Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Clipless Pedals on a Fixed Gear

Crankbrothers Candy 2 Pedals
For the final phase of my transition to clipless pedals, I've now installed them on my fixed gear roadbike. I knew that clipless would be trickier on fixed gear than on a freewheel bike, since you have to clip in and out while continuing to turn the pedals. I expected to have two specific problems: getting my left foot clipped in once I got going (I start with the right), and unclipping. For obvious reasons, the latter one worried me especially: What if I could not unclip with the pedals revolving constantly?

Now that I've done it, my impressions of the whole process are different from what I'd imagined. Clipping in my left foot is not as tricky as I thought. Yes, the pedal keeps going. But at least I no longer have to fish around for a strap with my toe as it rotates. Instead I just hang on and keep pressing into it even if the cleat doesn't engage right away; eventually it does. And clipping out is fine. Some cyclists say that they can only unclip when the pedal is in a specific position, but I guess I have been spared that problem. Sure, some positions are more awkward than others, but I can still unclip from them. 

So that's the good news. The bad news, is that starting is surprisingly challenging. I guess I didn't think this part through very well ahead of time. On a freewheel bike I clip in my starting foot on the downstroke, then pull the pedal up to start. Within a fairly short amount of time, this process has already become automated. Of course on a fixed gear you can't pull the pedal up without lifting the rear wheel, which I've never managed to learn how to do. So when I try to start I nearly topple over, because I automatically try to pull up on the pedal and all this does is jerk the bike violently. It's kind of funny that I do this every time, even though I know that you can't pull up on the pedal in fixed gear. Habits form quickly!

Anyhow. So I am not quite there yet with clipless in fixed gear, but I am enjoying the challenge. I either need to learn how to quickly lift the rear wheel while pulling up on the pedal, or reprogram my brain to clip in my starting foot on the upstroke, the way I used to do with Power Grips. Suggestions from fixed gear cyclists most welcome. Is there a way to make this easier on myself?

58 comments:

  1. I usually put the front brake on, rock the bike forward to just lift the rear wheel, then position the crank where I want it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup. I do this too, every time, every day I ride the fixed. It becomes second nature.

      Delete
  2. Nice. You're turning pro. :) Another year or two passes and the the inevitable "I have started wearing a helmet" post will surely appear, too. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...makes me kind of sad, one of the reasons I liked this blog was because it was so un-"pro"...

      Delete
    2. It is still thoroughly un-pro, I assure you. At least wait till I start racing to lament this blog's demise!

      Delete
  3. I don't ride clipless on my fixed gear, but I also encountered this problem. From Sheldon Brown I learned that you can use your front brake for that: Simply apply the front brake and push forward your handlebars until your rear wheel comes up. This works even better if you pull with your foot at the same time. It takes some time to get the balance doing this, but it is a smart move.
    Also, people at the traffic lights then see that you're riding a fixed gear and you might spark up a conversation :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am not an experienced fixie/clipless rider (as requested), but please forgive my posting anyway (ignorance never keeps me from opening my mouth on most occasions). The problem seems to be more mental than mechanical, having to to do with perception and body reflexes rather than technique. Have you considered wheeling your bike to the point at which your cranks are perfectly horizontal and then mounting the bike in that position? The advantage to fixed gear bikes is that they are fairly light, so you will not need a full downstroke (say from the two-o'clock position on the right crank) to overcome inertia. It would also be a nice way to stop - like doing a track stand. The advantage I see would be that it would put you in a new foot/crank environment that perhaps is resistant to your old habits and reflexes. Maybe practicing at doing track stands in general would help you develop a more intuitive connection to your fixie/clipless (I love saying fixie/clipless).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Have you considered wheeling your bike to the point at which your cranks are perfectly horizontal and then mounting the bike in that position?"

      This is what I do now when starting from scratch. But when stopped at a traffic light I cannot always time my pedal stroke so that my foot ends up in this same position. If it's only a little off I do walk my bike forward or backward a bit, keenly aware how silly this must look to onlookers : )

      Delete
  5. What I do to move the pedal while stopped, is to lock the front wheel by pressing the brake and slightly shift my weight forward, which lifts the rear wheel enough to turn the pedal. It's a lot of steps but for me it's almost mechanical now, although I have no idea if it is more difficult to do using clipless.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My first time commenting! I have been riding fixed for a year or so, although I only have been riding clipless since last Friday, inspired by your blog posts! I have to say, riding clipless on the fixed gear is a lot of fun :) anyway, through my initial attempts I have found it much easier to clip in on the down stroke, then bring the clipped in foot back to the top to start pedalling. (I used to bring the rear wheel round with power grips too). To bring the rear wheel round I hold the front brake, and put my weight on the handlebars. The rear wheel then comes round pretty easily, even when I have panniers on the back weighing it down. Hope that is in some way helpful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so cool that you tried it after reading my post and got it right away. I agree that clipless is especially fun on a fixed gear. I have been trying to lift the rear wheel in exactly the way you describe, but for some reason it doesn't work well for me. Maybe it's just a matter of practicing until that A-Ha moment happens and it becomes intuitive.

      Delete
    2. I'm glad you think it is cool! I have recently discovered your blog and I think your descriptions are great for making lots of things that I (a short-ish not naturally sporty woman) previously found intimidating sound accessible and fun :) although I would not say I got them straight away, I did fall over the first few times I stopped, but luckily it was in the park on some grass so no damage to me or the bike!
      As regards the bring the pedal round, I wonder if the reason you are finding it a bit more tricky could be to do with where you brakes are - mine are on the straight part of the handlebar so it is not too hard to brake and push forward quite hard at the same time. I could imagine that it would be a bit more awkward to do this when your brakes are on drops because you have to lean over more while standing up. When my panniers are full I do have to really yank my foot to bring it around too. I'm sure it will suddenly click after some more attempts though - good luck!

      Delete
  7. Your timing on this post is perfect as my S3X fixed gear is at the stage of needing pedal choice and I'd pretty much concluded I did NOT like the toe clips that came with the bike and I've got an extra pair of SPD pedals begging for a second chance.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In a previous post I told you about my transition from platform to clipless and how much I love my SPD pedals. As a hospital based RN, however, I need to express my sincere concern with "fixies". There is a very good reason why they invented the "safety" bicycle so many years ago. I'm not passing judgement but I'm genuinely concerned for the health, safety and welfare of those who chose to ride a fixed gear bike. I do hope you have a break on yours. For those who ride without a break, I trust we will meet one day, professionally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have both front and rear brakes on this bike. Fixed gear is in itself no less safe than a freewheel bike. Riding without a brake is a separate issue.

      Delete
    2. Actually, the original Safety Bicycles were fixed gear. What made them "safe" was not the brakes and freewheel, but the design which used a chain to power the rear wheel, moving it away from the rider's feet. Some of the early designs did not have hand-operated brakes. All current upright bikes are modern versions of the safety bicycle.

      Delete
    3. One great advantage of riding a fixed gear, for me anyway, is that it forces me to pay more attention and anticipate better, this even though I do use a front brake. At any rate, in some 16 years of riding fixed, no more problems than with coasters. In fact, since I am so slow downhill, I expect that in some ways a fixed gear can be safer.

      I agree that riding fixed in traffic without a brake is foolish *unless* you are a true expert, and possibly even then. I know a 6K miles/year fixed rider, an older person, who says he rarely uses his brake in LA traffic -- again, he's become an expert in anticipating conditions. As with everything, experience counts.

      Delete
    4. I'm a RN too and I ride breakless, of course I know what I'm doing and, let me tell you, all the accident I had were in the time I had breaks... If you know how to use all the fixed gear potential you'll developpe an entirely different way of riding and I feel way safer than when I used to ride a regular bike. I only put a break on winter for obvious reason (Montreal...)

      Delete
    5. A predictably canonical idea, but canonically wrong. Statistically fixed gear riders you forgo breaking systems other than their feet experience a lower accident rate than those riders who wear helmets, use breaks, ride on sidewalks and otherwise wrap themselves in a false sense of security. There is a lot said for going through life alert, aware, on the ball and skilled as opposed to being dull, insulated, protected and strapped in.

      Delete
  9. When you're lifting the rear wheel you're using the front brake to lock the front wheel and then pushing forward on the bars to unweight the rear wheel right?

    As far as keeping the bike stable while performing this maneuver I do the following. Don't go overboard lifting the rear, just a bit gives you the ability to spin that wheel. Try leaning the bike to one side a bit so that the top tube is resting on your thigh, the leg it's resting on should be planted on the ground. Push forward on the bars and rotate the other leg. Depending on the crank position, I tend to pull up more with my attached foot then I do push through the pedal stroke. It seems easier to control the bike while doing so.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have found the easiest way to lift the rear wheel (and it is obviously harder with a load) is to firmly apply the front brake while pushing forward on the handlebars.

    I have not yet gone to clipless on my fixie, but still use this technique to get the pedals in the proper position for starts at stoplights.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Clip in starting foot. Weight the foot still on the ground. Lean forward slightly. One hand on bars, one hand on saddle. Lift the back wheel with the hand on saddle. Lift the clipped-in pedal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh that might work better. I will try lifting by the saddle, thanks!

      Delete
    2. That's what I do, I grab the saddle and lift up a bit. I've only had a week on the Traitor, so it's not graceful yet, but it works!

      Delete
    3. Ditto. Not as slick as holding the brake and rocking the bike forward as described by others, but it's foolproof. As soon as you stop and
      put one foot on the ground, put your free hand on the nose of the
      saddle, lift, adjust your start pedal to where you want it, put the rear wheel back down.

      Delete
  12. I just lift up the rear wheel. If I couldn't do that it would be pretty hard for me to start. I would have to train myself to stop with the right pedal (I stand on my left foot) ready for a downstroke. Which I'm trying to do, because raising the rear wheel and pedaling backwards seems like wasted effort.

    ReplyDelete
  13. When I am stopped, my left foot is on the ground, the right is unclipped. Apply the the front brake and clip in on the right side.
    You lean forward a bit and pick up the rear wheel using your right foot. You can then spin
    the crank into start position.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Clipless are SO much easier (and safer) than toe straps on a fixie. I'd actually taught myself to get strapped in, tighten the toe straps while moving, and loosen them again when I stopped on my fixed gear when I finally thought "this is stupid" and went clipless only. If the fixie has both front and rear brakes, I'll sometimes even just ride on flat pedals, but no more toe straps.

    My process: Clip in your non-dominant foot while straddling the bike. While standing in front of the saddle, apply the front brake and push forward and down on the handlebars to unweight the rear wheel. Rotate the clipped in foot to starting position. Stand up on the clipped in pedal to get your weight behind the start and drop onto the saddle as it comes to the bottom of the stroke.
    By that point you should be able to get your "smart" foot on the other pedal and clip in by the time it gets to the bottom of the pedal stroke. If you can't get it clipped in right away, pedal a few revolutions while unclipped on one side (sometimes it's easier to push a clipless pedal with the arch of the foot than the ball of the foot when not clipped in) until you're moving steadily enough to dedicate more attention to clipping in.

    You can still do the trick of unweighting the back wheel without a front brake, but it's harder and takes more muscle, you have to twist the bars forward with enough wrist strength to lift the bike. Besides which, I tend to advise against riding without a front brake (one of the few safety things I get preachy about).

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks so much for the descriptions of the process. Squeezing the front brake and applying forward pressure on the handlebars is the way I try to do it, but it feels awkward and takes many tries for the rear wheel to actually lift. It is probably an issue of not pushing in exactly the right direction, as opposed to not applying enough force. It seems to be a very intuitive process for those who I see do it, but not for me!

    Complicating everything is that I am used to stopping and starting without getting off the saddle. So I have to get off the saddle in order to do the wheel lifting thing, and it disrupts the process I have already grown accustomed to!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I was learning this technique I found it easier to pull up a little bit towards the end of the top tube (a few inches before it meets the seat tube) while holding the front break to unweight the rear wheel. That felt more natural than pushing forward on the bars. Try it out!

      Delete
    2. Wait - you are trying to pick up the bike while sitting on it?

      Get your weight off of the saddle and R foot, it will then become easier.

      Aha! Finally a technique question. All those bad habits you formed are now coming back to haunt you...that's why people were scolding you in the old daze.

      Delete
    3. No of course I am not staying seated as I try to pick up the wheel. But I am saying it breaks my rhythm to get off the saddle in order to do this, since that is not how I'd normally stop and start.

      Delete
    4. I see. It is till possible to have your butt in contact w/the saddle and rotate back anyway, but it looks like you're scratching an itch somewheres...

      In awhile you won't even know what you're doing at a light; soon you'll be sitting on the tt with one cheek, R foot clipped in, chatting away or checking your phone, puter or adjusting your ear bud like those annoying roadies.

      Delete
  16. Are you selling any of your touring pedals and power grip straps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure. I have 2 sets of MKS Stream pedals with black cages and black grips (small/medium) still attached to them that I could let go of. I have another set with silver cages, but will keep that one.

      Delete
  17. I generally clip the left in while standing, push off and clip in the right on the first revolution. Oddly, I find Look Keos and single sided Dura Ace SPDs, my current clipless choices, harder to manage than clips/straps and slotted cleats, but the secret is to not anticipate and let the crank rotate up to near top dead center before attempting to click in. At least, that is what I find to work best, but I still fumble. Still, would not give up my Looks on fixed gears and have been using them on fixies for years without any other incident than the occasional Fred Fumble embarrassment. Double-sided pedals are much easier.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Fixies are the perfect vehicle for learning how to track stand (or its more advance cousin the track sit). Once you learn this silly but useful "trick" it becomes a heck of a lot easier to clip in from a stop!

    ReplyDelete
  19. You can always cheat and use a mounting block and a handhold. When starting my fixed DL-1 if the saddlebag is stuffed with groceries I still grab a streetsign or whatever to avoid lifting the back wheel. If you can trackstand most/all of the stops along your route clipping in once per ride is enough.

    ReplyDelete
  20. When I transitioned from clips to clipless (I actually did this first on my fixed gear before any other bike), I started the way I always did with clips--with the pedaling-off pedal in the up position. From a dead start, I hold the front brake down, pull my right pedal up (my dominant foot), and then attack to clip in and I'm off. I never unclip this foot at a stop thereafter, unless I'm dismounting the bike. I'm always really conscious to get my pedals in the right orientation when I'm stopping on a fixed gear, since it isn't as easy to back pedal them up.

    I hope that helps, if it even makes sense. I feel like clipless is such a walk in the park if you're used to riding a fixed gear with toe clips!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Now to clip in if you unclip while you're moving along at more than 5mph. This took me AGES with toeclips, especially with the left foot.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I use Crank Bros eggbeaters on the three fixed gear bikes I ride. Usually I just push the bike, hop on cyclocross style, and let my feet find the pedals as I roll forward. You can push the pedals without being clipped in, or just clip in and push. If for some reason you can't get either done, the bike will slow down and you can just get off and start again.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I ride fixed a bit and use clipless pedals (spd - what was recommended, they worked, so haven't tried anything else). I can't lift the back wheel. It never for one moment occurred to me to use brakes while I'm starting - I use them to stop (2 btw).

    Here's what I do. Clip in one (usually right - I'm right footed). Push. When left comes on top, push with left, while also trying to clip in (don't think I push v.hard, but honestly haven't really thought about it). No lifting. If it works, great, if not, have another go the next time my left foot is on top. Sometimes it takes a couple of goes. If I tried braking or lifting the back wheel (which I'd never heard of) I'd fall over.

    May or may not be relevant that I use a low gear and first used clip less on a fixed. Still shaking my head over wheel lifting and braking to start - you all have much more coordination than me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I forgot my manners - congratulations. Fun isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  25. and getting into clips and straps on a fixed gear is easier?

    "On a freewheel bike I clip in my starting foot on the downstroke, then pull the pedal up to start."

    there's nothing wrong with clipping in on a fixed gear bike that way. one just applies the front brake and then the thing doesn't go anywhere when the wheel's lifted.

    ...and if you're still riding a brakeless fixed gear bike around town, well, god bless you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peppy (brakes are for pussies)May 9, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      She actually rides a brakeless freewheel.

      Delete
    2. Ted Shred!?! (i.e. this clown http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=OH5W1Z23wPg&feature=endscreen)

      Delete
    3. I have two fixies, but only one has a brake. I used the method you described for the one with the brake, but with my other (fast) fixed gear, I straddle the bike, press down on the handlebars with one foot still clipped in, and then pull up on the top tube to lift the rear wheel, and it works spectacularly.

      Delete
    4. I mean, really, if you've ridden a fixed gear bike enough, there's no reason why you have to unclip when you stop... as long as you know how to track-stand and skip-stop you're always in, best foot forward.

      Delete
  26. One thing I'm noticing is that many people here start with their dominant foot clipped in first. I go with the opposite.

    This allows me to just push down on the pedal with my less-skilled foot, while clipping in with my more-skilled foot.

    In fact, I have never clipped in my left (less-skilled) foot while moving.

    Turns out I am using pretty much exactly what is suggested by Sheldon Brown: http://sheldonbrown.com/starting.html

    ReplyDelete
  27. I do as per the norm above but you can rotate the pedals forward or backward to get your primary pedal in the desired position. Practice for 10 or 15 mins and you'll work it out. When you take off try to clip in the other foot on the first corresponding down stroke only, and if you dont get it first time just keep a moderate pace and try again on the 2nd corresponding downstroke. With practice it will become second nature to just snap it in first go, and the beaters look pretty easy to get in and out of.

    I've never used egg beaters and I assume you don't zap around whip-skidding everywhere? I've heard many a time that the egg beaters can erroneously unclip themselves when skidding. This should pose no issues whatsoever if you ride normally and run a brake, however.

    The pedals I use and swear by are time atac and I use them on all my bikes. IMO they are brilliant - stable, simple, reliable and sooo easy to get in and out of. Each to their own. Welcome to cliplessnesssssss

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm waiting for your post exclaiming how your well-adjusted "clipless" are so second nature to use that you don't even think about releasing your foot when the occasion presents itself. This will happen.

    But why are they called "clipless" How about "Clipsure" pedals? That would seem more appropriate. Other possibilities, "Clipsafe", "Clipons", "Powerclip" ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I already don't think about releasing my foot; that was never a problem oddly enough. It is mostly about clipping in quickly enough at this stage.

      The word "clipons" makes my ear lobes hurt!

      Delete
  29. After stopping at red lights, etc. I usually work on starting to pedal smoothly -- try not thinking about clipping in. Sometimes it can be 1-3 pedal strokes before actually clipping in, but in the meantime you are moving smoothly forward already.

    Another thing I learned while track racing is that as you start with your legs, bracing with your arms and core gives your legs more to push against. http://www.fixedgearfever.com/modules.php?name=Coaching&op=sst Add a few grains of salt to translate to street riding. Good luck with the transition!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I do things a bit differently. I use crank brothers Candy 3. I straddle the bicycle, and clip my left foot in the left pedal in low position. I then push with my right leg which makes the left pedal come up and the right one go lower. I then clip on the right foot and pedal. There is an instant (or two) where I am kind of hovering while I clip on the right foot, but learned a lot of balance that way.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Just track stand until it's your turn to go and you won't even need to clip out or clip in. Anticipate when you need to stop, especially at a light, so that when you have to come to a complete stop, you shorten the time of your track stand.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Has anyone anything to say about skiding with clipless pedals? I have toeclips and double straps on my bike and I'd like to try clipless but, I'm really concerned about cliping out during a skid...
    So please, if you know anything about this, I'd be happy to read it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can adjust the degree of float so that they are harder to unclip at certain angles. It is easier to skid with clipless.

      I'm surprised no one else mentioned this in regards to repositioning the pedals after unclipping one foot without having to apply a brake... But all you have to do is place a hand behind yourself, cup the nose of the saddle underneath the rails and lift up the rear wheel. Then with your other foot still clipped in you just rotate the pedal forward.

      Delete
  33. Nice discussion.
    I noticed that I start with my left foot, although I'm a right hander.
    I have straps on my pedals and catching the right pedal with my right foot when starting is driving me nuts.
    That's why I will try to switch to clipless as well.

    I have problems deciding which pedal system to use for urban cycling.

    Do you guys think that eggbeaters are better because one has more "opportunities" (meaning the four sides) to clip in?

    Without having tried any clipless system, it seems to me that I will get along best with the eggbeaters...

    What about the shoes... are there enough shoes that are compatible with eggbeaters?

    Greets from Germany.

    ReplyDelete