When I decided to write about this question, I thought my article would be pretty simple. Pros vs cons, efficiency vs comfort, etc. As I did some research, though, I found this question brings up a lot to consider. Shoes, shoe material, terrain, soil type, typical weather, traffic…seriously, we can go down the rabbit hole, here.
So, this article just scratches the surface and, hopefully, will help inspire new riders to consider clipless pedals and research shoes/pedals so that they can find the best combination for their type of ride.
We are all familiar with flat or platform pedals—that’s what we’ve learned on.
Clipless pedals were created as a replacement for the strap and clip system road riders used to use to keep their feet on the pedals. They were actually inspired by cross country skiing and its binding systems. Clipless pedals attach to a cleat on the underside of your biking shoe so your feet won’t come off the pedals unless you want them to. To get out, you just swing your heel away from the bike. Your foot should disengage, and then you can step down.
Overall, there are several benefits riders can gain from using clipless pedals. Clipless pedals allow you to pull on the upstroke as well as push on the downstroke, creating a smooth and constant application of power. And, your control and confidence will increase because being attached to the bike allows you to navigate features or obstacles without the fear of your feet bouncing off the pedals.
In road cycling, most folks use clipless pedals—riders are in the saddle for long distances without having to step a foot down and want to maximize their efficiency overall. They probably won’t have to walk much, so a stiffer sole and cleat won’t be a problem.
For mountain biking, the field is split between platform and clipless. Platform pedals allow riders to easily and quickly get a foot down if needed in a turn or on rough terrain. They let the rider change foot placement to balance for a feature. And, platform pedals are also good for learning technique. You may have to walk more on a mountain bike outing, so regular shoes will be easier to walk in than most shoes with cleats.
But, your feet can get bumped off the pedals more easily and you won’t have that explosive power that might be needed at a moment’s notice. Clipless offer that security, power, and efficiency, but may get clogged up with mud and can be harder to use in descents. Plus, you have to be practiced at getting “unclipped” at a moment’s notice.
I am a very tentative rider, and I thought my husband was crazy for having me try them. I also wasn’t too happy when he jumped from our tandem to save a turtle mid-ride as I keeled over because I didn’t manage to get my feet unclipped in time. But, I really grew to love my shoes and clipless pedals. Once I had the click-out mastered, I felt so much safer and powerful—both necessary when Chris is your tandem captain.
If you decide to stick with platform pedals look for a pedal with a large platform and pins or ridges to maintain a good grip on your shoe’s sole. Pedals with smooth surfaces allow riders to easily slip from the pedals, particularly if it is wet or during accelerations. Pedals with edges that are too sharp may be uncomfortable on the bottom of your foot and produce a nasty cut if they come into contact with your shin or other body parts.
Wanting to try clipless? There are so many things to consider. Here at New Moon, we can definitely walk you through all the choices and pros and cons, but here are a few things to think about. Your shoe style will be different depending on the riding you are doing: road uses a stiffer soled shoe with less tread, mountain bike shoes have a more recessed cleat and grippier tread. Set-up is also very important. Incorrect placement may lead to knee pain. And, ease of detachment is important to get dialed in, as well.
If you’re game to do the install yourself, here is some video from Bike Radar on how to set up your bike pedals. Otherwise, let New Moon or techs from your local shop set everything up for you.
No matter which pedal type you choose, get out there and ride. And if you need advice or help researching your perfect pedal, give New Moon a call!