Monday, August 22, 2011

Speaking of Pedals ...

One of the biggest hurdles when new riders consider their first "serious" bicycle is the question of clipless pedals.

Various fears associate themselves with this component of the modern bicycle, but greatest of all is ignominiously tumbling to the ground because you cannot release your feet from the pedal.

The history of clipless pedals, that is a pedal which physically engages and retains a cleat on the sole of the shoe, is longer than you might think, but until about 20 years ago, the most common means of securing the foot to the pedal was by a cage and straps.

The first clipless pedals did engage the shoe, via a cleat, very positively, and sometimes required a button being pushed or lever pressed before the foot could be disengaged.

Most riders using cages and straps also got used to cinching the bindings as they set off, and loosening them as they prepared to stop. Cycle shoes had a ridge on the sole which engaged the back of the pedal to increase the sense of engagement.

Cages and straps are so secure, that even now track racing specialists use them in preference to clipless pedals because they guarantee a solid connection to the bike. It also helps that they usually have someone to catch and support them at the end of every event ...

But even now there is a perception that old-fashioned cages are easier to get out of than clipless pedals, when, in fact, a properly adjusted pedal is easy for most people to disengage from.

Most clipless pedals have a tension adjustment which determines the amount of effort required to disengage.

Typical double-sided pedal | Typical platform pedals
Tension can be adjusted by a screw, usually an Allen bolt.There is usually an indicator to direct you which way to turn the adjuster.

If you are new to clipless pedals, you should wind off the tension. In fact it's usually a good idea to do this even if you're quite experienced when fitting new pedals or cleats. Most pedals have a tension indicator, or a series of clicks on the screw to ensure both pedals are adjusted equally. Don't forget, double-sided pedals have an adjuster on both sides.

At first, ride with the tension wound off to a minimum, but as the pedals and cleats wear in, increase the tension by a couple of clicks at a time, until you feel you have a balance of security and are comfortable disengaging your feet from the pedal.

If you're new to clipless pedals:

  • Use cleats which provide a degree of float. This enables your foot to have a degree of movement on the pedal. Most people find this more comfortable. 
  • Use a bike shop which will provide advice, take a few minutes to ensure you can use the pedals comfortably, measure your foot and use wedges, if necessary, to optimise the position of the cleat on your shoe.
  • Decide which is your landing foot. That is the foot you put down as you stop and probably the foot you launch from.
  • Engage the other foot before you launch.
  • There is no requirement to engage your second foot in the first revolution of the cranks. Wait until you have enough speed to be steady enough to devote attention to comfortably engaging your launch foot. This is fairly easy with double-sided pedals, but requires a small amount of skill with single-sided platform pedals.
  • Prepare to stop by disengaging your landing foot in plenty of time. There is nothing like the panic of stopping and realising your feet are still engaged in the pedals, nor the embarrassment resulting from your colleagues' sympathetic remarks.

Clipless pedals increase your pedalling efficiency, maximise your control of the bike and, if properly fitted help alleviate foot problems, such as hot-foot, numbness and pins-and-needles.

More than anything, apart from, maybe, cycle shorts, riding clipless is most peoples' introduction to being a real cyclist, whether racing or riding recreationally.

Your neighbours will have a new opinion of you ;-)