You’re new to the whole clipless pedal and shoe concept and you’re very eager to experience this “torque” that everyone is talking about. I can tell. Without a doubt, you’re making an excellent choice switching over to clipless pedals. It’s more efficient, lets you produce more power, and allows for more freedom and control. But hold your horses (or bike) for just a moment, there are a few things you might want to know before you head out into the open world. This will mostly be advice for your safety and to make the transition to clipless a bit smoother. Having said that, let’s get started! Here are 10 tips for beginner clipless cyclists.
10 Tips for Beginner Clipless Cyclists
1. Practice Against a Stable Object First
Before you set out for the open road, you should try practicing against something stable first. Clipless pedals take some time getting used to, and it’d be embarrassing to have someone holding and guiding you while you get the hang of the system. You are an intelligent and sophisticated adult that doesn’t need anybody’s help. So you hold onto that fence, wall, or trashcan and you clip and unclip 50 times for me mister!
2. Unclip One Foot Before You Reach a Stop
Let’s play a little game with our shiny new pedals and shoes, shall we? It’s called, “Think Ahead”. The rules are pretty simple. All you have to do is think ahead about 10-15 seconds while cycling. That’s it. The point of this game is to make sure you know where you’re going and what you should be doing ahead of time.
This is super useful when approaching stops, since you should be unclipping out of your pedals before you reach a complete halt. That way, you won’t be fiddling around with unclipping once you’ve actually stopped, which in that frenzied state can cause you to easily fall. Feel free to play this game to keep an eye out for traffic and road hazards as well.
3. Find the Right Tension
Most clipless systems feature a way to adjust tension for clipping in and out of. When you’re just starting out, it might be wise to adjust your pedals to have less tension. That way, it will take less effort to clip in and out of your pedals, allowing you to focus more on developing the muscle memory of the maneuver. Once you become more comfortable, you can start tightening your pedals for better performance.
Additionally, keep the same tension settings on both pedals so you know exactly how much pressure to exert.
4. Lean On the Same Side You Clipped Out Of
Having likely learned the traditional way of riding a bike, you’re probably used to leaning over automatically at a stop to keep you upright. Well, friend, things run a little differently on the clipless side. In this strange land, you’re forced to lean on the same side you clipped out of. It’s only logical when you think about it though, since in the majority of situations, you should only be unclipping one foot. That leaves you with one free foot to stand on. Your other foot will be firmly strapped into your pedal, which means it can’t do anything but watch and smile at your demise any time you lean on it for support. The evil thing.
5. It’s Okay If You Fall, Everybody Does
No, really. 98% of cyclists have fallen off their bikes at some point in their life, the other 2% are lying. But there are some good tips you should keep in mind regarding falling.
First off, it might be a good idea to start off with some padding to cover your elbows, knees, and guard your wrists. As you get more comfortable with using clipless, you can shed the weight little by little. Next, you should learn the proper mechanics of falling off a bike. Whenever you fall, whether it’s during high speeds or at a stop, don’t stick out your arm or elbow as there’s a high chance you can break something. Just tuck and roll like a burrito.
Last tip, it is better to fall in front of a cute girl/guy than it is to fall in front of nobody. That way, you’ll remember the moment for all of eternity and you’ll be less likely to fall going forward.
6. Practice Clipping In & Out With Both Feet
Being pédaledextrous (totally real word) can be a wonderful thing. Even though you’re likely to favor one foot for clipping out of for stops, it doesn’t hurt to be competent with the other foot as well. You never know when a situation might call for unclipping out of both pedals at once, and you won’t want to find out how when the need arises. So instead of mastering just one foot, practice your other foot as well. It deserves just as much love and attention.
7. Get Moving Before You Clip In
Clipping in while you’re at rest is likely just going to cause you to tip over. Instead, give yourself a quick push before you attempt to clip in. Gaining a bit of speed will give you just enough balance to get your foot engaged. If you don’t get it the first time, use your other foot to pedal for more speed and a second chance at redemption.
8. Start Out Somewhere Away From Cars
Traffic can be nerve-wracking to drive in, now imagine cycling in traffic. Especially if you’re just starting out, the last thing you want on your mind is the possibility of getting rammed by a high-speed vehicle. It doesn’t help that most cars are extremely jealous of bikes, either. Maybe it’s our superior fuel efficiency. Instead, try practicing in a relatively vacant setting with few cars or people around. A park, parking lot, or small side street are all good options. Ideally, you’ll be starting off somewhere with lots of grass so that if you do fall, it’ll hurt less and your bike will remain relatively unscathed.
9. Tighten the Cleats Properly
In all your feverish excitement, you don’t want to head out with cleats that aren’t tightened properly. What can happen is that if cleats aren’t tightened securely enough, you can end up losing a bolt or two, making it difficult to clip out of and ensuring disaster in the coming moments. So take your allen key and give each nut a quick tighten. It only takes a few seconds to do but can prevent an awkward fall entirely.
10. Find Your Sweet Spot
Over time, you’ll start to favor one foot for clipping in. However, finding that sweet spot of where to clip in can be different for everybody. Figure out what you prefer by trying to clip in both at the top of the pedal stroke as well as the bottom. Some cyclists prefer clipping in while at the top of a pedal stroke since you can clip in the cleat while pushing down on the pedals. Others like clipping in at the bottom of a pedal stroke as it provides a stable base in which to engage the cleat. It’s all a matter of preference in the end.