Before my first ride in clipless pedals, there are a few things I wish someone had told me other than “you’re going to fall.” I’ve listed a few tips and tricks below which have helped me feel more comfortable being attached to my bike. Happy riding!
Practice standing still
Before you try riding while clipped in, put your shoes on, straddle your bike, lean to one side, and just practice clipping in and clipping out. Play around with looking and not looking at your foot. Feel for the proper alignment and then push down to clip in. Or in my case, slide your foot around awkwardly laughing at yourself for 5 minutes trying to find proper alignment. It’s there, I promise. To unclip, twist your heel outwards. But do this before you try taking your bike outside to ride. Preferably out of view of others. Less witnesses = less embarrassment.
You don’t HAVE to clip in
The pedals still move if you put your feet on top of them and push. Which makes the bike move. Which is good news for you as you try to get comfortable being attached to the bike. So don’t think that you need to immediately clip into the pedals as you get rolling, or that you should clip one foot in and then get moving. One of the biggest mistakes I made was observing skilled cyclists who keep one foot attached to the bike while starting or stopping. I thought that’s how it was done. But when you’re attached to the bike, your center of gravity is off, and you have to reach your free foot out wide to compensate. And if you don’t reach your foot out far enough, you fall down. It takes some practice. I still unclip both feet when coming to a stop. Or a section of road where I might have to swerve. Or really any time I think that being attached to a bike seems insane. So while you’re getting comfortable, feel free to unclip both feet from the bike to move as you’re used to doing.
Pick YOUR shoe type
There are several types of biking shoes. Road shoes are lightweight, minimal, with the cleat sticking prominently off the bottom. They’re stiff and sturdy and allow maximum transfer of power to your pedal. They’re also slippery to run in (makes for a fun transition), can take a few seconds longer to lace up or tighten due to multiple straps, and cost bank. Triathlon shoes have the same benefits as road shoes, but only have one easy to secure strap. They also cost bank. Typically more bank than road shoes. Mountain biking shoes have a tread on them, with a slightly recessed cleat. Mountain bikers often have to get off their bikes to carry them across unbikable terrain, which is where the tread comes in handy. But the soles of these shoes aren’t quite as stiff, so they often have less power transfer to the bike. And they look a bit like sneakers. Me? I’m a weirdo who rides in a hybrid shoe, with tread and a recessed cleat, a medium-firm sole, and a form more similar to a road shoe. They also have quick draw laces similar to my running shoes. Do people look at me funny because I’m not in a road or tri shoe? Some do, sure. But they’re comfy,they came in a cool hot coral color that looks bomb on my bike, and I’m a fan. That trumps anyone else’s opinion.
Add your shoes to your pre-ride checklist
Mounting my bike before a long ride, I noticed the cleat on one shoe was a little wiggly. I didn’t think much of it, not having a tool handy anyway, but made a mental note to check it when I got back. 25 miles later I needed to stop at a traffic light. That’s when I realized my shoe was stuck in the pedal. So I wrenched it out, hard as I could twist, and heard “clink!” One of the screws was gone. My cleat was now out of position and useless. And I had 22 miles to go. Thankfully I was able to pull over at a bike shop and the guys in there were nice enough to give me a new screw, but that was after an additional 10 miles of riding with only one shoe clipped in. Lesson learned- tighten the darn cleats.
Have a question about clipless pedals? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask! If I don’t know the answer, I will find out. I’m happy to look like an idiot so that you don’t have to.