Clipless pedals clip in?
October 23, 2007 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Clipless pedals, biking shoes ... how do I make sense of it all? On a budget?

I have been getting into biking, and the toy-nerd in me wants to buy cool new gear, while my cheap side is trying to keep down the costs. I have a road bike.

One thing I am fairly sure I want is clipless pedals and bike shoes to go with them. I think Shimano's M520 are a popular model that seems reasonably priced; they are MTB cleats but want the cleats to be recessed in the shoes so I could walk around in them when I need to. Does the hive-mind have an opinion, and furthermore, does anyone know if they include the cool 'cleat platforms' which are plastic thingees that clip into the cleat and make it usable with normal shoes?

Then, there is the issue of bike shoes. What are the big things I should look for in a budget shoe?

Is there a good resource where all this bike gear stuff is explained? What about a website which has reasonable prices and decent info/reviews (the newegg of bikes)? It seems that there are lots of random things I would like to procure (bike shorts, etc), but all the stores have vastly different selections and often, the prices seem exagerated, so I would like to find somewhere I could trust.

posted by bsdfish to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure I got my clipless pedals and MTB cleats (for the reason you describe-recessed cleat) for under $100 or so. It felt economical. As far as getting cheapo gear, don't hold your breath. Bike shit is spendy. What I did was hop back and forth between the 4 bike shops in my the area and get stuff when it went on super sale (especially out of season). Talking to the people in the shops is how I got good recommendations. Take everything with a grain of salt since bike shop dudes can be pretty douchey. You have to find a shop you trust. Or ask caddis (using mefi mail!) since he seems to have good answers in every bike thread on AskMe.
posted by sneakin at 6:31 PM on October 23, 2007

First of all, cleats for road bikes that aren't tough to walk in are non-existent at best, and using mountain bike cleats for a road bike is sub-optimal. The reason I say this is because a road bike's cleats tend to be much tighter (unclip is far harder) than mountain bikes.

Really -- if your serious about road biking get a pair of road biking shoes, that's what they're meant for. You'll still be walking on metal with mountain biking shoes anyway.

If this is a 'tooling around the town' type of bike you may want to look into the dual-use pedals

Btw, one of my favorite magazines is Performance
posted by WetherMan at 6:42 PM on October 23, 2007

Unless you're going to be a semi-pro racer during the lifetime of these shoes, MTB shoes are fine. Super easy to clip in and out and fine to walk on. You can be "serious" about road biking and still be simply a recreational cyclist. Don't believe the hype.
posted by sneakin at 6:46 PM on October 23, 2007

I have been extremely happy with the Speedplay X5 model, which sell for about $115. Speedplay also sells a clip-on platform for these pedals so that you don't have to have shoes. I bought these and they work fine, although I hardly use them anymore (the platform clip ons, not the pedals).

The cleats are about as easy to walk around in as any other road cleat, which is to say you don't want to run a marathon in them. I've never had a problem stopping in a convenience store or walking around a bike shop. When I put on my road shoes I'm riding my bike, not walking around. If you plan to do a lot of walking (if you're using this bike in a utilitarian fashion rather than pure road riding), then absolute performance probably isn't the highest priority for you, and you might be better suited with touring shoes.

These will use an MTB cleat/pedal and will be relatively easy to walk in, but they'll be more flexible, and thus not as efficient.

As for road shoes, I would buy the absolutely most comfortable shoe you can afford. I skimped on my first pair of road shoes and regretted it. When your toes go numb four hours into a ride you're not going to appreciate all the money you saved.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:54 PM on October 23, 2007

If you want to walk in the shoes you want mountain bike pedals, which you can put on both road and mountain bikes. The road pedals are better for road cycling, but if you are not putting on too many miles (twenty or less per ride) you won't notice the difference that much. One advantage of road pedals is a wide platform which helps support you foot and reduce overuse stresses. I like the Time ATAC series of pedals as they have a pretty large platform for a mountain bike pedal and they are very, very reliable. My only caveat is that unlike some pedals where pushing down while clicking out works fine, on these you want to lift.

As for shoes, you want the same thing as in any good shoe, proper arch support and a good fit. The other features are for breathability, convenience etc. A stiffer shoe is a better shoe in biking. They suck for walking but the stiffness aids in efficiency and reduces stress while riding. A mountain bike shoe has a recess into which the cleat fits and that is what makes them walkable, sort of. I would buy my first pair at a bike shop with a good selection, and you may want to try several shops to get one that feels good. It isn't quite as difficult as finding ski boots that fit, but it is something like that. Once you find the right one you can buy replacements mail order for less, although shoes tend to last a long time unless you do a lot of walking in them. So I can not really recommend brands etc. as fit and meeting your specific needs mean that what works for one person can be hell for another. MTBReviews has some more info.
posted by caddis at 6:57 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have enough float in your clips to keep your knees happy. MTB shoes tend to make it a bit easier to walk around in the clips. I bought Bebop clips on Ebay because they have total float and are minimalist and cheaper than Speedplay frogs. I am knock kneed, somewhat.
posted by mecran01 at 7:01 PM on October 23, 2007

Besides the thingies which clip into the cleats and allow normal shoes (years ago, a company named Winwood Instep made 'em--I don't know if they're even still in business, though), there are also clipless pedals which allow non-cleated shoes. They're usually marketed either toward tourist/casual riders or toward dual slalom/downhill mountain bikers.
posted by box at 7:18 PM on October 23, 2007

I've been perfectly happy riding my road bike with mountain bike shoes (even on long rides over the 100 mile mark). Sure, they are slightly less efficient, but I find the reduced stiffness makes them more comfortable.

My experience has been that MEC has better prices than local bike shops for bike stuff like shorts, shoes, etc. (they don't sell much in the way of parts), though if you are in the USA, the recent exchange rate changes might make this untrue for you.
posted by ssg at 7:40 PM on October 23, 2007

Yes, even if you're riding a road bike, I'd recommend sticking with MTB-type pedals, like Shimano's SPD style. I ride a lot, I use SPDs, and the joy I get from being able to walk, say, into a porta-potty without slipping on the plastic floor is worth whatever supposed loss of efficiency there is versus look-style road pedals. And I'm not even sure there is one. Anyway, maybe this is obvious but for a starter set of shoes and pedals I'd look for combo deals on a Shimano brand set-up on either Nashbar, Performance, or Shimano has worked for me, and I have a big, wide foot, but keep in mind you also may want to try other brands out. For that, I guess you'd have to rely on a local bike shop - in which case, it'd probably be the decent thing to buy from them.
posted by chinston at 7:41 PM on October 23, 2007

In bike shoes, look for fit first and price second. I made the mistake of buying clearance bike shoes that were a half size too big. Any ride longer than 20 miles results in numbness, which can't be good.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 7:45 PM on October 23, 2007

Powergrips. Cheap, versatile, comfortable, use with almost any shoe, all you need if you're not racing.
posted by normy at 7:49 PM on October 23, 2007

Roadbike Review has reviews of many kinds of pedals and shoes. ditto on the fit first/price 2nd advice. Crank Brothers makes cleats/pedals that work on both mountain bikes and road bikes. The Quattro cleat is pretty easy to walk in (road shoes only), and the Candy pedal (road or Mtn) is economical and flat enough to use comfortably with regular shoes. You could even get sandals that work with SPD cleats. Many touring cyclists love them.
the biggest online bike shops are Performance and Bike nashbar (same parent company). Also Excel sports, Colorado Cyclist, and others. Finally, consider the opinions of the cycling guru, Sheldon Brown.
posted by pgoes at 8:05 PM on October 23, 2007

Yes, even if you're riding a road bike, I'd recommend sticking with MTB-type pedals, like Shimano's SPD style. I ride a lot, I use SPDs, and the joy I get from being able to walk, say, into a porta-potty without slipping on the plastic floor is worth whatever supposed loss of efficiency there is versus look-style road pedals. And I'm not even sure there is one.

Really, the differences are real if you are riding hard or long. For the OP, MTB shoes probably make sense, but once you get serious the road shoes and pedals blow them away. The shoes are stiffer, the base is wider, the grip is more sure under huge accelerations, and you can lean over further in a turn. I have put mountain pedals on my road bike for winter riding and it is always such a joy when they get replaced by the road pedals in the Spring. If you are not riding hard or long and will be riding around town, stopping in stores, socializing off the bike etc. then MTB shoes are the way to go. If you are on the bike for a workout, not getting off, except perhaps a quick rest, then go with road shoes. Yeah, they suck to walk in, and the best ones, Look, suck the most, but you will be happier while pedaling.
posted by caddis at 8:32 PM on October 23, 2007

I will second normy and hades above there. Powergrips are everything you want but cheaper, lighter and completely maintenance free. I have them on all my bikes.

I cannot stand clip ins.

And I've gone on forty mile epics with my Powergrips without any trouble at all, aside from being really, really tired afterwards.
posted by fenriq at 8:59 PM on October 23, 2007

If you just can't do without cleats and looking for a comfortable but very supportive road shoe that's quite walkable and doesn't look like a clown shoe, I've done many miles in a pair of Specialized Sonomas with a bog-standard pair of M520s and can't really fault them.

Around town and commuting, Powergrips is the way. Longer rides (centuries/audax/randonees), the Sonoma's work great.

My experience is almost the opposite to caddis. Road shoes are a lot of aggro for no gain unless you're looking to shave a second or two off a time-trial or road-race. If you're wondering whether you need them, you don't. It's the kind of kit to buy only when you know for sure you need it. As for clearance when leaning in turns, that's got almost nothing to do with shoes and pedals and everything to do with the bike's bottom bracket height and crank length. Most adult cyclists who aren't racing criteriums never get anywhere near grounding a pedal on road. Leave the un-recessed cleats to the serious racers, unless you're a serious racer.
posted by normy at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2007

Really, the differences are real if you are riding hard or long. For the OP, MTB shoes probably make sense, but once you get serious the road shoes and pedals blow them away. The shoes are stiffer, the base is wider, the grip is more sure under huge accelerations, and you can lean over further in a turn.

My experience tends to mirror caddis's here. I started out with cheap SPDs. Didn't like much about them - the shoe/pedal interface was wobbly, had side-to-side play, and the release angle was very small. SPDs also had spring-recentered float where the pedal pushes your feet into a specific angle. Tended to irritate my knees. I also unclipped from my cleats while climbing a steep hill and nearly lost control of the bike. The combination of a tiny platform, lugged mountain bike shoes, and double sided pedals also made it difficult to clip in consistently - I would be stomping down on the pedal for half a block while trying to stay out of traffic.

Then I bit the bullet, dropped the cash, and bought Speedplay X2s. They have tons of non-centered float and the release angle is large enough so that I only unclip when I want to. When I want to clip in, there's no mountain bike lugs to get in the way. With single sided pedals (the Speedplays are not), clipping in is actually even easier because the unclipped pedal is always oriented in the same way.

I worried about having to walk around in bike shoes too but I am mostly a recreational rider. The most walking I will do on a bike ride is to the bathroom. I do know that if I put my cleat into mud, clipping in will become a herculean task.

And as stated multiple times already, the fit of bike shoes is probably more important than the pedals. If it makes you feel any better, you can't really wear out bike shoes. I've had the same pair for several years and over 10,000 miles - much longer than the bikes they were ridden with.
posted by meowzilla at 10:15 PM on October 23, 2007

On thing of note, as with regular shoes, cycling shoe manufacturers have widely varying fit across the same size. There are some rumored consistencies like Sidi run narrow, Northwave run wide, etc but then you'll find an equal number of people saying the opposite. The lesson here is to make sure you try on the brand and model if possible before you buy. LBS prices tend to be higher than internet outlets but having to send back shoes that don't fit is a huge drag.

That said, some internet sites have shoe/pedal combo deals... Blue Sky or Price Point come to mind.

As for road v. mtb pedals, just go with mountain bike pedals and shoes. If you decide to stick with cycling and want to upgrade later they work great for winter riding or you can sell them on ebay, people are always looking for used gear.
posted by asterisk at 11:43 PM on October 23, 2007

Another vote for mtb shoes. If I get my mileage up and start doing longer rides, maybe I'll look into road shoes, but for now, I'm perfectly happy with the mtb shoes.
Comfort and good fit are important. Go LBS-hopping and try lots of shoes on to get a sense of how they feel.
posted by bassjump at 6:54 AM on October 24, 2007

1. It's entirely possible to get road shoes and put mountain SPD cleats on them. They're always drilled for them. FWIW, if you ever go to spin classes at a gym, the stationary bikes will probably have mountain SPD flip-flop pedals. My own pedals are the obscure but elegant Bebops.

2. For shoes, you want a damn good snug fit and a stiff sole. Hot-foot is a common problem in cycling, and good fit will minimize it. For years, the only shoes I ever wore were Sidis, and I still recommend them. But I found a super-duper discount on some high end Nikes (!) that were marked down from $200 to $70, and gave them a try. They've got a carbon-fiber sole, which is super-stiff, and which I really like. Now is probably a good time to look out for end-of-season closeouts and buy something that would otherwise be above your price range.

3. I would not buy shoes mail order unless the store has a Zappos-like return policy.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on October 24, 2007

I'm a non-racer road rider and I have double-sided Shimano SPD pedals (PD-540) and Pearl Izumi mountain shoes. The shoes are comfy and walkable. The combo has worked for me from stop and start commuting up to a century.

The pedals were about $50 new off eBay and the shoes around $70 from Performance. I considered it money well spent.
posted by turbodog at 12:52 PM on October 24, 2007

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