Clipless Pedals. What Can You Expect As A Beginner? | Bike Commuter Hero (2023)

One of the signs that you’re ready to up your game as a cyclist is when you explore the possibility of upgrading from platform pedals to clipless pedals. Let’s see what you need to be aware before you make the switch.

Clipless pedals attach to your shoes via a locking mechanism. This firm connection allows you to pedal up to 10% efficiently because you can exert force throughout the entire pedal revolution, including the upward stroke. Clipless pedals also prevent your feet from slipping off the pedal and can offer better control of the bike.

Clipless pedals make a noticeable difference on short bursts, climbing hills and on long rides. The clipping mechanism ensures that your foot always on the pedal with the ball for riding efficiency. The clip also prevents your foot from accidentally slipping off the pedal in wet weather.

Clipless pedals can be dangerous if you’re in traffic or on technical terrain without sufficient knowledge or practice. Clipping in and out need to feel natural before riding in traffic or off road with a clipless system. Thankfully, getting sufficiently good is quite easy for most people.

A study published in the International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine presents five cases where the inablity of being able to clip out in time resulted in muscoskeletal injuries (source), and encourages further studies on the correlation.

The Most Common Clipless Pedal Systems

A clipless pedal system is composed of three parts: the pedal, the cleats and the shoes.

In order to use clipless, the whole system needs to work together: pedals, cleats and shoes. Each clipless pedal type needs the matching cleats (the little metal plates that are bolted to your shoes). Cleats use either two or three bolts and to be able to mount them on the shoes you need shoes that have two or three holes.

The following are the most common clipless systems and the type of shoes the cleats can be mounted on:

SystemCleatsShoe type
Look (Road bike)Look cleats3 bolt
Shimano SPD-SL (Road bike)SPD-SL cleats3 bolt
Speedplay (Road bike)Speedplay cleats4 bolt proprietary,
3 bolt conversion kit available
Time Xpresso (Road bike)Time cleats3 bolt
Speedplay Frog (Mountain bike)2 bolt
Shimano SPD (Mountain bike)Shimano SPD2 bolt
Crank Brothers (Mountain bike)Crank Brothers cleats2 bolt, but best used with Crank Brothers shoes
Time ATAC (Moutain bike)Time ATAC cleats2 bolt

Here, we’re going to focus on two of the most common types of clipless pedals among new riders are SPD-SL and SPD pedals. These acronyms both stand for Shimano Pedalling Dynamics because this is the most common platform and it was was developed by Shimano. The additional SL in road bike specific pedals refers to Super Light.

SPD-SL doesn’t just mean that the pedal is lighter than SPD pedals, but it’s actually an entirely different system.

SPD pedals require moutain bike specific shoes with recessed bolts for the cleats, and SPD-SL pedals require road specific shoes.

Road specific shoes have a snug fit that don’t allow your feet to move, except your toes. The portrusion of the cleats make these shoes extremely uncomfortable to walk in. Another important characteristic of SPD-SL pedals is that they can only be clipped in on one side.

Clipless Pedals. What Can You Expect As A Beginner? | Bike Commuter Hero (1)

SPD clipless shoes allow for more movement for the feet and they are also called walkable clipless shoes, since the cleats are recessed in the shoe sole. You can use SPD specific shoes to walk just like any other shoe.

SPD pedals are symmetrical and can be clipped in from both sides. There are some hybrid solutions in the SPD world, which offer SPD clips on one side and a platform pedal on the other side, in case you want to ride in shoes that don’t have cleats.

When you want to invest into clipless pedals you need to keep in mind that you will need to purchase an entire system: pedals, matching cleats and compatible shoes. This makes owing a clipless system considerably more expensive than using platform pedals.

Clipless Pedals. What Can You Expect As A Beginner? | Bike Commuter Hero (2)

Although SPD and SPD-SL are platforms developed by Shimano other manufacturers have also adopted them. You can buy both SPD and SPD-SL pedals and shoes from a wide variety of manufacturers. What you need to pay attention to is that the pedal and the shoe work with each other.

Commonly usedOn MTBs, Gravel bikes, Cyclocross bikesRoad bikes
Clip in mechanism locationOn both sidesOnly on one side
ShoesCan be worn for walking, commuting, hikingSnug fit. Not comfortable for walking.
Learning curveEasier to to get used toMore difficult to get used to

Riding clipless pedals in normal shoes is possible but it’s becomes very uncomfortable after just a few short minutes of riding. The main problem is that clipless pedals are made to perfectly match the cleat of the shoe and therefore the surface is uneven. The uneven pressure on the flat surface of your shoe sole causes foot pain if you want to ride them in regular shoes.

If you want the benefit of riding clipless but you want the option of normal shoes too, consider dual platform pedals, such as the Shimano PD-EH500 (available on Amazon) or its little brother, the Shimano PD-M3242 (also available on Amazon).

Pros and Cons of Clipless Pedals

As with everything in this life, there is a trade off. You win some and you lose some. Clipless pedals improve efficiency and they enable perfect positioning on the pedal every time, but not everything is perfect about them either.

Here’s a list of pros and cons when it comes to clipless and platform pedals.

Clipless Pedal PROsClipless Pedal CONs
More efficient ridingClipless pedals have a learning curve, which can range from a few hours to several months
Perfect foot position on the pedal every timeYou need clipless specific shoes and cleats for your bike
Foot doesn’t slip offHigher upfront cost than a platform pedal
Once confident on clipless, it provides great stability and boosts confidenceClipless systems need some maintenance
Pedal less likely to touch the ground when leaning in a cornerCleats wear out and need to be replaced
Foot firmly planted even on rough sections of the roadSPD-SL shoes can only be used for riding, but not for walking

How Long Does It Take To Get Used To Clipless Pedals?

Getting used to clipless pedals takes between a couple of rides to a month. More experienced cyclists tend to learn the skill quicker, while new riders take longer as they have other details to pay attention to. Having the right size shoe and the proper pedal setup is important for learning fast. After understanding the mechanics and being able to clip in and out for the first time, you need to practice so the clipping in and out motion both become second nature.

The most common problem new clipless users struggle with is clipping out in time when sudden adjustments are required or in an emergency situation where they could regain balance by touching the ground.

It takes about 1-2 months of regular riding before riding clipless becomes a part of your muscle memory. In this regard it’s similar to typing on a keyboard or playing a musical instrument. The more you practice the better you get at it.

How to Get Used To Clipless Pedals Fast?

Thankfully, there are some tricks you can use to get started fast.

  • Use multi-release cleats
  • Pratcice at a wall or a lamp post
  • Adjust pedal tension
  • Unclip with your dominant foot
  • Unclip before stopping
  • Scan the road
  • Set challenges for yourself

Use multi-release cleats

The best option for beginners are SPD pedals with multi-release cleats mounted on the shoes. While normal SPD cleats only release your feet when you rotate them sideways, multi-release cleats allow you to unclip in almost any direction other than perfect rotation. They are a cheap and easy solution to help you unclip in time, and they are readily available on Amazon.

Practice at a wall or a lamp post

This is almost a no-brainer. Before you can go for a ride, you need to learn the basics. This is best done when you’re sitting on the bike without it moving forward. You don’t need to worry about the traffic, potholes, red lights. It doesn’t matter if you can’t clip in or out.

Just lean against the wall and practice for a few minutes before you hit the road.

Adjust pedal tension

SPD clipless pedals have tension adjuster, which allows you to set how much force is required to unclip from the pedal. When the tension is set to the highest value, unclipping requires the most force. Professional riders and those who have acquired a lot of routine like this setting as it gives the most secure connection between the shoe and the pedal.

As a first-time clipless rider you should start with the lowest setting. This is ideal to learn the mechanics of clipping out. The pedal will release the cleats with a gentle outward twisting force. This is also a good setting if you have some knee problems, as the twisting force is a lateral force trasmitted trough your knees.

Keep in mind that double sided pedals have two tension adjusters on each pedal, one for each side.

Unclip with your dominant foot

When riding on normal platform pedals, you’ve probably paid attention that you always touch ground with the same foot first. This is your dominant foot. Whether it’s your left or your right foot, you should always unclip on that side when coming to a halt.

Unclip – Stop

The most common falls of new clipless users comes from not unclipping in time when coming to a full stop and losing balance while unclipping.

When you ride on platform pedals, you can come to a full stop and lift your foot off the pedal. Not so with clipless pedals. At least, not in the beginning. You anticipate coming to a stop by uncliping while still in motion. Give yourself 5-10 seconds to unclip before your bike stops moving in order to avoid falling over.

Scan the road ahead

Scanning the road ahead of you allows you to react to the road conditions a little bit sooner. This may just give you enough extra time to unclip when you need to come to a stop.

You can also invest in a bicycle mirror that allows you to monitor the traffic coming from behind. It gives you a more complete picture of what’s going on around you.

Do your own challenge

Setting challenges for yourself is a great way to practice what you’ve learned. As you’re gaining practice and confidence, it’s a good idea to etch the unclipping motion into muscle memory by picking up speed in a quiet area and setting a line or a spot to stop at.

You can also ask a friend to give you a signal in a random moment to unclip as fast as you can.

What Clipless Pedals Should a Beginner Use?

The easiest clipless pedal setup for beginners are SPD pedals on low tension with multi-release cleats. Whether you ride a road bike, a mountain bike, gravel bike or any other type of bike, and you want to get started with clipless pedals, this is a great combination.

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It is technically possible to mount both SPD and SPD-SL pedals on any bicycle, but road specific pedals are a little more finicky, and they are best suited for road riding. If your ride involves other than pure road riding, SPD pedals are probably the way to go.

Clipless Pedals In Different Scenarios

In case you still can’t decide whether a clipless setup is right for you here are some scenarios, where we can think together.

If you’re a beginner commuter in an urban area, then clipless pedals are neither a must nor do they give you much advantage. It’s important to learn to get confident on the bicycle with platform pedals before you can move to clipless. Regular stops at traffic lights and yielding to pedestrians means that you will be clipping in and out more often that you’d like to, and focusing on the basics is complicated enough for a first time commuter.

Once you feel confident in the saddle and you want to improve your pedaling efficiency, you may want to consider clipless, but many bike commuters never feel the need and they appreciate having the option to ride their bike in any shoe they want.

If you’re a road cyclist, even if a beginner one, but you ride on good quality roads with little traffic, buying clipless pedals makes sense. After the initial learning curve, you will be able to ride more efficiently, especially when it comes to climbs.

Most roadies who ride for health and fitness ride clipless, and many road bike commuters ride SPD clipless because of the benefit the shoes offer.

If you ride a gravel bike and you intend to do mostly for sport and recreation, then you can invest in clipless pedals although many gravel riders use platform pedals. Gravel bikes are similar in appearance to road bikes, yet they are best equipped with SPD pedals because they are easier to clip in and out even in muddy conditions. If the terrain you intend to ride on is particularly technical, make sure you have perfect balance and control over the bike with flat pedals before you move to clipless.

Many gravel riders who use their bike for touring or hobby rides prefer platform pedals because they are not tied to a certain type of shoe. They can ride even in sandals or flip-flops.

If you ride a MTB on rough terrain as a beginner, flat pedals make more sense than clipless ones. You need to be really a confident rider before you should move to clipless. Mountain bike riders on moderate terrain can take advantage of SPD pedals sooner since sudden stops are not too frequent and you don’t need to use your foot to touch the ground to maintain your balance.


Moving to clipless pedals requires a little forethought, and you need to weigh the pros and the cons before making the switch. If you’re happy with the learning curve, the potential falls because you can’t clip out in time, the fact that you need specific shoes and some maintenance, it may be a good idea to change.

If you feel insecure in the saddle, you want to know that you can touch the ground quickly, and you want every single shoe you own to be a cycling shoe, flat pedals are the way to go.

Don’t forget that riding your bike in itself brings you joy. So get on your bike and ride it!

Happy peadling!


Should you use clipless pedals for commuting? ›

So clipless pedals may trump flats if you're a regular rider and commuting in all weathers. Plus, you can choose bike-specific shoes that keep your feet drier and warmer on your ride and change shoes when you arrive, so you won't have wet feet all day.

What are the benefits of clipless pedals? ›

Clipless pedals allow your feet to be positioned in the same spot every time you jump on your bike. This helps you to set your seat height with a high degree of accuracy that will maximise your riding comfort and efficiency. In addition, you'll find this precise positioning advantageous for your knees and hips too.

Are clipless pedals easy to use? ›

They're easier to get into than toe clips and straps. With a little practice, they're safer to get out of than toe clips and straps because the release motion is simpler and more natural. They're comfortable to pedal on when you get shoes that fit your feet and the pedals.

How do you ride clipless pedals for the first time? ›

Clip in with one foot while balancing on your free leg. Move the clipped-in pedal to the top of the pedal stroke (12 o'clock position). Push down on that pedal to roll the bike forward, and as the bike accelerates, lift yourself into the saddle and find the opposite pedal to clip into and start pedaling.

Can I use regular sneakers with clipless pedals? ›

Yes, you can, but they offer very little grip, and you have the risk of your foot slipping off easier. Depending on what type of clip-in shoes, this could be better or worse. There is a solution, though, and before we speak about that, we need to tell you about the different types of cycling pedals.

Which clipless pedals are easiest to get out of? ›

For clipless beginners, SPD pedals are the way to go. Most pedals are double-sided, which makes learning to clip in much easier.

Do clipless pedals make a difference? ›

Compared with the old style toe clips, clipless pedals are in many ways safer. To release your shoe, it just requires a firm twist of your foot and if you were to crash the pedals automatically release making it much less likely that you will remain attached to your bike which could result in greater injury.

When should you switch to clipless pedals? ›

Once you have completed ten to twenty rides on flat pedals and are extremely comfortable riding, it is time to switch to clipless pedals. You may have noticed limitations with flat pedals both on the road and mountain bike.

What to know about clipless pedals? ›

Clipless pedals, including SPD pedals, are a system comprised of special pedals and cleats that attach to the soles of clipless cycling shoes. They make you simultaneously more efficient by providing a better foot-to-pedal connection, and more safe by offering almost instant foot entry and release.

What pedals does a beginner need? ›

The best effects pedals for beginners at a glance:
  • Fender Hammertone Space Delay.
  • Electro-Harmonix Ripped Speaker.
  • Boss RV-6 Reverb.
  • Joyo Atmosphere Reverb.
  • TC Electronic Magus Pro Distortion.
  • Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini.
  • Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive.
  • Ibanez Analog Delay Mini.

Should beginners use pedals? ›

It's essential to define your musical focus. Beginning players may want to focus more on the discipline of learning to play music by setting up a routine practice schedule. As a beginner, you should consider staying with the basic pedals, a guitar tuner, and maybe a distortion or delay pedal.

Are clipless pedals hard on knees? ›

Over 85% of the time, knee pain is related to the saddle and/or cleat positioning for those with clipless pedals. Due to the repetitive nature of pedaling, precise, millimeter-sized adjustments in position can make a dramatic impact on your knees.

How much faster can you go with clipless pedals? ›

Do clipless pedals make a difference and does cycling with them improve performance, efficiency, and increased pedal power? Clipless pedal systems provide approximately 10% more maximum power output during short periods (<30 seconds) of all-out sprints and steep climbing, compared to flat pedals.

How tight should clipless pedals be? ›

Tension should be tight enough that you can stand up and not disengage while pedaling, but not so tight that you have trouble disengaging from the pedal.

Are clipless pedals good for downhill? ›

For enduro and downhill, clipless pedals that add a supportive platform are the most popular. This provides a place to temporarily put your foot if you have to unclip in sketchy terrain.

Do clipless pedals work different muscles? ›

She explains that with flat pedals you're relying primarily on your quads to power the bike, but with clipless pedals you engage your quads and hamstrings when you push down and pull up, which spreads the work across the two muscle groups and makes your pedaling more efficient.

Are clipless pedals worth it? ›

If you're regularly undertaking cycling journeys that are up to or over 10 miles long, then the system will provide significant benefits for you. If you're a mountain bike rider that often rides until the point of significant fatigue, then you'll find you can ride for longer with clipless.

How long does it take to learn clipless pedals? ›

Takes about 2 months to get used to riding with your feet locked in the pedals. Makes almost no difference if toe clips or clipless- you're probably going to keel over a few times as you get used to them. Clipless pedals aren't too bad, if you remember to unclip in time.

Should I upgrade to clipless pedals? ›

flat bicycle pedals: Choose clipless pedals if you want more efficiency and control; with your shoes connected to your pedals, you transfer power when you pull up and push down. Choose flat pedals if you need to quickly take your feet off the pedals or want comfort while walking in the shoes that don't have cleats.

Why are they called clipless? ›

Essentially, manufacturers needed a way to differentiate toe-clip and strap pedals from this new type of pedal that didn't have the toe-clip, but rather a cleat. The term “clipless” really refers to the lack of toe-clips, rather than the action of connecting your shoe with the pedal.

How long should clipless pedals last? ›

They will cost more up-front but will last 5-10 times as long. Also, they will be more efficient, and make your ride (slightly) easier. Anywhere from 20 weeks to 20 years. I've had fairly expensive pedals go south after only a few months, while others have lasted 5-10 years.

Do beginner guitar players need pedals? ›

Guitar pedals are not necessary for beginners. It's important to first learn the basics of guitars like chords, finger techniques and amp EQ settings before purchasing pedals. For a beginner, the most important thing is to focus on the fundamentals first.

What is the most important guitar pedal to have? ›

1. Tuner. Any combination of guitar pedals won't cover up for the fact you are out of tune with the rest of your band. The greatest guitarist of all time would suck if they were out of tune for the whole set.

Do pedals really make a difference? ›

Pedals make a significant difference. You can start using a more efficient pedal stroke without your foot slipping off.

What pedals do I really need? ›

15 Must-Have Guitar Effects Pedals
  • Distortion Pedal.
  • Overdrive Pedal.
  • Fuzz Pedal.
  • Delay Pedal.
  • Reverb Pedal.
  • Wah Pedal.
  • Chorus Pedal.
  • Phaser Pedal.
Mar 22, 2022

Are bike pedals good exercise? ›

Pedal exercisers use the pedal mechanism to help strengthen your legs and arms. They are a great way to improve heart fitness and a really great way to improve joint health for those with knee pain and knee arthritis. I often advise my patients to do this kind of exercise daily.

Do pedals tighten as you ride? ›

Right pedals are right-hand thread and left pedals are left-hand thread so that they self-tighten as you ride, preventing them from falling off — IF your bearings are working.

How many bike pedals equal a mile? ›

Knowing there are 63360 inches in a mile will tell us that you'll pedal about 234 rotations in a statute mile. One pedal stroke equals one wheel rotation when the chainring and cog are the same size (eg 24x24).

Is it better to pedal faster or harder? ›

Recreational cyclists often believe spinning their pedals faster will actually make them faster. But research shows that when nonprofessional cyclists pedal with a high cadence, they ride less efficiently and may end up tiring themselves out.

Do you wear socks with cycling shoes? ›

In addition, cycling shoes are designed to fit snugly so that no energy is dissipated through the movement of your foot inside your shoes. For this reason, the socks that go into the cycling shoes need to be snug as well.

Do you ride faster with clipless pedals? ›

Secondly, clipless pedals will improve pedalling efficiency and invariably allow a rider to put more power through the legs and feet and into the drive train of the bike. The more power transferred simply means more speed and faster times.

Do any pros use flat pedals? ›

These days, most pro XC, enduro, and downhill racers race on clipless pedals. You'll never see a top XC pro using flats because they want to maximize pedaling efficiency and speed when climbing and sprinting (clipless XC pedals and shoes also happen to be much lighter).

Are flat pedals better for knees? ›

Flat pedals reduce the risk of injury- Because your foot is free to move around on the pedal, you can't inadvertently cause knee pain or joint damage from improper adjustment like you can with clipless. If you place your foot in an unnatural position, you instinctively move it to avoid discomfort and pain.

Is clipless worth it? ›

If you're regularly undertaking cycling journeys that are up to or over 10 miles long, then the system will provide significant benefits for you. If you're a mountain bike rider that often rides until the point of significant fatigue, then you'll find you can ride for longer with clipless.

Which pedals float the most? ›

Speedplay provides the most amount of float (7.5 degrees in each direction for a total of 15 degrees) and it's also adjustable. This higher level of float is imperative for Speedplay pedals since they do not allow for cleat rotation.

Should your legs be straight when pedaling? ›

Proper position: With your foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke, you should see a slight bend in the leg, reaching about 80-90 percent of full leg extension. This is true for road, mountain and hybrid bikes.

Is it better to pedal harder or faster? ›

Pedaling faster reduces the resistance you're pushing against with each stroke, which shifts a good portion of the stress of pedaling from your leg muscles to your heart and lungs.

Is pedaling good for arthritic knees? ›

Cycling is a fantastic activity, especially if you have arthritis, particularly knee osteoarthritis, as it places very little stress on your joints. It can be done outdoors, at a gym or at home.


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