cycling · fitness · Sat with Nat

My first lesson clipping in’n’out in the great outdoors

Say hello to my little friend
Say hello to my little friend

Tracy had tried to warn me, that clipping in and out of my road bike while bracketed in a trainer would not adequately prepare me for doing the same thing outside. You can read her experience of learning to clip in with Sam here. I didn’t listen, I was certain I could effortlessly clip in but when I went for my first longer ride this season outside I simply couldn’t go. I clipped one foot in and my knees locked. I was too afraid to get up into the saddle.

This was in stark contrast to my partner who simply clipped in the first time outside and never looked back. He thinks that being on rollers instead of a trainer helped a lot with that transition.

Samantha, in her no-pressure-let’s-just-hang kind of way, had offered to teach me the drills she used with kids using track bikes for the first time in Australia. I had read Steph Keating’s Clipless in the City so I was pretty sure this would involve some falling.

It was a gorgeous day and I debated whether to bike down to Sam’s and switch out my pedals there or just throw my bike on the rack and drive down. I thought if I was pretty shakey after or injured I might not be able to bike back so went with the car option.

When I got to Sam’s Mallory and Rob were there, more kind, knowledgeable friends. Rob had a slice of lemon cake for me, this is why we are friends, I’m basically like a stray cat, feed me and I’ll love you forever!

We walked to a nearby parking lot and playground area and Sam demo’d one foot clipped in and coasting, spinning one foot clipped in and your free leg dangling then placing the free foot on the pedal without clipping in. This is the first series of drills to try and I really found it helpful. I was having a deep animal brain “my foot is in a trap!” response so just clipping one foot in and imparting a bit of momentum really helped get used to the sensation of motion for me.

So we alternated me trying each side and Sam demonstrating different drills. I fell once on each side but it didn’t hurt. Mallory assured me that they had bandaids at the house, turns out my calf was bleeding a bit from the sprocket. Oh I’m so butch. Mallory also learned to use clipless pedals but basically got on her bike and went to camp!

I think the whole session didn’t take very long but because it required a high degree of focus I was wiped out. I did have some bruising on both hips but I’m a fairly squishy person so nothing got sprained, strained or broke. Falling is not that bad on these drills as it is more a sad crumple to the side than the truly scary and dangerous flying over the handlebars at speed.

So I’m still at the coast, pedal, place the second foot on the pedal stage. Sam assures me no one ever has gotten stuck at that phase. i have a nice parking lot near my house so I’m heading out this morning for more practice, next step is getting both feet clipped in then clipping out my dominant side at the top of each rotation.

Before I had my lesson I couldn’t wrap my head around what my body needed to do. Part of that is my thick, short legs and the hoisting up onto the saddle, there’s a lot of flesh and bike to coordinate. Sam and I commiserated on the need to think about that as long, lean legged humans seem to not grapple with this.

Certainly part of this is my bike is fitted for a touring posture as opposed to a more upright, say, communting posture. I’m certainly glad I’m not in an agressive racing posture or on a track bike where the seat seems way up.

So, my advice, if you are considering trying clipless pedals:

-get an experienced tutor friend


-accept you will at some point fall and that likely won’t leave you with an agregious injury

-learning new things as an adult feels weird but that weird is ok

11 thoughts on “My first lesson clipping in’n’out in the great outdoors

  1. Nat, your positive attitude about this is terrific. Learning to clip in is typically a challenge, and the older you are the more afraid you’re likely to be of falling over! You’ve offered us a great reminder that such a fall is NOT going to be the end of the world, and your advice to practice the clipping AND the falling with friends nearby, and in a safe space, is a great one.

    I have a companion suggestion, on that note; when I did group ride training a few weeks back with the London Centennial Wheelers, we did some “risk” drills – including learning what to do if a fellow rider bumps into you, learning how to “lean” on fellow riders for safety, and learning how to escape the most damaging consequences of crossing wheels – on a small patch of grass. It worked well: grass is no harder to ride on than poor or rubbled pavement, and it’s much softer! If we fell – and some did – there were no scrapes and only minor bruising. I suspect it’d be a great place to practice clipping in and out as well.

  2. It’s one of those amazing skills that feels impossible at first and then becomes easy. The one-legged pedaling unlocked it for me. I still tend to do that in intersections and I might unclip earlier than everyone else as we approach stops but so what? Thanks for sharing your progress. You’ll have this in no time.

  3. Great post and useful for those out there thinking “this is impossible and death-producing”. It IS possible, and as you say, just bruise-producing at first. I do recommend the grass-riding, especially as you get more used to riding clipped in, for more confidence. In fact, in some cycling clinics I’ve taken, we had a slow race– see who can go as slowly as possible over a certain distance. The last person across the finish line wins. This means you have to be able to balance and ride clipped in without falling over. And when you do fall over (and I do mean WHEN), it’s on grass, and you and everyone else is laughing.

  4. I haven’t used clips in so long! The last half-Ironman I attempted was August 2009 and I haven’t been on a race bike since. I’m afraid I’d crash and burn. I’m glad you had such a good experience with them this time around!

    1. I bet it would come back to you quite quickly. I find the leaking water bottle really helps reduce the burning 😉

  5. I’m so glad you got up and moving on the clips…you are ahead of me…I just got my new road bike on the road after riding indoors all winter….Was very scared but it felt great once I got out there…I’m just using peddle straps but would like to move to the clips…so please keep writing about your biking adventures, I do really enjoy reading them.

    1. The thing that got me past my fear of clips was learning how the mechanism worked. It’s basically like a tiny ski binding – and just like a ski binding, it is designed to release your foot if anything goes wrong and your foot is suddenly going a different way than the pedal. Many pedals also allow the tension of the spring mechanism to be adjusted so you can make the release as easy as you want.

      Straps are way more likely to entangle and trap your foot in a crash – but if you can manage threading your shoe into a toe-clip-and-strap assembly, you can *definitely* handle the modern clips 🙂

      Oh, and I am SUPER KLUTZY, so I tell people that if I can manage clips, anyone can!

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