After you have been riding for a while, chances are you will start to consider whether or not to get cycling shoes that clip into the pedals on your bike. You will see that all of the “serious” cyclists have them, and you are thinking of giving it a try!
With possibly some trepidation you might start looking into it. All of a sudden you see all of these different pedals, these “clipless” systems. (I know! It’s so confusing! You are clipping into the bike and yet they call the pedal systems clipless!).
Between the confusion over what pedals/cleats/shoes to use and your possible concerns over having more spills and falls due to being clipped in, you might be thinking you should just stick to your good ole’ trusty regular flat pedals.
And honestly, at the end of the day, this is where you may end up, and that’s OK! Maybe you don’t care about being a “serious” cyclist and having all of the gear.
Flat pedals are much easier to get in and out of, and they are a cheaper option because you can use any shoe you already have.
BUT, I would like to offer that there are some definite benefits of learning how to clip into the bike. Once you master it, and you will, it truly becomes second nature. And your performance on the bike will likely improve.
Reasons for Being Clipped In On the Bike
One of the biggest reasons that you will want to clip in on the bike is to get the true benefit of your pedal stroke. For road cyclists, this means that you will undoubtedly go faster.
For trail riders, you are definitely going to get more power into each stroke up those particularly tough hills and have a lot more control (believe it or not) over where your bike goes and what it does.
You might also be an indoor cyclist! Clipping in on a peloton bike or spin bike can also improve your power output.
Simply put, clipping in on the bike gives you a stronger connection to the hardware of your bike, and will give you more speed, efficiency, power and control. These are all good things!
Different Types of Clipless Pedal Systems
There are a few different types of systems, but usually your choice will boil down to if you want to have a mountain bike style system, or a road bike style system.
You can tell the difference between systems because the mountain bike systems, like the Shimano SPD systems, have two bolts and recessed cleats.
Road bike systems, like the Shimano SPD-SL, have three bolts, and the cleats stick out of the shoes.
I know, I know. You are thinking this is an easy choice! If you have a mountain bike, you go with mountain bike pedals/shoes. If you have a road bike, it’s all about the road bike pedals and shoes.
Though this is generally true of mountain bikes (there’s really no reason or benefit to using road systems on a mountain bike), road riders have a choice.
Cycling shoes with a 3-bolt system (left) and a 2-bolt system (right)
I am a road cyclist, but friends encouraged me to start with mountain bike shoes and pedals for two reasons. 1) They are more comfortable and easier to walk in and 2) They are easier to clip in and out of.
Ultimately, given what a klutz I am both on and off the bike, I thought easier was a great idea while I got used to clipping in and out. I used these shoes and pedals happily for a year before I chose to switch to road bike pedals and shoes.
I love my road bike system, but honestly at times I wish I never switched! It is all personal preference. I get annoyed by having to be on one side of the pedal (with mountain bike pedals it doesn’t matter which side you are on) and also find that my cleats wear out somewhat quickly because I walk in them probably more than I should.
For more info on cleat systems and choosing a shoe, check out these articles:
- 5 Best Cycling Shoes for Women
- 9 Best Women’s Mountain Bike Shoes (Flats and Clipless)
- 5 Best Women’s Indoor Cycling Shoes
Getting Started with Clipping in on the Bike
Your bike shop is an amazing resource for this. They will have the shoes, the pedals, and the clips and will get you all set up with them. This is a great option if you are new to the sport and don’t really feel like working on your own bike.
It’s also great because they can help you get the tension right on your pedals. If the tension is too tight, it can make it harder to get your feet out, and you really do not want this when you are first getting started.
If you don’t have a bike shop nearby, or simply want to buy and install the components yourself, that’s totally fine too! There are so many youtube videos on how to install different clipless systems. I find the Park Tools youtube videos to be very helpful.
I’ve Got the Shoes! I’ve Got the Cleats! I’ve Got the Pedals! Now How do I actually USE them?
Once you are good to go with your whole system and it is installed, you’re ready to get started with clipping in on the bike!
Tip #1: Start on an Indoor Trainer and Practice, Practice, Practice
Arguably, the easiest way to start with clipping in on the bike is to be on an indoor trainer or Peloton bike. It is virtually impossible to fall over while clipped in on a stationary bike.
I mean, I have mastered the art of falling in clipless pedals, and falling in general, and even I haven’t managed to fall while clipping in and out of the trainer. The trainer holds your bike in place so you can clip in and out to your heart’s content and get used to the feel of the process without having to worry at all about falling.
To clip in, you will want to slide your shoe into the clip and press down and hear it click. That is how you know you are IN! The click is everything.
To clip out, simply rotate your heel AWAY from your bike. You will hear the click again, and of course, your foot will be FREE!
Cip in and out of your pedals on the trainer a number of times. Feel like you have mastered the process and do it at least ten more times.
If you don’t have an indoor trainer (or access to a spin bike at your gym), that’s OK! I didn’t have one when I started cycling, and so I just wet straight to Tip #2.
Tip #2: When You Bring it Outside Start on a Grassy/Soft Surface
This is the one that feels so obvious, but so many people overlook it. When you are practicing outdoors for the first time and balance is involved, start on a grassy surface! A lawn, a park, anything. Yes it is a bit harder to pedal, but if you fall (and if you are like me in any way you will), you won’t be coming down on the pavement. Grass and dirt stains are WAY better than cuts and bruises from the driveway/road!
Plus, it’s also way safer to practice clipping in and out on the bike when you aren’t potentially in traffic of any kind. One of the greatest risks with falling at a stop sign/stop light/intersection isn’t the fall itself, but the potential of being hit by a car. It’s a lot harder for a car to see you if you are lying on the ground.
Tip #3: Figure Out Your Dominant Foot and Commit to Starting on the Same Foot Each Time
When you are first getting started with clipping in on the bike, you are going to want to always clip in with the same foot first, and clip out with the same foot first. It is so helpful to just have this consistency and is helpful with forming the habit.
This way you don’t have to question what you are doing, and your muscle memory kicks in that much faster.
I like to always clip in first with my right foot, and clip out first with my left foot. I am right handed, but I am not sure this has anything to do with it to be honest, it’s all personal preference. Having one foot that is always committed to being the more stationary/clipped in foot though for me has been instrumental in mastering clipping in and out of the bike.
Knowing that it is always going to be my left foot that comes out of the pedal first and comes down to the ground first has made the action of clipping in and out second nature to me.
Also, don’t lose your mind if you miss the engagement with the pedal with your foot that is clipped out. Just calmly continue to pedal with your dominant foot, and work on getting the other in when you can. Your pedals still work even if you aren’t clipped in!
I regularly miss getting my left foot into the pedal on the first try, and I just keep going with the right one until I can get the engagement right.
Tip #4: When in Doubt, Clip Out (Early and Often)
One of the reasons why I suggest starting on the trainer is to get really comfortable with what clipping in and out feels like. A lot of riders will delay clipping out of the pedal because they are afraid once they get out they won’t be able to get back in
Also we can be a little lazy, and it’s just so much easier to stay clipped in and not stop than it is to unclip and stop.
If there is any chance that you will possibly have to stop, clip out, and clip out early. As I mentioned above, your pedals still work even if you aren’t clipped in on the bike! If you get that foot free early you can keep cycling, and keep pedaling, right up until you stop and have the confidence to be able to stop without falling to the ground because you are still clipped in.
Last fall I was riding and saw a sign that I wanted to stop and take a picture of. I completely, 100% forgot for some reason that I was clipped in, and fell right over! It was hilarious, I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t believe that I just forgot!
If I had been more mindful of the fact that I was coming to a stop and that I had to clip out, I would have, and I would have remained upright.
When you are clipped out you don’t have to actually stop and put your foot down! You can just keep going if you end up not needing to stop, and clip right back in whenever you are ready.
Tip #5: Be Flexible, Consistent, and Kind to Yourself
Like many things in life, clipping in and out on the bike can take some practice. For those that are super coordinated it won’t take much practice, but for those that are not (that would be me!), it may take some time (and a number of falls!).
I can’t tell you how many times I pulled up to a stop sign and just fell right over. I mean, my whole first year or two of riding with clipless pedals it was the running joke in group rides that “Stacy managed to stay upright on the bike tonight!”
Despite all of this I didn’t give up. I was determined, I kept at it, and I am so much more confident clipping in on the bike. I actually find it to be a really fun and satisfying part of cycling (I just love to hear the little click!).
Though clipping in on the bike can seem scary and intimidating at first, it truly doesn’t have to be. You can master it and be on your way to really getting that power, control and efficiency from every pedal stroke.
By following these tips, you will be well on your way to developing consistency and increasing your confidence clipping in on the bike!
More Stuff You Might Find Helpful
- Cycling For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know
- 9 Best Women’s Road Bike Helmets
- Don’t Wear Underwear With Bike Shorts & 5 Other Tips About How To Wear Bike Shorts
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.