This is a very common question asked by many and is not only heard on the lips of beginners, but many veterans as well.
Clipless pedals have always been a point of curiosity among cyclists since its public inception in the early 1990s, and understandably enough, most of the inquisitiveness was directed at its performance and safety.
But the question asked today would be a difficult one to answer if we are looking only at the pedals themselves. It would be much easier if we take a step back and look at the system as a whole.
In other words think of pedaling as a system and see how the clipless pedals affect the safety of this system as a whole.
The pedaling system involves the hips (where the power is generated) to the shoes (through which power is transferred) and down to the pedals.
While not dangerous, there are some safety concerns. This mostly has to do with the cyclist’s ability to adapt to this clipless pedal system well enough. There are certain steps and precautions that they can take to achieve that, namely:
- Getting better at clipping and unclipping.
- Correctly positioning the cleats under the shoes.
- Getting the right pedal.
- Getting the correct cycling shoes.
- Adjusting their cycling techniques to the new clipless pedal system.
Of course, these precautions are not without basis. It all stems from one very particular myth that surrounds the clipless pedals:
“Clipless pedals do not raise the risk of injury”
In pursuit of efficiency, clipless pedals sacrifice one important aspect of cycling: Freedom.
While one might argue that unlike toe-clip pedals, clipless ones do have a mechanism that allows cyclists to easily disengage themselves.
That is all well and good when you are riding normally. But what about in an event of a crash? Or when your bike slips on a muddy terrain or a slippery road?
It is physically impossible to disengage yourself on time to dampen the impact of the crash.
This is one very glaring issue that rightly makes people still question the safety of using clipless pedals. We now also have studies to show the impacts that clipless pedals might have on an important component of the pedaling system: the hips.
Understanding that a myth like this exists is very important, as it has nowadays become an unspoken rule to always put clipless pedals on a podium. While these pedals do provide great performance boosts overall, not everyone is innately built to enjoy them fully.
Keeping that in mind, if you do plan on investing and dedicating your cycling to clipless pedals, you definitely have to keep some considerations in mind.
Precautions to Take to Avoid the Dangers of Clipless Pedals
1. Clipping And Unclipping
The first challenge that many beginners to clipless pedals face is the clipping and unclipping mechanism of the pedals itself. It does have a learning curve but it is not that steep at all.
So it is all about practice, practice and practice.
First practice clipping in and disengaging on either feet keeping your other foot planted on the ground. Take support of a wall, post or a tree if you have.
Then comes the challenge of clipping in your other foot while having one foot already clipped in. Take support if necessary again.
Keep at it until you get a feel for it. The best teacher will obviously be by being on the road.
Be wary of your setups as well. Disengaging correctly and on time is always a point of worry amongst many cyclists. Adjust release tension if available (some Shimano pedals have this mechanism).
Another disengage option that you might like to keep an eye out for are the multi release cleats. These allow you to unclip both sideways and upwards.
You can also adjust Q-factor of your pedals or reposition the cleats to a more comfortable position (more on that later).
3. Get The Right Pedal
No two cyclists are the same, similarly no two pedals are the same. Everyone has their own set of requirements. Only you can tell which pedals suit you best.
Clipless pedals come in many shapes and sizes, with or without platforms and even different cleat styles that they go onto.
On that note, we will leave you with some tips:
- Try out the pedal. While you can always add to cart, it may not necessarily be the best way to go when fitting is involved, especially if you are a beginner.
- Get your fitting done by professionals. It is never a bad thing to ask for help. A professional fitter can adjust your shoes, cleats and pedals to optimize your performance as well as comfort.
4. Pedal and Shoe Compatibility
Remember the pedaling system we had just discussed? Now add to that the riding style.
The type of riding you do greatly determines the type of cycling shoes you need.
For road cycling shoes the soles will be stiffer and sturdier, so having a pedal with less platform will suit it best. As for downhill or enduro shoes with softer rubber soles, a larger platform for your pedals are required.
While you can go off-road with road specific pedals, it will however cause more discomfort and stability issues in the long run.
5. Cleat Placement
Having your cleats too far forward on your shoes tips your weight to the front of your feet. As you are pushing down on the pedals, this will put a lot of pressure on your calf muscles, overworking them, making them sore or even cause cramps.
Placing your cleats just behind the balls of your feet will stabilize the forces and produce a much flatter posture for your feet when the pedals are horizontal (when you are in the middle of the pedal stroke).
A video showcasing the needs of having your cleats positioned correctly:
Going clipless has become a rite of passage in the world of cycling. Everyone has their own clipless moment after getting into it. It can be in a week, a month or even a year. But it will come thanks to its great design.
But don’t worry if you are still not having the moment! You were just built differently and have different needs. There are other great options of pedals available to you.
Like all things, the clipless pedal is not flawless. However with enough practice and awareness, these imperfections can be easily overcome.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is the benefit of clipless pedals?
Ans.: There are many benefits of clipless pedals and most can only be experienced after you have used them.
Efficient pedaling. Clipless pedals keep your feet in place keeping a constant posture, this means that there are no wasted lateral movements of your knees.
Bursts of power. With the correct posture that is provided by clipless pedals you can ride through even the roughest of terrains. Understand that this is an anecdotal point and is effective occasionally.
Foot stability. Clipless pedals hold your feet in place giving you more balance on top of your bicycle.
Q2) Why do they call it clipless pedals?
Ans.: The name ‘clipless pedal’ is understandably very confusing because you are actually ‘clipping in’ into these pedals.
But the naming idea (or fault) lies solely on the shoulders of the original manufacturers who needed to distinguish between these and the older pedals with a ‘toe-clip’. The term clipless here points to the absence of toe-clips altogether. And also the pedals clip into the cleats under the cycling shoes.