. You can use a wall, railing, or a friend to support yourself if needed. Take your time and ensure both feet are securely clipped in before you start riding.

4. Practice in a safe area: Before hitting the road or the trail, practice clipping in and out in a safe and flat area. This will help you get comfortable with the motion and build confidence. Start and stop a few times to get used to the feeling of being clipped in.

Tips for Clipping Out

1. Anticipate when to clip out: When you’re approaching a stop or need to slow down, anticipate the moment when you need to clip out. Don’t wait until the last minute to unclip, as this can lead to falls or accidents.

2. Twist your heel outward: To unclip, twist your heel outward away from the bike. Avoid pulling your foot up or sideways, as this can make it harder to release the cleat from the pedal. With a smooth and deliberate motion, twist your heel until you feel the cleat disengage from the pedal.

3. Balance yourself: Once you’ve unclipped, put your foot on the ground and balance yourself. Avoid leaning on the bike or the pedal, as this can throw off your balance. Keep your weight centered and use your other foot to maintain stability.

4. Practice in different situations: To become proficient at clipping out, practice in various situations such as uphill, downhill, or cornering. Each scenario may require a slightly different technique, so it’s important to practice in different conditions to build your skillset.

How to Maintain Clipless Pedals and Cleats

Steps to Follow

Step 1: Clean your pedals and cleats regularly

Cleaning your pedals and cleats is essential to remove dirt, debris, and grime that can accumulate over time. Start by using a soft brush to gently scrub the surface of your pedals and cleats. You can use a mild detergent mixed with water to help tackle stubborn dirt. Rinse them thoroughly with water and dry them with a clean cloth. This simple step will prevent any build-up that can affect the functionality of your clipless system.

Step 2: Lubricate your pedals and cleats occasionally

Lubrication is key to maintaining the smooth operation of your clipless pedals and cleats. Apply a small amount of light oil or grease to the moving parts of your pedals, such as the spindle and bearings. Similarly, apply a thin layer of lubricant to the contact points on your cleats. Be sure to wipe off any excess lubricant to avoid attracting dirt and debris. Regular lubrication will prevent rust and corrosion, ensuring your clipless system works flawlessly.

Step 3: Check your pedals and cleats for wear and tear

Inspecting your pedals and cleats for signs of wear and tear is crucial to ensure your safety while riding. Look for any cracks, chips, or loose parts on your pedals. Check the engagement mechanism and the tension adjustment screws to ensure they are functioning properly. Similarly, examine your cleats for any signs of damage or excessive wear. If you notice any issues, it’s best to replace the affected parts immediately to avoid any accidents or malfunctions.

Step 4: Adjust your pedals and cleats if needed

The position and tension of your pedals and cleats play a significant role in your comfort and efficiency while riding. If you feel any discomfort or strain in your feet or knees, it may be time to adjust your clipless system. Most clipless pedals have adjustable tension, allowing you to customize the release force required to unclip. Use a hex wrench or a screwdriver to tighten or loosen the tension to your preference. Additionally, you can adjust the angle and position of your cleats to optimize your pedaling efficiency and reduce any unwanted knee stress.

Common Problems to Avoid

To ensure the longevity and performance of your clipless pedals and cleats, it’s crucial to be aware of common problems and avoid them. Here are some issues to watch out for:

1. Not cleaning your pedals and cleats regularly: Neglecting regular cleaning can lead to clogging or jamming of the mechanism or the spring, affecting the smooth engagement and release of your clipless system.

2. Not lubricating your pedals and cleats occasionally: Lack of lubrication can result in squeaking or grinding of the metal parts or the bearings, compromising the overall performance of your clipless system.

3. Not checking your pedals and cleats for wear and tear: Ignoring signs of wear and tear can lead to slipping or unclipping of your foot or shoe, which can be dangerous and potentially cause accidents.

Conclusion

Clipless pedals are a valuable investment for any cyclist looking to improve performance, efficiency, and safety. By providing a secure connection between your feet and the pedals, clipless pedals allow you to maximize power transfer and pedal with confidence. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cyclist, clipless pedals are a game-changer that can elevate your riding experience to new heights. So why wait? Clip in and start enjoying the benefits of clipless pedals today!

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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