What are the advantages of using clipless pedals?

Wondering whether it's worth making the change from flats to clipless pedals? Ady Dench, coach and triathlete with Triathlon Coaching UK, looks at the many benefits of switching to clipless pedals

Why clipping in will help you achieve faster cycling times. Image credit ITU/Delly Carr

Going clipless does involve more expense. Pedals will need to be purchased and these are usually interchangeable between bikes. Cycling specific shoes will also need to be bought and a pair of ‘cleats’ (one for each shoe) which act as the connector between the shoe and the pedal.

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Why are clipless pedals called clipless?

This 3-piece system works terrifically well on the bike and there are two predominant reasons for using clipless pedals.

Firstly, having a cycling shoe secured to the pedal allows for the foot to stay put in a position which is optimal to both bike and body performance. There is a tendency for an unsecured shoe on a flat pedal to slip around or even ‘fall off’ on occasion. The grip on any given shoe as well as weather conditions will no doubt affect performance as well.

Secondly, clipless pedals will improve pedalling efficiency and invariably allow a rider to put more power through the legs and feet and into the drive train of the bike. The more power transferred simply means more speed and faster times. The ability to pull up as well as push down on the pedal allows for a more circular pedal stroke which should spread the load over more muscle groups as well. Getting on the turbo trainer can be an ideal place to get a feel for this, and also for practicing clipping in and out as well.

As triathletes we have to run off the bike and there is evidence that maintaining a higher cadence on the bike can help efficiency in transferring onto the run, especially in longer distance races where we want something left in the legs for the third discipline in our sport.

At Triathlon Coaching UK we advise a similar cadence on the bike as on the run, in the range of 85-95 rpm (that’s single leg, so 170-190 for both legs).  Trying to hold a cadence as high as this on flat pedals would prove really quite difficult, and as such we encourage our all our athletes to go clipless.

Clipping in and out is something that can be practiced on the turbo trainer, or even by simply leaning against a wall. Ideally find some really quiet roads for your first ventures out on the bike so you can concentrate on your connection with the bike without having to worry about traffic.

The act of clipping in and out is, in principle, really quite simple. All manufacturers (excepting Speedplay) have a single sided entry on the pedal so there is a knack to flicking the pedal over to position the front of the cleat into the pedal, and then lowering the heel to ‘click’ the pedal into place. To disengage the cleat an outward twist of the foot away from the bike forces the cleat up and out of the pedal.

Some pedals allow the rider to adjust the release tension which for a new rider is ideal. It just means the ease of twisting the cleat out of the pedal is a little easier. High tension might be great for experienced riders who are racing but it can more awkward for normal riding conditions.

It doesn’t take long for the action of clipping in and out to become second nature where you won’t even have to think about the process. However, as hinted at earlier in this article, the likelihood is that you will take a tumble or two. They are normally more embarrassing than painful. Practice and perseverance is the key so don’t worry if you do take a tumble – we’ve all been there!

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Ady Dench is a coach and triathlete with Triathlon Coaching UK