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 Foot1 of 7
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 Spot2 of 7
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.
Unclip Before You Stop3 of 7
Remember, it's easier to keep your balance the faster your bike is moving. Before you come to a complete stop, unclip one foot from the pedals. Keep your foot resting in place but disengaged. Stand from the seat as you come to a stop and rest the unclipped foot on the ground. This technique will keep you from scrambling at the last minute, which is often when accidents occur. Keep the other foot clipped in. This will make getting going again that much easier.
Get Your Bike Moving4 of 7
Just like stopping, it's going to be harder to balance and clip back in the slower you're going. Give yourself at least one good push before you try to get your foot back into the pedal. In an emergency, don't panic. Use the foot that's already clipped in and get the cranks around one more time, similar to a single leg pedaling drill. This will give you a little more speed, which will allow more time to get your foot back into the pedal.
Buy Cheap Shoes and Pedals5 of 7
Even though more expensive pedals and shoes may look cooler, they may not be the best option for a new cyclist.
"I actually recommend starting with something more comfortable that you can walk in to get started," says Orton. Shimano makes both of these in their SPD line of pedals and shoes. While still not as cheap as using platform pedals, you can find entry-level SPD pedals online, at your local bike shop and places like eBay relatively cheap. The SPD's offer the benefit of dual-sided entry, unlike most road pedals that only allow you to clip into one side. This makes getting into the SPD pedals easier, and makes the transition from platform pedals a smoother one. The more comfortable shoes are better for learning too, since you'll be clipping in and out a lot."
Adjust the Tension Screw6 of 7
It's also a good idea to adjust the tension screw on the pedal, which will make getting in and out easier. Put it on the easiest setting to begin with and tighten the screw as you become more comfortable. You'll have more movement when you pedal, but at least you won't be as worried about getting stuck when you come to a stop.
In a lot of ways, learning to ride clipless pedals is like learning how to ride a bike all over again. You're going to be nervous and might even get a little frustrated, but once you get the hang of it, you'll open yourself up to a whole different kind of cycling. And you're guaranteed to have more fun.