Guide to Clip-In Bike Shoes: Do I Need These?

Intimidating at first? Perhaps. Easy to master? Absolutely. Worth it? I think so.

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Clipless Pedals Shoes urban Commuter

This past year our friend Reid Hemsing of Two Wheel Gear, invited Momentum Mag to come and share an office with him. What began as two bike industry related companies sharing office space became an awesome cross pollination of ideas, contacts, friendship and an expanded perspective of what bike gear our readers might be interested in.  You have probably never read an article about clipless pedals before on momentummag.com.  And after rolling our eyes a few times and being skeptical, Reid convinced us that it’s time to at least talk about whether or not we need them. We hope you enjoy Reid’s guest blog post.

-Momentum Mag Ed

Intro to Clip-In Bike Shoes: Do I Need These?

by @twowheelgear

We all know that commuting by bike is a great way to stay fit and be active (especially biking to work). For those that do it regularly having the right equipment can greatly improve your experience. This can include having a good set of pedals. For the stop and go commute that is riddled with traffic lights and stop signs clipless pedals may not be the best option, but if you have ever considered giving them a try hopefully my experience will help you in your decision making process.

I’m an urban bike commuter.  I am not a performance oriented rider.  For as long as I can remember a pair of flat, stiff soles was all I needed.

In August, I traded a Two Wheel Gear bag to a new friend at Shimano & Pearl iZUMi and was able to give clipless pedals a try (but you actually ‘clip-in’…what?). 

I would never have pictured myself in any traditional lycra cyclists sporting styles…but here I was with a pair of Shimano AM5 Gravity Shoes with PD-M647 pedals,  I thought I should at least give them a try.  

 

shimano-am5shimano-m647-pedal

At first, I had the normal first hesitations. Do I really need clip-ins? Is it overkill for my city commuting? Will I walk around with that dreadful, stiff, click-click? What if I crash?

Let’s start at the crash bit

Crashing is going to hurt regardless. It won’t be intensified by being clipped into your pedals. Think skiing to snowboarding. No high speed ejection from your skis will save you now. I know this sounds rudely elementary but just ‘try not to crash.’ You’ll be sore either way and this should not be a limiting factor to trying out the clips.

Next. Walking, Clicking and Commuting Overkill

First off, clip-ins have come a long, long ways since strictly popularized by professional cyclists and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). I’ve owned 3 pairs of clip-in shoes now (Vans, DZR, Shimano), although I only ever added the ‘cleats’ until I tried this latest Shimano pair.

These shoes are urban enough and comfortable to wear all day. Thick rubber soles provide a great platform regardless of the clips. A rigid sole is a must. The subtle reflective accents are just cool. There is a minor click when walking in between rides. It is a wee bit annoying but these are commuting shoes and not necessarily shopping shoes. The shoe is shaped to minimize cleat contact but you can still expect to pick up the odd squashed berry in the right season.

Shimano AM5 Gravity Shoes can be used with or without the clips in just regular shoes. They have a little off-roady look to them, but I think they still fit pretty well in “urban sporty.” I’d say that if you’re look ing for more “stylish” and less “sporty” DZR and Giro offer options.

Alternatively, if you have regular shoes, you want to turn into “cycling” shoe, I discovered Retrofitz in my research.  With Retrofitz you can make any shoe compatible with a clipless pedal.

Setup

When getting set-up out of the box, I took the intuitive newbie route: youtube. I landed on a video of an industry old timer with a giant pony tail and enhanced gut to match who has been riding with cleats since they came about in the early 90’s….or was that the 80’s. Not elegant in his articulation but his advice is solid and fun to watch.

The gist of the video:

  1. First mount the cleats inside the sole of your shoes (2 screws)
  2. Start with a centre aligned cleat (vertical and horizontal) and make any adjustments as you start to get used to the cleat.
  3. After the cleat is fastened in the shoe, loosen the cleat (using your hex wrench turning to the (-) as much as it will go. This will help you get out of the pedal quicker as you get familiar to riding clipped in.
  4. Next you need to install your new pedals on your bike (watch the video above)

Now your setup, you need to get used to the action of clipping in and out. Straight from the mouth of Bike Man 4 U, “Don’t even think about riding anywhere just yet.” Position your bike up against something solid and saddle up.

How to Get Used to Being ‘Clipped-in’

img_6577I practiced this up against my bbq. With each foot (one at a time) practice pushing down (clipping-in) on the pedal until you hear it set. Then try unclipping. This is awkward at first. Turn your heel to the outside. Your right foot heel goes to the right, your left heel swings out to the left. When your heel swings out, it disengages the cleat and you are free to kick and flail as you please.

When clipping-in after awhile your feet will naturally navigate to the correct placement. You press down and voila, your foot is set. Clip in and out with each foot about 50 times and your muscle memory will start to sink in. (Aside: Spin class is actually a very handy crash course to clip-ins. Here you can borrow a pair to use on the stationary bike with no risk of an unexpected crash. I did it…) 

The Benefits of Clipless Pedals 

If you are commuting longer distances, coming in from outside the downtown core or battling hefty hills along the way, the clip-in (“clipless”) might be a welcome addition to your daily ride. The pedal stroke is much more fluid and there is no risk of pedal slip jamming your shin on a sharp pedal.

With clips you not only get the “push” of the pedal, you also get the “pulling” action which makes your legs twice as efficient. A quick warning that this does engage a new set of leg muscles you’ve likely not used since your pee wee football days. The first few rides, my legs were noticeably more tired. However, now I am quite accustomed to the new action and love the extra boost of the clip in.

IMG_6581.jpg

My Verdict

Personally, I am a fan of gear and like progressing. Riding with clips is just levelling up with how serious you take your commute and your equipment. It will provide more efficiency, more security and boost your climbing ability. They will make you want to ride further and overall make your commute a little sportier.

If you are simply tooting around the inner city with frequent little stops then yes, clips may be overkill and frankly not needed. However if you live a little further out, then you will certainly benefit.

I have been enjoying leaning a little more intently into the turns and riding with a little more swagger. However, caution to the wise on keeping the afterwork beers to a minimum. Your clip-in intuition seems to rapidly dissolve and you can easily forget you’re clipped-in when high-fiving your buds leaving the pub.


Reid, President of Two Wheel Gear, is an everyday cyclist and creator of the Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier

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21 Comments

  • JohnM

    “With clips you not only get the “push” of the pedal, you also get the “pulling” action which makes your legs twice as efficient.” This is the big myth. Truth is that even the pros don’t pull UP on the backstroke during normal pedaling at normal cadences.

  • B. Ross Ashley

    Call me a retrogrouch, but I still prefer touring shoes with toe clips and straps.

  • Mr

    You might want to check the research on that added power of “pulling up” on the pedal. Try as you might, every school of kinesiology that has tested this hypothesis (that trained cyclists pull up on the pedal) has shown it never happens. Never. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

    I’m not downplaying the pedals themselves, just the idea so many people have that anyone pulls up on clipless pedals.

  • Holly Pedrini

    Personally I favor the “commuter pedal” that offers the clip-in option on one side and a flat pedal on the other side. When I’m riding in town I tend to ride with one foot clipped in and the other free so any time there’s a need for a sudden stop I know I won’t end up on the ground. Then once I’m free of town traffic and stops I can clip in and get that added benefit that clip-ins provide.

  • Steve Wellens

    clipless pedals are completely unnecessary for a bicycle commute. All you are doing is adding more chance for serious injury due to the inability to “clip out” in a panic situation which could put you dirrectly into the path of oncoming traffic. Do some research yourself.

  • I liked your clipless piece a lot, Reid. Thanks for taking the time. I can M647 pedals, too, and feel very comfortable getting in and out of them. No more worries about staying locked in and flirting with a crash. Thanks for this.

    • Reid Hemsing

      Cheers Allan! It is always an interesting topic over a beer depending on the riders sitting at the table. Conversation is always good. Commute safe!

  • Kevin Brislin

    I’ve used SPD clips for about 7 years now, having used toe clips before for about 25 years. The difference to me is huge when riding. I don’t race, only commute and tour. And, yes, I have fallen over because I didn’t get my foot unclipped fast enough…but that has probably happened 3 times in 7 years and it’s always my fault, not the pedal’s. My biggest complaint revolves around the selection of shoes with SPD cleats. Too many are geared towards racing or mountain biking, and are just plain ugly. I need a shoe that looks like a shoe, not a velcro-laden bright yellow monstrosity. I currently use a pair of Keen Austin Pedals that I love but are wearing out. I’ll get something eventually that’s reasonably priced and looks good with street clothes. But I really would never ride without SPD cleats.

  • Lizzie

    I don’t feel that its natural to keep your feet in one position, then twist your foot to get out clipless pedals. You also have to maintain/adjust them. Locked in while cycling in traffic, which can present a multitude of different scenarios at you from point A to B, is more risky. I don’t want to forget to unclip and fall over into the path of a vehicle. I want platform pedals with a little grip to better support a wider area of foot area while wearing a variety of shoes. I’ve done very well without clipless. In wet weather, toe clips are sufficient.

  • Taylor Winfield

    I have used SPD shoes for commuting & general riding with several bikes including a hybrid, a tourer, an old 10 speed road bike (which has SPD only pedals – can’t be ridden without cleats), a Bike Friday NWT and a hardtail mountain bike. For 4 of these, I have standardized on double sided pedals (SPD on one side, flat on the other – Shimano M324 is typical of this type). I have used either old Shimano MTB shoes or Schwinn shoes that look like Vans skateboard shoes. Nearly all my riding is on paved roads & a lot is in the city. I got my first SPD’S in 2000. At one time (while I was an active daily commuter), I always wore SPD’S. Lately (last couple of years), however, I can’t be bothered to change shoes for short trips (5 miles?) so I don’t bother with SPD’s. My pedals and regular shoes are grippy enough for around town.

    My recommendation: if you think you might like SPD’s, get a pair of Shimano M324 pedals when you buy your first SPD shoes. When you get shoe cleats, Shimano makes 2 kinds (actually more than that but I’m keeping it simple). One kind (that I have always used) only releases when you twist your foot sideways with your heels out. The other kind (I’ve never tried) will release with a twist in any direction.

    Other advice: I have a pair of road SPD’s I’ve hardly worn because the hard plastic soles are too slippery – not just when walking but also when you have to re-clip after a stop. Too scary for me in traffic.

    Unless you are a patient tinkerer, get experienced help when you put the cleats on your shoes for the first time (it’s fiddly) and use red Loc-Tite on the screws after you get the position right or a cleat screw can back out by itself while you are riding & you could lose it.

  • Jim

    I like MM better without clipless pedals. Doesn’t fit right.

  • For an urban commuter, the investment in both money and learning time needed to operate the cleats safely are not justified for the loss of the ability to simply hop on the bike with whatever shoes they’re already have. Learning how to quickly engage/disengage the cleats that will take riders back to their childhood memories of falling off the bike, bruises and all.

    And as Mr @Augsburg said it already: the folks at Global Cycling Network did a very thorough series of experiments and proved that clipless pedals are not more efficient than platform ones. See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNedIJBZpgM

  • Travis Fehr

    Well said, Augsburg! The myth of “pulling power” needs to be exposed! Here’s a relevant quote from the attached study “We were surprised to find, however, that the metabolic responses to submaximal cycling with and without toe clips and cleats were not appreciably different”. http://www.academia.edu/238318/Coyle_EF_Coggan_AR_Hopper_MK_Walters_TJ._Determinants_of_endurance_in_well-trained_cyclists._J_Appl_Physiol_1988_64_2622-2630

  • I ride platform on my commute, partly because they don’t make cute women’s clipless shoes and I’m not about to change shoes every day when I can just ride in flats/boots/wedges with no problem. It’s simply more convenient to ride my commuter in whatever I’m wearing with nonslip flat pedals.
    However, I will say that if you’re in an area where it rains a lot, one of the big differences I notice when I road ride is my feet don’t slip around on the pedals even if I’m riding through a monsoon. I clip in on my road bike because it’s more comfortable and makes sense for climbing hills and for efficiency. Based on my experiences I would say don’t feel intimidated by clipping in if you want to try it, but it’s also not an absolute necessity either.

  • H Pedrini

    I made myself “learn” to ride with clipless pedals in advance of a 7 day ride across North Carolina. Personally I prefer commuter style pedals when riding in town. They are clip in on one side and regular flat on the other. I feel safer when in an instant I can stop and put my feet down – you just have to be respponse ready all the time when riding in an urban setting so IF I’m riding with my clip-in shoes I prefer to keep at least one foot free just in case. Then if I can take off and hit a straight away I can easily clip in the 2nd shoe.

  • I have been using Shimano SPD for about 19 years off and on. Raced BMX cruiser class and MTBs using them. Shimano’s don’t like mud. Switched to Time pedals and cleats and never went back, The Time cleat profile offers a better release and I use them when I ride my fixie around town and shopping. I uses MTB shoes and there is less clanking with the Time compared to Shimano. I still use Shimano pedals on my road and track bikes but not SPD.

  • You don’t need any of that stuff as an “urban commuter”.

  • Augsburg

    The push-pull “efficiency” of clipless pedals is turning out to be a fallacy. Studies don’t prove it out. GCN staff did a lab test of clipless vs. platform pedals and were shocked to find that platform pedals did slightly better in overall efficiency compared to clipless.

    I rode clipless for many years, but switched to platform pedals about 3 years ago. Especially for urban/city riding, platforms are a modern solution that works much better. No clippity-clopping around shops, restaurants or your workplace in special bike shoes. You can wear shoes that are warm and dry enough in winter. With the traction pins offered on platforms, you will have excellent grip, even when wet. Platforms are really today’s solution for anything but racing or mountain biking.

    • Riversiderider

      I would expect this from Rivendell. They are also in favor of everyone riding bikes that are too large and too heavy!

      As for the pull on the upstroke, it is something that one has to learn. Training yourself to pull up does make a difference on hills especially but on the flats as well. Clipless pedals are like any athletic equipment you have to learn to use it to maximize it’s efficacy.

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