Clipless Pedals for Beginners
Clipless pedals make you faster and safer!
This page is for anybody considering or ready to purchase their first pair of cycling shoes and clipless pedals. Assuming youre reading this, you probably are shopping online, or have visited a local bike shop to try on some shoes and are purchasing over the internet. Let me say, your local bike shop needs you. The convenience of having a certified mechanic to align your derailleur or overhaul your bottom bracket is contingent upon your business for more than just the once-a-year (or once-every-three-years) service or repair you bring them. Without them, you may not be told these very important safety tips for riding with a (new) set of clipless pedals.
First, if you install the pedals yourself, check and make sure you put the pedals on the correct crank arm (yes, its possible to install them backwards–yes, Ive done it in my early cycling days). On the threaded end of the spindle, you should see an R or an L stamped on each pedal. Make sure that you put the R pedal on the drive side, Right, crank arm, and that you put the L pedal on the non-drive side, Left, crank arm. If you also purchased a pedal wrench, it will probably have both a 15mm and 9/16 opening. You will probably use the 15mm for your road bike pedal installation. The easiest way to install the pedals is to begin the threading with your hand before you touch it with the wrench (whether its a bike-specific pedal wrench or a 15mm open-end wrench). From here, I attach the wrench and hold it in the same position while rotating the cranks backwards. This will thread the pedal onto the crank arm (I know it seems wrong, but it works every time). Once youve gotten it snug, you will need to hold the back wheel with one hand and tighten the pedal with the other hand. Be careful not to over-tighten the pedals, especially if you have carbon cranks. Once this process is complete, repeat on the other crank arm. The pedal will be threaded opposite the one you just installed, but will still thread itself onto the crank arm by turning the cranks backwards.
You have now successfully installed your pedals. Congratulations!! Next come your cleats. They are all different, but the good news is that they all come with an instruction manual. Follow the instructions for attaching the cleats to your new shoes. Ideally, you should start with the cleats in a position that keeps the ball of your foot more or less directly over the spindle of the pedal. Once you have ridden with your feet in this position for a while, you will either feel very comfortable or very uncomfortable. Based on what your feet are telling you, you should move the cleat so that your foot moves forward or backward, in or out, or rotates slightly to ease whatever discomfort you may be having. For example, if the pain feels like your arch is caving in and the outer portion of your feet hurt, try moving the cleats inward so more of your foot is on top of the pedal. The more you ride and the longer you ride each time, the more apparent it will be how you need to maneuver the cleats on your shoes.
You have undoubtedly already done what youre supposed to do next: jump on your bike and clip your new shoes into your new pedals. And if youre like most of us, you have probably also just had your first fall from being clipped into your new pedals. Congratulations!! Youre officially a member of the club! Dont feel bad or be embarrassed – whether youve seen it or not, weve all fallen over for no reason at all when beginning to ride with clipless pedals.
What you should do now is practice clipping in and out of your pedals without going anywhere. Literally. If you just installed your pedals in the garage, stay there and practice. Find something that wont move you can hold onto – a countertop, a truck bed, a doorway – and clip each foot in and out of your pedals until it begins to feel natural (you should get the hang of it pretty quick, but it wont be second nature for a few rides). Chances are you will look down at the pedals every time you attempt to clip in – its ok, youll get accustomed to finding that pedal without looking soon enough. Before you try to move, spend about 5 or 10 minutes practicing getting in and out of the pedals. If you read all the instructions in the manual, youll know that your pedals probably have a tension adjustment. If you only skimmed all or only read part of the instructions, get them back out and find the tension adjustment. I would recommend having a relatively loose tension to start with. It will make your life easier both for getting in and out of your pedals, and it will save you from at least a few falls.
Feel comfortable getting in and out yet? If so, grab a helmet and get yourself and your bike to somewhere safe and quiet. Dont ride around town – the last thing you want to do is fall over on a street with any kind of traffic. Dont ride around your neighborhood – you dont want your neighbors to see you fall over when you come to a stop. Pick somewhere like a business park if youre riding when its closed in the evenings or weekends, or maybe a church that has a big parking lot if youre doing this on a Tuesday. You can even take your bike (even if its a road bike) and ride in a field – trust me, grass is a nicer landing than pavement any day!
When youre ready to get going, put on your helmet and shift your bike into an easy gear. Make sure that you turn the crank a couple times and the chain moves to the appropriate cog in the back. Stand over your bike and slide onto the saddle. You should be able to touch the ground with one foot and not be leaning too far over. If its too much of a stretch, either your bike is a size too big or your seat is too high. Assuming youre on the right size bike and you can reach the ground easily, take whichever foot is more comfortable and clip in. The easiest way to do so is with that pedal turned to the bottom of the crank motion. Once your foot is clipped in, bring it up to halfway between the top of the pedal stroke and straight forward. Youre ready. Take a deep breath and push the pedal down, then bring it back up and push again to get some momentum going your way. Once youre rolling and wont fall over from lack of motion, clip your other foot in. I find it easiest to grab that second pedal when its at the top of the stroke and my other foot is holding the crank at the bottom. If you practiced enough in the garage, you should know the feeling of when the cleat is properly placed to clip in. When you get that feeling, stomp on that foot and youre in!!
Now comes the scary part: stopping. Ride around for a minute and let the endorphins level off and your adrenalin get back to a normal level. Pick a place to stop. If youre in a parking lot, ride along until you get to the end of a row of parking spots. When youre getting close, unclip whichever foot you consider weaker or more uncoordinated. For example, I feel more confident in my right foot, so I almost always unclip my left. As you come up to the end of the parking row, with your weak foot unclipped, slow to a stop leaning slightly toward the unclipped foot. For me, I will lean just slightly to my left. My right foot will be at the bottom of the pedal stroke and my left foot extended, waiting to catch me when I come to a complete stop. Occasionally, Ill get caught off balance and be leaning toward my right when my left is unclipped. This is when I ever so gracefully fall over at a dead stop. Nothing is more embarrassing, but more common to cyclists. It happens less now than it used to, but it still happens to everybody (pro or average Joe). You dont want to be this guy, who was leaning to the left without unclipping his left foot.
Now youve come to a complete stop, unclipped successfully, and avoided embarrassment. Hooray!! Youre doing better than almost 97% of cyclists using clipless pedals if youve made it this far without falling. The trick is now to start and stop all over again. And again. And again. And again, all before leaving the parking lot youre riding in. Yes, you may look a little silly riding your road bike in a parking lot, but its nowhere near as silly as the guy falling over at a stop sign. Now were confident that you can both start and stop safely without falling. The open road awaits! The single best thing about road cycling is that roads are everywhere, and you never know what lies around the next bend. Congratulations on making yourself a more serious, not to mention more efficient, cyclist with the purchase of your first clipless pedals. Your reward is the road ahead of you. Ride confidently and safely.