You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: How do I learn to use clipless pedals?

This is the third in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. If you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

How do you learn to ride with clipless pedals? What’s your advice for someone switching from toe clips to clipless pedals and who is scared of falling? How did you learn? What worked? What didn’t?

Catherine: For me it was a three-fold process: I had to get comfortable clipping in and out, and then I did a little trial and error with different brand pedals. Finally, I learned how to set my pedals so that I could adjust the tension for easier clipping out (or more tightness when clipped in– these are useful under different conditions). Oh, and I did fall over a few times. It was mainly embarrassing, not painful or dangerous. It happens, and then it stops happening. Now I really enjoy the feeling of being clipped in, as it makes me pay more attention to my pedal stroke and I feel more one with the bike. Give it a try!

Tracy: I wrote a whole post about the painful way and the easy way (the easy way is: Ask Sam to teach you!):
https://fitisafeministissue.com/2013/09/26/learning-to-ride-with-clipless-pedals-the-painful-way-and-the-easy-way/, p.s. the absolute key for me was learning to pedal with one foot and not to hurry. Once I had that, I could take my time and not panic. Note that after my first failed attempt to try it on my own I donned my armoured motorcycle jacket for my next attempt. Having the protection helped me not worry about falling. And in the end I didn’t fall anyway.

Kim: Like Tracy, I advocate the one foot approach. First, straddle your bike and practice clipping and unclipping with your dominant foot. Get the feel for the peddle: clipping in becomes muscle memory that way. Then roll along gently, getting purchase on the other pedal but not applying pressure; slow and steady is best. Don’t try to clip it in yet. When you feel comfortable, look down so you can see the peddle and clip. Push it right side up if needed with your foot, and feel around for the clip. Work on manoeuvring in, then out again. Repeat for a while. You will fall but you won’t hurt yourself if you are prepared! Long sleeves. Helmet. Move slowly, but not at a crawl.

Cate: Also ride someplace without a lot of traffic or stoplights while you practice so your stopping / starting is not filled with pressure. And make sure the bike isn’t too big or the seat set too high — my biggest crash was putting my own pedals that I was comfortable with on a rented bike and when I tried it out the seat was too high and I couldn’t easily unclip.

Sarah: As a notorious klutz and someone who usually takes much longer than the average person to learn new physical movements (dance? yoga? disaster!), I was really intimidated by “clipless” pedals – even the name seemed counterintuitive. So when I bought my sister’s old road bike during a knee-imposed hiatus from jogging, I knew I had to learn how to clip in and out before venturing onto Toronto’s busy streets. So, off I went to my apartment building’s parking garage.

First the DON’T. There is only one:

1) Don’t clip and unclip a couple of times on the flat, decide you’ve got the hang of it, and then try to bike up the super-steep parking garage ramp in high gear (more disaster!). Fortunately the only thing I hurt was my pride.

There a lots of DOs. They are more fun :

1) Figure out what kind of pedals you have and get the correct style of cleats installed on your bike shoes. Your local bike shop or knowledgeable friends should help with this! Look at your cleats : if they are a small metal thing (SPD), you clip in by stomping (on the correct side) of the pedal, if they are a larger plastic thing with a little tongue at the front (one of the “road bike” systems), that tongue hooks under the loop at the front of the pedal before you stomp down. Either way you twist your foot to the side to unclip.

2) Loosen the tension on the clipping mechanism on the pedals all the way, to make it as easy as possible to clip in and out. You can always tighten them later if you find that you are inadvertently popping out.

3) Find a flat paved space with few obstacles or traffic for your early attempts at clipping in and out.

4) While standing still, clip one foot onto a pedal. When I stop on my bike, my right foot is usually on the ground, so I clip in my left foot.

5) Practice pedalling with just one foot to get used to the push-pull motion that will get you moving and keep you moving.

6) Once you’ve mastered starting, keep rolling, and practice clipping your second foot in and out, in and out.

7) Next, practice starting, clipping in, peddling, coasting, unclipping, and then slowing to a stop. Over and over until it feels kinda automatic. Don’t forget to always lean toward your unclipped foot.

8) You’re ready to venture out onto the streets. Remember that any time you’re reaching for your brake to slow down, whether it’s for a stop sign or a squirrel running across the road, unclip. Even if you end up not stopping and just clip back in, it’s a good habit to get into.

9) Finally, go find some hills of increasing steepness. First, marvel at how that push-pull clipped in action powers you easily up challenging hills. Now, practice stopping on the hill. We naturally tend to turn across steep hills when we stop, to avoid the feeling of rolling backwards. We also tend to lean uphill. So it’s important to practice turning away from your unclipped foot so that it will be on the uphill side when you stop.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

2 thoughts on “You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: How do I learn to use clipless pedals?

  1. Paula says:

    Make sure you are completely unclipped before coming to a complete stop. I ended up with nice hole in my knee because I heard the click and thought I was unclipped. I learned to lift my foot off the pedal to make sure I am ready to dismount.

    Like

  2. Debjo says:

    I put my bike on a trainer (used for winter riding) and practiced for about 20 minutes, then went for a practice ride at a nearby parking lot. Rode for 10 miles….my secrets was going from spd pedals to speedplay…. changed my life and removed the fear of trying

    Like

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