Over a number of years pedals have evolved for road cyclists. The move away from flat pedals and clip type pedals has been seen over the last decade. Flat pedals allowed your feet to be completely free and clipped pedals help the fore foot by use of a cage and a strap.
More recently clipless pedal systems have become popular with a cycle shoe having an attached cleat upon the sole or rather underneath the sole! The cleat engages into the pedal and locks the rider into position. There are a number of different variations and manufacturers of pedal systems but effectively they all work in the same way.
Clipless pedals have varying degrees of movement ( called float) to allow the rider some lateral adjustment in position taking account that we are not all built the same and each of our bodies bio mechanical is not exactly similar.
The benefit of the clipless pedal system is in economy. The movement of the foot is controlled and therefor there is no energy wasted trying to hold the foot in position on or around the pedal as the feet are secure. Less energy wasted on foot movement translates to more energy available to create rotational force which ultimately means forward momentum through the drive train.
Making the move to a clipless pedal system in my view is a good move, however, during events and also during bike fittings at Doctor Sprocket’s Workshop I am encountering shorter distance Tri-athletes opting for flat pedals and trainers. There is possibly some minor advantage to this in a sprint distance triathlon but opinion is divided.
One thing that is agreed by everyone who has gone clipless is to take your time and learn to use them in a controlled environment. Somewhere quiet and away from traffic! Cleats can be initially difficult to engage on the first half dozen times. This is generally due to the cleat not being visible when looking at your feet and it is pretty much guess work to find the cleat and the hole it fits in first time! I promise you it does come soon enough and muscle memory will do the rest.
Planning your ride, looking ahead, and preparing to stop or set off are important when using clipless pedals. You will develop an art of arriving at traffic lights just in time for them to change and at the time being in the correct gear to set off just in the event you do have to unclip quickly. There are many riders who can ‘track stand’ but also plenty of riders I have seen who thought they could! Pride can take a knock in these unfortunate circumstances!
The major manufacturers are well placed in the market in terms of quality, price, and variations on pedals / cleats. All of them will do specific types of pedals for road and mountain bikes and some in between which can be used with cleats or with trainers on a flat side.
In my experience it really boils down to personal choice. I see a wide and varied spread of pedal systems in my bike fitting sessions and it is pretty much a case of personal choice.
When buying clipless pedals and cleats the choice can be daunting. If you have had a history of injuries of knee pain then float is a consideration. Some sytems give more float than others and some systems such a Shimano offer cleats with varying levels of float. Speedplay pedals also offer a wide range of adjustability in terms of foot placement.
For riders who have difficulty ‘clipping out’ of their pedals Look Keo Easy seem to be very popular and offer a looser, less tensioned fit. On the note of pedal spring tension most manufacturers offer a method of tightening or loosening the amount of force required to take your foot out of the pedal. Mountain bike pedals can be used on road bikes and this route is also taken by riders who have the same difficult as the systems are generally easier to get out of on a mountain bike understandably due to the type of activity!
You can buy pedal cleat systems for resonable prices these days. Online retailers buy in bulk and offer some great deals so it is worth looking online. I personally ride with Shimano SPD cleats and Ultegra pedals which I have found to be great for all events including Ironman.
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Doctor Sprockets Cycle Workshop is a trading style for Doctor Sprocket Ltd. Company Reg no 10757920.