What Are Clipless Pedals? A Beginner's Guide (2023)

You have heard about them, you may have seen them on others bikes, and you wonder what are clipless pedals?

You are at the right place! Come in and learn all you need to know about them, even if you are a beginners!

A Beginner’s Guide to Clipless Pedals, and How To Use Them

Switching to clipless pedals can be a source of anxiety for many cyclists.Your shoes are held tightly in place by a mechanism, and locking feet to pedals puts a scary image inthe back of a riders mind. They don’t want to lose control on the bike.

However if there’s one upgrade on your bike that willmake you a faster, more efficient and more controlled cyclist, it’s the addition of clipless (or “clip-in”) pedals to help enhance your riding. They’ll even have similar effects during a spin class as well.

(Video) Beginner's Guide To Clipless Pedals | Clipless Pedal Skills

The fact is, once youexperience the positive effects of riding with clipless pedals for beginners, you will not go back to cycling without.

Having recently tried old fashion clips and straps on a hire bike whilst on holiday in Sardinia, I realizedjust how much a set of clipless pedals can benefit anyone’s cycling. The difference in pedalling efficiency was huge; the old-fashioned clips just had far less control.

What are Clipless Pedals and how do they Work?

This piece is written for any cyclist looking into clipless pedals for the first time. I’ll talk about how clipless pedals work, how to use them, and give you some tips to get comfortable with clip-in cycling in general.

Key Advantages of Using Clipless Pedals

  • The foot stays in contact with the pedalthroughout the whole pedal stroke
  • Consistent position reduces injury risk when combined with float to allow the foot to rotate
  • Easier to disengage the foot from pedal than traditional clips and straps, making it safer
  • Enhanced power output on the upward stage of the pedal stroke compared to traditional flat pedals
  • More efficient use of power throughout the pedal stroke
  • Enhanced control whilecornering and manoeuvring your bike
  • Cycling specific shoes are less flexible than a pair of tennis shoes or trainers and this improves pedalling efficiency

The Three Elements of the Pedal System

  • The shoes
  • The cleat (the piece that attaches to your pedal)
  • The pedal (into which your cleat will fix itself with your assistance)

The majority of cycling shoes are compatible with either Look (3 hole mounting) or Shimano SPD (2 hole mounting) pedals. It’s always best to check compatibility before you buy.

(Video) Clipless Pedals Explained | How To Use Clipless Pedals

A Brief History of Clipless Pedals

What Are Clipless Pedals? A Beginner's Guide (1)
What Are Clipless Pedals? A Beginner's Guide (2)
What Are Clipless Pedals? A Beginner's Guide (3)
What Are Clipless Pedals? A Beginner's Guide (4)

In the beginning there were just flat pedals, then the racers developed clips and straps to hold their feet into place with the pedal whilst riding for additional control. See the clips and straps pictured to the right for reference.

The inspiration for clipless cycling pedals came from ski bindings. Some of the first clipless pedal systems were pioneered by Cinelli of Italy in the 1970s.

The Evolution of Clipless Pedal Systems

It took until the 1980s for clipless pedal systems to become acceptable for racer, when the French company Look developed the first commercially successful clipless pedal system. Look’s pedals featurea three bolt design which has become the standard with most road cycling shoes.

(Video) How To Use Clip-In Pedals & Cleats | Clipless Tips For Beginners

The standard two bolt system found on the bottom of many mountain bike and touring style shoes is from Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) pedal system which was developed in the early 1990s. It features a significantly smaller cleat to fit into a recessed sole, allowing for easier walking when not on your bike.

How To Use Clipless Pedals

How Do I Clip In? And Just as Importantly: How Do I Clip Out?

There are a couple commonworries for beginners using clipless pedals for the first time. Firstly, they worry that they will have difficulty clipping into the pedal system, and secondly, that they will struggle to get their feet out of the pedals where required.

Honestly, there will likely be a learning curve, and hiccups are to be expected.The inability to clip out of clipless pedals for beginners often happens where you would least like it to occur, such as in traffic or rolling up to a set of lights alongside a busy pub beer garden on a sweltering hot day. (That’s my own personal experience!)

Practice makes perfect, and clipless pedals work brilliantly once your muscle memory takes over.

(Video) 5 Clipless Pedal & Shoe Mistakes | How To Switch To Clipless Pedals

Clipping In is Pretty Simple

To clip yourself into the pedal you simply slide the front of the cleat under the front catch of the pedal and press down hard with your heel. As the cleat engages with the pedal you will hear and feel a reassuring click (in mostcases) which lets you know that your foot is now clipped into the pedal.

And don’t worry if you do fall off as you get used to using them. It is a very rare occurrence, but it’s happened to the best of us.

Clipping Out Is Almost Instinctive

To release your foot from the pedal system you need to twist your heel out to the side until the cleat disengages from the pedal. In times of panic this process is almost instinctive and will allow you to easily release from your bike as required.

TIP: PracticeClipping In Against a Wall

One of the best initial ways to practice is by leaning with your bike against a wall for support whilst practicing the simple process of clipping in and out. If you have SPD cleats, practicing on a compatible spin bike at the gym is also a good way to get accustomed to the process.

(Video) How To Unclip Like A Pro - Use Clipless Or SPD Pedals

More Tips For Riding With Clipless Pedals

  • Always clip in first with one foot as your ‘lead’. The key to learning a new skill is developing a habit. Initially aim to have the pedal for your lead foot around the 12-1 oclock position on the clockface. This will allow your lead foot to push you off and allow you to gain some forward momentum prior to clipping in your second foot.
  • When stopping at sets of lights or a café,always unclip with the same foot. It’s all about your routine again and if you unclip with the samefoot every time, itgivesyou more confidenceas you put it to the floor. Ideally this should be the opposite foot to the one you lead your initial clipping in with, as it will allow you to quicklygain momentum again when the lights turn.
  • You don’t need the most expensive shoes and pedals to learn with. Fancy road cycling shoes will have a pretty stiff carbon sole which will make them a challenge for walking. Furthermore, the engagement mechanism on many high-end pedals will lock your feet in place which may cause difficulty unclipping if you’re still learning how to use clipless pedals.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on your first set of pedals and shoes. Walking comfortably is often the key, and a set of affordable touring or mountain bike shoes will really help you gain confidence.

I still have the old Northwave mountain bike shoes I started riding with today and they’re still great for me to keep in the back of the car for spin classes at the gym,despite being over ten years old.

  • Start with your pedal at its lowest tension. Many pedals have a tension screw on them that you will be able to see prominently. Initially have this at the lowest level of tension as this will allow you to easily clip in and outof your pedals. As you get more comfortable riding you can gradually add more tension over time.
  • Start by having cleats with a degree of “float” built into them. Unlike ski bindings where your foot is locked in position, most cycling cleats have a degree of movement within them. Make sure that the cleats on your first pedals allow you some ankle movement. Floatguards against joint problems in the long term. If you buy a set of Look pedals, stick to their intermediate grey coloured cleats or red cleats initially and steer clear of their black cleats.

I’ve reviewed several clipless pedals and some compatible shoes. Read my recommendations here. Thanks for reading!


What is a clipless pedal? ›

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 are the easiest clipless pedals 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. The other advantage of the SPD system is the availability of Shimano's multi-release cleats.

Why are they called clipless pedals? ›

Despite the 'clipless' name, you do actually clip your shoes into clipless pedals, locking them to your feet. The term clipless comes from the historic abandonment of toe clips and straps over the top of the shoe, which road riders used to use to hold their feet in place.

What are the advantages of clipless? ›

The main advantage of clipless pedals is the ability to push through the first half of the pedal stroke with your quads, then sweep back and lift through the second half of the pedal stroke using your hamstrings and hip flexors.

How do I stop falling with clipless pedals? ›

“As you're rolling to a stop, shift your weight to the foot that stays clipped in,” Compton explains, “and then unclip the foot that you'll put on the ground and just leave it gently on the pedal, so when you do come to that stop, you can put your foot on the ground quickly.”

Which leg to unclip first? ›

Every time you need to unclip, start by unclipping the same side first. It doesn't matter if it's your right foot first or your left foot, just make sure it's the same foot every time. By doing so, you'll develop muscle memory, such that unclipping will become instinctive.

What are the disadvantages of clipless pedals? ›

Clipless Pedals Cons
  • Clipless pedals can cause injury- If you don't properly adjust your bike fit and clipless cleats, you can cause some serious damage to your knees and hips. ...
  • Riding clipless is more expensive- You have to buy clipless specific shoes, cleats, and pedals.
Nov 11, 2022

Can I ride with regular shoes on 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.

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.

When should I 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 are the most popular clipless pedals? ›

Best clipless pedals for road riding: our picks
  • Shimano Ultegra pedals. Best for combining race-day performance with everyday durability. ...
  • Look Keo Classic 3 pedals. ...
  • Look Keo Blade Road Pedals. ...
  • Time Xpro 15 pedals. ...
  • Shimano 105 SPD pedals. ...
  • Wahoo Speedplay Zero pedals. ...
  • Time ATAC XC 2. ...
  • Crankbrothers Candy 1.

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.

Are clipless pedals better on hills? ›

Ride with clipless pedals

Without clipless pedals, you'll waste energy trying to keep your foot flat against the pedal when you're cycling uphill and flying downhill. You want to focus all your energy and power into your pedals to move uphill.

Do I really need 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.

Is it easier to jump with clipless pedals? ›

Jumping with clipless pedals is much easier, since with your feet stuck to the pedals, the rear wheel goes where your feet go. Still, for jumping over big logs, you can't rely on this. Good technique gets you big air, not clipless pedals. You'll have to practice a lot to get the hang of it.

Are clipless better than flats? ›

It's easier to pedal over bumps, rocks and roots with clipless pedals because your feet are attached and don't get bounced around much when the going gets rough. More clearance over rocks and other trail obstacles. Clipless pedals tend to be smaller than flats. Increased rear wheel control.

Why do my toes go numb with clipless pedals? ›

Common Causes of Numb Toes and Feet While Cycling

There are several factors that can cause nerve compression including, “the cleat placement, improper arch support (too much or too little), or shoes that are too tight or especially too narrow, and the incorrect pedal stance width,” says Holz.

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.

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.

What is the difference between clipless and SPD pedals? ›

The term SPD stands for 'Shimano Pedalling Dynamics,' and was invented specifically for mountain biking. Today, SPD pedals are clipless pedals designed for off-road riding, while SPD-SL (SuperLight) pedals are designed specifically for the road.

What is the difference between clip in and clipless cycling shoes? ›

These two terms—clipless and clip-in—refer to the same kind of shoe, one that uses a cleat attached to the sole to clip into your pedals. Clip-in shoes are also called clipless shoes simply because they don't require the use of toe clips—the cages you'll sometimes see attached to flat pedals.

Are clipless pedals safer? ›

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.

How do I choose clip pedals? ›

How do I choose a bike pedal?
  1. Decide if you want to run clipless pedals, flats, or a hybrid style.
  2. Pick a pedal that matches the type of riding you'll be doing.
  3. Choose a cycling shoe that works with the pedals you want to run.

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.

What gear is best for downhill cycling? ›

High Gear = Hard = Good for Descending: The “highest” gear on your bike is the largest chain ring in the front and the smallest cog on your cassette (rear gears). In this position, the pedaling will be the hardest and you'll be able to accelerate while traveling downhill.

Where should foot be on clipless pedals? ›

You should place your foot on the pedal so that the axle of the pedal sits just behind the ball of your foot. This differs to how you would place your foot with clipless pedals and will help to prevent you from springing up and off of the pedals if you extend your foot downwards.

Do you go 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.

When should I switch to clipless? ›

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.

Is it normal to fall on clipless pedals? ›

Most people fall the first couple of times they try riding with clipless pedals. Most quickly learn the reflex to twist their foot so they release the cleats.

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.

Are clipless pedals difficult? ›

It's not a difficult skill to learn, but riding with clipless pedals can be a daunting prospect. For beginner riders, the idea of being locked into your bicycle, unable to put your foot down in an emergency, is a scary one.


1. Shimano Cleats For Beginners: SM-SH56 vs SM-SH51. Clipless Pedals For Newbies.
2. How to Get Started on Clip-In Pedals & Cleats | Clipless Tips For Beginner Cyclists | Jade Seah
(Jade Seah)
3. How To Use Clipless Pedals For Beginners (Tips and Tricks)
(The One Good Road)
4. How To Set Up Clipless Pedal Cleats - Clip-in Pedals for Beginners #mtb
(The Loam Wolf)
5. How To Learn To Ride Clipless Pedals WITHOUT CRASHING
(Jim Langley)
6. How To Clip In To Your Pedals Faster – Clip In First Time, Every Time
(Global Cycling Network)


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