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Clipless and never going back: first clipped in mountain bike report.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

Bike on a Trail - August 31, 2011.

Bike on a Trail - August 31, 2011.

Sunday morning I hit the trails for the very first time using clipless pedals. Today I want to talk about how that went and give some of my thoughts on going clipless.

Before I go any further, I should define “clipless” because that term is rather misleading to people who are not familiar with it. When using so-called “clipless” pedals, the rider is, in fact, physically clipped to the bike. The word “clipless” came about to differentiate the modern style of clip pedals from the older style of toe clip pedals. Today’s “clipless” pedal uses cleats attached to the bottom of special cycling shoes to allow the rider to attach to the pedals, while the older method uses cages and bindings that physically clip around the rider’s feet. Of course there are also traditional “platform” pedals (no clips or bindings), which are what most people familiar with.

Left to Right: Platform Pedals, Toe Clips, Clipless Pedals

Left to Right: Platform Pedals, Toe Clips, Clipless Pedals


My new shoe/clipless pedal setup consists of the Pearl iZUMi X-Alp Enduro II mountain bike shoes and the Shimano PD-M647 clipless mountain bike pedals.

I’d spent some time practicing clipping and unclipping on Saturday, and I also did some riding around the neighborhood and in my garage. When I got to the trailhead on Sunday I was excited but, admittedly, a little nervous. Being physically attached to the bike has many benefits (which I’ll discuss below), but until unclipping becomes second nature the risk of falling (bike still attached) is high.

Any trepidation I was feeling evaporated after the first mile or two. In fact, I felt more secure and in control of the bike than I’d ever felt before. Not too far into the trail there is an area that has about a 40 foot stretch of numerous very large roots. As I was approaching this section of trail I thought about unclipping, but instead I decided to commit and went for it. As I tore across the roots I was shocked by how safe–yes, safe–I felt. The reason why is simple: normally when I’m riding over roots or rocks my feet are bouncing all around, and sometimes even come off the pedals; this time my feet were literally stuck to the pedals and it felt amazing! I can’t describe how much more confident my riding was simply because I knew my feet were not going anywhere.

So that’s one huge advantage to going clipless. How about another? Power! You see, when you ride with platform pedals you can only generate power on the downstroke, while with clipless pedals you can also generate power on the upstroke. The trick is to get used to allowing your feet to pull up on the pedals, and that can be difficult when first switching from platform pedals to clipless pedals. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve done about a billion miles on my indoor recumbent bike (which has toe clips) or what, but it didn’t take me long at all to get used to allowing my hamstrings to work on the upstroke. After a couple of miles I was truly spinning, and the sensation was pretty spectacular. Every time I looked down at my Cateye bike computer my speed was several miles per hour faster than I’ve ever gone before on this trail.

Now I knew I was moving fast, but what happened next really surprised me. I always stop at the same place to replenish with a package Sport Beans. The reason I always stop at this place is because on my old bike (Trek 4300 Disc / platform pedals) it took me right at 45 minutes to reach it, and that’s about the perfect time to replace lost electrolytes. Well, this time when I got to my rest area I looked down and saw that I’d reached it in just 33 minutes! I couldn’t believe it. I need to point out that my time improvement is not due entirely to the clipless pedals, but also because my new bike (the Trek Fuel EX 8 ) has a full suspension and is about 5-6 pounds lighter than my old bike. The combination of the reduced weight, full suspension and clipless pedal setup resulted in a power increase that I never anticipated.

Except when I stopped for a break I never unclipped from the pedals during the entire 21.2 mile ride. I never fell, and I never had so much fun.

So, if you ride and you have resisted going clipless I strongly urge you to reconsider. I regret waiting as long as I did (I can hear the chorus of “I told you so!”) and, after just one mountain bike ride, I’m so sold on clipless that I can 100% guarantee I’ll never ride platform again.

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