Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Mailbox: How to Unclip in Time If Your Bike Stalls Out Uphill?

Monday Mailbox is a weekly post dedicated to questions received over email. Here is one I've been asked by new riders on a few occasions:
I see that you use clipless pedals, and that you do some rides with steep hills. How do you make sure to unclip in time and keep from falling over if your bike runs out of gears and stalls out on a steep climb? I would like to try clipless pedals, but this part makes me nervous.
I am going to answer this question literally - as in how do I handle this situation. It may not be the most elegant or standard way to do it, but it works for me.

If I'm in my lowest gear already and a hill is so steep that I sense I am coming to a complete stop, I make one last effort to push on the pedals with all my force and heave the bike forward. This buys me the extra bit of momentum I need to unclip and put my foot down calmly.

But in general, with clipless pedals the key is not to panic. Once you get used to the system, unclipping should be instantaneous. So even if your bike comes to a complete stop and starts falling over to one side, there is still time to unclip - as long as you don't panic and "forget" how to do it.

And on a separate note: If you frequently find yourself running out of gears uphill to the point of stalling out and having to walk, consider that your bike may have the wrong gearing for your style of riding or ability. Talk to your local bike shop about lowering your gearing; most likely it will mean swapping out the rear cassette and will not be too expensive. Being able to ride all the way up a hill beats having to stop - whether you ride with clipless pedals or not.

33 comments:

  1. Velouria, I hope you don't mind if I post a link that, for all I know, I found here in the first place. Low Gear Manifesto was posted in 2011 on a site called Flashblog, about which I know very little. But the post is all about how to go low--it's the only reason I understood your recent comment about how wonderful it is to have a sub 1:1 gear. I can't wait to add a wheel with the kind of gearing advocated in that post; for me I think it'll be the key to completing the Backroads Century out in Virigina/West Virginia with low stress this year, after doing 50 for the first time in 2012. Regardless, helps reduce the need to click out though as you say this does become second nature.

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    1. Nope, that link did not come from me. Thanks, what an interesting site!

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  2. When I first got clipless pedals, I forgot to unclip when stopped at an intersection. Whoops! A little embarrassing, but my feet quickly learned what I consider the "dance step" of clipless pedals - turn your heels out.

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    1. Same here... Busy intersection. Thankfully, only my pride was wounded.

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    2. This happened to me and also to a couple friends on their first attempt with clipless pedals. You roll up to a stop like always, and then realize you are clipped in - followed by a slow fall to your side. Embarrassing! Once it happens, you learn really quick to unclip - the instinct for self preservation is our friend. Although I normally twist out to unclip, I always adjust my pedal clip force such that I can pull out (pulling straight up) if I really try. I've had to use this in an emergency bail out on a couple of occasions. Setting the clip force so you can pull out has never resulted in me unclipping when I did not want to.

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  3. Happened to me once! And yes I panicked :)

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  4. I think I am either earth's slowest or most laid back cyclist because I am almost INEVITABLY dropped on any decent sized climb. Me and the Surly just sit and spin in a low gear until we get to the top. It's not as much of an issue as it was when I was doing Serious Roadbiking, but it does get a little perturbing to be perfectly fast on the flats, and then lose it as soon as the road moves up.

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    1. My speed on climbs can vary wildly depending on the bike I am on, what kind of shape I am in and how much energy I have on a given day. I've surprised myself by being both much faster and much slower than anticipated. Ultimately I've stopped worrying about it. I genuinely enjoy hills, regardless of how my climbing ability compares to others.

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    2. I am the same way about climbs. I can always get up the hills, but I'm usually pretty slow. I don' know if a different bike would make a difference. I have a touring bike that always feels good climbing - not fatiguing or uncomfortable. But I'm definitely not fast.

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    3. I enjoy climbs, but I never seem to remember why when I'm climbing up them. In the moment, I find myself cursing them. Then I keep telling myself afterward how much I loved it. Strange.

      My favorite hills are either short and steep, or long and steady (steep and steady get cursed during and after). The short, steep ones allow me to mash up up in high gear, at relatively high speed, barely slowing down. Then I rest a few seconds at the top. These seem to be particularly satisfying. For long, steady climbs, I just drop down into a low, low gear and spin all the way up at slow speed. NOt quite as satisfying, but satisfying. But the best part is being able to bomb back down them.

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    4. I like the first part of your comment very much Somervillain. There's so many things that that applies to for me, climbing, riding in the rain, almost every kind of racing.

      Your earlier comment and the other peoples about falling over once when learning clipless is pretty common I think, even among really experienced riders but, alas, not for me... I still slo-mo fall once or twice a year riding my Mountain bikes with SPDs or Crank Bro's. For me it's when I'm really trying to get over that rock at the top of that hump with the tight right-hander or have run out of speed grunting up a pitch when I wasn't able to carry enough speed after choosing a gear just a bit too high, and STREAM CROSSINGS(I've spread a lot of cheer a couple of times that way). Here's where it's going to sound dumb, but you get used to it... I think of it like getting whacked in the shoulder crowding the plate trying to bait an inside pitch or charging the net in Tennis too fast and extruding oneself. It's what happens when we try really hard and get it a bit wrong. Sure it's an error in judgement and looking like a dope is embarrassing but it's part of an approach that can be pretty cool if you can accept falling on yo'wass a little.

      Just to be clear though, I don't fall down like that on my roadbikes. Much.

      Spindizzy

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    5. I am almost the opposite of what Somervillain describes. If I am asked whether I want to do "some climbing" on a ride or some "hill training," I imagine the worst. But in the moment I'm doing it, I enjoy it. So I find it best not to even think of it in terms of climbing or hills. They are all just roads we love to ride, and sometimes they go up...

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  5. There are at least 16 layers of irony contained in today's post - advising others on how to use clip less.

    Walking hills is fine too, no big.

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    1. I think for those of us with lots of time on a bike, but none with clipless pedals, hearing from someone who only recently made the switch is helpful. For those that have used them forever it becomes second nature and they're less likely to remember what it was like to learn/crash when transitioning.

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    2. Yes I had considered that as relevant.

      But... I had also types a million words describing how to get comfortable before going out in the real world, panicking and toppling over into the path of an oncoming car - doesn't anyone remember my story about getting my head nearly crushed by a bus?

      Some of the million words, roughly half, said, 'practice'.

      As far as remembering, I can do that purty well.

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  6. I recommend that people who are new to riding clipless practice clipping and unclipping. Those of us who ride in a city on a regular basis get the swing of it pretty fast, although usually not until we've tipped over at an intersection at least once. If you're having trouble unclipping, consider lowering the tension on your pedal. The tension should be low enough that you can get out easily.

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  7. Oy! Had my first clipless crash a few weeks ago. We were stopped at an intersection and I thought my boyfriend was going - so I started to follow. Unfortunately he was just moving up to the curb to take a closer look, so I slammed on the breaks (I was barely moving) trying not to run into him. I was only clipped in on one side, but alas, the bike was tilted toward that side and I couldn't disengage quickly enough, and over I went. Bent and scraped up the brake levers on my shiny new road bike. :-(

    But otherwise the only real damage was to my pride. Not sure how to prevent that in the future - aside from paying closer attention to what's going on. Maybe I'll get better at disengaging from the pedals as time goes on, or maybe I should clip out on both sides when I come to a full stop? Any suggestions?

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  8. It does get to be automatic, especially if you mountain bike and run into this situation frequently (personally, I just wear sneakers and use flat pedals when mountain biking, since I spend so much time on foot I might as well call it "hiking").

    And in the (relatively unlikely, but still possible) event you do fall, clipless pedals will usually let you go when you get all twisted up, which is a huge advantage over toe straps, which will just twist your ankles.

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  9. When you ride up a hill you must force yourself to keep going and under no circumstances should you deliberately stop. The only excuse for stopping is that you actually fall off the bike because you can't breathe. Anyone who doesn't do that has got no guts at all.

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  10. The only certain method to avoid falling over when clipped in and stalling is to ride a tricycle. On my Ken Rogers, I briefly ran a compact double without front derailleur (I had a bell on the left dt shifter braze on). It was great fun to stop dead on one of the very steep hills I regularly encounter, unclip on the right, backpedal with the left, and use my right foot to nudge the chain (from the bottom of course) onto the small ring.

    But on a good day I make it up that hill in the 75" fixed gear on the 17 1/2 lb gofast, tho' I usually walk the last 100 yards or so (of about 700 -- 4/10 mile) with the 68-72" errand fixie when I have grocery loads. I once carried 45 lb total in rear panniers up that hill in a 67" gear -- 4-5 mph, down to 20 rpm.

    Just built a nice Rambouillet with a bottom gear of 30/23 -- 35" [44/30, 14-15-16-17-18-20-23] and actually used it, sitting, on this hill yesterday coming back with 32 lb of groceries on the back, tho' I upshifted to the 45" and stood for the last, steepest part.

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  11. It's completely normal to be a little nervous when switching over to clipless. The only way to get over it is to make the switch and learn that all circumstances are manageable. I've fallen a few times on a bike but strangely they were never associated with toe clips or clipless pedals but rather other things too embarrassing to share;) When going uphill if the need arises to get out of the pedals at least you know you're basically at a standstill and if a fall were to happen it will most likely only cause a red face rather than an injury. It certainly can happen but most, including myself, find that getting out of the pedal is surprisingly easy when needed. Give it a try, they really are a nice set-up for those who ride distances.

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  12. It's great to see you taking to clipless so well. How long has it been now? My wife experienced so much anxiety that eventually she switched back to platform pedals, she wasn't having any fun.

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    1. It's been just over a year and I really enjoy it. But to each their own. Platform is great too if that's what the rider feels more comfortable with.

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  13. I rode clipless on the gofast bike from 1985 to 2012. For mountain and cyclo clipless was 1989 to 2001. Not once did the feared event occur. It could happen, anything could happen. There are other things to be prepared for, preparing for something so unlikely is wasted effort.

    Now happily riding Campagnolo #1037 pedals with clips, straps, classic Duegis. Feels so good I am amazed at the sales job that made us all go clipless.

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  14. Part of the "trick" is to have the tension adjusted correctly. The second part of the "trick " is to have used something like Powergrips - the same motion to get out of a clipless pedal is used to get out of a Powergrip.

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  15. Near here in Folsom, CA, a cyclist was killed a few days ago when he was struck by a light rail train. Full details have not been published but one has to wonder what would keep someone from getting out of the way of a train after half a minute of ringing bells and flashing lights. The idea of getting stuck in a rail and crashing while clipped in came to my mind, at least.

    I don't use such pedals because I don't presently have a road bike and my MTB commuter is under-geared for them. But I do see the "Just Ride" arguments not to use them as pretty valid, too. How Ricky-racer do you need to get on the street? In the near future I plan to get a cross bike for a commuter and it will probably get platforms too.

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    1. Railroad tracks can be dangerous, period, even if you're Just Riding.

      I am not talking about commuting or city bikes here. But there is a big continuum between that and Ricky Racer. On roadbikes, I find clipless pedals more convenient and comfortable than platforms. On city bikes it's the reverse. That's really all there is to it.

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  16. Nothing wrong with platforms, but don't fear clips for a roadie. I can see folks that live in mountain areas with steep climbs seeing it as a big deal, but it's not. Just put the clips on, adjust, then take a day of short rides to practice. The only time it's really an issue is the first time you go to stop after you've been riding a while and forget you are clipped in. After that, it's pretty automatic.

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  17. When I first decided to go clipless I got single sided pedals. One side with the clipless mechanism, one side flat. So any time I think I may need to bail I unclip my favourite side, flip the pedal to the flat side and ride on. It's the perfect compromise for me at least.

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  18. Assuming that the photo at the top of the post is related to hill-climbing with clipless pedals, the person in the photo could avoid stalling by shifting into the small chainring... Perhaps I'm a little neurotic about this, but it makes me cringe to see bikes in the big-big and small-small chainring cog combos.

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    1. The photo does not literally show a person stalling out uphill, it was just the closest I could find to illustrate the post.

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