As a new riders discovering leaning about cycling, you eventually come to the point where you are considering clipless pedals. Perhaps you are having trouble keeping up with other club riders and have inquired about ways to improve your performance. If you are not already using clipless pedals, switching to them will result in substantial benefits. Some new riders are reluctant to even try them due to safety concerns, however, properly used clipless pedals can actually add a certain degree of safety.

SPD Pedal

SPD mountain pedal. Easier for beginners. Easier to walk in. Release tension adjustment shown. Be sure to adjust both sides to same tension.

If you are one of those new riders that has safety concerns about cleated pedal systems keep this in mind:

  1. Rid yourself of any fantasies about jumping off the bike at road speeds in the event of a situation because you are not clipped in. Not going to happen. You can’t just hop off a fast moving bike to avoid crashing.
  2. If your foot accidentally slips off a pedal while you are standing, well that is going to be a bad situation. Clipless pedal systems make it less likely that your foot will unexpectedly come off a pedal.
  3. The most common fall resulting from clipless pedal use happens at about zero MPH. It’s not fun falling at any speed, but you are less likely to be seriously injured at slower speeds and these sort of mishaps are easily preventable if the rider follows a few simple rules.
Shimano SPD Cleat

SPD mountain cleat

Use The Force

Securing a riders feet to the pedals not only prevents the riders feet from accidentally slipping off the pedals, it provides more pedaling power. Without some form of foot retention, the rider is required to press on the pedals through the entire pedal stroke. This includes the part of the pedal stroke where the pedal is coming back up. You are actually pedaling against yourself in this case. With your feet attached to the pedals, not only is it not necessary to press down to keep your feet on the pedals, it is now possible to pull up on the pedals.

Clipless pedals were introduced in the late 1980s as an improvement to toe clip and strap pedals, hence the term “clipless.” Prior to this bicycle racers would use toe clips and straps combined with a slotted cleat to secure their feet to the pedals. These had a tendency to cause numb toes and also required the rider to reach down and loosen a strap to release from the pedal. This was far less safe than the simple twist now required to release from a pedal. Most clipless pedals are like a small ski binding. They will release if any side pressure is applied to the system. They are released by moving the heel outwards away from the bike.

These Aren’t the Pedals You’re Looking For

For new riders, it’s not a bad idea to begin with mountain bike pedals, even if riding a road bike. Mountain bike pedals work with shoes that have a sole similar to a normal walking shoe and adjust to lower release tensions than some road models. Ultimately, it’s the riders choice which system is the best to start with. A good bicycle shop will fit your bike to accommodate the new pedals and let you test them in a stationary trainer to make sure you are comfortable with their use and operation. You should feel capable of operating the pedal release system before you leave the shop. You should not take to the road until you feel confident using them. Shimano’s mountain pedals have been a popular choice for beginners for years due to their adjustability and their predictable release behavior.

Speedplay Pedal

Speedily pedal. Larger platform but harder to walk in. Usually for more advanced riders.

Jedi Mind Tricks

My key philosophy for safe clipless pedal use can be summed up in two words “safety buffer.” As a new clipless pedal rider, you should remember three things:

  1. In late.
  2. Out early.
  3. Kung fu stance.

There are three critical moments where new riders are more likely to fall over due to a pedal system they don’t yet understand:

  1. Starting to ride.
  2. Coming to a stop.
  3. Stopped okay, but somehow fell over anyway.

Guess, what. Those three situations relate directly to the three things you need to remember.

In Late

I have seen this happen countless times. A new rider has trouble clipping in. They concentrate so hard on clipping in that they forget to keep pedaling the bicycle and fall over as a result. The most important things to be focused on when starting is that the bike is moving forward and that it’s not going to crash into anything. Stay seated until you clip in in case your foot slips off the pedal, but do not worry about being clipped in. Most riders have better luck clipping in just pedaling than when they focus too much on clipping in anyway. By the time you have the bike going fast enough to devote some extra time to clipping in, you will mostly likely already be clipped in, especially with mountain pedals. If you do need to focus more after the bike is rolling at a good speed, quick glances at your pedals only. No staring at your pedals and start pedaling again if the bike begins to slow down. Think of the pedal as a simple platform pedal until you clip in and you will avoid this mishap.

Out Early

Unclip early whenever you have the chance. Don’t wait for the last second to disengage from your pedals. If you see a stop sign or signal, you can clip out in advance, using the pedal like a platform if necessary to pedal. The more you become accustomed to your pedal system, the less necessary this will seem, but it never hurts to be extra cautious.

It is easier to clip out if the leg you are clipping out on is rotated towards the bottom of the pedal stroke. It is not important to be at the absolute bottom of the pedal stroke, but the top of the pedal stroke is a definite no, no. Attempting to clip out at the top of the pedal stroke is a common mistake made by new riders. This is a result of being accustomed to having the opposite leg down to support your weight to lift off the saddle before stepping down. When using clipless pedals, the rider should first clip out, then rotate  the other leg down to support weight.


Speedily road cleat. No tension adjustment on cleats or pedals.

Most pedal systems have something called “float.” The cleat will be able to move slightly from left to right. Moving your heel away from the bike is how most systems release. If you first move your foot inward and then “slam” you heel to the outer limit quickly, the pedal will seem to release with less tension than if you twisted slowly. If you need to be out of the pedals fast, this is how you should clip out. Don’t just twist out of the pedal, hammer your heel out of it.

Kung Fu Stance

When you step down, lean the bike over and step away from the bike. Martial arts class teach a stance with the legs held apart. This provides better balance than holding your feet together. You can use this “kung-fu stance” to provide a more stable platform while waiting at a stop. The handlebars should be pointed either straight ahead or dropped towards the foot that is on the ground. Never turn the bars towards the foot that is still clipped in.

Practice, Practice, Practice…

Speedily cleat with protective cover installed. Makes walking a little easier. Protects cleat from debris that can make them harder to use.

Most good bike shops will let you practice with your new cleats for at least a little while on a stationary trainer. If this does not feel sufficient, many gyms use clipless pedals on their spin bikes. This is another benefit to starting with a mountain pedal. The spin bikes most likely use the same cleat as the mountain pedals. If you already belong to a gym, it may be possible to use a spin bike to practice during a time period when a spin class is not being offered. It should not take much time to become comfortable with the new pedal system.

If you don’t follow these directions to the letter a few times, you might not fall, but remember, we are trying to establish a “safety buffer.” You don’t want to find yourself barely getting out of the pedals even a fraction of the attempts. You want to be clipped out with time and energy to spare. You do not want your fatigue on a long ride to be a factor in whether you can clip out or not. Situations have a way of popping up on bike rides but if you have your safety buffer they are not likely to result in a mishap. ?

Tags: , , ,

Categorised in:

This post was written by Tom

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: