Sunday, April 22, 2012

Clipless vs Power Grips

After using Power Grips for the past two years, last week I switched to a clipless setup (Crankbrothers Candy 3 pedals and Mavic Cyclo Tour shoes). Having ridden with the new setup for about 100 miles now, it's pretty clear that I will be sticking with it. And while the feel of riding with Power Grips is still fresh on my mind, I wanted to compare my impressions of the two systems.

The purpose of both Power Grips and clipless pedals is to provide foot retention, which many roadcyclists find useful. Power Grips are thick diagonal straps that  bind your feet to the pedals while still allowing easy escape. They can be worn with street shoes. To extract your foot, you must slide it back while rotating the heel outward. Clipless pedals contain binding mechanisms that latch on to the cleats attached to the bottom of cycling shoes. They can only be worn with special shoes. To extract your foot, you must rotate the heel outward until the cleat disengages from the pedal.

As far as foot retention, I do not feel a huge benefit to using clipless over Power Grips (assuming that the Grips are adjusted tightly). In two years of using the latter, never once have my feet accidentally come out. With the clipless setup, the connection to the pedals is more secure and more precise, but in all honesty I am not sure it's necessarily "better" as far as power transfer and what not, at least not for someone at my current level of ability. I have not noticed any difference in speed after switching to clipless.

The ease of clipping in and unclipping feels about the same. Having found a brand and model of clipless pedals I am comfortable with, I do not experience difficulty using them. Clipping in does require more precision than sliding my foot inside a Power Grip, but once mastered it is actually faster. Clipping out is very similar to extracting my foot from a Grip, requiring the same rotation of the heel. The time it takes me to unclip is about the same.

The main reason I prefer my new clipless setup to Power Grips - and this was entirely unexpected - is that I find it considerably more comfortable. I had not even realised how much discomfort I was experiencing until I switched to the clipless shoes. Before I would occasionally get blisters and numbness from the straps, which is no longer an issue. And it's great not to feel anything pressing down on top of my feet. I do not feel the spots where my shoes attach to the pedals, so there is no pressure on the soles of my feet either.

Needless to say, these are all just my personal impressions and are by no means intended as some definitive verdict. I've been getting requests for a comparison and did not want to wait until the memory of using Power Grips faded. As before, I think Power Grips are a fantastically useful product for those who do not feel comfortable with clipless pedals or simply do not want the commitment of having to wear special cycling shoes on their roadbike. I have done paceline rides and fast group rides with Power Grips, and it's been fine. That said, the difference in comfort I've experienced makes me glad I've finally mastered clipless, and I don't see myself going back.

66 comments:

  1. What are your thoughts regarding the aesthetics of the two systems?

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    1. I think when it comes to things like this, aesthetics are highly subjective. All your friends have Thing X on their bikes and make fun of Thing Y, and as a result Thing X looks "right" and Thing Y looks "off." Reverse it, and the reverse becomes true.

      When it comes to things like pedals I only consider aesthetics once the functionality criteria are satisfied. There is no way I would wear classic toe clips on a vintage bike no matter how pretty they looked for instance.

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  2. Good comparison,my friend. I've often used Power Grips myself (I need a new pair...),never having had desire to switch to clipless (BTW,us offroad riders find it useful as well ;) )...I haven't personally had blister issues you described with the PG's,though I can certainly see how it could happen. I imagine the clipless setup is more precise,and possibly lighter (and to my eye definately looks cleaner than PG's),but...nah,I'll stick with my platforms and PG's. Less expense,and like you mentioned,almost all of the same benefits and I can ear whatever shoes I like ;) :p

    I appreciate the comparison regardless,I'd never actually read a direct comparison from someone who'd recently used both setups,very informative my friend :)

    The DC

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    1. Power grips are definitely less of an expense, especially if you have multiple bikes! (Yikes)

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    2. Are they actually less expensive? Let's see:

      Cycling shoes (stiff sole, no laces, specific width): $50? $100?
      MKS Touring: $25-30
      Powergrips: $15-20
      Each new bike: $40-50

      vs

      Cycling shoes, SPD, mountain: $80-120
      Shimano SPD M520: $35-40 (M540: $50-55)
      Each new bike: $35-55

      I understand that not everyone is happy with SPD. But I don't think clipless has to be more expensive than not clipless.

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    3. Your model assumes that Power Grips necessitate purchasing shoes specifically for cycling, whereas the whole point (supposedly at least) is that you do not need to buy special shoes. In other words $0 for shoes. Not all cyclists feel the need to ride with stiff soles. And even those who do usually wear those same shoes as everyday footwear.

      You can get Crankbrothers and Look models in the same price range as SPDs, so that is not the issue. Road shoes can run super expensive though.

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    4. While the technical explanation for a stiff sole says that it is a more efficient way to transfer the power of your legs to the bike, the practical result is comfort! A stiff sole distributes the force of pedaling over a much larger area of the foot than a sole of an every-day walking shoe.

      This distribution of force can also be seen in the clipless vs strap competition by way of the upstroke on the pedals. While a strap produces very specific pressure points on the top of a foot, a well-fitted clipless cycling shoe will distribute the upstroke force evenly across the entire top of the foot.

      Just some food for thought...

      Jay

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    5. Hi. Don't get me wrong, I actually like Power Grips but the fundamental premise of Power Grips, that you can use them with any shoe, is flawed. If you buy stiff soled touring shoes and tighten Power Grips appropriately, then you can't ride them with thicker soled running shoes (they won't fit inside the strap) and they will also be of no benefit if you ride them with thin soled Converse Chucks because the straps will be too loose. Of course you can still ride in your Chucks but you lose whatever advantage the Power Grips provide over plan platforms. Ultimately, unless you're willing to take the time to readjust the straps every time you ride with a different pair of shoes (which is a big PITA), Power Grips are almost as limiting in terms of shoe variability as clipless pedals. I also switched to Crank Bros pedals and the Power Grips are now relegated to the parts shelf in my garage.

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  3. This is fascinating. I take it you haven't fallen over, or you would have written about it. Any close calls? Did you practice on grass?

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    1. Jeez, don't jinx me!!

      But no, to everything. I did not practice on grass, or at all for that matter. I literally walked out of the store and rode the 10 miles home in them. Next day I went on a longer ride and made a point of clipping in and out more often. The day after that I went on a ride with a friend and that was fine as well. It's a non-issue and I am still kind of stunned by the whole thing.

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    2. A very experienced friend missed freeing his feet with clipless not long ago and shattered his shoulder. I will go with Grant Peterson's analyses.

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    3. I fractured my collarbone and separated my shoulder when I couldn't get out of cages fast enough. About to get a new bike and trying to decide if I want to do the clipless setup or just go back to cages and leave them loose. My other issues with clipless is that I have an artificial knee & I don't want to screw that up

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  4. "We've got 2 years, what a surprise
    We've got 2 years, my brain hurts a lot
    We've got 2 years, that's all we got"

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    1. Are you being clever in a way I've entirely missed, because I'm pretty sure we've got 5 years, no?

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  5. Do you find your conclusions are modified if riding a fixed gear compared to a bike with a freewheel?

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    1. I have not installed them on my fixed gear bike yet, but will be soon and do not anticipate it to be a problem. Any foot retention (including Power Grips) is trickier on fixed gear, because the left pedal does not stay put as you try to clip in. But if I can do it in Power Grips, this should be okay too. Will update in a couple of weeks!

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    2. You don't want power grips on a fixie: when you pull up to brake, they come out. I'd reccomend cages or plain old platform petals

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  6. I'm glad to see how well you're getting on with the clipless!

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  7. I've used SPD, and Look for several years. Eventually I went back to toe clips and straps. For me, entry and exit are at least as easy with clips and straps as with clipless. If I don't pull the straps tight there is no discomfort. Most of the time there really is no need to strap tightly. The larger platform of regular road pedals is much more comfortable over long distances. However it is getting difficult to find the best shoes at a reasonable price for toe clip/strap pedals. My two cents worth.

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    1. I would disagree. More like $200.00 worth. You make a lot of sense.

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  8. comfort is the main reason i prefer clipless. my foot and knee pain disappeared after the switch. i also began to learn how to really spin when i started to ride clipless on a fixie. imo, having that fixed attachment to the pedal is invaluable for learning better cycling technique.

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    1. I hope so! I could use better technique : )

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    2. Interesting. My experience was the opposite of Anon 8:37. I used clipless for years, mostly SPD sandals, and eventually gave them up because the fixed position was hurting my knees.

      I am quite happy lately with Keens and flat pedals, without retention.

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    3. i have several pairs of spd sandals but don't consider them to be all that comfortable. they have too much lateral flex and the soles are not quite rigid enough to prevent hot spots. i do find them more comfortable than riding in normal sandals though.

      "gave them up because the fixed position was hurting my knees."

      there is quite a bit of variation in float among the different systems. some knees require more lateral movement. i should also note that the position of the cleat on the shoe is important. for me, moving the cleat to a position below the ball of my feet (metatarsals) was a big improvement in comfort.

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    4. Riding clipless on a fixie really does help your spin (which is why a lot of roadies do just that for winter training). I've found that after getting used to riding road or fixie with clipless, my spin is smoother even on flat commuting pedals.
      I've given up clip-and-strap pedals, after many years of using them I've realized that if I've got them tight enough to hold my foot in place, I don't feel nearly as safe or comfortable as clipless. I just use flats when I want to wear street shoes.

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    5. I ride with a woman who will sometimes choose to ride fixed just for the heck of it, regardless of how hilly the route is. Cycling behind her downhill and watching her legs move at what seemed like 500rpm made my jaw drop like one of those cartoon characters.

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    6. Did I say knees? I meant ankles. My knees are fine.

      Jay

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  9. Yet I prefer platform pedals over power grips and clipless. My feet don't fall off and the comfort is spectacular. Just me..and only stating its better for me.

    Kelly

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    1. Ditto.

      I very much prefer the breezy simplicity of platform pedals - with or without toe-clips. Just grab the bike and go.

      My feet stay on my old T.A. quill pedals just fine and frankly I couldn't care less about the modernity and supposed bio-mechanical efficiency of clipless. I might, I guess, if I were racing - be obliged to, I suppose - but I am not.

      I have tried clipless and didn't really care for them. I had no problems whatsoever disengaging my feet, no fears of falling, I just prefer the old-fashioned simplicity.

      Aesthetics play a role too. I like bicycle pedals to look like bicycle pedals, not like the kneading paddle on a bread machine.

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    2. agreed. i have been a platform convert for long tours, short hops, and everything in between excluding an occasional cyclocross race. i often refer folks to grant's "the shoe ruse" post on rivendell for an interesting perspective:

      http://www.rivbike.com/kb_results.asp?ID=45

      and as a short aside i have found my inevitable crashes, from being a daily rider for over the last decade, are 10x less hurtful when my feet are not locked onto a bike. (sadly i have experienced each.) just my two cents. clipless *are* fun at times.

      -eric

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  10. i used traditional clips and straps in the 80s. switched to power grips in the 90s because of the plain-shoe friendliness. bought SPDs to see what I was missing. determined that i was missing nothing and went back happily to PG. and through all of this: knee pain on all longer rides. you know what fixed my knee pain after all? no foot retention at all! i move my feet around constantly on the pedals.

    firmly of the opinion that unless your "maximum power" isn't maximum enough, you don't need foot retention. if you're not competing or riding as if you are, just riding a lot will make your un-retained peak power level plenty satisfactory. retention doesn't make anything easier: rather, it lets you work harder if that's what you want to do...

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    1. In my experience with clipless pedals beginning in 1985(Time, Look and Shimano SPD) you can unclip by rotating your heel outward or inward.

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    2. That's still true with some systems. The inward rotation feels very unnatural to me though.

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    3. Reply to Todd - true about max power. It's also about efficiency.

      Two pedal systems, two goals.

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  11. I tried using clips and straps when I took up mountain biking back in 93. I found that my feet would not come out of the straps easily when I needed them to (so lots of low speed flopovers) and came out of the straps far too easily when I needed them to stay in (jumping a log for example). I went to clipless after a month of that. I like using clipless on the road too because I've NEVER mastered the art of jumping a bike over a curb without some form of foot retention. I've got a beater coaster brake cruiser with rubber platform pedals (so I can ride barefoot!) and for a brief time after building up my track bike I used the clip and strap Tioga pedals I had taken off my old mountain bike as they were the only pedals I had lying around. Using them for a few weeks reminded me that I just don't seem to get along with traditional clips and straps. I never got around to trying Power Grips but they do seem to make a lot of sense, particularly for a bike that you use for commuting and general running around. The only thing I dislike about clipless is the necessity of wearing bicycle specific shoes.

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  12. The problem with clipless systems is that they only address 50% of the problem. Yes, your feet are riveted to the pedals, but what about your other appendages? Your hands are just left to flop about on the grips, free to slide off as you hit the slightest bump in the road. And I don't even want to think about the loss of mechanical advantage when steering! I've been experimenting with a system that uses a variation of Look cleats on both pedals and handlebars. I will let you know how that works out.

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    1. This is amazing.

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    2. I saw a clipless saddle prototype at Interbike 2011 that would go nicely with that.

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    3. We should also dig channels into the streets to guide our wheels. We could have several of them of varying widths to accomodate different tire sizes. By directing all energy toward forward motion, this system would eliminate inefficient weaving.

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    4. Don't be daft. Given the natural shape of bicycle wheels, it'd make far more sense to lay small rail tracks and ride on 'em without tires. It's a proven technology after all (and roughly the same vintage as the bicycle too...)

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    5. I don't know what I was thinking, Anonymous; you are right.

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  13. Velouria "...especially if you have multiple bikes! ),I've been very fortunate in that respect,always having a least of 2 for the last decade or two,currently 4 since I sold one last week to help finance a cargo-bike build,LOL! :p

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  14. The problem I always had with toeclips, which I would think you would also have with PowerGrips, is that the part gripping your shoe would rotate to the bottom at a stop, so I would have to rotate it back up with my toe to get my foot in. With double-sided clipless pedals this is not the case and I would think this would make them easier to use.

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  15. "As far as foot retention, I do not feel a huge benefit to using clipless over Power Grips"

    You'll probably feel an improvement in efficiency as you adapt to having your feet attached to pedals re being able to use a larger radius of the spin for forward motion--the tendency when learning clipless is to remain with a more or less pure downward pedal stroke.

    Beyond that, I think clipless pedals (and dedicated cycling shoes with rigid soles) allow a significant increase in pedaling efficiency especially FOR ANYONE PEDALING AT RELATIVELY HIGH RPM, like in the 110 RPM and above range--maybe even over 100.

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  16. Further to previous post, I do still use the old style baskets with straps, but only because I often want to cycle in shoes without clips.

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  17. I had to quit using my clipless pedals because I was actually having weird pains in my feet and knees - maybe I'll go back one day, but for now I'm perfectly content spinning on platforms.

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    1. Annie: I rode clipless for nearly twenty years and I, too, had to stop for the same reasons. It may have had to do with the turning motion needed to "unclip" from clipless pedals. Also, I think the "float" in some of the pedals I used actually exacerbated the problem.

      Now I'm riding platform pedals with clips and straps. I don't find myself longing for clipless: I'm just happy to be riding.

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  18. I'm still a bit confused with clipless.
    So the Mavic Cyclo Tour Linky with pictures here is 'pedal system agnostic'? I.e You get a set of cleats which fit your 'Crank Brothers' pedals, and attach the cleats to the shoes?

    Surely then there must be some standardisation in Cleat to Shoe mounting systems?

    .. or have I got this entirely wrong?

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    1. There is indeed a standard mounting, or a couple standard mountings rather.
      For MTB-type pedals, there's a two-bolt mounting pattern used by the cleats for almost all off-road pedals. The cleats are usually around the same size as well, so the indentation on the sole of the shoe is a pretty standardized size, with fittings for the two side-by-side bolts.

      For road pedals, there is a common three-bolt mounting pattern, which almost all road shoes accomodate. Furthermore, some road cleats use the MTB-standard two-bolt system as well, so many newer road shoes have holes for either system (there are adapters for shoes that don't).

      That's the long answer, the short answer is "yes, they're pretty standardized"

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  19. Yet once again, you write a post that deals EXACTLY with a question I've been mulling over. It is like kismet!

    I have been wondering if for an 80 mile ride I have coming up, whether I should get the clipless shoe/pedal system for my Betty Foy. But I keep going back to the potential power girls option. With the Power grips, I can keep riding Betty in my normal shoes without having to change out the pedals.

    This post gives me fodder to think about.

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    1. Kara - I would absolutely not ride in clipless pedals on an upright bike like the Betty Foy how you have her set up.

      I have done 100 miles on an upright bike with no foot retention what so ever and that is exactly how I would do it again on that kind of bike. IMO these clipless posts of mine should be disregarded unless you are riding a road bike with drop bars.

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    2. Thanks, Velouria! I knew you would have the right perspective on the matter. I just wondered cause it seemed like it would help magnify my pedal power. I just know there are going to be a lot of road bikes on the ride so I was just trying to think how I could fit in (or keep up). But you're right, I should just let Betty be Betty and not try to make her into something she is not.

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    3. I think it is conceivable that one could ride clipless on a Betty Foy. Check out Quoc Pham shoes, for instance:

      http://www.quocpham.com/products/index.html

      I agree that clipping in makes more sense riding drop bars, but it might be quite comfortable using swept back bars also.

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    4. Velouria, can you elaborate what makes clipless a bad choice for anything other than road bikes with drop bars? This seems very odd to me.

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    5. In my opinion, on a relaxed upright bike such as Kara's Betty Foy as it's currently set up, one's legs are not positioned ideally for using foot retention in a way that is either beneficial or safe. This is just my opinion, not gospel. But knowing Kara to the extent that I do, I think it is applicable to her. Maybe a topic for another post.

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  20. I have two sided pedals - flat on one side SPD on the other. (There's about a half dozen model available.) Use whatever I'm wearing for a short errand ride. Anything worth putting on the bike shoes, then I clip in. Seems like the clipped in feels much more efficient. That is partly from the accurate foot position on the pedal. Partly from spinning faster up hill. My SPD shoes look fairly normal with brown leather.

    Getting used to clips was easy. Took about an hour. (I set the clip release spring pressure as low as possible.) Sitting on the bike I leaned on a wall. Clipped and un-clipped until it was easy - about 20 times. Rode around the block with one foot in, then the other, practicing clipping and (more importantly) unclipping. Decided that my left foot was the one to unclip first. Now I always use that one starting and stopping. Rode to a grassy area, rode around clipping, unclipping and stopping and starting. Got fast at it. Started riding with the clips. The times I've fallen were when I forgot about the clips and stopped at a stop sign. Toppled over. After that I plan ahead a bit and it's been fine. Highly recommend SPD clips for and reasonable speed and/or distance riding.

    Eric W

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  21. I ride clipless almost all of the time, and I find that there's a tremendous drop in efficiency when I wear regular shoes. With clipless, I'm able to pull up with one leg and push down with the other getting lots of torque either for acceleration or short quick uphills. In the area I live, with both plenty of hills and stop signs, it makes a lot of difference.

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  22. Three year ago while riding clipped in on a mountain bike I hit a softspot going up a hill and tipped over, landing on my hip and breaking the top of the femur. I was not able to unclip quick enough. (I rode clipless (spd) for 25+ years on mtn bikes and road bikes with drop bars.) After a "total hip" replacement (ceramic pin, ball and socket), much physical therapy, and four months, I was riding again.

    Still clipped in, I was riding a roadbike with drop bars. Riding slow, I hit standing water on the pavement, the front wheel slid out from underneath the bike and I tipped over. I didn't get my foot unclipped fast enough. The same hip was shattered.

    The first "total hip" surgery was performed again only this time the doctor used a 14 inch pin, steel plate and steel cable holding everything together. Now I am riding a CF (crank forward) with mountain bike style pedals. Clipless is a great way to ride but with age some riders reflexes slow and platform pedals become more prudent. --WC

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    1. The best post in the thread!!

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  23. It took me years to make the switch. First to toe clips and then to clip-less. Now I use Keene sandals with SPD compatible cleats. I wear them for year round cycling with two layers of wool in winter. Comfy beyond belief and easy to walk in, too.
    The other day I took a spin on my 1988 Cannondale SM500 which has platform pedals and the sensation was terrible! I kept feeling like my feet would fly off into space. Also, hill climbing was considerably less efficient, or so it felt to me.

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  24. there are better foot-retention straps than Power Grips out now

    Burro brand pedal straps are among the best

    http://www.burrobags.com/collections/pedal-straps

    Ynot is also a great brand for foot retention

    http://www.ynotcycle.com/products/

    have you guys never heard of these?

    they allow instant adjustment for any type of shoe
    built to last and stand up to real use and abuse
    dont cut into you at all
    dont damage your shoes
    allow you to change position on the pedal so you dont wear your knees out
    keep you strapped in tight as you like for the uphills

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    1. Those products are not nearly as effective due to PG's diagonal mounting. Those lateral straps you link to are of a style long abandoned except on cheap home exercycles and, forgive me, hipster bikes.

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  25. Actually, the main reason for either system is to utilize "ankling" to get power throughout the pedal stroke. You can pull as well as push.

    I have found that stiffer cycling shoes do make a significant difference with either style pedal. Personally, I don't want to carry an extra set of shoes with me every where and have found that cleats, of any style, wear quickly if you wear them as regular shoes.

    Power Grips have allowed my paste together knee to continue cycling. I understand float is always improving w/SPD's, but five years ago it still was quite enough to protect my knees.

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