8 Jun 2017

Help a friend go clipless

So you’ve got a mate into riding, but now you’re watching them spin around on flats in a pair of trainers and you know their riding experience could easily be so much better. Or maybe it’s you that hasn’t quite made the leap, and need a little more info or encouragement? Either way, there are significant benefits to unlock with clipless pedals. Here’s how to convince ‘your friend’.

You need clipless because…

They’re more secure. You can ride as hard as you like, and your feet will never slip or need repositioning – which requires you to slack off the power, at the very least. Off-road pedal slips in particular can send you right out of control.

They’re more efficient. You can get more power by pulling up on the rising pedal as you push down on the other, and it’s smooth, too. Also, at high cadence (say 80-100rpm) just keeping your feet on flat pedals is hard. With clips there’s no issue, which saves energy.

They’re simple to learn. You won’t topple over at a traffic light after a week or two of heel-twisting practice. Well you won’t do it many times.

The background

It might seem odd calling these pedals clipless when you obviously do ‘clip in’… it’s a misleading piece of terminology. The missing clips we refer to are, in fact, the old cage-and-strap system you still occasionally see on very cheap or very old bikes.
The cleat and lock system came to cycling from skiing, and was adapted for bikes by ski boot-makers LOOK. In 1985, Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France on a pair, and their dominance was practically assured. Look out for Astana, Cofidis and Direct Energie using a combination of LOOK pedals and FSA/Vision cranksets on the WorldTour this year.
That’s not to say they’re only a benefit on the road. There are dedicated designs for off-roading too, and these can be good on road bikes during winter – they cope better with bad weather and filth.
On the other hand, off-road designs are necessarily heavier and bulkier. While some – such as crankbrothers’ four-sided, whisk-like Eggbeaters – are fairly svelte, others are surrounded by platforms for grip in those critical can’t-stop-but-can’t-clip-in moments. They’re useful for occasional casual-shoe use as well, making them great value, but they’re heavier still.

Choosing the right ones

Note that road pedals (and shoes) use much larger cleats than off-road, which spreads load and helps avoid painful pressure hotspots on long rides. It’s also worth pointing out that spending more means more exotic materials, lower weights and better bearings, while pedal design frequently stays constant.
One last thing: high-end pedals aimed at pros tend to be sprung harder. If you have knee problems, find a design with plenty of spring tension adjustment, and plenty of float. Float is where your foot can twist freely a few degrees, instead of being locked in one orientation.

Clipless pedals can be broadly categorized by their cleats:

• Three-bolt
Buy If: You want the highest performance for road riding and racing.
Three-bolt cleats are stiffer and more comfy over distances than two-bolt, and because there’s no rubber sole, their shoes are the lightest. They’re harder to walk in, but for serious use that’s no big deal.
Take A Look At: Shimano SPD SL, Look Keo, Time Xpresso

• Two-bolt
Buy If: You ride off-road, or commute.
Because these smaller cleats are recessed into a rubber sole, they’re far easier to walk in – vital when pushing up a steep muddy bank (or walking into cafes…). They’re also easier to clip/unclip, making them ideal for commuting, touring and relaxed road use. Shimano’s popular SPD is available with two-sided entry, or touring/beginner-friendly one-sided with a cage for regular shoes.
Take A Look At: Shimano SPD, crankbothers Eggbeaters

• Four-bolt
Buy If: You’re racing on the road, or have knee problems.
This is unusual – it’s basically the lollipop-shaped Speedplay range (used by FSA/Vision teams Jelly Belly and AN-Post-ChainReactionCycles) , which puts the moving parts on the shoe, rather than in the pedal. Happily they work fine with an adaptor on three bolts, because four-bolt shoes are rare. Lots of float with no centring spring make them particularly easy on the knees, and while they’re expensive, they’re light.
Take A Look At: The Speedplay Zero

Whatever your specialism, you – and your friend – will find more performance, more efficiency when you’re clipped in.

  • FSA/Vision-sponsored One Pro Cycling use Speedplay pedals.
  • Speedplay pedals