29 September 2020

Cycling: Getting started with clip in pedals – part one

August 18, 2016

If you’ve been inspired by the Olympic cycling and fancy stepping up your own riding by switching to cycling shoes then this guide is for you.


We’ve teamed up with Macmillan Cycletta – the UK’s leading series of women-only bike rides taking place this Autumn and we’d love you to join us! It’s a great event to be part of and the friendly atmosphere is perfect for trying cycle shoes for the first time.

In this special technical feature, we explain the clipless or clip in (as it’s also known) pedal system, why it is so effective and how it really doesn’t have to be scary. With practice, perseverance and some good advice, it is surprisingly easy to master… and will make the world of difference to your comfort and performance on two wheels.

What are clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals are so called due to the lack of any sort of clip or strap over the top of your foot. Instead, they are similar to the ski-binding system, in that you have a cleat attached to the sole of your cycling shoe, which then clips into a small spring-loaded pedal – or in the case of the Speedplay system the spring is in the shoe cleat.

They are extremely popular especially with road cyclists and the pedal system of choice for most triathletes. Mountain bike riders tend to use a slightly different system known as SPD’s which are double sided and cope better with muddy conditions – but follow the same principles.

There is a bewildering array of brands and designs available however, which can make choosing the right ones for you rather confusing. In this feature we’ll guide you through buying your first clipless pedals and shoes and get you out and riding in no time. Whatever you choose we can guarantee that once you’ve mastered them, you won’t look back.

Why should I use them?

Effective pedalling technique is as much about the pull of the pedal upwards, as the push down. You’re aiming to maintain constant power throughout the pedal stroke in a complete circle, and this can only be achieved if your foot is attached to the pedal.

The stiffness of the soles of your shoes is also vital, allowing greater transfer of power from your legs through to the bike. You only get this stiffness from specifically designed cycle shoes, which fit snugly and have cleats fitted to the sole. Riding in trainers is fine, but if you want to get faster then cycle shoes are the way to go.

Will I fall off?

Possibly but not necessarily, to unclip you need to twist your foot sideways. Beginners can adjust the pedal or shoe (depending on system used) to the easiest setting and our advice is to cycle somewhere quiet – maybe just round the block a few times to practice.

Not getting your foot out in time and falling over sideways (usually in slow-motion and to the amusement of any bystanders) at junctions, or into a bush on the side of the road is common – which can be hilarious at best and a bit painful at worst! But if this becomes an issue and keeps happening don’t be put off – read this review of beginner friendly system, Speedplay.

Which system to choose

This can be the most confusing part of the process, some bike shops will be really helpful and understanding and others not so – the problem is that most people working in bike shops have long been used to bike shoes and have no understanding of the intimidation factor for many women (and men). Others just see falling off a few times as a rite of passage. So, it’s worth doing your research before you go to the shops.

You need to ensure that your shoes and pedal system are compatable, but the shop staff will help with that. If buying on-line you will need to check the detail, It will say compatible with xxx, so do check. NOTE: Buying cycle shoes online can be a frustrating process as the sizing varies enormously, we’d recommend trying on and buying in a shop to get a comfortable well-fitting shoe first time!

There are two main styles of systems:

Image via Wiggle buying guide

Road cycling systems (above right and middle): E.G. Shimano SPD-SL, Time, LOOK, Speedplay Light Action.
Generally these are the ones you notice when cyclists are walking clunkily into a cafe with their heels down and toes up. This is because they are not designed for off the bike use, which sounds obvious until you realise that off-road systems are more walking friendly.

Off-road system (above left) : E.G. Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedal Dynamics), Speedplay frog.
These have a recessed cleat stystem so that if you are regularly putting your foot down or need to walk sections, want to stop at cafes or shops, or are commuting, you can walk much easier as your foot will be flat on the floor rather than at an angle.  The only issue with these are that the pedals are pretty small, so if you then want to swap between cycle shoes and trainers (if you are just popping down the shops for example) you might find the platform a bit tiny – but it’s generally ok for shorter rides.

Right, now time to do your research and next week we tackle the set-up and getting riding.

Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Sign up for a Cycletta event if you haven’t already done so – they are fun, friendly and just for women!

More advice:

Macmillan Cycletta: Training for the longer distances

Macmillan Cycletta: How to train and prepare for the 20-25km (12-15m) event

What to wear: How to layer-up for a cycle event







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