Hello sunshine! My husband and I have satisfied our hunger for travel this summer with our multiple bike rides to places we have never gone before. After gaining confidence on my bike, getting faster, learning to ride one-handed and so on, I thought, at the beginning of the fall, it’s now time to learn clipless pedals. As a matter of fact, there are multiple resources for a beginner who wishes to learn clipless pedals. As such, I watched Katie Kookabura and GCN videos on the subject, but… it’s hard to believe these enthusiasts/semi-pro/ex-pro were once beginners. So, without any further due, let’s see together, how to learn clipless pedals for a beginner cyclist, painfully, I must admit.
*links used in this blog post are not affiliated and used as an illustration for the reader
What are clipless pedals anyway?
How can you be clipped in on a clipless pedal, right? Back in the days, when cycling was less technologic, the pedal choice was slightly more restrictive. Indeed, you had flat pedals, such as what we are all used to, and clip pedals. The latter was sporting a plastic or metal cage around the toes, to maintain the foot on the pedal. This cage was referred to as the clip. These type of pedals are still available today, but not used as much.
Clipless pedals, as you might have guessed by now, don’t have anything around the platform, but a specific device inside it, where your shoe will lock-in. As opposed to their medieval counterpart, modern pedals are composed of three parts: the pedal, the cleat and the shoe.
The cleat is the device bolted under the biking specific shoe that will allow the shoe to lock into the pedal. This part is unique to the pedal, and typically, when you first purchase a pedal pair, the cleats are part of the package. However, some cleats tend to wear faster than others (hello plastic) therefore, you might have to replace your cleats a few times over the life of your pedals. Typically, cleats specific to mountain bike pedals will have two bolts, and road cycling cleats will have either three or four bolts for the fancy Speedplay. Note that Speedplay compatible shoes seem to be a nightmare to find
There are vast numbers of cycling shoes available out there. You want to select your shoes based on the type of pedal you use, comfort and personal preference. In that specific order! There is no point to buy road cycling shoes if you are using mountain bike pedals. (note that nothing is preventing you from using mountain bike pedals on a road bike) Plus, there is no point purchasing the swankiest shoes if you are not comfortable in it. Off-road shoes will feature two holes to accommodate the cleats as opposed to their road counterparts which will show three.
Typically, off-road shoes will have a little more grip on the sole. The cleat being smaller, it’s often recessed in the sole, making the combo a little easier to walk than the giant clunky road cleat.
What both types have in common is a very stiff sole. High-end brands will use a carbon-based material for the sole; the stiffness is to prevent cramping and ensure a maximum power transfer. If non of the energy you push through your pedals is used to flex the shoes, it’s all in speed and movement.
Road clip – spd-sl
First, for a roadie, there are the road type clipless pedal and nothing else. As a beginner, don’t mention using any other type of clipless pedal on your road bike. Your roadie friend will come up with a number of arguments to discourage such an idea such as aerodynamics, comfort, power… As far as I am concerned, the main reason to go for the road type is that the shoes are often cuter. Colleagues of mine mentioned the effective surface where your foot rests is larger and guarantee superior comfort. I am ambivalent regarding this claim, as some off-road pedals offer similar platform size.
Popular choices for road pedals include shimano (SPD-SL) and look. In my opinion, the main inconvenient regarding road pedal is that you can’t really walk with your cycling shoes. The massive protuberance caused by the cleat makes it uncomfortable and noisy as soon as you get off your bike. On the other hand, if you bring a second pair of shoes or if visiting/touring is not part of your ride, road cycling shoes are often more breathable, and like mentioned earlier, the platform is somehow larger.
Off-road – SPD
Aside from the Crankbrothers, other popular choices include the shimano (SPD) and Time. Some off-road pedals will show a plastic or metallic platform around the clipping device, offering superior comfort. If dirt is really a concern and you are afraid it might block your pedal during a ride, then minimalistic pedals like the eggbeater might be a good solution. Note that minimalistic pedals might compromise comfort.
As you might have understood by now, I am using off-road pedals on my bike, even though I stay far from dirt and trails. To be honest, the main reason I use those Crankbrothers Candy is because they are pink. I got them on the used market, and I am very pleased with my purchase. Aside from the fact that these pedals are the cutest ever, what I appreciate is I can walk semi comfortably with my cycling shoes. As a matter of fact, SEMI is the keyword here. Indeed, the cleat is no longer an obstacle, as mentioned earlier, the sole is stiff and doesn’t promote walking comfort. However, it is still possible to have a decent and silent gait as opposed to the road counterpart.
This last type is not the most common but is present enough in the cycling world to justify a section here. Speedplay are road type and as opposed to their SPD-SL counterpart, rider can clip on both sides, just like an off-road pedal. In my opinion, the list of advantages stops right here. Finding compatible shoes (four bolts) seems to be a nightmare, cleats tend to wear off quickly and are super expensive, and the platform is small; therefore, comfort might be an issue. However, some people claim that the float it offers (how much movement your feet have while being clipped) helps for knee pain. Therefore, if you are prone to knee pain, speedplay might be a solid option.
How to use clipless pedals for beginner
If you are changing your pedals for the first time, read this carefully : there is a right and a left pedal and THEY ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. You should always thread your pedals toward the handlebar when installing pedals, and toward the saddle when removing it. Typically there is an indication if, like me, looking at the thread doesn’t give you a clue. A L/R mark might be engraved somewhere on the pedal, if not, there is typically a groove on the left pedal thread. Don’t forget to grease the threads before any installation.
Now that you installed your pedals, as a beginner, what should you do?
Practice to clip and unclip
As a beginner, your first attempt at clipless pedals should be stationary. If you happen to have a training base, that is great! Set up your bike on the trainer, and for 20-30 min, clip an unclip, to get the feel of it.
If you don’t have the said trainer, fear not, just lean against a wall and practice one foot at a time.
You might realize that one foot is easier/more challenging than the other, practice until you are comfortable to clip and unclip with both side.
Now that you are comfortable with clipping and unclipping, it’s time to practice with some movement. Not on the road quite yet. Don’t be like me and overconfidently take your shiny shoes and shiny bike around your neighbourhood. Find a park, large, vast, soft terrain with grass. Ideally early in the morning with no one around to see you fall. Because yes, you will fall. To be honest, I find this experience reconciled me with the fear of falling. Don’t get me wrong, I am not thrilled with the idea of falling, but if no one sees me, I realized you don’t get badly injured falling at low speed.
So, back to business. Practice stop and go in the park, practice breaking anticipation and departure until you feel comfortable and confident to go on the road.
Clipless pedals : from beginner to pro!
That’s it! Take your new skill on the road and try not to fall at a junction. If after all the preparation you still face a few challenges, try to plan your route without stops nor junction. The most likely reason why you would fall is if you stop, if you keep moving, falling is very unlikely, but then, you can say Adios to all the coffee stops… so you might want to master the skill properly! 😉
Have a drink, stay for a while!