Clipless pedals

As I mentioned earlier, one of the bike upgrades my wife made on the advice of her training buddies was to go to clipless pedals. (It’s an unfortunate name, since you wear a special cleat on the sole of your bike shoe that clips into the pedal – but it’s called “clipless” because it is not one of those old-fashioned toe clips that attaches to regular platform pedals.)

After her first ride with the clipless, she raved about her ability to add power to her pedal stroke by pulling up as well as pushing down. Less happy for her was the nagging feeling that she’s permanently attached to the bike. When riding, she’ll try to time upcoming stoplights so she doesn’t have to disengage her cleat at the corner. Instead, she’ll slowly ride up to the light and try to hit it just as it turns green. When she gets home, she pulls the bike onto our lawn to stop and disengage, so that if she falls, she’ll hit soft grass instead of hard concrete.

I was persuaded by her experience that clipless was a necessary addition to my bike. I bought a set from Nashbar, the large online bike shop. They have their own branded pedals, which are cheaper than all others I’ve come across. I had them installed at a local bike shop when the bike was in for other servicing, attached the cleats to my new bike shoes (Exustars – a relatively cheap Chinese brand also sold by Nashbar), and went out to practice. After clipping in and out on both left and right pedals (there – I used “clipping” while talking about “clipless” pedals. It’s awfully hard not to) I went out for a ride on the Veloway – a 3-mile paved bikeway about 3 miles away from my house. They were terrific. I instantly felt that additional pulling power on the upstroke. I can’t prove it, but it felt like I was going faster than usual. I returned home feeling good about the purchase.

pedal-2.png pedal-1.png

Two views of the clipless pedals on my bike.

Then, I turned into my driveway, slowed, tried to disengage – and did the famous “clipless fall.” That’s what happens when you don’t twist your heel out to the side firmly enough, and the cleat doesn’t come loose from the pedal. Still attached to the bike with both feet, you feel yourself slowly tipping over, past the point of recovering your balance, and wind up on your side on the driveway, still straddling the bike. By then, the cleat has come out of the pedal. Swell. On the plus side, since your speed is zero, the road rash (or “driveway rash”) is not as severe as if you fell out on the road.

Since then, I’ve had only one more clipless fall, (edit: make that two) and have learned that it’s a rite of passage all new clipless riders have to go through. I guess with only two to my name, I’m doing better than a lot of cyclists. I’ve become more adept at disengaging, and am diligent about doing it as I approach stoplights. My remaining clipless problem has to do with clipping back in once I get the green light. I can never seem to get the pedal in the right position. As the picture shows, its normal resting position is with the rear down, toe up. The trick is to guide your toe over the pedal, which pushes it forward, and allows the cleat to click in. it’s a trick that takes practice, and I’m still not good at it. As one biking acquaintance said, “Practice, practice, practice.”


  1. vicp says

    Clipless pedals are very dangerous.
    I’ve been riding bicycles continuously since I was 5. Have even commuted to work year-round in suburb north of NYC, Had been using Shimno clipless pedals for about 10 years and had several occasions when I couldn’t release from the pedal and dumped over. The last time, at age 58, caused my right hip to fracture. I needed 2 surgeries and 6 months of rehab. After the accident I found out about two other cyclists who suffered hip fractures because they couldn’t release from their pedals.
    Needless to say I took them off my Trek and will never use them again.
    The Pain was not worth the gain.

  2. rainycamp says

    I think your comment might represent your experience with clipless pedals, but by no means can they be considered “very dangerous” for most bikers. Most pedals have a small Allen screw to adjust the tension of the pedal release, and the common advice is to set it at the least amount of tension until you get used to using them. If I had had several instances of not being able to release, I would immediately loosen the tension — or take the bike to my LBS and have them do it.

  3. Alan Millward says

    A friend of mine had a clipless fall, a week later he was dead from a clot on the brain.
    Big perforformance gain for him.

    • Trevor says

      How does that have anything to do with clipless pedals? If he was moving fast enough to whack his head that hard being unclipped probably wouldn’t have saved him anyways

        • Trevor says

          Sounds like your feet are very uncoordinated, or you are lacking flexibility in the ankles. If you’ve used the pedals for that long you really shouldn’t have any problem clipping in and out, or maybe you don’t ride often enough to be familiar with them.

          Maybe you just need to drink more milk or de-stress. Al lack of calcium and life stress are both contributing factors to osteoporosis.

          I don’t see the connection between a blood clot in the head and you breaking your hip. In a tip over one wouldn’t whack their head if they were physically well enough to ride a bike. If the man hit his head there was some extreme factor that was likely not divulged.

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