While pro cyclists “clip in” to confusingly named “clipless pedals,” it can be an intimidating step for new cyclists. Many fear that graduating from flat pedals to ones that connect you to your bike will mean getting stuck, falling over, and looking silly. And the reality is, starting to ride clipped in might involve all three. Even still, for many, it is a choice that gives greater control, efficiency and fun while riding your bike.
To see who can benefit from clipping in, and to address some of your biggest fears, we spoke with Jesse Gascon, a product manager for Shimano, one of the largest pedal makers out there.
Your first question might be whether it is really worth it to move on from flat pedals to clipless pedals. You’ll have to buy new shoes, and be sure you have them when it comes time to ride your bike. Gascon says riding clipped in is worth it “from an efficiency point of view, on any one way commute distance of over 15 miles or over 1.5 hours.” If you’re putting that much time in your saddle, you’re going to want every ounce of power you put into your bike to make it to the wheels, and clipping in will certainly help with that.
But efficiency isn’t the only benefit to clipping in. “The biggest difference is the feeling of an enhanced connection between rider and the bike,” says Gascon. “The benefit to the commuter is the improved reaction times like the acceleration when you’re sprinting for a stoplight, and the confidence and ability to hop curbs.” That’s right, since your feet are connected to the bike, it actually makes it much easier to jump up and over curbs or sticks on the road. Be sure to work up to this badassery though.
If you decide to go the clipless route, you might be confused by seeing two entirely different types of pedals. Folks might throw around names like road or mountain pedals, two screw or three screw, SPD or SPD-SL. Gascon recommends new riders start with SPD (two screw, or “mountain bike” pedals) “The SPD system is more ‘beginner’ friendly, based on two key differences: the SPD cleat requires lower force to enter and release, and the off-the-bike walkability.” The SPD cleat is usually surrounded by more rubber which will allow you to walk around more easily without waddling like a penguin. So opt for these pedals when you get started. But be sure that the shoes you buy are for the style of pedal you have.
Gascon also notes that Shimano has pedals with “beginner features,” like pedals that combine clipless and flat pedals, and pedals that have lighter springs so they are easier to clip into. But even if you don’t opt for these beginner features, there are still a lot of changes you can make to your pedals to stay comfortable.
“The major concern riders have is the fear of being unable to clip-out,” says Gascon. Thankfully you can adjust your pedals to make the process of twisting your heal out to unclip easier. “All Shimano clipless pedals have the ability to adjust the entry and release force setting, so make sure you customize it to your confidence level and adjust it as you gain experience.”
Stepping up to a clipless pedal can be an intimidating prospect, but if you’re willing to make the leap, you’ll thoroughly enjoy a more efficient, faster and connected ride. We just recommend you try those first few trips in your neighborhood so you’re not surprised the first few times you need to unclip in a hurry.