Clipless Pedals. Well, there’s a misleading name for starters. If they were clipless, surely they’d just be “pedals”? The whole point is that they are supposed to clip your foot in, keeping it secure and allowing you to put more power into every pedal stroke.
The reality of transitioning from normal flat pedals – or even toe clips (just don’t get me started on those abominations) – is always daunting and often, shall we say, challenging. Whilst it’s a perfectly acceptable and popular option to just carry on with flat pedals, the progression to clipless pedals is almost seen as a rite of passage on the road to being a “serious cyclist”.
Mysteriously, cycling shoes frequently fit half a size smaller than the same size in normal shoes.
Step one is the most important- shoe selection.
Never mind whether your pedals are MTB SPDs, SPD SLs, Looks, Speedplays or Time, the important thing is to sort a pair of shoes that make you smile every time you look down at your feet. Honest.
OK, so it’s probably a good idea to choose pedals with the correct number of holes for cleats in the bottom – road cleats are mostly three hole, while MTB style SPD cleats are just two.
Funk up your cleats with fab socks
It’s also probably not a bad idea to make sure the shoe is comfortable, taking into account that mysteriously cycling shoes frequently fit half a size smaller than the same size in normal shoes.
Pedal selection is, for most people, fairly arbitrary.
The main choice is whether to go for MTB style pedals- either SPDs or “egg beaters” - which have smaller cleats that fasten to the shoe and can therefore be easier to walk in, crucial when pushing a bike in mud. The alternative is road style pedals that have larger cleats and generally smoother and stiffer shoe soles. Road pedals provide a bigger pedalling platform and can be a good on-road choice for those with knee trouble. Pick a pair of a suitable weight for your shiny steed.
Before you go anywhere in earnest, practice clipping in.
Having matched up a pair of pedals with your shiny new disco slippers, it’s time to try them out. If you fear for the longevity of that patent black finish or the gorgeous pearlescent white of all that pleather, then consider a pair of toe covers. Of course, then you can’t gaze admiringly at your Cinderella feet when you’re dancing in the pedals. Oversocks can be great for the shoulder seasons but really, do you want to look like your feet have both been horrifically maimed and bandaged?
I have known people go to a trail centre for their first ride in clipless pedals, this is officially a bad idea.
Bear in mind on your first ride that the combination of brand new cleats and brand new pedals can be a potent one. Before you go anywhere in earnest, practice clipping in and that insouciant little twist of the foot to unclip, until you’re at least reasonably sure of being able to escape quickly if required.
Make sure it's only your pride that suffers!
Then go for a short ride somewhere quiet and preferably offering a soft landing. I have known people go to a trail centre for their first ride in clipless pedals, this is officially a bad idea.
It is not a case of IF you fall off, it is a case of WHEN.
Every single rider has come a cropper at some point due to clipless pedals. That is a FACT. Almost certainly.
Always prepare for the junction ahead.
If your pride has survived a trial ride, you’re ready to rock and roll. The best advice I can give to anyone starting out with clipless pedals is to always prepare for the junction ahead. Remember driving lessons with “mirror, signal, manoeuvre”? Well, look at this as “look, signal, slow down, UNCLIP, UNCLIP, UNCLIP”.
At some point, you will forget, stop without unclipping and topple slowly to one side, where you will probably lie with your feet still attached to the bike trying to work out how to get up again. Possibly in a bush. Remember, you are not the first and you will not be the last.
Once successfully mastered, there’s no going back from clipless.
They make starting off at junctions faster and more assertive, hills are much easier as you can pull as well as push on the pedals, it’s far easier to keep a steady and comfortable rhythm when clipped in and there’s no risk of feet sliding.
Remember, you can hold your head high at any trendy cycling café if you’ve walked in like a pregnant duck, even when your hard, slick-soled shoes take you sliding across that tiled floor like Bambi on ice. You’ve got those technical shoes, that makes you a REAL cyclist.
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