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Member-At-Large On The Road - October 2017

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Power-Up by Clipping In

by Mary Ann Breunig

As a new cyclist you may have decided to ride using platform pedals.  This gave you the flexibility of riding with any shoe and allowed you to focus on learning how to use your bike’s gears and brakes.  It also eliminated of the added stress of worrying about how to use clip-in pedals.  As you become comfortable riding, you might be curious about riding “clipped-in”.

Why ride with clip-in pedals or “clipped-in”?   The main reason to change from platform to clip-in pedals is to gain more power on each pedal stroke.  With a clip-in pedal, in addition to power in the downstroke (push), you will gain power in the return (pull-up).  If you want to ride up-hill faster, having power on both the push/pull strokes will help you ascend much quicker.

As you grow more comfortable and efficient with riding clipped in, you will find an increased feeling of stability on the bike.  It’s hard to explain, but you will find that you feel more like a single unit as you ride.  This is especially noticeable on the downhills.

 

What are Clip-in Pedals?

A clip-in pedal is a small pedal with a locking mechanism (“clip”).  A “cleat” on the bottom of your cycling shoe inserts into the clip, forming a solid link between your leg and the bike.

There are two types of clip-in pedals—road and off-road clips (often called mountain biking).  Many road cyclists decided to use the mountain biking pedals/shoes.  First it makes it easier for cyclists who have both road and mountain bikes.  They only need one type of clips and their cycling shoes can be used for either bike.

However, mountain biking pedals provide an advantage of have a clip on both sides of the pedal (see diagram on the right).  This makes it easier to clip-in.  Also mountain biking shoe cleats are recessed into the shoe’s sole (easier to walk on).  Some riders prefer road bike clips/shoes.  They find that their pedal strokes are more effective as the pedal clip is wider.

 

What are Shoe Cleats?

Mountain biking shoes come with a setup of shoe cleats that are positioned on the bottom of the shoe.  Positioning your cleats inside your shoe is a critical success factor for your comfort and power.  This bears repeating, how your cleat is setup can cause foot pain and negate any power gain from adopting clip-in pedals.

Cleats are adjusted forward/back and left/right.  The forward/back adjustment positions where on your foot you push on the pedal.  You want it to be solidly on the ball of your foot.  If it is too far forward, you will be pushing with your toes!  Ouch!!  Low power—as it’s then a toe/calf exercise.  The left/right adjustment supports a firm, even horizontal foot platform.  This keeps your foot from rocking to the outside/inside.  It also supports good form (leg position) as you ride.

Often it is hard to find bike shops that are really experienced in fitting your cleats.  Options include checking out on-line videos and trying out other shoe/cleat fits (find a cycling studio and tryout their shoes/cleats).  It may take several rides to find the right adjustment for you.

 

Transitioning to Clip-in Pedals

If you are using off-road (mountain bike) clips, you may want to consider using a combination platform/clip-in pedal at first.  This gives you the option to practice clipping in and out as you ride.  As you can confidence in your ability to ride with clip-in pedals, you can easily transition to the double-side clip-in pedals.

Consider practicing clipping in and out with your bike on a stationary trainer.  You want to establish a pattern of unclipping by rotating your foot out of the clip at the bottom of your downward stroke.  Also, establish a pattern for stopping—for example, in advance of stopping you might use the slowing hand signal and unclip your right foot, followed by applying the brakes.  Practice this at every intersection.

A final tip to ease your transition to clip-in pedals, is to loosely adjust the tension of the clip on the pedal.  This means with light pressure, you can unclip quickly.  Again, as you gain experience you may want to add some tension, especially if you find that you slip out of the pedal too easily.

For an excellent reference article on this topic, checkout the The Bicycle Chain (Clipless Pedals & Shoes).

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