Know your way around clip-in pedals and cleats

March 12, 2019 4 min read

Know your way around clip-in pedals and cleats

When you purchase a road bike you’ll often find they don’t come with pedals. That’s because riders can be pretty choosy about their clip-in pedal brands and styles, so much so that buying a bike and buying bike footwear are completely separate experiences. 

Not having flat pedals as standard means that every road cyclist, no matter how new they are to the sport, feels at least some pressure to clip in. Of course you can ask your bike dealer to provide some flat pedals with your bike purchase, that’s not an issue at all, however, clips and cleats are part of the riding process for a reason. 

Wearing cleats when you ride positions your foot to give you the most power without strain and also ensures you get drive on the push and pull of the pedal. We go into more detail about exactly how this positioning works in our next article as well as instructions for changing and adjusting your cleats at home. 

In a nut shell, when you wear cleats your pedal strokes are smoother and more efficient. More importantly it boosts your confidence when you apply power on the bike. Knowing your foot can’t slip off the pedal means you can afford to charge up a climb or put your head down in a sprint and push to the limit, even in the wettest of conditions. 

If your ride is more of a daily commute than a show-stopping event than you might find the constant stop-start in traffic and at intersections makes clips and cleats more pain than gain. There is an alternative though, and it’s well worth looking into. Racing and long distance riders use a three-bolt clip in and cleat system. These clips are bigger (read: hard to walk in) but provide more stability when riding. For commuting (as well as mountain biking and touring rides) there is a two-bolt cleat system. These fit more neatly into the shoe sole, making them easier to walk around in and significantly easier to lock and unlock when you ride. 

If you do both types of ride regularly you may find you need to change your cleats often to fit with your ride needs, let’s say if you wanted to commute during the week and go for a training ride on the weekends, for example. While there are shoes that can handle the switch between two-bolt and three-bolt cleats, most cyclists prefer to have a number of different ride shoes, set up for different bikes, or different riding occasions. You may need to expand your closet storage space. 

When do you need to change your cleats?

New pedals

They come as a matched set; clips and pedals, that’s because every brand is different and usually not compatible. When you buy your first bike you’ll also need to buy clip in pedals and cleats as your bike will come with pedal holes only.

New shoes

The riding shoes you buy have holes to bolt the cleats into which means every time you buy a new pair of riding shoes you’ll need to bolt them in all over again.

Riding shoes come in arrange of colours (so you can coordinate with your kit or your bike frame) and are harder than regular shoes making them durable, aerodynamic and more comfortable to wear when cycling long distances.

Of course you can just ask your bike dealer to organise your shoe and cleat set up for you if you are starting out, however it’s well worth learning how to do it yourself at home if you ever decide to buy a new pair of shoes or your cleats ever become loose.

Ride styles

If you have multiple bikes and go out to ride for different reasons at different times of the week or the year, you might like to make some adjustments to your cleat set up or change your cleats over to suit your current ride.

Cleat repair

While it doesn’t happen often it does happen (usually moments before you set off on a 100km social ride), your cleat bolts need tightening. In some cases your cleat may have moved as well so you will need to get that back in place before you set off. It’s worth having a small tool kit strapped under the seat of your bike to make this job quick and easy no matter where you are.

New cleats

Cleats get worn down. All that clipping in an out, resting on the ground and walking around event grounds or coffee houses takes a toll. Cleats are cheap and easy to replace so it’s worth doing as soon as you notice yours are looking worse for wear. 

First time clipping in?

Before you use your cleats on a ride spend some time stationary standing over your bike as if you are about to take off. With one foot firmly planted on the ground practice with the other foot to clip in and out a few times until you get a feel for where your foot sits and the angle to unlock again. When you take off have one foot already clipped and the other on the ground for balance. This way when you set out you only need to clip the grounded foot while moving. 

While you ride make sure you come to a stop beside something you can easily grab hold of for balance (like a pole or tree) so that you can unclip calmly and take your time both stopping and getting going again. This also means you have some back up if you can’t unclip in time. 

Making the most of every pedal stroke on your ride? That’s freedom!

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