Whether you're looking at a road, mountain or hybrid
bike, there may be a clipless pedal in your future. But before we get into
details, we need to point out why pedals & shoes are so important, and
then define what a clipless pedal is!
The pedals on your bike really serve only one purpose-
as a means to transfer power from you to your bicycle. For riding around
the block, they don't need to be very fancy...just plastic blocks with
grooves or teeth to plant your feet onto. But if you want to go on longer
rides (anything over 10 miles), you'll benefit greatly from something
1. Without something holding your foot securely to the
pedal, it would be easy to slip off the pedal and send your foot into the
wheel. Not so likely to happen on a trip around the block, but on a longer
ride, when you're tired...
2. There is a correct placement for the position of your
foot over the pedal axle...
3. A good pedal/shoe system has to be able to transfer
all of the power from your leg to the pedals without trying to bend your
foot over the top of the pedal, which causes both fatigue and pain...
4. You shouldn't have to think about how your feet
connect to the bicycle while you're riding. You should be concentrating on
having fun, not technique!
In the old days,
bike pedals either were plain (with no straps to hold your foot in place)
or they had toe clips & straps. The toe clip was usually steel (most are
now plastic) and formed a space, or box, at the front side of the pedal
that you slid your foot into. Keeping your foot there is the
responsibility of either a leather or nylon mesh strap, which you can pull
tight when you wanted to make sure your foot stays in place, or loosen so
you can get your foot out when you stop.
Toe clips & straps are still the norm for nearly all
bikes between $350 and $1000. They're very inexpensive and don't require
the use of a special shoe. But when used with conventional shoes, they
tend to focus pedal forces onto a small part of the bottom of your foot,
creating fatigue & pain on longer rides as your foot tries to bend itself
around the pedal. Also, if the straps are not loosened as you come to a
stop... Of course, you can always leave the straps loose, but then your
feet don't stay in place without conscious effort to keep them on the
pedals. And if you've tightened them down, you need to reach down and
loosen them prior to stopping (a somewhat risky operation).
It's time to enter the clipless pedal
With a clipless pedal system,
you wear special cycling shoes (but don't let "special" put you off...many
look similar to normal hiking or walking shoes!) that allow a "cleat" to
be mounted to their sole. This cleat literally snaps into a receptacle on
the pedal, allowing you to quickly (and without having to reach down!)
connect your shoes to the pedals and take off.
But, of course, you weren't worried about taking
off...you're more concerned about stopping without falling over! Well,
that's far more easily accomplished with a properly-chosen and adjusted
clipless pedal system than it would be with toe clips & straps. With
nearly every clipless pedal on the market, all you need to do is pivot
your heel outward and you snap right out of the pedals. It's that easy!
What about the shoes? What makes them so
A high-quality cycling shoe is
designed to be lightweight, comfortable (some optimizing comfort for both
riding and walking, while others are made for riding only), and efficient
at transferring power from you to your bicycle without pain & fatigue.
Popular brands include Diadora, Shimano & Sidi (which, not coincidentally,
are all lines Champion carries!), and prices range from $80-$300. Their
durability is very good, and the workmanship is generally as good as, and
sometimes better than, normal street shoes selling in the same price
the different pedal systems?
There are two basic choices;
1. Cycling-only pedal/shoe systems, which will have a
cleat that mounts below the shoe and is optimized for cycling
(and will send you sliding across the freshly-waxed floors at Robert's
supermarket in Woodside if you're not careful...just grab for something in
the middle of one of those row-end displays on your way down!). These were
designed originally for road bikes, and are inappropriate for mountain
bikes, where getting off and walking occurs frequently.
2. The newer systems featuring a cleat that's recessed
into the bottom of the shoe, allowing you to walk normally when
required. These were initially designed for mountain bikes, but find their
way onto more than half of the road bikes we sell as people like the
convenience of being able to walk around without slipping or sounding like
a tap dancer (which is what exposed cleats sound like on wood or concrete
Why would you want a shoe that has an exposed cleat
(making walking around impractical) when you can opt for one that's
recessed? Mostly because the shoes will be a bit lighter weight (there's
no extra rubber on the bottom of the sole, just a plastic bottom that the
cleat mounts onto) and also because, with some systems (LOOK, for
example), the interface between the shoe and pedal is larger and gives a
more solid feeling while pedaling. However, great strides have been made
with the recessed cleat designs, and they are now almost as light and
efficient as the non-recessed designs.
Proper cleat placement
is important, even though the new
floating-cleat designs have made it far less critical. There are basically
two things to set up- approximate cleat angle and fore/aft positioning.
For the angle, we generally set up the cleats so that,
when the shoe is moved inwards, your ankle won't quite hit the crank. With
this position, all the pedal systems we offer allow a significant outward
angle from neutral (in line with the bike), meaning that your foot can go
just about anyplace it wants to. The only reason for changing the cleat
position so it allows less outward movement is for those who have
difficulty moving their heels out far enough to exit the pedals.
For fore/aft, we start by positioning the cleat so the
ball of your foot is centered over the pedal. This position generally
results in high energy transfer from foot-to-pedal without undue stress on
the knee. However, for those who've experienced knee problems, the first
thing that should be tried is to move the cleat towards the back of the
shoe, dramatically reducing the amount of leverage that the pedal can
exert against your foot and knee.
But will I fall over?
OK, we'll finally answer the BIG question. Once you get
used to clipless pedals, the chances of coming to a stop before exiting
your pedal (and thus falling over) are greatly reduced. BUT...chances are,
in that first day or two, you'll forget that you need to twist your foot
to the side (instead of pulling back) to get out. By the time you
recognize your mistake, it's too late, as you've lost all forward speed.
And, with no place to go but down...you get the picture. You will, in very
slow motion, and nearly always with people around to see it happen, fall
over. You're not likely to get hurt, but it's terribly embarrassing. And
most likely there's nothing that makes you so
special that you'll avoid the fate shared by just about everyone else.
Just try and remember this...
It's almost impossible to come up with a truly original
way to embarrass yourself on a bike. The rest of us have already, as they
say, been there, done that.