Level Up Your Cycling – The Clipless Revolution

By Jiri Kaloc

Have you been cycling for a while now and looking to level up? There are a lot of upgrades you can make to your gear, habits, and training to choose from. But there are only a few that make a big difference. In this series, we will focus on things that cyclists say improved their performance and enjoyment of the sport the most. Let’s start with clipless pedals.

Why are some cyclists hesitant to go clipless?

Almost every cyclist heard about how amazing clipless pedals are. It sounds enticing but also kind of scary. The idea of being unable to unclip from the pedals quickly enough when stopping suddenly can be fear inducing. Being attached to the bike makes any fall worse. To make things worse, there’s a definite learning curve when transitioning to clipless pedals. The process of clipping in and out smoothly requires practice and this learning period is also when you’re most likely to fall.

Some cyclists also like to have the ability to wear any type of shoe without the need for specific cycling shoes. And going clipless comes with a cost of buying new pedals and cycling shoes. It’s easy to see why so many newer cyclists postpone this upgrade.

What are the benefits of clipless pedals?

Now let’s go over the reasons for why switching to clipless pedals can be such a gamechanger for your cycling. There are three main benefits: improved cycling efficiency, better bicycle control, and injury prevention. Let’s go over each to paint the picture for you and get you excited.

Efficiency and sprinting

When your feet are attached to the pedals, you become one with your bike. This results in more of your energy to be transferred to each pedal stroke, giving you more power. It helps you stay very efficient on long rides and it makes climbing easier.

And let’s not forget about sprinting. Many cyclists are blown away with how effortless sprinting feels in clipless compared to regular pedals. When using flats, you kind of have to wait for the other foot to finish the spin before you can fully engage with the opposite foot. With clipless pedal, you can continuously push or pull with both legs at the same time without thinking about it.

Cycling sprint
Clipless pedals can enhance your sprinting skills. © Profimedia

Control and safety

Being clipped in means you can do a lot of new maneuvers on your bike. You can do bunny hops, jump up curbs and over potholes much easier. And you have a lot more control to swerve around obstacles in your way. You can also corner more sharply. Clipless pedals give you the confidence that your foot can’t slip off the pedals so you can really lean into sharp corners.

Injury prevention

Having your foot locked in place can help improve alignment of your leg joints which can reduce the risk of injury and improve comfort over long distances.

Learning how to use clipless pedals for the first time

Now that you have several good reasons to go clipless, it’s time to learn how to do it right so you don’t fall too much and get discouraged. Here are a few tips how to practice and gain confidence safely.

Loosen your cleats: The looser your cleats, the easier it will be to clip in and out. Sure, it’s not optimal for performance, but it really helps you learn faster. You can tighten them again later.

Start stationary: Begin by practicing clipping in and out while stationary. You can do this by leaning against a wall or using a stationary bike stand. This helps you get used to the feeling of clipping and unclipping the pedals without the need to balance.

Practice starting and stopping on grass: It’s best to take your first outdoor practice to a soft surface, such as grass or a soft trail, rather than asphalt. Some cyclists take a few falls during the first session so it’s good to make them painless.

Choose your main leg: It can be quite helpful to focus on learning to unclip on one side only in the beginning. Try both legs a few times and you will instinctively feel which side feels more stable and easier to control. Proceed to do several stops using that leg as the first to unclip and touch the ground.

Go for an easy ride away from traffic: After you gain enough confidence starting and stopping on grass, go for your first real ride. Set yourself up for success by choosing easy terrain away from traffic. You want to build muscle memory as well as enjoy the benefits of your new pedals.

Increase difficulty gradually: As you get more comfortable, gradually increase the complexity of your rides. Move on to more challenging terrain or busier areas. Once you’re fully confident on one foot, start practicing clipping and unclipping with the other for full mastery. You can also experiment with tighter cleats for more efficient power transfer at the cost of harder unclipping.

Wherever you are in your progress, remember that it’s completely normal to have a few mishaps when you’re learning. Thankfully, most of them happen at almost zero speed when starting or stopping. With practice, clipping in and out will become second nature.