I plan to remain an amateur, okay?
April 26, 2012 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Given my cycling style, is there any point for me to go clipless/clip'n'straps/other sort of shoe-to-pedal attachment?

I have a hybrid bike, a helmet, very simple bike gloves to baby my wrists, and I bike with the stock saddle and platform pedals that my bike came with on whatever shoes I have at the moment. Originally biking was a weekend-only kind of thing for out with friends; now that I'm growing to like cycling more and more I'm trying to go out whenever the weather lets up. I have a lot of hills around my area, but sometimes I'll bus/train to other places and bike there. I do not bike quickly (partly because I have a tweaked knee and I can't) - Strava averages me to go about 11 km/h; on flat road, I'll be closer to 13-15 km/h. I ride on pavement, but avoid main roads whenever possible, preferring quieter streets and bike paths. The longest rides I've probably been on when my knee wasn't tweaked was around the lines of 30-40 km and that was rare (and mostly pretty flat). I'm hoping to make it less rare, but I'm not going to be going for century rides like, ever.

I'm looking to improve my fitness and my speed with regular cycling, especially as my knee improves, but I'll never be a speed demon or off-road biker. No roadies or mountain bikes for me, I love my hybrid, and I can't see myself going faster than 20 km/h on flat roads. Maybe I'll bike to work one day, but that's far off yet. Googling tells me that clipless (or even clips/straps) transfer energy better and makes for an more efficient/faster ride, as well as work my hamstrings more so I won't get muscle imbalances in my legs. But how much good would that do when I only have semi-slicks that go up to 60 psi, when I sit upright, when I have flat bars instead of drop bars? My riding style right now suits me, and even without my knee problems, again, I can't see myself riding past 20 km/h even after my fitness improves.

Googling basically assumes clipless is the best thing ever for everyone, but I'm not sure it's worth it for me. How necessary is clipless OR other firm attachments to your pedals? How much more do you get out of it? I might consider getting some PowerGrips and swap out my pedals if it's really necessary/really improves my experience, but I'm not sure spending the money for clipless is worth it for (eventual) frequent-but-still-fun goings about town considering my riding style and bike of choice. As for hamstring work, I could always put in more time with bridging exercises on my exercise ball...
posted by Hakaisha to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've worn clipless pedals for more than 20 years, and can't imagine not using them. Besides all the energy transfer stuff, clipless pedals also make me feel safer, as my feet will never leave the pedals (unless I clip out, which is second nature and will take about a day or so to master if you're not used to it).

Maybe the energy transfer thing is more what you'd be interested in, as it just feels so much more right to have your feet stay in place and not shift around as you're cycling.

The only caveat (besides cost) that I can think of is making sure your cleats are adjusted just right, so you're not buggering up your knee. It will be important to go to a bike store that cares about this very much.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm solidly an amateur/commuter biker, but my pedals have straps and I love being connected to the bike that way. It keeps my feet from sliding off (not infrequent, given that I bike in dress shoes), and it gives me some more power on the margins.

Pedals with straps have to be a smaller commitment than clipless pedals; why not give them a shot?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clipless are just all-round more enjoyable than toe clips and straps OR going with just flat pedals. Having your feet firmly stuck to the pedals, but easily extracted, really smooths out your leg motion.

You can get a used set of SPDs super cheap ($15-20 on craigslist/ebay) and shoes aren't too expensive. Just make sure you can walk in 'em.
posted by pjaust at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2012

The efficiency gains you'd get from having some kind of foot retention are probably pretty minor considering your type of bike and riding style, but I personally like the feeling of being "strapped in" -- I just have some $20 Power Grips and they suit me fine. I don't think clipless pedals would be worth the hassle of having to put on special shoes if you're mostly going on 5-10 km rides.
posted by theodolite at 12:18 PM on April 26, 2012

I have occasional knee problems too, and I've found toeclips to be really helpful in relieving some of that joint stress. It's not a very big or expensive job to add straps/clips to your current set-up, and you'll still be able to wear whatever shoes you want when you cycle. But for your knees, being able to pull up on the pedals as well as push down can allow your legs to do more of the work, reducing the strain on your knees.
posted by booknerd at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2012

You can also get pedals that have clip-in bindings on one side and platforms on the other if you want the best of both worlds.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 12:23 PM on April 26, 2012

Clipless or straps are not necessary for your riding. You will continue to have fun without them. You do not need to spend the money for these accessories to continue having fun with your bicycle.

Do you need to go faster? Try clipless. Feet slipping off the peddles? Maybe from rain, mud or bumps? Try clipless. Not having any of these problems and you are having fun? Cool. Keep doing what you are doing.
posted by bdc34 at 12:26 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am going to avoid the words "clip" and "clipless" in my answer because I still find those terms confusing.

I got the shoes and did not enjoy them. Walking around in cycling shoes is also probably not the best thing that you can do to your knees. The straps enjoyable. I usually use just plain ole' pedals.

Also: do you know about recumbents? If you're looking for a comfortable bike, they're the most comfortable things ever.
posted by aniola at 12:27 PM on April 26, 2012

I've never considered clipless as a necessary option on a bike, especially if you're going to be riding on roads that require stopping a lot. If you like the way the bike rides now, I wouldn't change anything. If you have a hard time with your feet slipping off the pedals, you can get different pedals that will hold your shoes better - something made of metal with a "tread" on the platform will hold a rubber-soled shoe pretty well.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:34 PM on April 26, 2012

Nah, at least as to clipless pedals.

I'm an avid cyclist and ride about 100km a week or more, plus the occasional century. I love my clipless pedals (SPD style, so I can walk around a bit off the bike). However, for your riding style, I think they would be a waste of money that could be better put to use on a decent bike fitting, if you're really looking to spend on something bike-related. It sounds like you're doing great as is, and I don't think clipless pedals would be worth it. They can cost a good chunk of change, once you factor in the shoes and pedals, and they are limiting in that it's just another piece of specialized equipment to bother with.
posted by chinston at 12:37 PM on April 26, 2012

Your tweaked knee is something to consider seriously when making this decision.

A common complaint for folk with bad knees is lack of sufficient rotation of the pedal with either straps or cleats. How much you can turn your foot on the pedal, twist your foot, is often called float. With straps, you have little or none at all, with cleats, the "float" varies by manufacturer. I'd go talk to someone at your friendly local bike shop about it. You likely want lots of float.

Shimano SPD is probably the most common system, and certainly offers one of the more convenient cleat designs for non-racer shoes, and for comfort walking off-bike. It's also one of the cheapest, but still not cheap. Pedals, cleats and shoes can easily be more than $100.

Most of the other alternatives you should consider are the "mountain bike" designs, eg Crank Bothers. There are also specialist road-racer systems, but you will not want those.
posted by bonehead at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2012

Stop-and-go road riding, or easy pace rec riding, doesn't require clipless (and if ol' Sheldon is to be believed, it's benefit is largely imaginary, anyhow) - and before you decide, ask around.

Almost everyone who rides clipless pedals has a falling-over story. More than a few of them involve injury (broken bones, bad sprains, deep bruises, road rash), and a few involve seriously scary situations (falling over =into= traffic, down a cliff, onto something unpleasant).

It may be something you want to try, and it may be something you enjoy, but it's not essential for "serious" riding, nevermind casual riding, and it can be dangerous and counterproductive for rides where you make lots of stops, unless you are really attentive and really coordinated.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:42 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna go against the tide here and recommend clipless pedals. Shimano mountain-bike type pedals have plenty of play (so you won't mess up your knee) and the shoes are easy to walk in (nothing protruding). The improvement in power transfer is amazing, and makes longer rides much easier. And disengaging is easier than tie clips or straps. Go for it.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:55 PM on April 26, 2012

Almost everyone who rides clipless pedals has a falling-over story. More than a few of them involve injury (broken bones, bad sprains, deep bruises, road rash), and a few involve seriously scary situations (falling over =into= traffic, down a cliff, onto something unpleasant).

That's ludicrous. Nobody I ride with have "falling down stories."
They took me a bit to get used to, but they certainly don't lock you to the pedal. They tend to come with a really easy quick release, and if you want to make them stick more stubbornly you can adjust that later. They're not hard to get out of, and you certainly shouldn't be afraid of them.

Clipless give you a lot more power, balance and control. If you can stomach the cost of buying appropriate shoes/pedals, I say go for it. Just remember that they will dictate your footwear, that's the only downside I've found.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:58 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Clipless pedlas make it a hassle to do really short rides - down to the corner store, etc - but that's really the only downside IMHO. I switched to clipless after years of bike commuting, and I found it to be a significant improvement in terms of power and perceived control. Definitely worth checking out; you can always switch back if you don't like them. Be careful about falling over when you're learning, but they'll become second-nature pretty quickly.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:00 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've just gone to clipless SPD pedals and... 100km in I can't say I'm going any faster or it's any easy. I did "get used" to using them immediately but it isn't second nature and while clipping in is easier than I thought, clipping out still requires some conscious thought and as an urban commuter means I clip out quite early to be safe. I have had a couple of instances of clipping out my left pedal and then accidentally leaning right. Not ideal.

And clipless pedals can be bad for your knees if you don't set them up right. I have no idea what right looks or feels like so asked an avid cycle fan colleague his opinion. He revealed he doesn't know either and has never adjusted the cleat position on any shoes he's bought. So far my knees don't hurt but I'm not finding clipless this magic wonderland of super smooth pedalling and effortless efficiency.

Prior to getting clipless pedals I just wore trainers and could comfortably do 30km/h on the flat provided there wasn't a headwind. At the speeds you're going I don't think clipless would make a big difference. If you find yourself getting up to 20km/h on the flat I'd start thinking about it then.

I don't plan to go back to just normal pedals soon but I don't think clipless is for everyone by any stretch.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:02 PM on April 26, 2012

For your riding style, I would skip the clipless pedals. Advice you see, especially in magazines, that says something like "Clipless is important for every cyclist!" comes from a perspective that is totally blind to your kind of cycling. If you're riding at a relaxed pace, and speed and efficiency aren't your motivators at all, you will see little benefit from clipless.

That's not to say you shouldn't try them if you're curious, but you certainly don't need to buy shoes and pedals to have a good time riding your bike.
posted by helicomatic at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2012

If you choose to go with clipped-pedals (ie, the ones with leather or nylon straps and clips, rather than a "clipless" system with cleats like SPDs), bear in mind that the straps can get kind of uncomfortable for longer rides (they squeeze the sides of my wide feet), and, depending on their quality, can become difficult to adjust after a while due to grime, stiffness of aging material etc etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on April 26, 2012

I have stuctural knee issues and anything that held my foot to the pedal was problematic. I'm a city commuter in a hilly place but not a distance rider.

What I did do was chose really great pedals. There are many choices out there. I got some with a fully flat surface to give my foot lots of pushing space. My spouse uses ones with little spikes but only have two on which to push.

It's a really personal choice. A good bike shop can help you out!
posted by mamabear at 1:39 PM on April 26, 2012

I hate being tied to pedals in any way.

Three times now, my bike has ended up under a car while I was rolling over the top of it.

You don't have to sacrifice that much speed, either. Once at a stoplight on a level section of Ravenna blvd. in Seattle, when I was hurrying home to supper on a ratty touring bike with flat bars and a wire saddle basket full of dinner plates from a thrift store, some guy rolled down his window and said: "hey buddy, I clocked you at 35 all the way from Green Lake."

I recommend shoes with soles that are sewn to the uppers, however; I've peeled the almost wear-free soles from two pairs of Eastlands and two pairs of Timberlands by using them for riding.
posted by jamjam at 1:40 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nobody I ride with have "falling down stories."

I do <blush>. I rolled up to a stop sign on the trail and couldn't clip out, resulting in a slow-motion topple that greatly amused the child behind me who was walking with his father.

It was caused by ignoring the pedals; I now spritz them with WD-40 every so often. No problems since.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:43 PM on April 26, 2012

If you're truly curious about clipless, are willing to buy new shoes as well as new pedals, and are also willing to swap back your old pedals if necessary, go for it. (You may not need to swap if you get reversable pedals, but if you have big old platforms now, you may prefer those to the somewhat dinkier size of the clipless type.)

If you have a real issue with your feet slipping off your pedals, go for it.

If you think the risk of one or two sideways splats when you're getting used to clipless is no big deal (and, honestly, most splats aren't), go for it.

But if you are pretty happy with your current riding and are considering clipless only because Google and a bunch of strangers on the Internet say that it has theoretical and anecdotal value -- why rush? Try PowerGrips to see if you feel that your pedalling is more powerful and efficient, and if YOU feel like going further, then go clipless.

My bias: I switched to clipless when I first biked years ago and was a very timid rider. I never felt comfortable and could never get them adjusted properly so that I could declip smoothly, and this unease was probably a factor in giving up riding back then. I started rising again a few years ago and am a much more confident rider. I've ridden over 9000 km since 2008, some of it in 100-120 km chunks, and can get up to reasonable speed for a commuter. I do it all with platform pedals the size of bread plates. The wee teeth/studs on them help hold my sneakers in place. I have even biked with a huge walking cast on my left foot. One day when I want to push myself further, I may go clipless, but right now I'm doing fine with platforms.
posted by maudlin at 1:50 PM on April 26, 2012

I bought shoes and clipless pedals this year and was totally on the fence about it. Part of me thought it was totally useless and it wouldn't really make a difference for me. I love having them and wouldn't go back. I actually bought a pair of pedals for my mountain bike, too. It feels better, you get more out of your efforts, and after using them for a few weeks, you really notice the difference when you ride without them. I was able to get shoes and clipless pedals for under $100 total, so you might want to just go for it and try it out!
posted by Nightman at 1:51 PM on April 26, 2012

There are SPD pedals which have clipless on one side and flats on the other; they're usually called 'rodeo' pedals, and I love 'em. Clipless for long rides and flats for in town, without any wrenching in between.

The best reason to use straps or clipless is to keep your foot well positioned on the pedal, and for this, straps work just as well as clipless. And as was mentioned above, if I were you I would spring for a good bike fitting before a clipless system, given your riding habits. It'll go a longer way.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:02 PM on April 26, 2012

You could also choose your bike shoes based on your style - I wasn't willing to ride around in shoes I couldn't walk in, so got some low end mountain bike shoes that have regular tread. They are way stiffer than usual shoes, and sound a bit like tap shoes, but I can walk fairly normally in them. Even for city riding, I now far prefer clipless petals.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:17 PM on April 26, 2012

Get some strap to see how it feels. It's a low investment and you can still bike like you used to using the other side of the pedal.

I'll suggest that you don't strap in tightly to start with. I used straps for years with no problems, but I got a new bike last year and the change was enough that I fell twice. I felt like a damn idiot, struggling to pull my feet out as I slowly tilted over. (It was because I wasn't used to not having crossbar brakes, and I was strapping in as tightly as I used to, where I had to hand loosen the straps at each stop - not a problem with my previous brake set-up.) But it's easy to set them so you get some power on pulling up and still can get out of them with no problem. I personally like the extra power/work-out they give.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2012

I hated the kind with cages (toeclips) but used Power Grips for many years and liked them because I was sure I wouldn’t like clipless. I finally got clipless many years ago and realized I was wrong, I love them and hate riding without them. I feel way less in control of the bike, like I’m driving a car without a seatbelt, with slippery seats and no doors. That’s the main benefit to me.

As others have said, if you have regular clipless you can’t really ride your bike without the shoes that go with them, you need the hybrid clipless/flats to do that. Power Grips are a nice compromise, and only affect one side, you can switch in and out of them any time you want.

You can easily get shoes and pedals for $100 if you shop around. They have a break in period in which they are stiff. You will probably fall at least once until you get the hang of it. But I’ve fallen off the pedals more when I didn’t have them. Crotch to bar, face to ground.
posted by bongo_x at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2012

Clips and straps. I've ridden with them for almost ever, am sometimes looked down on by friends who've bought into the "whole racing equipment is the only equipment" marketing thing, and I've never looked back. I ride for exercise and enjoyment and because I have no love for gyms or working out for workout's sake. For touring or longer recreational rides, I might strap in, but mostly I just leave the straps loose. I'd loosen them anyway in traffic or in snow, which you can't with clipless. They still keep my foot from slipping off the pedals (and you *really* don't want to do that while you're standing on the pedals!). I can ride in whatever shoes I have on; usually I ride in bike sandals (that's also what I mostly wear for everyday). But if I happen to be in hiking boots or sneakers and need a quick trip the post office or market, I can just grab the bike and go. Since I'm not wearing clipless shoes (i.e. with cleats), I can walk comfortably when I get off the bike, I don't damage wood floors or slip on curbs or stairs nor need to take my shoes off to prevent it.

Aside: The metal plate that stiffens the sandal and provides a way to mount clipless cleats shows up in airport Xrays. Gives the TSA something to do between donuts.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:20 PM on April 26, 2012

I have roughly the same cycling style as you (including occasional knee problems) and I have these SPD pedals. They have a non-clip side and a clip side, and 3/4 of the time I just ride with my street shoes and ignore the clips.

For longer rides I have a pair of these shoes. They work OK for walking and don't look ridiculous. I do find it easier to bike long stretches (20 miles or so) or to climb long hills with the clips.

So... I'd say it's optional but you might enjoy the benefits. I certainly wouldn't mess with traditional clipless pedals that require you to wear special shoes 100% of the time. If I had those I'd avoid riding just to avoid changing shoes...
posted by mmoncur at 7:05 PM on April 26, 2012

Here is a pretty interesting article on why clipless pedals are not necessarily the end-all be-all of cycling for everyone.

By all means give them a try--you can get some relatively inexpensive hybrid pedals (clip-ins on one side, platforms on the other) and comfy shoes with a place for the cleats--but don't feel like you have to, and don't feel like you're doing something wrong if you don't like them. And if it turns out you do, you'll have pedals you can use without being clipped in for around-town rides, and clipped in for longer rides.

I've been riding for just over a year, and working my way up to 50+-mile rides on weekends, and I'm not planning to go clipless anytime soon. Much of the benefits everyone keeps telling me will come from the clipless pedals I have discovered I get with proper pedaling form (that is, making circles with my feet and pulling back on the pedals rather than just pushing straight down on the pedals with my feet).
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:10 PM on April 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the input everyone.

I don't ride very fast, and ride only in good weather, so I've never had problems with slipping off the pedals due to speed or rain or mud. That said, my feet shifts position on the pedals for sure, so it sounds like trying some straps at the bike shop would be a good compromise between cost and some amounts of security/control/pedalling power (hamstring workout) without going for the super extra speed and efficiency my ride style can't take advantage of. I'll try some clip less for fun but I probably won't commit.

I bought my bike years ago at a local bike shop which felt fine pretty much stock; I've never had real issues with the fit, then or now, but I'll bike some more and see if issues crop up since my knee is definitely more picky than it was 6years ago.

I will update with how I feel if I do end up upgrading my pedal system! Thanks again. Feel free to add any further thoughts.
posted by Hakaisha at 7:19 PM on April 26, 2012

I have two bikes, my 30-something year old ten-speed that's my commuter and in-town bike, and my newer road bike that's lighter and I ride for longer distances. My commuter has regular platform pedals. It's a heavier bike, with a rack and lights and fenders, and I wouldn't want to go more than 5-10 miles on it, probably.

My road bike is great, and I do have clipless pedals. I really like them. I have a falling down story, in the sense that I have, in fact, fallen down because I didn't unclip in time (also: I'm generally not athletic and pretty uncoordinated), but these are more silly/stupid stories. I didn't hurt myself.

Having said all this: your knee bothering you is a big concern. I see that as a huge red flag. My friends who cycle generally think that hurting knees mean you have a fit problem.

I hear that you really like your bike and don't want to upgrade, but given the amount of riding you are doing, I wonder if you might actually prefer something a bit faster, which is to say, a bit lighter. Road bikes can be comfortable. I fitted mine with new handlebars, and it's more comfortable, really, than my ten-speed commuter. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but do you somehow feel like you'd be faking it if you got a lighter/newer bike? I see all sorts of body types on road bikes--and most everyone I know feels okay about not being the super skinny, huge-quaded guys in the racing kits. My husband and I are quite a few pounds overweight, and we love cycling on our road bikes.

I may be off-base here, but if I'm not: give yourself permission to regard yourself as an avid cyclist and go the bike shop and find out about fit. If you're not sure how to tweak your bike for fit, then go ask for help, and don't worry about apologizing for speed or whatever.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:41 PM on April 26, 2012

I started out riding an old hybrid and had just platform pedals for a while. After a year and a few thousand miles I tried Powergrips and enjoyed them. I'd probably enjoy clipless too, but honestly I am just too lazy to consider putting on the special shoes everytime I wanted to do a ride. Maybe one day I'll try the pedals with dual sides but for now the Powergrips get the job down - I switched them to my newer tour-ish bike I use in the non-winter months and still enjoy them.

For my winter bike, I use great grippy platform pedals similar to these (but cheaper).

They work great for any shoe, boot or whatever but easy to get my foot off and down to the pavement if I slide on some ice. I've ridden that bike in nice weather too so I know they work will with sneakers, sandals, etc. A good investment over the stock platform pedals.
posted by mikepop at 6:40 AM on April 27, 2012

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