To Clip or Not to Clip

To Clip or Not to Clip
Pedals are, of course, what you use to make your bicycle go forward. You can control, however, how effective your pedaling is just by making a change or two to your bicycle and attire.

The way most of us learned to ride as kids involved a plain shoe pressing down on a regular platform pedal. This type of pedaling only applies force to the pedal during the downward stroke of the pedaling motion. During the upward portion of the crank rotation your foot is merely along for the ride and has no effect on your forward momentum. However, your leg muscles have the ability to pull up as well as push down. For you to fully harness the power in your legs you have to somehow attach your foot to the pedal so that you not only push down, but also pull up on the pedals. There are two basic systems for accomplishing this attachment: toe clips and clipless pedals.

The first method developed for attaching shoes to pedals was toe clips. Toe clips are essentially cages on the pedals into which the toe of your shoe fits. Any shoe which will fit into the toe clip will work, although shoes with stiffer soles allow you to transfer more of your power to pedaling rather than wasting energy flexing your foot. There is usually a strap on each toe clip which can be tightened around your shoe so that it doesn’t slip out. When pedaling, the cyclist applies power on the upstroke by pulling up on the toe clip.

The other option for obtaining maximum power from your legs is to use clipless pedals. The name is a bit of an oxymoron as in this system the cyclist wears special cycling shoes with cleats mounted under the ball of the foot which then clip into a mechanism on the pedal. They were called clipless when they were developed, however, because they did not employ traditional toe clips. Clipless pedals are also known as clip-in or step-in.

Many cyclists are very nervous about using either toe clips or clipless pedals for the first time. The primary concern is usually that she won’t be able to disconnect her foot from the pedal when stopping and she’ll fall over. This concern is especially frightening when one considers emergency stops. In reality, however, it is reasonably easy to remove your foot from either system. Additionally, there are ways to practice using either system without fully committing yourself to them before you’re ready.

To remove your foot from a toe clip simply pull your foot straight back. Clipless pedals are designed to release when the foot is rotated, usually to the outside. Some clipless pedals will release when the foot is rotated in any direction. The amount of rotational force required to release can often be set to meet your comfort level.

Practicing riding with either style of pedal could occur in a series of steps designed to increase your confidence. First, you might try using them with your bike set up on a wind trainer so that you can practice pedaling and releasing your foot from the pedal with no danger of falling. Then move on to using just one clip at a time while riding your bike on a path. When stopping, I always put my left foot on the ground first, so I would practice by only clipping into the right pedal. Once comfortable with that foot clipped in, switch to the other foot, and finally clip in both feet.

Before you know it, you’ll be flying along with maximum efficiency!


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