Cyclists are split into two categories when it comes to pedals – those who go clipless and those who don’t. Riding with clipless pedals is a fantastic way to increase the enjoyment of your bicycling vacation. If you ride with clipless pedals you’re already sold on the concept. If you have yet to convert from flat pedals or toe cages to clipless, a whole new level of enjoyment awaits! Clipless is a bit of a misnomer referring to the migration away from old style toe clips (also known as toe straps or cages).

 I recently converted an acquaintance who fearfully vowed never to ride with clipless pedals. Following her first clipless test ride she kept exclaiming “I can’t believe I didn’t switch years ago!” Her profile? A 58 year old casual hybrid bike rider who now and again will hop on a road bike (hybrid bikes have upright handlebars and wider tires that road bikes).

I’m on a mission to convert as many cyclists as possible from riding with flat pedals or the old toe cages to riding with clipless pedals. Once you convert I’m convinced you will shower me with thanks however, that’s not the motivation behind my mission.

The reasons I want you to start using clipless pedals are because:

  1. You’ll ride more comfortably (your feet won’t slip off the pedals).
  2. You’ll ride with less effort (imagine this on a week-long bicycling vacation!).
  3. You’ll ride more safely (your feet won’t slip and you’ll release more quickly than with toe cages).
  4. It’s way easier than you think it is!  A slight twist of your foot and it’s quickly free from the pedal.

Flat pedals don’t support your foot properly and your feet are the key connection to your bike. Toe cages, when properly used, can add a slight amount of additional efficiency if your foot is tightly strapped to a flat pedal however it’s much more difficult to remove your foot from toe cages than clipless pedals. Clipless pedals provide much greater efficiency during your pedaling motion because of the integration between your shoe and the pedal, and their ability to transfer your energy (effort) to the pedals throughout your entire pedal stroke (think circular motion).

Now, how to make the switch. If you’re at all nervous about this proposition, I suggest starting with clipless pedals that are clipless on one side and flat on the other (as pictured above). This will allow you to clip in with one foot and leave the other completely free until unclipping becomes second nature. The flat side also comes in handy for riding to the beach in flip flops. Once you become confident with one foot clipped in, clip in with the other foot as well. Spinning bikes or placing your bike on a stationary trainer are also good ways to begin using  clipless pedals.

In addition to the pedals, you will also need cycling specific shoes to match the pedals. If you plan to get off your bike during rides, I suggest getting a touring or mountain bike style shoe where the cleats will be recessed in the sole of the shoe and allow for easy walking. These shoes have stiffer soles than sneakers to enhance your pedaling efficiency – believe me, it makes a huge difference.

 Visit your local bike shop and ask them to help you get started with selecting the right shoes and pedals. There are many brands of both but most important is the proper fit and style of shoe. As for pedals, there are a handful of choices similar to the Shimano M324 (pictured above). Pedals will come with matching cleats that will affix to your shoes. SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) is the acronym for the Shimano brand of clipless pedals.

Your shop should install your new pedals on your bike and affix the cleats to your shoes. They should also show you how to adjust the positioning of the cleats for comfort and efficiency. If you have never been properly fitted to your bike, now would be a good time to request this of your shop. Ensure that the tension adjustment on the pedals is at its lowest before you do a test ride. Once you start jumping potholes and railroad tracks, you can tighten the tension up a bit! 😉

Enjoy your new ride and look forward to using your new pedals during your next bicycling vacation.

Susan Rand is the founder and owner of Sojourn Bicycling Vacations