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Are Clipless Pedals Right For Me?

January 20, 2015

- written by: Aaron Hand

Working in the cycling retail industry for several years, you tend to hear the same questions over and over. On a nearly daily basis I would hear this story:

“My friend commutes to and from work in all weather conditions, and I’m looking to be as hardcore as her. She swears that the key to her commuting success is her clip-in pedal things. Can you give me some more info on them?”

While I may not have a PhD in Bicycle Commuting, the customer looks to me for some expert advice before diving into something they see as scary. So it is with this unofficial doctorate that I give the customer a synopsis of the benefits of using clipless pedals.

After telling this story over and over, I feel that it is necessary for me to make a list of the clipless pedal benefits more widely available, so that I can prove once and for all clipless pedals’ superiority over flat pedals and pedals with toe clips, alike.

Benefits to Commuting on Clipless Pedals

  • Amplified Efficiency and Power Transfer - Flat pedals are far and away the least efficient method of commuter cycling. With flat pedals, there is only one section of the pedal rotation in which you are able to apply pressure to the drivetrain: the down stroke. This uses the same leg muscle over and over causing the muscle, and you as the rider to fatigue more quickly. I know this may come across as some fixie nonsense, but the best part of clipless riding is the firm connection that the rider gains with their bicycle’s drive train.

With clipless pedals, you have the ability to not only push the down stroke with one foot, but also pull up (up stroke) with the other foot. This allows you to engage multiple muscles in each leg, so that you don’t fatigue the same ones. The up stroke is especially advantageous because it engages your extra powerful hamstrings.

  • Extra Security - It’s not uncommon to find oneself cycling down a familiar road and all of a sudden, BOOM, you hit a newly formed pothole, rock, or tree branch; chances are the shock sends your bottom upwards and your feet off the pedals causing you to lose control of your bicycle. With your feet clipped into your pedals, you can easily maintain your balance and keep your bicycle wheels side down. The same goes for wet or snowy conditions too. Oh, and just wait until you can start bunny-hoping over these obstacles!

If you’re already using toe clips or straps, then you will find that clipless pedals make it easier to get in and out of your pedals. Being able to effortlessly release your foot from the clipless pedals (with a simple twist of your heel) allows for a more efficient release so you can easily abandon ship if things get super hairy. On top of this, with toe clips or straps, you will find the cages or straps dragging on the underside of the pedal as you attempt to flip them and “clip in”. Having pieces of your bicycle dragging on the ground is never a safe way to ride. 

  • Increased Comfort - Having started out as a flat pedal commuter, switching over to toe clips, and now riding on nothing but clipless pedals, I can say that clipless pedals are by far the most comfortable. Clipless pedals not only work out your leg muscles evenly, but they help prevent knee discomfort or injury. Daily riding can cause problems for your knees when you are consistently pushing down on your pedals. Clipless pedals allow for you to float the pedals instead of push them. Pedal float is the degree of angular rotation allowed between your foot and the pedal. While the amount of preferred pedal float is different from cyclist to cyclist, it is important if you want to have knees that continue to work properly many years down the road.

On top of this, clipless pedal shoes have a stiff shank in them which serves as larger platform for your foot. The bottom of your foot will not fatigue as fast, and going back to what was mentioned in a previous section, you will have more power in each pedal.

Now that you understand that benefits, don’t let the fear in the back of your mind keep you away! The biggest concern I would hear from people thinking about giving clipless pedals a try was their own safety. They felt that once they were able to engage the cleat into the pedal, they wouldn’t be able to disengage it, causing them to wreck. At first this may be true, and that is why I always encourage people to take the time to practice engaging the cleat into the pedal and then disengaging it, over and over and over again; cycling down and back on a drive way, parking lot, or less busy street. Just like cycling itself, using clipless pedals takes practice and it is very important to feel comfortable on the pedals before heading into traffic. Once you get the hang of clipless pedals, you will see that they are the superior option for you commuter bike.

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