After selecting a bicycle that meets your specific needs, getting cycling shoes and pedals will make a huge difference in your riding. We recommend clipless pedal and shoe systems for frequent riders because they more efficiently transfer your pedaling power to the ground and the shoes have stiff soles to support and protect your feet for more comfort.
Borrowed from skiing technology, these trick pedals also provide a better foot-to-pedal connection and more safety by offering almost instant foot entry and release. We like clipless pedals for road and mountain biking and for everything from recreational riding to commuting and racing. They're also great for Spinning classes.
If you're new to bicycling, getting new pedals and shoes (both are required for going clipless) might seem a bit much. The way to decide whether it's worth the expense is considering your cycling. If you ride regularly on loops of 10 miles or more and expect to keep riding for years to come, we think you'll love the way a clipless system enhances the cycling experience by boosting your pedal power, comfort and safety.
What are clipless pedals?
Clipless pedals are actually a system comprised of special pedals and cleats, devices included with the pedals that attach to the soles of clipless cycling shoes. This means that you need to select pedals and shoes in order to upgrade to a clipless system.
Once you have the cleats bolted to your shoes and the clipless pedals on your bicycle (we're happy to help), you simply put on your new shoes and step on the pedals to click your feet securely in place (most systems make a "click" when you're locked in). When engaged, your feet are connected to the pedals for optimum efficiency. And your feet won't come off the pedals unless you want them to. To get out, you swing your heels to the outside as if you're getting ready to put your feet down, and the pedals release.
Because your feet are locked into the pedals when riding, you have more power throughout the pedal stroke and while accelerating and climbing. Clipless pedals also give you more control by letting you use your feet for maneuvers such as hopping pavement cracks, railroad tracks and more exciting obstacles if you're riding off road.
Plus, because you can get in and out so quickly, you're more apt to get your feet down and land safely should you need to dismount quickly. With all of these advantages, is it any wonder that almost all serious pedalers use clipless pedals today and some new bikes even come equipped with them?
What are the different types of shoes?
Road Riding: Road shoes have the stiffest soles, made of nylon, composite materials or carbon for maximum pedaling efficiency and minimum weight. These shoes usually sport lightweight ventilated uppers made from leather or synthetic leathers like Lorica, with mesh for breathability. Velcro-strap or ratcheting-buckle closures are popular so that adjustments can be made "on the fly," tighter for climbing or sprinting, looser if your feet swell or feel uncomfortable.
Off-Road: Off-road shoes are also quite stiff and inflexible but not as much as road models. Like the road riders, off roaders want good power transfer through the shoes to the pedals. However, off-road shoes all have recessed cleats and aggressive tread patterns for those occasions when it's necessary to get off and hoof it. Some shoes even accept optional screw-in studs near the toes for grip on muddy trails. Uppers are usually a little more robust than on road shoes, to cope with brushing through the undergrowth.
Casual Riding: Shoes for casual riding are manufactured with comfort in mind, and therefore tend to be a little more flexible than their super-stiff racing brothers, as the pressure exerted on them will not be so great and they will be used for more walking. Many tourists choose casual shoes with clipless pedals because of their versatility and they may wear them for long days of riding (or even throughout a prolonged tour) and so appreciate the little extra forgiveness in the soles. Styles vary from boot-like designs to low cut, almost racing-style shoes with some good compromise models in terms of colors, weight and design in the middle ground.
|How you ride...||The shoe for you...|
|You're a casual cyclist who doesn't feel comfortable looking like a gonzo bikie.||Consider casual cycling shoes, which look more like sneakers. There are even cleated models that work with clipless pedals.|
|You love rolling up the miles and you enjoy stopping to admire the view almost as much.||Look at shoes made for touring. They're flexible for comfort with rubber soles and recessed cleats for walking. Off-road styles work, too.|
|You love off-road rides and races.||You want lugged soles, recessed cleats, a snug, comfy fit, light weight, decent sole stiffness (not too stiff) and a secure fastening system.|
|You've been on off-roader and now you plan to get a road bike.||You may want to continue using your off-road shoes. Just get the same pedals for your road bike that you have on your off-roader.|
|You're a serious triathlete.||Check out triathlon shoes, which are designed for high efficiency with features to get in and out quick.|
|You ride centuries and group rides that are more social than competitive.||You'll do fine with a mid-line road shoe because it'll be more flexible and comfortable than the full-on road race model (see below).|
|You enjoy hammering on the road sprinting against your buddies for every city-limit sign.||Get light, high-end road shoes with super-stiff soles for exceptional energy transfer and an extra-secure closure system.|
Straps versus clipless
Toe clips and straps bolt to most regular pedals (non-clipless) that have holes in them to accept the bolts that hold the clips in place. The clips and straps form cages to hold your feet in the correct place on the pedals and keep your feet from slipping off. This is a perfectly viable solution and less expensive than clipless pedals and the special shoes needed to complete the clipless system.
There are drawbacks, however. One is that the clips and straps may cut off the circulation to your feet when they're fastened tightly enough to allow efficient pedaling and control. It's also a fairly tricky two-step process to get out of the clips and straps when they're tightened because you must reach down to loosen the strap before you can pull your foot out.
Two styles of clipless pedals/shoes: walkable and road
Just like there are two places to ride, on and off road, there are two types of clipless systems. The most popular are walkable clipless systems, on which the cleats are recessed into the shoe soles . This means the cleats don't contact the ground when you walk so this clipless system is ideal for walking and even hiking. Yet, it's still incredibly efficient for maximum pedal power. Walkable clipless pedals and shoes are ideal for off-road riding, commuting, touring and century riding, too.
Many of them utilize a double-sided pedal (photo,left), which means you can click into the pedal on either side so you don't have to look down to get your feet in. Also some of these pedals offer a platform around the piece that engages the cleat.
This is beneficial when you either want to be unclipped or you can’t clip in fast enough — you’ll still have a good base of support. This is also convenient if you’re wearing regular street shoes because you'll have a good pedaling surface even though you're not using your special cleated cycling shoes.
The other system is road (the red cleat in the photo above, right) and as the name implies it's designed for use on road bikes where maximum efficiency, aerodynamics and minimum weight are all important. Road shoes are lighter and stiffer than walkable models because the soles aren't lugged.
The other difference in road clipless systems is that the cleats protrude from the soles of the shoes because the soles are so thin and light. This makes it difficult to walk in the shoes (though there are rubber cleat covers available to protect the cleat and improve traction).
Also, road systems usually are single-sided so you must find the correct side of the pedal to click in when you start out. Most road pedals hang a certain way to make this relatively easy.
Float and tension adjustment
The majority of clipless systems today feature float. This is a few degrees of built-in lateral play allowing your feet to move slightly and find the optimum pedaling position. Float ensures that you won't injure your knees by riding with your feet misaligned with your knees, which was a common problem before pedals with float were invented.
Keep in mind that even though most clipless pedals offer float, it's still important to align the cleats carefully. They must be positioned to hold the balls of your feet over the pedals and to match your natural foot inclination. Our bike fitters are experts at this.
Getting used to riding clipless
The most important thing is practicing before hitting the road or trail. This is especially important if you started with toe clips and straps, which require a different foot motion to get your feet out. Clipless pedals release by swinging your heels outward (photo).
When you're comfortable getting in and out of the pedals, do a short loop around the neighborhood and practice entering and exiting the pedals for real. The trickiest thing the first couple of times is remembering to swivel your heels to get out instead of pulling back (the toe-clip motion). As long as you unclip before you stop, you'll get your feet out just fine.
Save your bucks. You don't have to buy a company's most-expensive model to get great clipless pedals. What that extra cash buys you is lighter weight, a little more durability and sometimes added adjustability. If you don't need these extras, save your loot and go with a budget model. You'll still get excellent pedal power.
Buy a system. If you're just getting going, the way to go is purchasing a pedal and shoe system; in other words shoes and pedals that are made for each other. To be sure you get such a system, you must make sure the shoes you purchase are compatible with the pedals you select. If you buy pedals and shoes from the same manufacturer, the system will work nicely. However, you may want a different shoe because it fits better. Just be sure that the shoe you pick is compatible with the pedal system you use. Most quality shoes work fine with the major pedal systems but once in a while there are mismatches and you want to avoid those. We're experts on this, so don't hesitate to ask.
When shoe shopping, don't underestimate the importance of trying them on. Some brands run wider than others. Some sole shapes may fit your feet better than others. Some brands run big and some run small. No matter how much you like the look or features of a shoe, a lousy fit can ruin rides. So, it's always best to come in and try some on. We look forward to answering your questions and helping you find the perfect fit!