A few weeks ago I installed clipless pedals on my bike, and here are some impressions after the first 300 miles or so.
How did I get here? For years I’d always thought clipless pedals were kind of impractical – made you fall over, forced you to wear special shoes to make your bike work, forced you to click in and out at every stop sign, and generally didn’t help my dislike of stuff that makes bicycling seem different or inaccessible to normal people just wanting to get around. But, I started getting curly-toes type pain on longer rides this spring, where my feet would bend over the pedals while riding in tennis shoes. In fact, my sneakers started to get permanent bendy spots where they hit the pedals. And then, I started getting mysterious cracking noises from the drivetrain under force, so I wondered if it was bad bearings on the pedals. So step one, I bought stiffer shoes, with SPD cleat mounts just in case, but I held off on the pedals/cleats part.
The stiffer shoes were much more comfy, so I rode around like that for few weeks, including across southern France. Just SPD shoes, without cleats, on regular ‘ole flat pedals. But then, I pulled the trigger and installed Shimano A530 pedals, and put the cleats on my shoes.
Some observations about clipless pedals:
- Learning to clip out was easy – the tough part is remembering you’re clipped in! The first few days riding in Rhode Island, I took 2 hard falls from a standstill. The falls are kinda slow-motion, wait-I’m-stuck-oh-yeah-I-remember-it-now- but-it’s-too-late-oh-crap-timberrrr kinda thing. But no real damage, just scratches on my knees. And looking silly.
- The “power transfer” thing is kinda true. I feel like I’m doing the same amount of work, but more energy is going towards making the bike go.
- Acceleration. If I really want to hit the gas, or need to get a few strokes in a slightly-too-high gear, I can pedal on the upstroke. Ooh, that can make hills fun.
- I don’t need them, per se. I can go up hills faster, sure, but only if I want to. I’m still a kinda lazy guy, same as before the pedals. I can pedal on the upstroke, but I don’t really do it that much.
- They force you to anticipate stops, since you have to think ahead to clip out. If I had to truly slam on brakes instantaneously, I’d probably fall at the end.
- Hybrid is the way to go. I like the flexibility of flipping over between flat and clip, because I often ride in work shoes, or even flip-flops. When I hit lights every block downtown, I forget the clips and just ride on the flats the whole way.
- Can still walk. I like the recessed cleat so I can still walk around normally on errands, at the office, and of course, walking the dog.
Overall? I like ’em. The “con” of clipping out is outweighed by the benefits of more control over the bike, I think. That’s the main thing, I guess – they give you one more lever through which to control and power the bike. In the winter, I may end up popping back on the Pedalite flat pedals, for the lights and safety aspects. But they’re here to stay.
By the way – any recommendations for good, winter SPD shoes to keep my toes toasty??