I tried clipless pedals for the first time a few months ago. And I haven’t fallen yet. Is it hubris that I just said that aloud? Am I going to fall now?
Here’s my story. After doing several hours’ worth of research on different clipless pedal systems, I felt frustrated. Because I wanted to be able to walk around with my bike shoes like a normal person rather than a duck, I knew only that I wanted pedals that would be compatible with recessed cleats. (The Shimano SPD 2-bolt pattern) Other than that, I wanted the kind of pedals that were easiest to release from, and online, there seems to be no objective information about this aspect of the pedal systems.
So I started calling local bike shops, asking for opinions. I also asked if they allowed customers to try on different cleats and practice on a stationary bike or trainer to see which system felt best. Recycled Cycles, nope! Gregg’s, nope! REI, nope! I was starting to get discouraged. I mean, here was a huge opportunity for bikes shops to ease novices into this very daunting process, and essentially their attitude was “Buy them and try them out yourself!” I wanted to comparison shop, and get tips on how to not fall down.
Then I called R&E Cycles. It was clear from the beginning of the call that Smiley understood exactly what I was facing. He invited me into the shop anytime to sit on their trainer, try on their shoes, and experience their pedal system of choice, Speedplay. In my case, it would be the Speedplay Frog system, which was designed for mountain bikers and people who want a recessed cleat.
My experience at R&E went fantastically. Because the Speedplay pedals have built in side-side movement (float), there was no need to make any adjustments to the pedals (as other systems require). Smiley gave me all the tips I needed to click into and release from the pedals, and it was much easier than I expected. I would have liked to try out some Shimano SPD pedals for comparison, but I didn’t get that far because the Speedplay pedals seemed like the obvious choice. One useful tip I learned was that it’s best to release your foot when it’s at the 6 o’clock position. My tendency, from riding with toe clips all these years is to release at the 12 o’clock position, so I would have to unlearn that.
Next stop was shoes. Since I am loath to spend lots of money on new stuff that I might not even use long term, I went straight to Bikeworks, where I found a great pair of Adidas bike shoes for $12 that look like soccer shoes. Perfect. When I got them home and tried to mount the cleats, I realized that something was missing. A bit of online research told me that the shoes were missing the “Cleat Nut Plate” which goes under the insole and has threaded holes for the cleat nuts to attach to. No local bike shops carry this obscure part, so I had to take a leap of faith on Amazon to order two of these tiny metal parts.
Unfortunately, thanks to the joys of asynchronous order fulfillment, Amazon decided to split the order and Prime me only one of them. The second Cleat Nut Plate took 4 days longer to arrive, (in laughably huge packaging) and after 8pm, the night before I was to leave on a bike trip to Lopez Island. Oh well, I would have to wait a little while longer to test out my Speedplay system.
When I finally got everything attached, the scary moment had arrived: Taking a ride on my bike. I decided to attach the pedals to my trusty Trek 420 and ride around the block. Aside from the initial clip-in for my right foot, everything was really easy. Too easy, making me feel like SOMETHING bad was going to happen. But it didn’t! I had no trouble releasing from the pedal, and it couldn’t have gone any better.
I did a few more short rides with the pedals until I was confident enough to go on a real ride. Cycle The Wave took place on September 14, and I was excited to try them out. The ride itself was grueling (Burly Girl route–60 miles with 4000′ of elevation gain), but the pedals were fine. I don’t know that I had any kind of efficiency improvement with the pedals, though. Using the upstroke for power didn’t seem as feasible yet because those particular leg muscles aren’t used to it.
Over the past few months, I’ve ridden with the pedals and the closest I came to falling was when I ascended the Andover footbridge over the West Seattle Freeway, and found myself in too high of a gear. I freaked out for a second as my bike stalled, and I tried to release my left foot mid-stroke. As I started to reach for the left handrail (to prevent a fall), my foot released, and I was fine, if a bit shaken. Now, I need to practice releasing while riding uphill, so I don’t freak out again.