For those who are new to cycling the idea of being locked into your pedals can be daunting. Many people feel as though they are restricted and stifled without the ability to step off the pedals at any given time. This is understandable considering many non-enthusiast riders are riding at slower speeds with less emphasis on pedaling efficiency. Generally the beach cruiser they may have been riding before feels much more stable at the slower speeds because of the way the bike is designed. Part of feeling comfortable in clipless pedals is understanding that performance driven bikes, including road and mountain bikes, are designed to feel more stable at higher speeds.
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!
Despite the general opinion of cycling, not every ride needs to be fast paced, lycra clad, or over mind boggling distances. For many people, just being able to incorporate bikes into their everyday life for short trips would suffice. This type of riding is more focused on a lifestyle of riding which doesn’t need to be dressed up and complicated with a lot of expensive tech you might see in performance bikes. Here are tips and ideas for including bikes into your everyday life
What kind of bike should I ride?
The type of bike isn’t the most important decision when trying to get outside and ride however there are a few things you may want to take into consideration. I would recommend a frame that can accept a rear rack so that you can take the loads of small errands and quick grocery trips off of your back and weighted evenly over the rear wheel. Attached to the rack could be a small box/basket or a pannier bag which can double as a reusable grocery bag. Whether or not the bike has gears is up to the rider. If there is some rolling terrain near your or might be carrying heavier loads then gears may suit you well. If you are just darting around for quick trips and want to keep the bike simple you can go with a single speed with a coaster brake or handbrake.
Where should I start?
I’ve found that keeping the trips short and manageable is the best way to start out. Trips under a 1 mile radius may not seem like a large distance at first but it is a reasonable distance to cover many local post offices, grocery stores, and such. It isn’t necessary to do all of your errands by bike when you start and when you start to increase your radius or the frequency of your trips make sure that you keep the distances reasonable. Some of the trips that I make on a semi-regular basis is picking up fresh bread and produce from local shops. When it comes to route selection staying off some of the larger streets is ideal. Taking neighborhood streets may take a bit longer but there will be less traffic and a more relaxed pace. It comes with the added bonus of exploring your neighborhood in a way that you might not have experienced in the past!
How much should I expect to spend?
There are options to go with a department store bike which could cost as little as $100-$150. However supporting your local bike shop and buying from them for a little more will give you several benefits. First off, the bike will be built by a professional in a shop where they may include a free tune up to cover the settling in period when you first start riding the bike. They will also have a good relationship with the manufacturer if there are any warranty issues. Pair all of that with the general knowledge of the shop and your experience will have a lot less guesswork and quality time out on the bike! Be sure to check your LBS for sales on city style bikes and even road hybrids.
Some companies that produce quality city style bikes are: Virtue Cycles, Linus, Public, and Retrospec. With a quick search you can find local dealers and even test ride a few bikes!
Accessories to make life on the bike easier: