Should I be riding with pedals I can clip into? Here's our guide on how to cycle with 'clipless' pedals

Learning to cycle clipped in is a rite of passage for any cyclist, these tips will help make the transition from flat pedals to clipless as seamless as possible

Image shows a rider learning how to cycle with clipless pedals.
(Image credit: Future)

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 Wahoo 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?

Image shows a rider learning how to cycle with clipless pedals.

Why cycle using clipless pedals? It provides a more powerful pedal stroke
(Image credit: Future)

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 suffering from a common cycling 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. 

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.

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 indoors

Image shows a rider learning how to cycle with clipless pedals.

(Image credit: Future)

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. Float is the amount your foot can move, or more specifically, your heel can move towards or away from the bike and is measured in degrees. 

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.

Best clipless pedals: our picks

There are many clipless pedals on the market, with a wide range of prices to match. Here we've selected two entry level models, one SPD and one from Look, that represent decent value and are both a solid entry point in to the clipless world.

If you're interested in dual-sided SPD or SPD with a platform, then check out some of the best gravel pedals for comparison. Likewise, if its a SPD-SL style road pedal you're looking for, then our guide to the best road pedals breaks down some of the offerings from Shimano, Look and more.

Shimano m324

(Image credit: Shimano M324)

Shimano M324 combination pedals

Specifications

Platform size: 10x7x4
Weight: 533g (pair)

Reasons to buy

+
Dual-sided 
+
Platform side offers plenty of grip
+
Robust construction

Reasons to avoid

-
A little heavy

One of the best sellers in SPD/platform combination 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. 

They're not the lightest pedals but they are stoutly made.The dual sided feature means you can use these on your commuter, allowing you to switch between 'street' shoes and cycling shoes without having to swap your pedals. Equally, they're well suited to a gravel bike, where you'll be using shoes with a grip and may benefit from having both a platform and a SPD option.

However, if you're looking for an out-and-out road pedals these are a little heavy, and more importantly, aren't compatible with road shoes. Here you'll require a SPD-SL or similar, such as the new pedals on our list...

Look Keo Classic 3 Pedal

(Image credit: ProBikeKit)

Specifications

Platform size: Medium
Weight: 278g

Reasons to buy

+
Decent size platform
+
Steel plates help reduce wear
+
Affordable
+
Trickle-down tech from Look's more expensive Keo pedals

Reasons to avoid

-
Spindle can be prone to rusting

The Look Keo Classic are great pedals for those new to clipping in. The coil based mechanism makes it straightforward to adjust the tension for an easy release. helping to build confidence when you're just starting out.

Likewise, the good size contact patch for your foot provides a stable pedalling platform, and one that we've found from experience still offers enough power transfer for stronger riders. 

The composite material does add a weight to the scales, but it doesn't detract from their performance and certainly helps to make them more affordable. In short, a  sensibly priced and easy option for beginners to take their first steps into the world of clipless pedals.

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