Do you want to increase your power, efficiency and comfort on the bike?
If you answered yes then you may want to consider upgrading to clipless pedals. One of the questions I get from my triathlon coaching clients is if they should upgrade to clipless pedals. As you progress in triathlon and cycling you will eventually want to get clipless pedals, they help increase power and efficiency, as well as your comfort on the bike.
Increased Power and Efficiency
The number one reason to switch to clipless pedals is increased power and efficiency. Once you are clipped in you have a solid connection between you and the bike, this means you are better able to transfer power between your legs and the bike. You can experience as much as a 20% increase in power by upgrading to clipless pedals.
That solid connection also makes your stroke is more efficient. This is because you gain the added ability to contribute power on the up stroke as well as the down stroke. As you master the clipless pedals you will be able to eliminate dead spots in your stroke. Developing a smooth pedal stroke void of any dead spots increases your efficiency as you are now able to contribute power through the entire rotation.
Another benefit of being securely attached to the pedal is that your foot is anchored in the correct position. With your foot in the proper position you have created a safer scenario for the knees and hips. You are no longer able to wobble around in your stroke the way you might with toe clips, everything stays in line from your foot to your hips creating a safer and more efficient kinetic chain.
There are also advantages to in using cycling specific shoes themselves. Cycling shoes are very stiff which allows for better transfer of power between you and the bike. Running shoes on the other hand have a lot of give, this means for every stroke your shoe flexes and power is lost, this ultimately means less of the power generated by your legs is transferred to the bike. There is also the consideration of comfort. Cycling shoes are designed for cycling, if you buy the proper shoes you will be far more comfortable in cycling shoes than you are cycling in running shoes.
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Learning to Use Your Clipless Pedals
Practice on an Indoor Trainer
learning to use clipless pedals can be dangerous, proceed with caution as you learn the new skill of how to safely clip in and out. If you have an indoor trainer spend some time getting familiar with clipping in and out. The indoor trainer is the best place to gain some confidence and learn how to properly use your clipless pedals. If you do not have an indoor trainer at lest spend some time practicing at home before you hit the road. Start by clipping in and out just one foot several times, then practice with the other foot.
Taking Your New Setup Outside
When you are feeling confident and ready to take your bike outside pick a place where you will be safe and able to concentrate on clipping in and out. I recommend learning on a bike trail or a quite road where you wont have to worry so much about traffic. It takes time to train your muscle memory to quickly and efficiently clip in and out of your clipless pedals. Stick with it, eventually this motion will become second nature. Keep in mind while you are out riding that you need to unclip one foot prior to coming to a stop. While you are learning make sure to unclip far in advance. When clipping back in after a stop clip just one foot then gain some momentum. Once you are moving and stable clip in the second foot. One of the biggest mistakes new riders make is not gaining enough momentum before clipping in the second foot, this can lead to a fall.
Clipless Pedal Recommendations
There are lots of options for cleats and pedals. One option for new riders who may still want to use their running shoes at times are double sided pedals, where one side has your clipless and the other side is a standard platform. These pedals cost about $35 pair.
One of the most common cleats are mountain bike cleats called SPD. These cleats and the matching pedals are what you see most commonly at indoor cycling studios and are a very popular option for new riders because they are easy to clip in and out of, easy to walk in, and are relatively cheap. If you are looking to upgrade on a budget your investment with this option will be around $100 to get you into a pair of cycling shoes with cleats and matching pedals.
I personally use Shimano SPD-SL cleats and pedals. The cleat is larger than the mountain bike SPD cleats I love the connection that they have with the bike, they are very easy to clip in and out and are extremely comfortable. The one down side with the Shimano SPD-SL cleat is that it is less common then the SPD, which means if you are heading to an indoor cycling class you most likely wont be able to use these cleats.
Hit The Local Bike Shop
I recommend heading over to your local bike shop to try on a few pairs of cycling shoes to figure out your size and what you like. They will be able to install your new pedals for you and help you get the cleats properly positioned on your cycling shoes. While you are there this would be a good time to get a check on your bike fit as well if you haven’t already. Properer positioning on the bike is important not only for performance but for injury prevention as well. It is important to get at least a basic bike fit at the beginning of each season.
If you are looking at racing with your cycling shoes you may want to consider triathlon specific cycling shoes. Triathlon shoes typically have one strap instead of the two or three that you find on a cycling specific shoe. This strap is usually Velcro for quick transitions while cycling shoes can be Velcro or a ratchet system. If you prefer to stick with a cycling shoe for now they can still work well in a triathlon, you will just lose a few seconds in transition.
Transitioning to Clipless Pedals
Whether you decided to upgrade to clipless now or in the future remember that it takes time to learn a new skill. Sometimes we lose a little bit of speed as we transition, it takes time to become proficient with new techniques. Stick with it, as you develop your new form clipping in and out will become second nature and you will see the benefits of increased power and efficiency. Need help on your triathlon journey? Check out my Triathlon coaching page to find out more about how I take the guess workout out of your training program so you can feel confident that your training efforts will have you race ready come your next triathlon!
Comment below, do you use clipless pedals? If yes what is the one thing you would tell someone just starting out?