First of all, "what are clipless pedals and when should I use them?"
Clipless pedals are pedals that can attach to a specialized set of cycling shoes using a spring clip and cleats which are affixed to those shoes. They are called “clipless” because in the past riders would use toe straps and metal toe “clips" to strap themselves into the shoes. Modern pedals do not use these toe clips hence the "clipless" moniker.
The pedals, whether they are one sided or dual sided, will generally have a similar mechanism to clip in. They come in a set of pedals and their corresponding cleats. The front of the cleat, which is the piece on the bottom of your shoe, will hook into the front part of the pedal and a spring clip will allow the cleat to be locked into the pedal. The spring clip will not allow the shoe to become detached in certain motions. To detach the shoe you simply rotate your foot out and the spring clip will release and eject the cleat! Easy peasy. Some of the pedals will also have a tension adjustment which will make it easier or harder to rotate your foot out of the spring clip. I recommend dialing the tension all the way down when you are learning so that you can learn the motions first.
Deciding when to use clipless pedals is entirely up to the user. The benefits of using them are apparent in performance driven riding but if you’re not racing then what’s the point? Nearly any type of riding can benefit from clipless pedals such as commuting, centuries, easy group rides, and easy solo rides too. The benefit doesn’t necessarily come from being able to pull up on the pedals but the ability to pedal harder without slipping off the pedals and being able to pedal in the same position consistently to reduce overuse injuries.
"How do I use them without falling over!"
The first thing you will want to practice is the actual action of clipping into the pedals. Starting from a standing position over the bike rotate one of the pedals to the bottom position. With your toes slightly pointed step into the pedal and put some weight into it. You should feel and hear a distinct click. If you are having a bit of trouble, make sure you are keeping the pedal at the bottom position and press into the pedal like you are squashing a bug. Unclipping is done by rotating your heel out. Clip and unclip several times on one side until you get used to the motion and sensation of clipping in and out.
After you are confident with the clip action, we are going to practice starting and stopping on the bike while clipped in. This would be best described as a “glide" since our goal here isn’t to sit down and clip into the other foot just yet. While one foot is clipped into the pedal push off and glide for a few feet and practice coming to a stop. Stay in a standing position over the bike while you glide with your foot ready to step down. It also helps to have your hands on the shifters so that you have access to the brakes. The benefit of practicing this gliding motion is that it simulates the starting and stopping motions you’ll need so that you are less likely to tip over.
After you are comfortable with gliding comes the time to put it all together. After clipping in with one foot and starting your glide make sure that you have enough speed to stay upright. Once you are sure that you have adequate speed you can step into the second pedal and start riding or sit down on the saddle and find the pedal to start riding. Either way would be effective and could be determined by your preference. Generally, riders will stay clipped in on the right side and unclip/step down on the left so that they don’t accidentally bump their greasy drivetrain.
Be sure to leave your comments and personal tips in the comments below!