Clipping in to clipless pedals – what’s that all about?

In for a penny, in for a pound. As the proud owner of a fancy new road bike there was now no avoiding the mysterious world of cleats and clipping in.

Clipless pedalsSome useful basics for the novice

• Clipless pedals are a two-part system. The pedal has a metal locking mechanism on it and there is also a metal or plastic cleat that attaches to the bottom of your shoe. This means that with a little practice you can connect rider and bike via the pedal which increases efficiency.

• The “clipless” term is potentially misleading. Though they don’t have “toe clips” as such, the action by which you connect shoe to pedal is still called “clipping in and out”.

• There are essentially 2 types of system – road or 3-hole (SPD-SL, sometimes called Look-style) and SPD or 2-hole (also called MTB, as they are typically used for mountain biking). The road shoes are the ones you see MAMILs clacking awkwardly around in. The soles have a smooth surface with no flex and the cleat comes into contact with the ground when walking. This means they are good for speed on the bike but not so good for walking once you’re off it. Like the skyscraper heel on a night out, you’ll feel a million dollars on the dance floor but might wish you’d bought your flats for the walk home.
The MTB shoes have the cleat recessed and the sole is slightly more flexible so they are a better suited to walking in.

• Some pedals have the cleat on one side while the other side is flat. This means you can wear your cycling shoes and clip in but you also have the option to pop on your trainers and ride with the flat side if that’s more convenient for a particular ride.

The internet is a gold mine of advice (including this great article from Trigirl). There are videos to help with everything from choosing the right type of system to attaching cleats to shoes and, of course, the high stakes business of starting to clip in and out. I’d recommend watching a couple of videos showing clipping in and out before you set off on the open road. I spent a good half-hour stationary on my bike, propped up against the wheelie bin practising, before I felt confident enough to give it a go.

All-in-all I’m really glad I’ve crossed this rubicon. Once you’re clipped in, you can really feel the benefits. Not only do your feet stay put on the pedals but it makes a big difference to your efficiency and ultimately your performance.

Was it a bit hairy at first? Absolutely! Those first few wobbly, nerve racking, miles had me muttering (not for the first time during my triathlon training)! “What the heck am I doing this for? Take me back to my comfort zone right now!”. But it quickly became second nature and the initial trepidation was replaced by the warm glow of pride.

Clipless pedals! I’ve nailed something else I didn’t think I could do – colour me happy!

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