Of the many great choices you have to make in cycling, one of the biggest is where to put your feet. Do you choose flat pedals, which are ‘traditional’ and straightforward to understand, or do you go clipless, which, ironically, uses clips to secure your feet to your pedals? Clipless pedals are more than just a gimmick or fad; they actually serve an important purpose and can have a big impact on your power and speed while you bike.
Here are the benefits of choosing clipless pedals and tips on how you can choose the best shoes for them.
Better Pedaling Efficiency
This is the reason most people try going clipless. Who doesn’t want to maximize efficiency? Unlike flat pedals, which can really only create motion when you push down while pedaling, clipless pedals allow you to use your drivetrain on the ‘up’ motion, too. By utilizing both the upward and downward strokes, you create constant power, making your pedaling efforts more efficient. You should know that there is a lot of debate about exactly how much power is created during the upstroke, if any at all. (ref) But nobody is arguing how much being clipped to the pedals allows you to apply more force on the down stroke by unweighting you “dead” leg on the upstroke. Try doing that on a flat pedal and your foot will come off the pedal and end up in your shin.
Better Traction On Steep Climbs
If you’re a mountain biker, the constant power created when you clip into the clipless pedals has another benefit that you’ll appreciate–better traction. This is especially helpful when pedaling up steep, loose terrain because you don’t lose power on the upstroke. While it’s true that there’s not as much power in an upstroke than when you push downward, there’s likely some power there when you use clipless MTB pedals. Even with really good shoes and top quality flat pedals, you still can’t get the traction that you’d get with clipless pedals, especially in wet conditions. You may get your tires to grip the terrain, but what about your feet gripping the pedals?
The most obvious benefit of using clipless pedals is also one that most flat pedal fans don’t understand. Because your feet are literally locked in place with clipless pedals, you are connected to your bike. There’s no slipping off the pedals and grinding your shins into a mess when the errant pedal comes back around again. Of course, some people wonder about what happens if you crash or fall off your bike while using clipless pedals. The nature of clipless pedals means you have greater control of your bike, so you shouldn’t have to worry about crashing quite so much, but if you are, just know that the art of unclipping your shoes can be easily learned with practice, so you don’t have to sacrifice the benefits of the pedals for safety’s sake.
Being physically connected to your bike has another benefit, too. Your bike will start to feel more like an extension of you instead of something you are just sitting on, and you’ll naturally gravitate towards better riding posture because you’ll learn the right position to keep your shoes clipped in place. Consequently, you’ll have a lower risk of injury (ref) for bones, joints, and muscles in your feet and legs.
How To Tell If Clipless Pedals Are Right For You
If you’re wondering whether to try clipless pedals, go for it, but with one caveat. They really aren’t meant for casual use. Your body needs time to develop the muscle memory it takes to clip and unclip your shoes from the pedals when you come to a stop, so if you aren’t going to be riding regularly, you may struggle with this.
If you are just learning the basics of biking, there’s no harm in learning on flat pedals and switching to clipless later on. In fact, that’s probably a good idea, since you won’t be struggling to learn how to control your bike and unclip your feet at the same time. Flat pedals do have their place, but it’s very hard to beat the efficiency and control that clipless pedals offer a more experienced rider.
Will You Be Walking?
Clipless pedal systems and shoes come in two main styles. One is called ‘road’, the other is called ‘walkable.’ The names are pretty self-explanatory. Road systems are designed to be as efficient as possible while riding. The shoes are thin, lightweight, and have the cleats extending from the soles of the shoes, making them very difficult to walk in. Walkable system shoes feature cleats that are recessed into the bottom of the shoe’s sole. This means the cleats don’t touch the ground when you walk, making them ideal for walking into the grocery store or hiking over rough terrain if you’re a mountain biker. A walkalble shoe tends to be more popular with casual riders and people taking spin class don’t want to walk awkwardly through the aisles of the grocery store or through the weight training area to get back to the locker room.
Choosing Shoes for Clipless Pedals
Once you decide to go clipless, the easiest way to ensure you get off to a good start is to buy a pedal and shoe system. In other words, buy the pedal and shoe that are made for each other. This way you’ll know that your shoe will clip in correctly and you won’t have any problems. You can buy shoes from one manufacturer and pedals from another, but you need to make sure that the clips on the shoe are compatible with the clips on the pedals. This gives you more options and allows you to find the ideal fit for your shoes. This also allows you to try more than one pair of shoes once you get a pedal you feel comfortable with. Before you head to the store, familiarize yourself with some of the more common features, brands, and lingo that sales people will be using. You’ll be more prepared to have an informed discussion and get a shoe you’ll be happy with for years. You’ll find a good guide here at Best Exercise Shoes as well as some road and walkable shoe recommendations.
Ultimately, the best way to choose your shoes is to go and try them out with the pedal system. You can try different tensions to see how easy or difficult releasing the clips will be and you can decide if you want shoes that are flexible enough for hiking and walking before, during, or after your bike rides.
When you boil it down, the type of shoes you buy is going to depend on where you’ll be riding your bike and how efficient you want to be when riding. A casual rider will at most want a pair of walkable clipless shoes, but after your first race in a pair of walkers you’ll likely want to upgrade to a pair of clipless before you sit in the saddle again.