Many beginners struggle to adapt from a standard pedal to a clip-in, or clipless-pedal system. If this is you, you're not alone. You can ask any serious cyclist and they'll be happy to give you their own first-time horror story.
Mark Orton, a certified USAC coach at SpeedWorks Cycling, had an experience most cyclists can relate to. "I got home from work and my new pedals and shoes were waiting for me," he says. "I couldn't wait to get them on. I installed the pedals, put the cleats on the shoes and went out in front of my condo to give them a try. They were awesome. I could pull up and my feet didn't slip on the pedals. I was sold."
"Then I tried to get off the bike," Orton says. "I rolled to a stop, and when I tried to pull my feet off the pedals, I toppled over. There were people watching everywhere, and it was embarrassing. I didn't even take my hands off the bars. I just fell over to the side. I was so focused on pulling my feet off the pedals that I stopped doing everything else."
If you're thinking of switching to clipless pedals to improve your speed, efficiency and comfort, you shouldn't be worried. All it takes is a little practice and a few good tips to avoid a beginner's blunder like this one.
Practice Disengaging Your Foot
Once you clip into the pedals, your natural reaction is to pull straight back, just as you would with a standard pedal.
"Most people don't have the muscle memory of twisting your foot to disengage it, so they try to get out of the pedal by either pulling straight off the pedal, or pulling back," says Orton.
Before you jump on your bike for the first time, set your bike up on a stationary trainer or stand if possible. Practice clipping in, pedaling, and disengaging. This will help you to become more comfortable with the twisting motion of the foot before you have to worry about balancing the bike.
Find a Safe Spot
Before you head out on the road where there are more obstacles and spectators, find a safe spot to practice where falling won't be a big deal.
"Find someplace soft, like a field at a school or a park. Clip in, clip out, and repeat this over and over. Once you're comfortable, slowly begin riding around. Come to a stop, unclip and put your foot down just as you would at a stop sign on the road. Then get back into your pedals as you begin moving again. Repeat this as long as necessary. Like any skill, it's going to require practice," says Orton.