Not what you’re looking for? Check out:
- The best clipless pedals reviewed
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- Best flat and platform pedals
First: forget everything you know about logic. Clipless pedals are pedals for cycling that you clip into. Once you've got your head around that, then learning how to ride in them has got to be a doddle.
Joking aside, the term 'clipless pedals' actually makes more sense than at first it might seem. In days gone by, riders used to clip themselves into pedals, using toe straps. Modern pedal systems - such as Look, Shimano and Speedplay - all do away with that extra bit of hassle.
Learning to cycle clipped in can seem daunting, but after a little bit of practice, it really does become second nature. In fact, most people who habitually ride clipped in find it difficult to ride flat pedals - we've all got something to learn.
Why should you learn to cycle with clipless pedals?
There are several good reasons to ride clipped in, and incredibly 'because it's what the pros do' is not one of them. Good reasons include:
- Riding clipped in allows you to recruit more of the muscles in your leg, more efficiently. Whilst with flat pedals you tend to get the most drive when you push down, with clipless pedals you also create forward propulsion when you pull up
- Provided your cleats are set up correctly (and that is important, so read up) and your saddle height and fore/aft position is right, you'll be clipping yourself into the optimum position - limiting the chance of injury and improving efficacy
- Your feet won't slide around like they can do on flat pedals
There are several different styles of clipless pedals for road bikes. Knowing you've chosen the best pedal platform for you can go a long way to making the experience easier. There's more information here.
The vast majority of cyclists learn to clip in on Look or Shimano SPD-SL pedals. Speedplays can be a little easier due to their dual sided nature, but you need to take care not to miss and skim the pedal. SPD's are a good option if you're particularly nervous, as you can buy beginner friendly pedals that feature a flat pedal platform as well as the SPD mechanism, giving you a fall-back option. However, we'd recommend biting the bullet and learning with road specific pedals if that's your end goal.
Here's a few examples of these pedals styles:
Shimano M324 combination pedals
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
One of the best sellers in this category, Shimano's M324 pedals come supplied with a set of cleats supplied. The platform has plenty of grip, whilst the clipless mechanism in the centre lets you pull up on the pedal stroke as well as push.
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The Geo Trekking pedals from Look come with a wide base, giving you plenty of platform on the flat section - whilst the clipless mechanism in the centre allows you to pull up as you pedal, gaining the benefit of full circle engagement.
How to ride clipless pedals: the absolute basics
- To get clipped in, start with one foot already engaged, and at the top of the pedal stroke
- Push down with the clipped-in foot, and sit on the saddle
- When the uninhabited pedal comes to meet your foot, rest the cleat attached to your shoe over the top of the pedal, and apply pressure
- When you're pedalling, nothing has to change compared to when you were riding in flats - but you will find you naturally produce a more rounded and even pedal stroke
- To release yourself from clipless pedals, you simply need to twist your ankle outwards.
Tips for learning to use clipless pedals
Remember how, when you first rode a bike, balancing on two wheels felt like a big and scary challenge? Probably not, if you learned to cycle as a child. But you only have to watch a kid pedal for the first time to realise it's not an innate skill. Yet now it's just built into your brain, right? Give it a few rides and clipping in will feel the same.
Here are some tips to help speed up the process...
Learn that stopping = unclipping
'Clipless moments', or clipless crashes, nearly always happen when a new rider comes to a stop, forgetting that they need to unclip. The result is usually a topple and a slow speed crash (which rarely results in more injury than a bruised ego).
You need to train your brain to understand that stopping = unclipping. And should you forget, don't panic: unclipping takes a second - so simply stay calm and unclip - you don't have to end up on the floor if you act quickly.
Practise clipping in and unclipping inside before you try it outside. Lean against a doorframe, or try it on the turbo trainer if you have one. That'll help you get used to the process.
Practise on grass, or somewhere quiet
If you're really nervous, test out the process on grass first, or on a dedicated cycle track - in this kind of situation you're less likely to have to have to stop suddenly for traffic lights or other road users.
Adjust the tension levels or go for cleats with more float
Most pedals allow you to adjust the tension levels - go for lower tension on your first few rides, making it easier to disengage. Opting for cleats that allow for more float (red cleats for Look Keo) will have the same effect.
Remember you can pedal until you clip in
Remember that you don't have to be clipped in to pedal. If it takes you longer than you'd like to create that satisfying 'snap' sound that indicates that the two surfaces are connected, simply rest your foot on the pedal and ride as normal until you manage it. This can be useful at times you feel pressured - such as when moving away from traffic lights or at roundabouts. Just be careful not to let your foot slip.
Clipping in on a hill
Clipping in is easier when you're moving at a sensible speed as you've got enough forward motion that you don't feel wobbly. Clipping in on a hill can feel a little more difficult, as you're not moving very fast.
To address this, simply start with one foot clipped in, at the top of the pedal stroke, push down, and rest the other foot onto the pedal. Pull away, and think about clipping in once you're moving.
Give it a month and you'll be amazed you didn't try cycling clipped in earlier.
Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.
When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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