Clipping In and Out of ‘Clipless’ Pedals

In the past month, I’ve become more comfortable and confident while riding, and since the Cazenovia Triathlon is less than one month away, I figured it’s time to transition to “clipless” pedals and cycling shoes. (“Clipless” is a really deceiving term; a cyclist actually clips in to “clipless” pedals.”) According to REI.com, this “clipless” shoe-pedal combination offers “unmatched control with a minimum amount of your pedaling energy lost before it reaches the rear wheel.”  Plus, as someone who used to ride with my cross-training sneakers, I think riders rocking this combo automatically look more legit.  Or at the very least, more legit than me!  Ha.

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Yesterday, I arrived at Syracuse Bicycle a little after 5 p.m. to get “clipless” pedals and cycling shoes.  First, Matt and Jim explained the difference between cycling (made for general riding) and triathlon shoes (designed without a tongue and have a wide opening so triathletes can quickly put on and remove shoes during transitions).  Both guys recommended cycling shoes, which made a lot of sense:  Since I’m a new triathlete who isn’t concerned about shaving 10 seconds off my transition time–if this were the case, then triathlon shoes would be my pick–cycling shoes will work; I can wear these shoes for doing triathlons and going out on longer bike rides, so they’re more versatile.  After getting my feet measured and trying on a few pairs, I chose the Apeckx Giro shoes.

Here’s a fun fact:  Women’s cycling shoes go up to size 41, and since I measured a size 44, I had to get men’s shoes.

Selecting “clipless” pedals was next, and the process wasn’t as involved as picking shoes; Matt and Jim simply showed me which ones would work with my shoes (they were also the ones they usually recommend), so I went with the Look Keo Classic pedals.

Finally, it was time to practice clipping in and clipping out.  As Jim assembled the new pedals and set up my bike on the trainer, he explained the basics:  clip in with the right foot first, then push off and start to glide; drag the left foot over the pedal, press down, and there will be a definite click, which means you’re clipped in.  Unclipping is a little counterintuitive:  before breaking, you rotate your left ankle to clip out, then brake before coming to a stop.  Easier said than done, right?  Above all, Jim said as long as I’m moving, I’m OK.  Stopping while being clipped in is the problem.  With my bike hooked up to the trainer, I practiced clipping and unclipping out for 10 minutes.  It was challenging at first to clip out my left foot (maybe because I’m right-handed?).  Then we moved to the parking lot, and I practiced clipping and unclipping while biking.  I am happy to report I did not crash once!  Jim suggested I find an empty parking lot, stretch of sidewalk, or any zero-traffic area and continue practicing, which I did this afternoon.

This unassuming empty parking lot belongs to Cazenovia’s Burton Street Elementary School.  It’s crazy to think I played high school field-hockey on the grass to the left four years ago.

Anyhoodle, I biked countless laps and spent 15 minutes practicing clipping and unclipping my left foot.  Once I became more comfortable, I worked on unclipping my left foot and stopping, and then starting to pedal again and re-clipping the same foot.  After 30 minutes, the process didn’t seem 100 percent natural, but it also wasn’t totally foreign either.  I’m planning to head out tomorrow and practice a bit more.

For those who ride, how long did it take you to get used to clipping in and out?

12 responses to “Clipping In and Out of ‘Clipless’ Pedals

  1. Staci@LifeintheThumb

    You’re inspiring me!! But I’m so old and out-of-shape that I fear I would fall over on the bike and break my leg just trying to unclip!!

    • Aw, thank you! Biking is for everyone, though–during one Women on Wheels ride, there were ladies there between the ages of 21 and 77. You should give it a try 🙂

  2. lazylauramaisey

    A few days, I’d say. And there were the inevirable

    • lazylauramaisey

      Oops, posted too early. Let me start that sentence again – there were the inevitable can’t-get-out-in-time moments when I fell in the street whilst going no miles an hour. Clipping in was fine for me, clipping out was my problem. But I worked them out and now can’t think of riding any other way.

      • I’m finding it much easier to clip in, too. The thought of being unable to clip out and crashing scares me, but most cyclists I’ve talked to said it’s inevitable and it happens to everyone.

        • Yeh. It’s not such a big deal because you never really hurt yourself badly. It’s more the shock of falling. I once had a car pull in front of me cause he didn’t see me, so I would have fallen anyway. But because I was using cleats, when I got up after my fall, one of my shoes had stayed in the pedal and I just had my sock on!

          • Wow, that’s incredible! I was watching Le Tour de France last night, and simply seeing how the pros cope with crashing, falling, and recovering helped a lot. I hope it never happens, but it’s inevitable, unfortunately.

          • Yep. I can only remember that one fall I mentioned cause it was quite humorous that I was left in my socks. The others I can’t remember that well. So they can’t have been that bad. You’ll get up and you’ll forget about them.

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  4. My first time with clipless pedals resulted in a crash. I had used cyling shoes with “clips” in spinning classes for quite sometime before getting the courage to buy pedals for my road bike. I knew the mechanics of how to “unclip;” the problem was the tension on the pedals was so tight I couldn’t rotate my foot out. Luckily I realized this before I needed to stop. So I aimed for a nice “soft” patch of grass and planned a crash. I quickly got out my tool kit and loosened the tension. Whoops!

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