If you have been riding a bike for some time, you know there are two basic types of pedals: flat and clipless.
The switch from flat pedals to clipless is a change that will affect how you interact with your bike.
So, are clipless pedals worth it? I believe so, but not to all riders…
Cyclists who often need to stop at intersections, when riding across a city, etc., will probably benefit more from platforms. This also applies to riders who need to take feet off pedals when needed quickly.
On the other hand, clipless pedals are a must-have for most road cycling, gravel, cyclo-cross, cross-country, and other enthusiasts because they bring many benefits.
Continue reading to learn when to consider buying clipless pedals if they make you faster and much more.
Why Are Clipless Pedals Called Clipless Pedals?
The first question I asked myself when I heard about clipless pedals was:
Why are they called clipless pedals when I have to clip in and out of them?
The answer is simple. In the past, cyclists used toe-clip pedals. These pedals had actual clips and straps that secured their feet’ position.
The clipless pedals have no ‘clips’ or ‘straps.’ They use cycling cleats instead. Therefore, manufacturers started to call them ‘clipless pedals’ to differentiate them from toe-clips. (Source)
TIP: Learn more about the different types of cycling pedals in my how to choose bike pedals guide.
Benefits of Clipless Pedals
The benefits of using clipless pedals are similar to the benefits of using cycling shoes. They include:
- Fixed Position of Your Feet
- Pedaling Efficiency
Fixed Position of Your Feet
Clipless pedals will keep your feet in a fixed position. This brings two benefits: safety and injury prevention.
Once you learn to use clipless pedals and get used to them, your feet won’t slip off pedals. This is one of the most helpful features of clipless pedals.
Naturally, fixed foot increases safety in some situations only. For example, when sprinting, climbing, bunny hopping, etc.
When you are clipped into your bike, it feels like you can control it more easily, and you will feel more confident.
Remember that clipless pedals are unsuitable for some use cases and riding styles. These include MTB disciplines or commuting in a city where you need to quickly take your feet of pedals (more about this in the disadvantages section).
Other Injury Prevention
Flat pedals usually come with pins that can cause shin injuries when you misstep the pedal. These are pretty rare with clipless pedals.
A professional bike fitter I talked with during my bike fit confirmed that a fixed feet position helps prevent injuries if you have correctly set your bike, like its saddle height, the position of your cleats, etc.
TIP: If you are afraid of knee pain caused by fixed feet position on pedals, use cleats with float. This study confirmed that larger float doesn’t affect your pedaling efficiency.
If you use platforms with soft-sole shoes, they can almost wrap around the pedal, causing a different feet position every time and leading to injuries from overusing certain muscle groups.
The pedaling efficiency is questionable.
Do clipless pedals really make you faster?
Based on multiple studies (see below), it seems that clipless pedals won’t make you faster. However, these studies are limited because they were carried out on a stationary trainer and didn’t test sprinting or climbing.
- Gross cycling efficiency is not altered with and without toe-clips
- Effects of pedal type and pull-up action during cycling
- Electromyography in cycling: difference between clipless pedal and toe clip pedal
But, if you pedal with soft-sole shoes, you experience energy losses caused by the flexing soles.
This study showed that stiff-soled cycling shoes combined with clip-in pedals improved the maximum sprint power by 10.2% compared to running shoes with classic aluminum quill pedals with toe clips and straps.
The result is that serious cyclists (especially road cyclists) should use clipless pedals with dedicated road cycling shoes.
Disadvantages of Clipless Pedals
In this part, I explain the disadvantages of clipless pedals and the reasons why they may not be the best choice for your riding style.
Clipping Off Is not Instant
Unlike on flat pedals, the cleats of your cycling shoes are ‘locked’ in the pedals. This is an advantage for some situations but also a disadvantage for others.
Unless you are a very experienced rider with a technique, clipless pedals won’t allow you to quickly take feet of pedals, for example, to regain balance when riding technical sections on singletracks.
If you cycle across a city, you often have to quickly react to pedestrians, traffic lights, drivers, and other situations that may require you to take your feet off the pedals.
Clipping your feet out of pedals is not as quick as taking your foot off flat pedals.
Clipping In and Off Takes Practice
I remember my first ride with road bike pedals. I wore brand new cycling shoes. Do you know what happened when I sharply turned my front wheel?
Yes, I scratched them with the front tire.
Learning to ride with clipless pedals takes some practice and time to get used to it.
Even some experienced riders sometimes make a mistake and scratch their shoes or forget to clip out when needed.
I like to give Matt Stephens, a former pro rider and a GCN presenter, as an example.
Clipless cycling pedals are more expensive on average than flat pedals. Depending on their type and brand, they start at around $50.
I recommend buying pedals from renowned brands like Shimano, Look, Wahoo Speedplay, Crankbrothers, etc.
I have a bad experience with cheap clipless pedals. They failed me during a sprint. As a result, I crashed and broke my collarbone.
Remember, you have to use clipless pedals with cycling shoes that have soles compatible with cycling cleats. So, the initial costs can be pretty high.
In the long run, you will also need to replace the cleats from time to time.
LEARN: When to replace cycling cleats?
Clipless Pedals FAQ
So, do clipless pedals make a difference? Based on my experience, they do.
However, I don’t recommend them to all cyclists but to just a few groups of cyclists:
- Road cyclists, cross-country, cyclocross, gravel, and similar types of riders
- Cycling enthusiasts who ride often, and will benefit from the fixed feet position, better connection with their bike, and comfort from cycling shoes
Feel free to browse:
Clipless pedals, on the other hand, are not suitable for:
- Riders who need to quickly take their feet of pedals to regain balance (e.g., when riding trails, singletracks, etc.)
- People who commute and need to stop often at traffic lights, intersections, etc.
Remember, the usage of clipless pedals depends mainly on your riding style and preference.
If you are still not sure whether to use them or not, describe your riding style in the comments below, and I will recommend the best solution for you.
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