How to cycle with clipless pedals.

Clipless pedals offer increased power and a more fluid pedal stroke but require plenty of practice before a cyclist can feel confident to tackle any trail.

The clipless pedal is the preferred choice of most cross-country mountain bike racers and also the majority of keen road cyclists. Easier than a toeclip and strap combination, which can be hard to enter and exit if the strap is too tight, a clipless pedal (so called as there is no toeclip involved) allows greater efficiency as power is increased on the upward pedal stroke.

Learning to ride using SPD's can be a traumatic experience and not everybody takes to it. Some people simply put the pedals on the bike, strap on the shoes and just go for it. This technique is likely to result in cuts and bruises. It is better to first understand the technology and then carry out a few simple practice exercises.

Shimano Pedalling Dynamics - SPD Pedals

Shimano produced the first successful clipless mountain bike pedal in the 1980's with their Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) system and, as a large proportion of riders use Shimano pedals, they are also generically known as SPD pedals.

Special cycling shoes with a cleat are required to attach the foot to the spring-loaded shoe retention system on a clipless pedal. The technology was borrowed from Ski bindings. SPD beginners should ensure that the pedal release tension is set very loosely before riding with clipless bike pedals for the first time. The loose setting enables the shoe to be unclipped from the pedal more easily.

Learning to Ride Clipped In

Before going anywhere on the bike it is important to practice clipping in and out of the pedal numerous times. Start by holding onto a wall for balance and test the ease of getting in and out of the pedal. If the foot does not engage or disengage easily, adjust the tension in the pedal release system so that it is on its easiest setting. To clip in, push down with the ball of the foot until the cleat attached to the bike shoe clicks into the pedal.

To unclip, twist the foot (the heal) outwards and slightly upwards until the cleat releases. The action is similar to that of a ski binding. Do not attempt to cycle on gravel, tarmac or rough surfaces at first, as falls are inevitable for the novice. Instead, find some soft ground or grass, which will provide a softer landing. Focus on unclipping the foot that normally touches down first well in advance, then lean the bike slightly to that side before stopping. This reminds a rider to put the correct (unclipped) foot down rather than the side still attached to the other pedal! Failure to unclip results in the rider being unable to get his foot off the pedal and a sideways fall results.

When getting used to the increased pull on the upward stroke, it is common for beginners to completely forget about wearing clipless pedals until it comes to stopping, so proceed with caution at first.

Tips for Cycling in SPD Pedals

Try riding with one clipless pedal and one flat pedal if finding it difficult at first. Novices should always choose a double sided pedal as opposed to one allowing entry and exit on one side only, a lighter pedal often preferred by road cyclists. Avoid steep or difficult terrain when learning. A heavy crash is demoralising and may put the rider off persevering with the new pedal system. If SPD's are not right after weeks of trail and error, revert to flat pedals or back to toeclips taking care to re-learn entry and exit from the toeclip and strap mechanism.

A good idea is to start with a platform type SPD pedal. This allows the rider to place one foot "unclipped" on the pedal when necessary, boosting confidence on difficult terrain.

A bike trainer, often used by riders to train indoors during bad weather, is ideal for learning how to ride clipped-in. Use one to practice on if available before venturing outside.

Wear protective knee and elbow pads for the first few rides, just in case!

Practice Makes Perfect

With the right practice, most cyclists get used to riding in clipless pedals. The increased power and pedalling efficiency offered by SPD's is a just reward for the time and energy expelled during the learning process.

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