Going Clipless – Be one with your Bike

Many called it crazy, but clipless pedals are one of the greatest innovations in the history of cycling. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about and if clipless is right for you, here’s some info to help you decide.

But first off, why are they called “clipless” when you actually clip into them? Simple…the predecessor to the clipless pedal is the toe clip, those devices comprised of straps and cages that attach to your pedals so you can keep your feet on the pedals.

Toe clip

Toe clips would still be on top if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids in the cycling industry.

You? Clipless?

So why switch to clipless pedals? It’s fairly simple, if you want to be more efficient, locking your shoes into your pedals will transfer energy to your crank more efficiently. Also, clipless pedals can stop your foot from slipping off the pedal, which can cause problems in both road and mountain situations.

Ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I a road cyclist who is considering racing, or training to race?
  2. Am I a mountain biker who rides some pretty fast, gnarly trails?
  3. Am I riding for fitness and pushing myself to get stronger?
  4. Am I considering touring (multi-day bike odyssey with packs, etc.)?

If you answer yes to any of these, clipless pedals will to improve your riding experience.

But of course you’re wondering...

Doesn’t everyone fall when they first try riding with clipless pedals? The answer:  Well…no, not everyone…probably. We can only say that we and everyone else we know fell the first time. To save your elbows and knees, learn to clip and unclip while holding onto a wall or railing, and then try it riding on grass. To save face…well, sorry, can’t help you there.


“TARNATION!” Among others, “tarnation” is an excellent explative to have locked and loaded for when you learn to ride clipless.


The first time riding clipless in public, many riders wish they had one of these.

A crash course on clipless systems (no pun intended):

In basic terms, two categories exist: road and mountain. An important caveat…it’s really more like road and not road.  Here are some details:

Time iClic 2

Road pedals generally have a larger surface area and can only be clicked into on one side. This Time iClic 2 Road Pedal is an amazing value for a high performing pedal.

road shoe bottom

Road shoes have stiff soles and slick bottoms which are not suitable for walking. Most road shoes have a 3-bolt pattern for road cleats, and some (like this Pearl Izumi Select Road Shoe) also have 2-bolt compatibility in case you want to use mountain pedals.

mtb pedals

Mountain bike pedals generally have a smaller contact point, have 2-sided entry, and are very strong. These Shimano M540s are an excellent entry-level mountain pedal that will last and last.


Crank Bros Eggbeaters are very popular (and affordable) mountain pedals with a 4-sided entry.

mtb shoe

Mountain bike shoes are tougher, chunkier, and much better for walking than road shoes. Pearl Izumi Select shoes are an affordable, comfy, and versatile way to go clipless.


Generally: Road cleats (left) are 3-bolt, big, and plastic. Mountain cleats (right) are 2-bolt, small, and metal.

With all that, these are general rules.  There are road pedals with tiny contact points, and mountain pedals with huge platforms – but that’s a topic for another day.

What’s right for you?

When going clipless, it’s largely about preference. Some casual road riders prefer to sacrifice a little stiffness and go with mountain pedals because of the better walkability. For touring or casual mountain biking, there are even shoes that are as much for walking as biking:


Nashbar Ragster II cycling sandals are super comfy, and you can still clip them in.

 When choosing, consider what is important to you. If you’re all about optimal efficiency (a la racing/hard training), use lighter, stiffer shoes.  Otherwise, consider versatility, comfort, and price. The only hard and fast rule is don’t use road pedals for mountain biking…they could break.

And once you get past that learning stage, odds are you’ll never go back because clipless is awesome.

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4 comments on “Going Clipless – Be one with your Bike
  1. Steve P says:

    They are confusingly named as well. Shimano calls their MTB clips SPD, and their totally incompatible road clips SPD-SL.

    It’s extremely difficult to walk on road cleats. You can make it into a coffee shop and back, but it’s not very much fun. On MTB clips (SPD) this is no problem. Just be careful not to trash someone’s nice wood floor. Road cleats stick out much more.

    Remember that cleats come with the pedals, not with the shoes. Make sure the shoes have backing plates for the cleats (not always included) and check the pedal box for the cleats (they often get “borrowed”).

    Shimano supplies a ridiculous piece of adhesive paper to “waterproof” the back of the cleats where they screw to the sole. It’s junk. I use gaffer tape. Use locking compound on the cleat screws and tighten the screws alternately – the sole will give as you tighten them so make sure the cleats are on securely.

    There is a bit of play in the shoe mounting to allow you to align the shoe position on the pedal. I have big feet, so I move my cleats in on the shoes (toward the big toe side) which moves my feet out a bit on the pedals so my heels don’t hit the chainstays on some bikes.

    Back off the cleat tension to the lowest setting. You can tighten it up later but I’ve never needed to with SPDs. Then, find a picnic table or old car to lean on and clip in and out 50 times with each foot to build muscle memory. That’s how I did it and I’ve never fallen from having a foot suck.

    • F. Planter says:

      Thanks@Steve P for the added advice. And a pox on any desperado who would “borrow” another man’s backing plates!

  2. JAQO says:

    The link for the Pearl Izumi Select Road Shoe takes the reader to the page for the Time iClic 2 Road Pedals.

  3. Siobhan says:

    I’ve been clipless for almost 6 years now. I love it, the power and the proper alignment are a huge benefit. I started with Look-style Nashbar pedals. I am a bike commuter. I had rubber covers that helped when I had to go walk around on them. I had to stop using the Look-style because the Look Delta cleats were getting harder and harder to find. Also, I was needing to replace the left one once every two months (monthly for non-name-brand). I discovered upon switching that when I do fall, my SPDs pop right out where I would be stuck on my right side with Look. Also, usually the side I fell on 😛