Learning to Ride a Bike Using Clip-in Pedals
Clipless pedals offer increased power and a more fluid pedal stroke but require plenty of practice before a cyclist can feel confident to tackle any trail.
The clipless pedal is the preferred choice of most cross-country mountain bike racers and also the majority of keen road cyclists. Easier than a toe-clip and strap combination, which can be hard to enter and exit if the strap is too tight, a clipless pedal (so-called as there is no toeclip involved) allows greater efficiency as power is increased on the upward pedal stroke.
Shimano Pedalling Dynamics – SPD Pedals
Shimano produced the first successful clipless mountain bike pedal in the 1980s with their Shimano Pedalling Dynamics (SPD) system and, as a large proportion of riders use Shimano pedals, they are also known as SPD pedals.
Special cycling shoes with a cleat are required to attach the foot to the spring-loaded shoe retention system on a clipless pedal. SPD beginners should ensure that the pedal release tension is set very loosely before riding with clipless bike pedals for the first time.
Learning to Ride Clipped In
- Before going anywhere on the bike it is important to practice clipping in and out of the pedal numerous times.
- Start by holding onto a wall for balance and test the ease of getting in and out of the pedal. If the foot does not engage or disengage easily, adjust the tension in the pedal release system so that it is on its easiest setting.
- To clip in, push down with the ball of the foot until the cleat attached to the bike shoe clicks into the pedal.
- To unclip, twist the foot outwards and slightly upwards until the cleat releases. The action is similar to that of a ski binding.
- Do not attempt to cycle on gravel or tarmac surfaces at first, as falls are inevitable for the novice. Instead, find some soft ground or grass, which will provide a softer landing.
- Focus on unclipping the foot that normally touches down first well in advance, then lean the bike slightly to that side before stopping. This reminds a rider to put the correct (unclipped) foot down rather than the side still attached to the other pedal!
- When getting used to the increased pull on the upward stroke, it is common for beginners to completely forget about wearing clipless pedals until it comes to stopping, so proceed with caution at first.
Tips for Cycling in SPD Pedals
- Try riding with one clipless pedal and one flat pedal if finding it difficult at first. Novices should always choose a double-sided pedal as opposed to one allowing entry and exit on one side only, a lighter pedal often preferred by road cyclists.
- Avoid steep or difficult terrain when learning. A heavy crash is demoralizing and may put the rider off persevering with the new pedal system.
- If SPD’s are not right after weeks of trial and error, revert to flat pedals or back to toe clips taking care to re-learn entry and exit from the toe-clip and strap mechanism.
- A good idea is to start with a platform type SPD pedal. This allows the rider to place one foot “unclipped” on the pedal when necessary, boosting confidence on difficult terrain.
- A bike trainer, often used by riders to train indoors during bad weather, is ideal for learning how to ride clipped-in. Use one to practice on if available before venturing outside.
- Wear protective knee and elbow pads for the first few rides, just in case!
Practice Makes Perfect
With the right practice, most cyclists get used to riding in clipless pedals. The increased power and pedaling efficiency offered by SPD’s is a just reward for the time and energy expelled during the learning process.