Clipping in for the first time can be quite an unnerving experience for any cyclist, but it doesn't have to be as scary as you make it out to be! Clipless pedals are the best thing you can learn to love because they'll transform your riding forever. No other upgrade could have such a profound effect, in so many ways.
Clipless pedals allow you to clip in via a special pair of shoes with cleats. Although the name sounds contrary to the design, clipless pedals refer to a lack of the old style straps (called clips). So without these straps, your pedals become clip-less. Major brands have their own variety of pedals, and for the sake of the discussion, no brand is compatible with another. For example, if you're riding Shimano pedals, then you need Shimano cleats on your shoes.
BUT HOW DO I LEARN?
Learning to use clipless pedals is quite easy. Your real problem is going to be the lack of confidence in yourself after you take a small tumble. The only time you'll fall over BECAUSE of your clipless pedals is when you're stationary. You'll forget you're clipped in, and just fall over. It's embarrassing but also part of learning!
1. LEAN ON SOMETHING
The first thing you need to do is learn how to clip into the pedal. The cleat on the sole of your shoe is shaped like a triangle, with the tip facing forwards toward your toes. The best way to clip in is to angle your toes down with your heel slightly raised. This allows the triangle shaped cleat to find it's little notch. Once you can't slide your foot forward any further, push down for a solid "CLICK" sound. You're in!
The best way to learn how to clip in is to hold onto something. Maybe there's a wall or a fence to hold onto, preferably on grass. Clip in and out until you get the idea because it's just a little harder when you're actually moving.
TIP: Don't look down when you clip in. You won't have that luxury when you're riding, so learn to do this all by feel.
2. PERFECT DISMOUNT
The next step in your new adventure is to learn to unclip. You'll take a while to become a natural at it, which will explain the occasional tumble when you stop. (Realistically, you might fall over once.) When you unclip from your pedals, you want to push your heel downwards slightly and then very firmly to the side. When we say firmly, we mean really hard! If you fluff about unclipping softly, then you'll fall over. Unclip with full commitment every time, to avoid getting stuck due to poor technique.
The reason you need to push down slightly is to prevent yourself instinctively pulling up and twisting to the side. This will not disengage the pedal from your foot, and will result in panicked pulling and jerking until you fall over.
- Push down.
- Twist ankle hard.
- Put foot on ground.
TIP: Lean over to the side you've unclipped. If your left foot is on the ground, lean over to the left. It's a good chuckle to watch a rider unclip the left foot, and then fall over to the right.
3. THINK AHEAD
When you anticipate stopping, unclip before you get there. If a traffic light turns red, unclip 20 metres in advance so you don't panic at the last moment. If the light turns green when you get there, clip in and go.
A good trick to remember is to unclip and then rest your foot on the pedal - ready to clip in with a single push downwards.
After a few rides with clipless pedals you'll begin to feel more comfortable. Don't let your confidence get too far ahead of you though, because it's easy to make a mistake through being absent minded and forgetting you're even clipped in. Make sure you learn good technique through constant unclipping, and always lean over to that side when you do it. If you struggle to clip in when pulling away from an intersection, just put your foot anywhere on the pedal and start pedalling! You do not have to be clipped in to be able to pedal the bike...
It's easy once you've got the hang of it, so just give it a go and remember:
- Find something to hold onto at first.
- Learn good unclipping technique.
- Try pedaling without being clipped in.
- Never stand up unless you've heard the loud "CLICK".
- Unclip in advance, until your skills improve.
Happy riding, and don't give up if you find it a struggle at first. It is well worth the effort, just like when you first rode a bike.