Clipless Pedal Systems: Why And How

Next to a new pair of wheels, adding clipless pedals and shoes to your road bike, mountain bike, or hybrid is the biggest upgrade you can make. Why, you may ask, are they such a big deal?

1. Better control

Since you'll be mechanically connected to your bike, clipless pedals help you keep a consistent center of gravity and reach to the pedals and handlebars when riding, similar to how you're held in place by your seatbelt when driving. This will make it easier to control the bike, and thus safer to ride.

"But I can't get out of the pedals!", I hear you say. If you have some time to practice with them, however, and an attentive bike geek like Ben, Adam, Danielle, or anyone else working here with you, you'll find whatever system you get into extremely easy to use.

2. More Efficiency

When clipped in, you can pull up as well as push down. Instead of using only 50% of your pedalstroke, you'll be able to put power into 100% of it. Don't be surprised if you can double your riding speed without doubling the effort. Also, clipless pedals and shoes are lighter and stiffer than flat pedals and casual shoes. Finally, since your reach from the seat to the pedals is always the same when you're in clipless pedals, we can find the most efficient, ergonomically correct position for you with our GURU DFU fitting bicycle and F.I.S.T.-certified fitters.

3. More comfort

Sneakers are great footwear for walking, running, and playing sports on your feet. But they're not much fun for cycling. Sneaker soles are soft for support and control when you're off the bicycle, but a stiff-soled cycling shoe spreads out stress across your foot much more comfortably when riding a bike. Regular customers of ours who had trouble riding for more than a half hour have reported almost immediately being able to ride for over an hour without a break, and with far fresher feeling feet at the end of their ride, when they upgraded to clipless pedals and shoes.

Styles of Clipless Pedals & Shoes

There are two basic styles of clipless pedals and shoes: road and mountain. If you're not sure what you need, just ask yourself: do I expect to get off my bike regularly and walk during my rides?

If you do, especially if you're going to ride on unpaved trails, you need mountain biking pedals and shoes. The cleats are smaller and very dirt and mud-resistant, and the shoes come with treads that leave the cleats recessed, making it easier to dismount and walk around for any reason. Be aware: these shoes, despite their relatively walking-friendly designs, aren't going to be comfortable on long walks - they're treaded, but they still come with vinyl and/or carbon fiber soles for maximum pedaling efficiency.

If you don't, you're going to want road pedals and shoes. The cleats are larger, spreading out pressure across your metatarsal bones more comfortably than mountain cleats will, and the soles are virtually treadless, reducing shoe weight. These shoes are not made for walking, but that's just what they'll do, at least for short distances - between your front door and the road, for example, or when stopping by your favorite local bike shop. Don't plan to walk much further than that, though, and if you need to walk in them, avoid dirt and mud if at all possible, or take them off if you have to walk through dirt and mud (and watch your step!). The cleats could get contaminated, and you could find yourself unable to use your pedals if the cleats are dirty.

Below are a few examples of road and mountain pedals you'll find at our shop.


Road Pedals


Shimano SPD-SL

Shimano's road pedal design wasn't revolutionary when it came out in 2003. What set it apart was its execution. The SPD-SL system immediately earned rave reviews from riders for its lighter weight, greater comfort, and increased durability over the otherwise very similar Delta pedals and cleats from Look. Since then, Shimano's continued to develop their materials and designs, increasing the pedals' surface area, adding carbon fiber and titanium to their pedal bodies and mechanisms, and thus improving their products every time a newer, better way of doing things has become available. Road cyclists and triathletes of all levels have loved the SPD-SLs, and will continue to love them for years to come.


Speedplay (Top to Bottom): Light Action, Zero, X Series

An American original since 1989, Speedplay works great for road riders and triathletes, especially those who need a pedal that provides a lot of angular float. The two-sided pedal, one of the lightest designs possible, combined with the relatively large cleat, also makes for a very easy entry - no looking down or kicking the pedal over to the "right" side up. For beginning riders, the Light Action pedals, true to their name, take a minimum of pressure to engage and disengage, while the Zero series allows for adjustable float from 0 degrees to 15 degrees, and the X series provides a moderate spring strength that many riders find very comfortable. For ease of use, Speedplay is arguably the best road pedal system.




Mavic Zxellium

Mavic is a relative newcomer to the clipless pedal world, but not to cycling - their wheels and other parts have been on bikes for over 125 years. With the Zxellium pedal, Mavic offers features both familiar and unique. Like all the other pedals in this feature, the Zxellium features angular float; unlike all of them, you can adjust your Q-factor (pedaling stance width) and angular float with no additional tools or parts. This makes the Zxellium a highly comfortable, efficient, and desirable pedal system.





Mountain Pedals


Shimano SPD

You've seen these before; the Shimano SPD pedal is the most common mountain bike pedal on the market. It's easy to use, sheds mud and dirt very easily, and has adjustable tension for novice riders and the more experienced folks out there. Two-sided entry makes for an easy in, easy out experience - no kicking the pedal into position, just position the toe end of the cleat in the pedal and push down on the heel end. It also comes in the Click'r variety, which includes a mechanism-free pedal surface for those who still want to ride casually in ordinary shoes from time to time.




Crank Brothers Egg Beaters

Crank Brothers are relative newcomers to the cycling industry, but their pedals have taken mountain bikers by storm. Dedicated riders love the four-sided entry the Egg Beaters offer riders looking for quick engagement with their pedals. Also, the simplicity of their design reduces pedal weight, which can save you a lot of energy if you're out on the bike for a while. Their one disadvantage is a lack of adjustable tension, but for experienced mountain bikers, the benefits of light weight and its easy-to-find mechanism outweigh this single drawback. The Candy pedals feature a larger pedal body for increased comfort while maintaining the mud clearance of their lighter cousins.





Look was the first company to make clipless pedals for consumers, so it stands to reason they'd make one of the best designs out there. With a lightweight pedal body, easy entry and exit, and an excellent mud-shedding design, the Quartz pedal is another popular option for riders looking to go long distances through sometimes messy conditions.




So what's best for me?

There are a lot of great systems out there, including some we didn't mention here. Ultimately, whatever clipless pedals you use, you'll find that any of them will improve your riding experience, making you and your bike lighter, safer, more comfortable, and faster than ever before. If you're not sure what the best system would be for yourself, stop by the shop and ask us for help. We'll be happy to set you up.


Back To August