The Clipless Ambush: a Tale of Failure

Well, my first encounter with clipless pedals occurred sooner than I anticipated. Last week the Co-Habitant decided to update his pedals, and the new set arrived in the mail today... which meant that he could gift me his old ones. I thought that surely this gifting would take place some time in the future - a distant, abstract future. But no. Cheerfully he attached them to one of our vintage roadbikes right then and there, so that I could give them a try. Don't get me wrong, I myself had expressed interest in this. But... I don't know, I just didn't expect it to happen immediately!

I already owned a pair of compatible shoes, having bought them on clearance last summer "just in case." With apprehension I watched him attach the cleats to the soles, trying to gauge the correct position. I then put them on and dragged the bike over to the kitchen sink, so that I could hold on to the edge with one hand as I tried to figure out how the contraptions worked.

I expected that clipping in would be relatively easy, but clipping out difficult. It was the opposite. At first I could not to clip in. I tried and tried, but my foot stayed on top of the pedal and the mechanism would not engage no matter how hard I pressed. I struggled to figure out what I was doing wrong, but the explanation turned out to be simple: I am a weakling. We had to loosen the tension almost to the max for my foot to engage the mechanism. Even after that, I still had trouble pressing down with enough force and in the exact position necessary for the cleat to catch. Clipping out, on the other hand, was intuitive: the sideways twist of the foot is exactly the same motion required to get out of Power Grips, so I found it natural. Transitioning from the kitchen sink to the trainer, I practiced for some time, clipping in and out successfully. I then decided it was time to go outside. I felt pretty confident at this point. Nothing to this. 

It was around 10 pm and the small side street behind our house was well lit and empty of cars. Confidently, I carried the bike outdoors, swung my leg over the top tube, and clipped in my right foot. Now all I had to do was push off, coast for a bit, then put my left foot back down on the ground. That would be such an easy first step. No different from Power Grips. Just need to do it. Now. Go! But... it was not to be.  Like some malfunctioning marionette, I kept clipping and unclipping my right foot, trying to mentally force myself to push off, but it wasn't working; nothing was happening. The amused Co-Habitant offered to stand at the end of the street and "catch me" if I found myself unable to unclip when I got there. But imagining that just made it worse. It began to feel as if I'd forgotten how to ride a bike entirely. 

There is no redeeming ending to this story. After a good ten minutes I gave up and went back inside, my head hung low in shame. Obviously I am just not ready.

Aside from the tale of failure, I have some observations about the shoe and pedal set-up. I can't find the model name of the shoes, but in retrospect getting clipless shoes with laces was silly. Being stiff and unyielding, they are difficult to put on and tighten, and it's a pain to tuck the laces under the velcro. I am also not sure these pedals are right for me. They are Shimano SPD 520s: mountain bike style, double sided and with a very small surface area. I know that many love this type of pedal, but to me it felt like not enough of my foot was connected. Pedaling on the trainer, I had the sensation that there was too much pressure on the spot where the cleat meets the pedal and that a larger contact area would have been better. Maybe these particular shoes are not stiff enough, or maybe I would do better with a different style of pedals. There seems to be a consensus that the mountain bike clipless system is easier than the road system, but I wonder whether I might prefer the latter. Unfortunately, there is no way to try these things out. 

Navigating the world of clipless shoes and pedals is complicated, and at the moment it seems best to postpone it... at least until I am brave enough to use the ones I have beyond the confines of my kitchen!  


  1. Clipless pedals........Bah, Humbug!!

    They are death traps!

  2. Grant Peterson has a nice article on Rivendell's website (that you've probably read) with his opinions on the (lack of) a need to be clipped in.

  3. I have these exact pedals. Maybe I'm overestimating my own strength, but I think you'll find that getting clipped in isn't so much a matter of force as of positioning. I find it's more like pointing your toe down into the pedal than pressing down on top of it.

  4. As with so many things, GP's views in that shoes article are rather idiosyncratic and don't match up with my own experience.

  5. Oh my goodness.

    Of course I have read GP's nice article. It applies to non-competitive cycling, and every statement is preceded with "since you're not going to race..." I am considering joining a cycling team, which is a whole different ballpark. I seriously doubt that GP advocates racing on platform pedals.

    Also, Rivendell promotes Power Grips on their website, which is very much a foot retention system as well. The description seems toned down now, but it used to say something like "this is one of the most underrated and wonderful bicycle accessories we have ever come across".

  6. never thought I would read about clipless pedals on this website. not sure that I like this not so " beautiful “ racing invention.

  7. I love my SPDs... I have found them to be the easiest to ride in a number of situations. I have them on my MTB and my commuter -- though on my commuter I keep the tension really light, so my foot sort of "floats" in the pedal. I used to have SPDs on my road-bike (the ones that are now on the commuter); it now has Look Keo pedals, which are much better as far as connectivity to the bike and power transfer... but I am considering going back to SPDs just because of their ease. The Looks (as many road style pedals) are single sided and bottom heavy, so they always flip over when one is not clipped in, and as a result, considerably harder to get into :/

    Keep trying (I almost typed Filigree there) Velouria... it will come and you'll be a more rounded rider for it. (I agree that laces on a bike shoe is just wrong)

  8. anon 1:31 ... all kinds of biking (and bicycles)can be "Lovely" :D

  9. Anon - Ah, yes : ) You need to read this. The first time I wrote about clipless pedals here was a year ago, so if you're a regular reader this should not be shocking. Same with my interest in racing, however unrealistic that seemed at the time.

    I find it odd that last summer I rode a track bike without brakes or foot retention around Vienna and no one seemed to object on grounds of safety. Does being vintage and pretty make a bike safer?..

  10. I am surprised V neglected to mention this, but:

    See how the rubber tread is aggressively surrounding the empty place where the cleat goes? On my "proper" cycling shoes where the shoe is not pretending to be a dressy shoe the cleat is more exposed.

    I suspect having all this rubber right next to the cleat made it difficult for V who is not used to the whole thing to place it right into the jaws of the SPD pedal. She was probably pushing with the rubber edge, there was maybe 3 mm of clearance on both sides.

    So I took an xactoknife and cut away a semicircle of rubber tread on both sides of the cleat, exposing it. Now no problems.

    So if you're an SPD-beginner, don't get stealthy SPD shoes, get real MB biking shoes and you can transition to office shoes when your SPD skillz are all set.

  11. Velouria thats not the story we were wanting to hear ,spend a little time with your shoes in hand clipping in and clipping out study the feel of the metal to metal, and the mountain shoe is a little more difficult than a road shoe because of the rubber cleats that surround the cleat. Then go back out try it again we are all rooting for you to be successful don't give up !!!! Remember you can pedal for a while with one foot clipped and when your comfortable try the other foot. In adjusting your cleat the axle of the pedal should be even with the center of the bone in the inside your foot. Glenn in the Northwest

  12. Try the SPDs on your mixte. Somehow, I found that to be far less intimidating than on a diamond frame. There is a perception of more ease in getting a foot on the ground in time.

  13. "the mountain shoe is a little more difficult than a road shoe "

    Wait, but I've been told to start off with MTB shoes "because they're easier"!

  14. They mean to find the pedal with the cleat to clip in. Now that you're good at that, it's less of an issue.

  15. Maybe give it a shot on the Rivendell while riding around a grassy park? That way the absolute worst case scenario is you fall on grassy turf? Again not that falling is inevitable or guaranteed, but if you chief mental block is the fall, then try to minimize that as much as possible.

    With cleats, it definitely helps to have a second pair of eyes looking at your foot positioning to zero in on what will be comfortable for you. Figuring out just where the cleats should be in relation to your foot can make a big difference in your ability to clip-in and in your ability to put optimal pressure on the pedal.

    I rode my original M520s into the ground when I first got my Trek touring bike and then migrated them to the ANT. I didn't find the lack of platform to be a weakness, but again, when I put them on the Trek and on the ANT, I also went and got a basic fitting done just to make sure the cleats and my feet were placed properly.

    I'm on A520s now (the single-sided roadbike equivalent of the M520s) ... though will sometimes swap those out for combo spd/platform pedals when I'm mostly commuting. The additional platform is nice for being able to blindly find the pedal while clipping in, but it doesn't feel like it's made a difference otherwise.

    However, our feet, like our bums are all different and particular.

  16. "Try the SPDs on your mixte. Somehow, I found that to be far less intimidating than on a diamond frame. There is a perception of more ease in getting a foot on the ground in time."

    Heck no, I'm not crashing my mixte! : )

    I don't have a problem with the diamond frame aspect of it. Plus I am already used to foot retention: I can't ride a roadbike without power grips anymore, it feels "weird". It's just a matter of trading one type of foot retention for another. And the unclipping motion is *very* similar to removing a foot from a power grip.

  17. 13 comments in and a ton of misinformation already. At least Mr. Apocalypse has chimed in.

    At least you tried. Pushing off issue is same as starting on transpo bike.

    "I had the sensation that there was too much pressure on the spot where the cleat meets the pedal and that a larger contact area would have been better"

    Lollipop pedals - shoe stiffness yes, getting used to it yes.

    Release tension is much greater in road cleat systems in general. SPDs are perfect starters. Takes longer than 10 min. though.

  18. I always found the SPDs more difficult to clip into than other pedals, and I think shoes and pedals designed for mountain biking are generally more difficult than the ones designed for the road, such as Look.

    I think that the reason was that the mountain shoes have thicker soles and lugs and the cleats are recessed into the shoe's sole, while road shoes have thinner and flatter, but stiffer soles, and the cleats sit on the surface of those soles. The advantages to SPDs, and other mountain bike clipless pedals are that they're double-sided and that when you get off your bike, you're not waddling like a duck as you are when you're wearing road cleats.

    So, oddly enough, it can actually be easier to use road-specific cleats and pedals if you've never before used clipless pedals. Then again, I used road clipless pedals first because, at the time, those were the only kind available.

  19. Peppy (the amazing four-paw clipless cat-1 specialist cat)June 28, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    You can borrow my old training wheels if you like.

  20. I use those pedals, too. I've never tried any other kind (well, when I started I had cheap road pedals, but didn't like having to position the attachment point on top). They do take a bit of getting used to, but I rode with toe clips for 20+ years and converted to these and have never regretted it. They seem far easier to get into (with toe clips the clip is always on the wrong side when you start, you have to develop a motion to get it upright).
    I have a suggestion for you. Try falling over from your bike. You can do it in a grassy area so you don't get hurt. Just get up on your bike and let yourself topple over. I think you'll find it is not nearly as bad as you fear, and once you understand this, you won't be stuck clipping and unclipping and trying to get going.

  21. I use mountain bike pedals on my road bikes because walking is so much easier in those shoes and I am not racing. On my mountain bike I have older downhill pedals which have a platform around the clip, so that you can still pedal without being clipped in, very handy in certain situations. I have seen a Crank Bros. pedal that is very much like this and since I have the Crank Bros. Candy pedal on one of my bikes, can highly recommend this particular pedal/cleat brand - absolutely my favorites and I am planning on replacing all the Shimano pedal/cleat combos with Crank Bros. eventually. Superior in every way. I am a woman in my 50's and do like being clipped in, but somewhat differently than I did years ago. Also, my very first experience with clipping in was with road cleats and the only reason I fell was because I had not tightened the screws on the left cleat enough and it rotated when I turned my foot to release it. The motion becomes programmed into your body very quickly and I doubt you will have any problems with this once you get the first ride in, especially since you are already comfortable with the release from PowerGrips. I KNOW you can do this! You rock!

  22. Veloria go out with you bike lean against a car fully clip in and ride, go for a while then clip out ,practice on the roll, if you see a situation ahead clip out like a slow sharp turn clip out one foot make your turn then clip back in and ride. Do some riding get some confidence !!!! dump the keyboard and ride ,we won't mind Glenn in the Northwest

  23. Here's just one more vote for trying this out on a grassy field next time :)

    That's how I got used to my spd pedals a good few years back...

    I remember just riding around in loops on the grass constantly practicing getting in and out of the pedals. With lots of repetition it becomes second nature pretty quickly.

    Rather gutsy of you to make your first attempt on-street!

    Grass is soooo much softer than pavement :)

  24. Maybe I am unique in this, but I don't feel safer riding on grass. It's slippery, and it hides all kinds of sticks and rocks in its deceptive lush greenness. Pavement is at least honest.

  25. Good luck with them.

    Don't want to be too much of a downer, but I've tried them several times in my life, all ending in failure. I think my 'friends' at the time just liked watching me slowly fall over every time I slowed down and panicked.

    I've swore off them, in addition to other swearing.

    I guess I should memorize this, or something.

  26. V, Apparently MDI has trimmed the excess rubber away froM the contact area and that should help, BUT One thing I have learned about setting cleats UP is that, you probably don't position your foot the way you think you do! SO to say that when you are looking at your feet you probably think, "ah! this is the way I ride" feet straight and balls of the feet centered on the pedal, But what I found after a bit of knee pain was that while my left leg and foot naturally where pretty straight, my right foot actually points out and my right heal when pedaling comfortably almost contacts the crank arm with each revolution!!!?? Suggestion: go ride the mixte or some other bike with no retention system, don't think about your feet, just ride. Then after 15 or 20 minutes, look at your feet and how they are positioned on the pedals! Like me you might be surprised! Adjusting my clips on my shoes to my more natural position eliminated knee pain that I had not only on clipless pedals, but that I had before that running toe clips!! Once you get the clips position correctly they will pop right in! Indeed many times they will engage when you don't want them to!!

    Regarding those shoes, I have a pair just like them and I dilike them as much as you and had the same criticisms!


  27. Just out of curiosity, which cleats are you using? Shimano has two different SPD cleats out there which look just about identical to the naked eye. There's the SH-51, which releases how you described, and then the "multi release" SH-56, which has a different bevel on the cleat and allows you to release in different directions. Also, it releases more smoothly rather than a sudden hard "unclick", it's more like opening a doorknob (if that makes sense).

    I've used both and the SH-56 is far more "beginner friendly". Also, for what it's worth, I never fell a single time when I first started using SPDs. The idea that you super prone to falling over when you're starting out is a little over-exaggerated. It will quickly become muscle memory to unclip as you approach a stop, especially since you've been obsessing over it so much. The SH-56 is so easy to unclip that even if you forget, or you unclip one side and start falling to the other, it's still not much more work than simply taking your foot off the pedal. You'll have your foot out in milliseconds.

  28. About six years ago, my husband got into racing, and said that I must get clipless pedals/shoes too, for my new road bike.

    He got the road pedals, and I have exactly the kind of clipless pedals and shoes you have, the Shimano "beginner" ones that fit touring/mtn. bike shoes. He couldn't figure out why I had so much trouble with them, until later on. The surface to clip to is much smaller, and up inside the sole of the shoe, than for road pedals. The opening of their pedals is much bigger and easier to clip in.

    I got the shoes with laces, and promptly got them wound around the cassette thing, and fell over. Lesson learned: the next shoes I get will have velcro.

    It's not a case of whether or not anyone is "good" at learning to ride with them, it's all down to time/practice. I had my share of falls on busy roads until I finally got used to them. I'm sure you will too, so don't be too hard on yourself. And hopefully your SO will be patient and let you learn at your own pace. We're still working on that one... :)

  29. I wondered if the recessed cleats were what was making it harder for you to clip it. It looks like MDI addressed that though. :)

    Keep at it. You've taken on other things that you found challenging, and conquered them. I'm sure you'll get this too. Just be patient with yourself.

    I don't ride clipless any more, but I have no philosophical objections to clipless pedals. :)

  30. The black and gold SiDi mountain bike shoes are awesome! Plenty of recessed space around the lugs.

  31. Generally the softer soles shoes work better with the A530 style pedal. I have a pair or Shimano entry level shoes and a pair or Mavic touring shoes which are a bit of a pain for rides over about 10 miles on standard off-road SPD pedals. Robert Miller described it as pedalling on hot chestnuts.

    As well as cutting away a bit more rubber, try changing the cleat position, maybe moving it outboard or inboard a bit. I find this as important for clicking in as front-back adjustment.

    And Walt, keep up the good work, your curmudgeonly twaddle makes me smile. Its like my Grandad was still alive

  32. Try Speedplays (the lollipop pedals). Double-sided entry...lot of float...easy on the knees. A glorious pedal system! :)

  33. I used spds all the time, but have since given them up. To be truthful, the only time they really made a big difference was when I was mountain biking, being clipped in kept my feet from coming off the pedals while getting bounced around. I can see that helping when racing a road bike, but just for riding around, even fast "spirited" rides they didn't do anything that platforms aren't doing for me. What they did do was make my knees hurt, but I hear that getting a pedal with a bunch of float is the solution to that. They also gave me hot foot, but getting a well fitting "expensive italian leather" shoe probably helps there.

    Honestly, they only take a ride or two to get used to them. You will start thinking ahead of time about getting your foot unclipped before you stop, eventually that becomes second nature. Everybody had to start off with them at some time, and I guarantee many of them fell a few times starting off.

    My wife fell in the parking lot of the local bike shop when buying her race bike...first time wearing clipless (shimano 105 pedals with sidi shoes). She was fine.

  34. I have had several brands of clipless pedals, until I bought Speedplays, they are double sided and very easy to get in and out of, also they offer tons of float so you won't mess up your knees.

  35. Another vote for Crank Bros. Their road pedal (Quattro) has a nice platform to support the foot and it's two sided for ease of entry. Get some nice SIDI stiff mountain bike shoes so the rubber doesn't get in the way.


  36. Speedplay Frogs are the way forward. Easier to clip into than the over engineered over complicated spds and a world easier to get out of. Not as cheap as spd's but miles better.

  37. My pedals don't have clips, but they're not cleats either. They're platform, I think... But I'm looking to get clips for them because I'm tired of my shoes slipping off every time the sole gets a bit damp.

  38. In general, MTB shoes, or anything with tread around a small, 2-bolt cleat like the SPD cleat, will be a little easier to get into. Primarily because the tread guides your foot toward the correct position. On a road shoe, you have to be more confident knowing exactly where to place your foot to clip in and the motion is slightly more complicated than just stepping down (with the exception of speedplay). If your foot is slightly off, it will slide off the pedal. I have rarely heard of a situation where the tread prevents a person from clipping in. When I have heard this, it is due to some minor incompatibility between the particular shoes and pedals in question. When this occurs, either a shim under the cleat or removing some tread material, as someone stated above, is the solution. In my experience, there is no incompatibility between those shoes and pedals. They are both made by shimano and are designed to be used together.

    I will say, however, that clipping in while stationary (be it leaning on something or in a trainer) is much more difficult than doing it while moving. You need to put a good portion of your body weight on the pedal to clip in. This happens naturally when you are riding and accelerate from a stop, but it is difficult to do while standing still because it throws off your balance. Some smaller people do have difficulty clipping in, but loosening the tension generally solves this. When you begin looking at road pedals, know that Look and Speedplay both make light action pedals that have lower than normal tension. They are great for most road riding but powerful riders may pull out of them during a big effort.

    You've said that road bikes and drop bars took some time for you to get comfortable with. This is no different. If you are determined to learn how, you will, eventually. You may want to try my recommendation of using one clipless shoe and one sneaker for an hour or so. Then you will always have one foot to put down if something happens. No need for someone to catch you because you can't get a foot out. You could also try lowering your saddle while you get the hang of it in a parking lot. Anything you can do to give yourself more confidence is good.

    And for the record, in reference to the "no brakes, no foot retention" sweet fixie you rode, many people (myself included) would consider that to be monumentally stupid anywhere with hills or traffic.

  39. I'm going the reverse, in the process of relearning riding without clipless shoes. Mountain bike SPDs are only deemed easier relative to road ones because of the smaller cleats, you can take them off quicker. But it's your first time using either, they will all feel difficult :D. I've never used road shoes, but for next time you want to try, maybe they would feel better on the lack of surface contact area between the feet and bike feeling.

  40. I admit I have probably been driven by conventional wisdom and pop culture - heck, who didn't want a nice racing bike with clips, straps and cleated shoes after watching "Breaking Away"? :-) I stopped using the cleated shoes because they were ridiculous to walk in, but there was some perceived benefit in at least keeping my feet steady while spinning at a high cadence.

    When I upgraded my 1983 Trek a few years back, I thought I would give the clipless a try, not just because I thought it would be better than clips, but also because it was what CW said to do. I might have kept the quill pedals for style, given the vintage nature of that bike, but when I got my second bike (a used 2000 model Fuji Team aluminum), there was no way I could think about putting platform pedals or even quill pedals on it - not because of function, but because I couldn't imagine a modern racing bike without modern racing pedals. I can understand why people would feel the opposite, and since I imagine that the functional difference between clips, clipless and free pedaling is not huge in many riding scenarios, what's really important is enjoying the experience. Yes, I was a slave to fashion, but I really like my Speedplays, and I feel good riding with that system. If you feel more confident in power grips, and it doesn't inhibit your ability to keep up with your sporty riding, you're better off that way than being anxious about dealing with a clipless setup. IMHO of course...

  41. samuel wallingford of englandJune 28, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    a lot of people in UK like the Time Atac Alium pedals for ease of entry/exit, lots of float and durability.

  42. I have had a similar pair of Shimano lace-up/velcro shoes + spd's on my road bike for the last 4 years & have loved the combination. The velcro & laces got less fiddly over time and allowed for more fine-tuning than other shoes I tried.

    My pedals are double-sided & have a light plastic cage around them that disperses the pressure. That feature has been priceless - having just the pedal core under my feet on longer rides wasn't quite as comfortable.

    Sadly, I had to remove the SPD set-up a few months ago due to a knee injury. I picked my new pedals with help from your blog archives. Thanks for writing!

  43. "I find it odd that last summer I rode a track bike without brakes or foot retention around Vienna and no one seemed to object on grounds of safety. Does being vintage and pretty make a bike safer?..

    ... almost made Gatorade come out my nose with that one, V!

    I don't ride with clipless often these days, since I'm mostly commuting, (but once I manage to scavenge a crankset for the old 12-speed I'm fixing up, I'll use them for the rare "ride for the sake of riding") but seriously, clipless pedals are as safe if not safer than toe straps, don't let excessive retro-grouchery (as opposed to completely appropriate retro-grouchery, which I wholeheartedly endorse), be any deterrent.

    Finding the right shoe/pedal combination can be difficult, but you should have a relatively comfortable ride at the end of it all. stiff soles are generally better because they help eliminate the "hot spot" caused by a small pedal surface (essentially, the shoe is the pedal, the pedal itself becomes the pedal spindle, and the pedal spindle is... oh, never mind).

    I managed to luck out on a clearance pair of Sidi Dominators, which are nice Italian mountain bike shoes made out of Lorica, which in this particular application seems to actually hold up better than leather (you won't hear me say "better than leather" about much, so take my word for it). They're pricey, but if you can get your hands on (feet in) a pair at a discount, I'd definitely recommend them. Although they've got some space-age features, they also have a fairly classic (Italian!) design to them, particularly in the all-black. I got mine about seven years ago and they still look great (and they're Italian).

    Road shoes and pedals will provide a bigger contact patch, and some degree of better power transfer, with the tradeoff that you can't walk in them. Mountain bike shoes are clunky, but you can walk and even run in them for short distances without too much hassle.

    Finally, as far grassy lawns being safer, three words: grass track racing. Crash fest!

  44. V, IMNSHO, there's no gain in investigating different pedals when you can operate the ones you've got on the trainer, and until you've got your head around those. As you wrote, the issue is mental, so there's no solving it with equipment.

    Once you've got the hang of it, I look forward to some pedal reviews! I think that ease of use trumps all the other possible qualities in clipless pedals, so a well-written novice's thoughts will be worth more than any other review

    If you don't have access to any trustworthily-soft grass, maybe wear a couple layers of heavy clothing while trying it on the pavement? Or, just have a shot of bourbon before the next attempt! (maybe not)

  45. I find clipless pedals ugly and unnecesary. The constant changing of designs and styles, the tiny springs and small parts, the special shoes that are goofy looking. Stay simple and free from this never ending marketing scam. You don't need these! I never thought I would see this on your blog :(

  46. I did not mention MDI trimming the excess rubber away from the contact area, because honestly I don't think that made much difference. Loosening the tension helped, and also just the fact I kept trying it over and over.

    It is getting exhausting to respond to the criticisms of clipless pedals that (a) misunderstand the way I plan to use them and my reasons for using them, and (b) erroneously believe that they are less safe than vintage toe clip+strap systems. So I will just leave it be, but the whole vintage/modern/ugly/lovely thing might become a topic for its own post.

  47. Clipless pedals is one of those things that is just so personal and everyone has their own preference. I like and use the Crank Brothers Candy C or SL's. If you google these pedals note that they don't even look as intimidatings as the Shimano Spd's. They actually look kind of friendly. These pedals can be used for road (if you read the Q & A's, in the advertisements the answer is always yes) and are very easy to clip in and out of. When I first started using these pedals I only clicked in when the bike was moving and I pedaled and practiced the heel twist to release. Had no problem. They have a nice platform and you don't have to click in right away if you don't want to. Since you're pretty comfortable with the heel twist to unclip that's all you need to do to release/unclip with these pedals. The only time I fell was when I came to a stop because I had no clue what I was doing. I now come to a stop with the left pedal down at 6:00 o'clock and unclip my right foot and lean to stop (most people do the opposite - I'm lefty). If you're not comfortable with that then unclip both feet to stop.

    Now, here is the controversy regarding these pedals. These pedals are considered MTB pedals because well, mud does not build up because of the egg beater design. The majority of the bad reviews I have read about these pedals comes from MTB riders who are over 200 Lbs and who do some pretty serious, rough, MTBiking, so keep that in mind when you read the reviews. I still don't understand why these pedals are not promoted more for Road use because for one, they are light weight, and easy to clip in and out of. I've been using them both on my MTB and road bike and I've never accidentally unclipped or had any issues. And, I like the pretty colors they come in... Apparently so do all the mountain bikers :)... Just saying.

    I'm curious what did MDI upgrade to?

  48. Velouria,
    WickedCold gives the simplest and easiest advice; make sure you're using the "easy" shimano cleats on your shoes, at least for now.

    I don't race, but i love spds on the trail for the efficiency. I'm one of those ppl who has never had an "spd crash" (where failing to clip-out causes the crash), but i have had crashes that were exacerbated by spds. I must admit, however, that I'm losing ym appreciation for spds, b/c they force me to carry extra shoes to work, and on long rides (2hours+, they give me hot spots. (Not everyone gets these.)

    So, yeah, like most ppl said, practice will make perfect. The multi-angle cleats will help a lot, and IME the cleats engage more easily in time, as they wear in.


  49. I don't know if clipless is always "ugly." I think it's a matter of being used to something, growing up with a different idea of what a pedal should look like, etc.

    Personally, I think toe clips with their hanging straps and Powergrips bands are both ugly. Not to mention those ridiculous oversize plastic boot-compatible half-clips. I don't like the look of giant MTB pedals either. But I don't go around complaining that people use them.

    I like how the question of safety always comes up. Nothing is safe, especially riding a bike or sitting on a couch, but for different reasons. Riding a bike competitively or for transportation is terribly unsafe--you guys should all stop doing it at once! :) As far as safety goes, properly adjusted/maintained clipless is always safer than properly adjusted/maintained toe clips, in all cases, for all purposes. I have no opinion on Powergrips, but I suspect they may be ultimately safer than both systems, but I can think of situations where they would not work. And finally, no foot retention is safer in some situations, yet considerably less safe than either of the three retention systems in others.

  50. Sue--I don't know if I would call it an "upgrade." I only got a replacement because there was talk of V trying clipless. My M520 were beat up and gritty, I went to silver M540. They are identical, except M540 are more expensive.

  51. "I only got a replacement because there was talk of V trying clipless. My M520 were beat up and gritty, I went to silver M540. "

    How generous and kind you are : ))

  52. "make sure you're using the "easy" shimano cleats"

    Okay, I've been told by several experienced cyclists that these are a bad idea. I don't understand enough about it, but supposedly it's easy to plant your foot into the front spokes, while receiving only very marginal "easier to clip in" benefits...

  53. When I first tried Spds I found them very stiff and scary, even loosened out as far as they would go. After clipping the shoes in and out about 30 times I found that the sharp edges of the cleats started to soften and it became much easier to clip in and out!
    Now, after several years, I still have them as loose as they go, and I've learnt how to position my foot to clip in quickly (it shouldn't require strength to clip in). Having said that, I would be very unhappy to have to break in another set of pedals!

  54. Triflow for easier release/engagement.

  55. *** UPDATE ***

    Someone rode up and down the street with right foot clipped in and left foot resting on the left pedal.

  56. Easier to plant your foot in the spokes? I'm struggling to imagine what would be taking place in that scenario. You'd have to be going like a hammerhead and unclip accidentally or something. Anyway, I'm guessing that if you got comfortable enough that you'd be sprinting downhill you can probably just go back to the standard cleats.

    Also it isn't that they're easier to clip in, it's that they are easier to get out of. The twist out, in, or up to release, rather than just out. You basically just yank your foot out.

  57. Just imagine the daylight possibilities.

  58. I'm sure you'll keep at it and have them mastered in no time. Remember the drop bars learning curve. Today the kitchen sink, tomorrow the world!

  59. Minimum tension was how I set up my SPDs. I'm 6' & 180#. Enough tension the screw wouldn't fall out. The mech always felt sticky, even when very accustomed.
    There are better pedals, the 520 is only fair.

    Those who wear shoes size 40 or smaller can always find good shoes at closeout prices. I've seen 45 continuous years of overstocking in the small sizes, then they get cleared out. Serious vintage shoes that would be rare and valuable in a size 45 are still available and cheap in the small sizes. Makes experimentation more practical.

    What Wicked Cold & wallingford said.

  60. "Someone rode up and down the street with right foot clipped in and left foot resting on the left pedal."

    Great, I feel like a 4 year old : )

    But yes, I can cycle with one foot clipped in now. Did't think I would try it again so soon, but there you have it.

    I wrote this post because I think it's worth it to record instances of failure, mental block, or whatever you want to call it. Once we pass these stages our mind so conveniently tends to forget them. Also, maybe others reading this won't feel so bad if they had the same reaction the first time they tried clipless.

  61. I think, if you're crazy enough to ride in a race situation or team, then you should do what makes you most successful in that situation. If it's clipless pedals, okay. I loved the start/stop scenerio described above. I could totally see myself doing that, too, were I to go completely insane and try racing bikes!

    Since I started reading your blog, you've changed your riding habits a great deal, it's true. There are fewer berries twined around your handlebars now (that would totally kill the aerodynamism of the Seven, I think, but it would soooo rock if you did that for a paceline ride!). So I read these posts, then I go back to riding the Raleigh 3-speed or the Viva 7-speed, platform pedals and all. I can read about things I don't personally do, because they're interesting and informative, and I don't believe that the only information that has value is aimed directly at me.

    Keep on keepin' on. It's not always my thing, but that's why I have my own blog: so I can write about what I want. I always enjoy Lovely Bicycle, even the martini content (and I don't drink martinis, either).

  62. Thanks for the reminder, I definitely need a new martini post.

    The berries on the handlebars were circa this last November! They were on the Gazelle and they were seasonal. Got some tea roses now that I need to photograph.

  63. When transitioning to clipless pedals it is best to get help from your local bike shop. At the shop I work at I have taught hundreds of new riders how to use clipless pedals. We do this at no charge for our customers.

    The SPD pedals are the easiest to learn on. We cut a small amount of rubber away from the sole of the shoe to make more room around the cleat. Sometimes without doing this, the sole of the shoe will contact the pedal and make it hard to clip in and out.

    Cleats should also be professionally aligned. We use Fit Kit's RAD system to do this. Again at no charge to our customers.

    All of this is just another reason to support your local bike shop.

    I enjoy your blog.


  64. I'm sure you'll soon master them. Not that I have any experience at all with mastering clipless pedals, but you seem good at accomplishing what you put your mind to, as this entire blog testifies.

  65. "MDI said...
    *** UPDATE ***

    Someone rode up and down the street with right foot clipped in and left foot resting on the left pedal."

    I thought he meant Peppy.
    (I are clipped in cat! I can has martini? And mices, yes?)

  66. Love my SPDs and totally think they're worth the initial hurdle.

    Grass is good because, in addition to providing a safe cushion, it also slows down the bike so you can pedal with commitment and not get going too fast.

    Keep at it, it's worth it!

  67. V, you should know: in the blogging universe, last November is like... EONS ago. You'd better get those tea roses up and running before you lose Anonymous all together! :)

    Though I think peonies would be even more spectacular.

    And what's with the pretty basket post? And all those gorgeous paniers? You'd think this was called Lovely Bicycle or something...

  68. You didn't fall so no worries I would suggest practicing on the training both the clipping in and out and the feel of both feet clipped in before doing the push off and go step again. My own to cents on clip-less, when i was a wannabe "fast" roadie I used the entry level speedplays and loved them no issues getting in and out great with road shoes. These days I love the Shimano SPD M324's platform on one side SPD on the other- business up front party in the rear. And they can be had relatively cheaply if you shop around compared to full on Roadie clip-less. No shame needed just take a deep breath and practice the clip in and out on the trainer until you can do it without looking or thinking about it and then worry about doing it for real on the road

  69. Don't give up on the clip-less pedals. When I started (not too long ago) I fell over twice. Luckily I wasn't injured but I did put a nice scratch in my B17 - THAT hurt. I vowed never to use those dang things again. Several months went by and I realized I should stop being a baby. I was determined. Focus, focus, focus on remembering I'm clipped in. Don't daydream.

    I've now put about 1000 miles on them and have not had an accident, though my riding is mostly on country roads with few reasons to have to come to immediate unplanned stops. I still like my toe clips when I ride my Gov'nor in the city.

  70. Oh dear, but if you don't at first succeed, try again.
    You need stiff soled shoes. I have some Sidi mtb shoes with a neat ratchet for tightening (plus 2 velco straps). Excellent and very comfortable. If they last as well as my first Sidi shoes I'll still be wearing them in 10 years time.
    I also use shimano spd double sided pedals with plastic spreaders for use with non-clipped shoes. Wind down the tension until you find what works for you.
    I can report that my girlfriend had exactly the same experience as you, but after 4 outings she vows that she prefers them.

  71. I'm with RoadieRyan on this one! I learned on road clipless, but I just love the M324s on my commuter. They are super fast to clip into and clip out of, and I usually clip out on my right foot when approaching traffic or in a place I might need to make a quick stop, and pedal on the flat side. I wear the Keen sandals most days to work, then change into office appropriate footwear. Definitely do NOT THINK YOU ARE A WEAKLING!! It just takes time for your muscles to adjust to making that movement (it is weird at first). Anyone that rides as much and as fast and far as you do is anything BUT!

  72. V,
    Why don't you take up running. It can be competitive and easy to learn.

    That way you can ride with liberated feet to the workout and get your competitive fix and the stories about training for the Boston Marathon would provide for tons of content for this site.

  73. Anon 9:45 - The reason is very simple. I don't enjoy running. Or competitive sports generally. Or sports of any kind. Cycling is the weird exception.

  74. I tried mine yesterday (before I had read this post) and I thought about you. I rode for about half block in my street and turned home terrified and defeated. I have also decided to give it a break, maybe revisit in a month.

  75. I got that same set of SPD's about three years ago, and I actually switched back to my strap-and-clip pedals twice before finally committing to the clipless. I really love them now, but I agree .... the small surface area did hurt my feet until I dialed in the exact best placement of the cleats. I also bought some stiffer shoes.

    Honestly though, I do like the more retro look of the straps and clips! So sometimes I get a little nostalgic.

  76. I broke my arm on August 8th 2012 unable to clip out of my Look Pedals. I had a new pair of shoes and new cleats. The pedals were over 17 years old however I never had an issue with clipping out of them. I broke my upper arm which runs from the shoulder to the elbow. It was a clean break my Orthopedic Dr. told me and would not require surgery. I had a cast for two months however my hand still goes numb at night due to the break. I took the old Look Pedals off and now have quill pedals with toe clips however now I am paranoid about them so I might just try some MKS Lambda Pedals. I am now riding a hybrid comfort bike with regular rubber pedals and my regular racing bicycle is not being ridden due to this incident.

  77. Actually getting into clipless is easy, if you know how to do it the proper way. Don't try to just push down.

    You need to first push forward into the pedal so that the front of the cleat engages the pedal, then you push down. It's much easier to do then it sounds like, just a matter of getting used to how it feels to do it. To explain this another way you first hook the pedal with the front of the cleat then push down.

    Once in be sure and test the connection with your foot since at times you can get a false connection too which will come out.

    All this becomes very instinctive once you get used to doing it. Clipping in isn't a matter of strength but a matter of alignment.

    Once you get used to the pedals you should turn the release spring tension back up to maybe medium so that your feet are retained more securely during hard pedaling.

  78. Anon 7:45: On some clipless pedal bodies it is possible for a screw to come loose and jam the cleat so it can't unclip easy. This is rare and mostly I think more likely on older models. It is always good to check any screws which may be at the platform area of the pedal to make sure they are tight. If you get stuck in your pedals like this just disengage on the other side, as the chance of you getting stuck in both sides at once is non-existent, then just take your foot out of the shoe which is stuck on the pedal. Then with some force you can twist the shoe off of the pedal it is stuck to and then fasten the bolt back down with an allen. Also perhaps it is not good to keep using very old clipless pedals.

  79. I got clipless with a new bike - I love them on anything but on tricky cornering when mountain biking - BANG off they go $17 plastic peddles are much better when at anytime your bike could slide out. Two sided peddles are the worst - because your shoes have cleats and don't function at all when the plastic side comes around and your flying around a corner. Go one way or the other, but if you enjoy going downhill and having the inside leg out ready to catch you clipless are the pits.


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