A Beginner Cyclist's Guide to Clipping In
One of the most common questions we get at CWRB is around 'clipping in'. Whether you're on a road, gravel or mountain bike, being attached to your pedals can be one of the biggest and scariest changes you can make - especially when you've just starting out riding!
The good news is, there are lots of ways to make this transition easier for yourself if it's something you want to do... but let's address some questions first:
Q: Do I HAVE to clip in?
This is an easy one. Absolutely not.
Riding bikes is a wonderful way to be more active, make new friends, explore new places and just be happier and more confident. If the thought of clipping in has you so anxious it's interfering with any of these things, you 100% don't have to do it! It doesn't matter if 'everyone else' is doing it.
You do you!
Q: What is Clipping In?
Platform or flat pedals have a large surface area for you to put your foot on. There's no clipping mechanism or strap, so they're easy to use on any bike. Sometimes they have notches, tread or small spikes to help your shoe grip the pedal better.
Clip Ins (aka clipless because those hipster toe straps you still see around used to be called 'clips' so now pedals you clip into are called 'clipless' - go figure) attaches your foot to the bike using a two-part system. The first is the pedal itself which are smaller (and sometimes much smaller) than the flat pedal. The second part is the cleat you wear on the bottom of your shoe.
When people refer to Clipping In, they mean using the cleat at the bottom of their shoe to 'clip into' the slot on the pedal.
Q: Are There Different Types?
Clipless pedals require specific shoes and cleats which fit the mechanism, of which there are many different types.
- SPD are the ones more often seen on mountain bikes
- SPD-SL are most common on road bikes
Q: What Are The Benefits and Drawbacks
The main advantage is that you will cycle more efficiently (some say about 30% more) due to being able to push and pull on the pedals. Whatever the exact percentage, it definitely makes a huge difference, and, if you ask people, they will tell you they will never go back.
Q: What If I'm afraid I'll fall?
One of the biggest fears of going clipless is falling. Of course, no one likes stacking it (and somehow those slow-mo crashes seem to hurt the worst!). But if we stick with the car analogy, a fear of falling is equivalent to a fear of stalling... It would be great if you learned it perfectly the first time and it never happened, but if would be unrealistic of a driving instructor to reassure you it will never happen.
The clipped in gumby stack is sort of a… rite of passage. Anyone who says they've never done it is probably telling you porkies.
Q: How Do I Get Started if I Want to Give it a Try?
Let's start off thinking about it this way: when you learned to drive a manual car it was a steep learning curve, right? You had to learn how to operate the clutch and move the gears as well as think about braking and accelerating and steering. It's all so hard at first... you bunny hop everywhere - and hill starts become the most panic attack-inducing, horrible thing you can imagine. But then, over time, you practice and it becomes second nature!
This is what it's like learning to clip in. Some people "get it" straight away. Others take a little more time!
(And some even fall onto their husband's motorcycle in their own driveway while trying to practice. But I digress.)
Types of Clipless Set Ups
SPD MTB Cleats
Top Tips for newbies clipping in
Learn Correct Pedalling Technique
Start a Foot Care Routine
Adjust Cleat Tension
Adjust Cleat Position
Get your clipless gear with your bike purchase
Even if you aren't planning on using them right away, you may get it cheaper (or even free!) with a bike purchase as a package deal. You may find you are ready to try them faster than you thought!
Try double-sided pedals
Look into pedals which are flat on one side, but have the clipping mechanism on the other. It give you some control over when you are comfortable being clipped in. I used these for 2 years before deciding to move to full clipless on the mtb! They can be used on road, touring and mtbs for as long as you like.
Practice somewhere quiet
Find a very quiet street (or better yet, a closed circuit such as a velodrome or criterium track) to practice on. Clip in, pedal a few times, then clip out. Don't risk having the stress of cars or other bikes rushing around you if possible - it's stressful enough!
Practice clipping out WITH BOTH FEET. This is an important one. Most people end up with a 'favourite foot' which can cause issues if you are forced to stop and unclip with the other one... This is especially true if you are learning to ride clipped into your mountain bike.