If you think fancy cycling shoes and clipless bike pedals are only for serious road racers and mountain bikers, think again. Even if you only put in a handful of miles on your way to work, using specific shoes and bike pedals have benefits, including increased speed (and who doesn’t want that!).
The skinny on clipless bike pedals
If you’re pinching pennies, just started riding a bike or don’t ride very often, flat pedals are still a sound solution. But if you want to get a little more serious about cycling, then consider going with clipless bike pedals. Just as ski boots clip into a ski binding, clipless bike pedals are used with special shoes that have a cleat attached at the sole of the foot. Push the cleat onto the pedal to engage it and then kick or twist your heel out to the side to “unclip” and free your foot. The good news is that most clipless bike pedals are adjustable, so when you’re just starting out, you can adjust the pedal to disengage under very little force. Most clipless bike pedals also have a certain degree of float, meaning your feet can move a few degrees from side-to-side while still clipped in. This float is your knee’s best friend and allows the body to move naturally.
Swap bike pedals, go faster
If you’ve ever lost control of your pedal and suffered a serious scrape to the shin, you’ve experienced firsthand one of the bummers of flat pedals. Clipless bike pedals allow riders to shift positions or navigate obstacles without their feet slipping. One of the major benefits of going with clipless bike pedals, however, is that it increases the efficiency of the power transfer between the rider and the bike. Essentially you’ll be wasting less energy and putting more of it into flying forward. Better pedaling efficiency means the potential to go faster or to break through a headwind using less power.
Shopping for clipless bike pedals
Buying clipless bike pedals and shoes can feel overwhelming. There are cleats and shoes with two, three and four bolts. Some are recessed into the shoe and other cleats are thick, making walking any distance nearly impossible (as well as comical). If you’re mainly using the shoes for commuting or touring, stick with mountain bike or casual style shoes. Prices vary, but the more expensive ones tend to be lighter, well vented and stiffer. It’s important to find a shoe that fits well and complements your riding style. Most of these shoes will have a two cleat SPD hole pattern on the bottom and are great for commuting because the cleat is recessed, so you won’t be stepping on it off the bike. On the other hand, many road cyclists prefer cleats that aren’t recessed and stiffer shoes for the most efficient power transfer. However, these cleats are bulky and aren’t recommended for walking very far.
Before you clip in
Going clipless can be daunting at first. Just like any other skill, it takes practice. Before hitting the bike lane or stopping at a busy intersection, take some time to practice clipping in and out repeatedly. This is best done on soft grass. It will take some time before clipping out becomes second nature. Since your feet are held in one position on the bike, it’s also important to be sure your bike fit is spot on. Ask someone at your bike shop to check that your cleats are properly positioned and if you experience any pain, get your bike fit checked out right away.