I put the question to a mate of mine recently, why do you ride clipless, and he stared blankly at me for some time. I assured him it wasn’t a trick question. But of course it was. Why would I ask if I wasn’t already prepared to contradict his answer?
There a loads of reasons for riding clipless and not all of them are complete rubbish . Just most of them. Let’s run through a couple.
1. Reduces Weight
Yeah maybe. Depends really, doesn’t it. On what pedal you’ve got. If you were to compare a commuter pedal like Shimano PD-M545 against a fairly standard commuter flatty like Fyxation Mesa or the Nukeproof plastic jobbies then the clipless pedal is several hundred grammes heavier. If you compared it against a top end roadie pedal like the Dura Ace then you’re saving yourself a hundred grammes by going clipless.
Is anyone actually putting Dura Ace pedals on their fixie or commuter special?
And does 100 grammes matter either way? Chances are your bike weighs about 10kg, you’re probably a big unit yourself, and you’ve got 10kg worth of crap in your bag. We’ll round it out and say your riding weight is 100kg including bike and gear. In other words, 100 grammes is 0.1% of your total weight.
Hardly seems worth the trouble.
2. Greater Comfort
Definite advantages here for some cyclists. A proper cycling shoe is shaped for cycling and has a nice solid base to pedal from. Get the right shoe and you’re good to go. Unless of course you suffer from all the usual knee problems associated with being cleated in. If that’s you, invest in some bike fit voodoo. Or get some flatties already.
My question to you is, are you a cyclist or a commuter? I just returned from a 20km commute in dress shoes and my organic cotton natural dye raw denim jeans (read: the incident I’m referring to was two days ago and I wore those jeans I bought for $10 three years ago). I was perfectly comfortable. Which begs the question, how far are you going that you require special shoes and stuff?
Short commutes don’t need special shoes, special clothes or a special reason. Put on your normal shoes and ride down to the pub. Nothing special. Same goes for riding to work. You don’t need special shoes, Zipp wheels and a post-ride rub down if you’re not doing proper riding. Some proper cyclists I know won’t bother riding to work if it’s just 10km. Too short. Thankfully, I’m not a proper cyclist. I’ll happily knock over 10 km for beer, movies, work, Pho, a surf or because I was bored and it was nice outside. And for that I don’t need to change shoes.
3. Makes You Look More Cyclingy
Bingo! Now we’re getting to the crux of the matter. What better way to let everyone know you’re a cyclist than by looking all cyclingy and stuff when you arrive. Shirt with a little zip down the front, appropriately labeled and logoed shorts, and some shoes that scream to the world, I cycle.
But do you really? If you’ve just knocked over a 10km commute to work then you’re not really cycling. You’re commuting. You know, like what Dutch people do in suits and dresses. Why then play dress-ups and pretend to be all Tour de Francey if what you’re doing is so unremarkable that about ten billion Chinese did it until recently? Until they got money enough for cars and now they have this instead:
I bet they’re all clipped in.
We love to be recognized as cyclists. It’s why we wear Apres Velo shirts.
We have bike tattoos.
Carefully curated cycling cap collections designed to match our fastidious maintained moustaches:
And I wear my Five Tens everywhere. Oh yeah, I tell myself it’s because they’re so damned comfortable. Or because I’m wearing them in. But really it’s because it makes me feel so very cyclingy. Even when I’ve driven to the market for veges, the right kind of person will know my Five Tens make me a cyclist. A proper hard core one at that. If I wasn’t buying carrots I’d totally be ripping off a road gap. Or, you know, watching someone else do it on You Tube.
4. More Efficient
I remember the first time I strapped myself into some pedals. I was like a recreational drug user getting crack cocaine for the first time. The speed was amazing. I could pull away from lights so fast people needed special cameras to decipher what this strange blur was. (Read: After the initial fumble to get my feet in and do up the straps I pulled away quite smartly.)
That was in my youth. Sadly, clipped or not, I’m now moving off the mark at a pace that’ll soon need time-lapse to determine movement. I’m riding more on bike paths and shared paths. I am, in short, more like most other cyclists and commuters.
Clips can help you accelerate. No doubt about that. Being able to pull in those first few seconds is the reason why downhill and 4X mountain bikers use them even though many would probably prefer to ride on flats otherwise. Of course, the man below just came 2nd in a World Cup enduro on flat pedals. So go figure.
Problem with this assumption about clips, is they aren’t more efficient for normal cycling. There is plenty of data to tell us that we don’t pull-up when we’re cycling. The muscles that are useful for cycling are the pushing down muscles. It’s because evolution hasn’t seen much need for pulling up of legs. There’s mostly been a need for pushing down. The big muscles push down. We’ve evolved to push.
We’re also not very good at switching between pulling up and pushing down and testing has proven time and again that what we’re actually doing is pushing against ourselves. When the left leg is pushing down the right leg is pushing against it. This notion of pulling up is interfering with cycling in nice round circles. Don’t try and pull.
My friend Dan Dwyer has a PhD student doing research into this and he assures me that the best elite cyclists can make efficient use of clipless pedals. Now, I know you’re thinking to yourself, yes that’s me. I’m elite. That’s human nature. It’s why some shithead skinny pimpled moron in a Commodore can imagine he’s Lowndesy. If you’re thinking you’re elite, or that your pedalling style is elite, then apply this simple test. Ask yourself, who is paying me to ride? Where are my free bikes? Where do I find the team espresso machine? That’s right, it’s in the team bus that doesn’t exist.
The lads at GCN did there own one-man test. Not scientific but makes for interesting watching.
5 You Don’t Realize There Are Alternatives
You want to be comfortable right? But after 10 kms those skater sneakers and bear-cage pedals make it feel like you’re riding bare foot on the pedal shank? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. First up, get some decent flats.
Yeah, okay, it’s the same picture from before. You don’t expect me to upload a new image just for you do you? Flats are on the right.
Next, get some decent shoes. With stiff soles. You can check out cycle shoes from Shimano, Chrome, Five Ten etc. Or you can just get some shoes. You know, the shoes we had before we invented a thousand technologies to take place of the very simple act of making shoes. A standard shoe with stitched sole is a great shoe to pedal on. So are Doc Martins. And Tevas. And tonnes of other shoes. In general, just make sure the sole is a bit stiffer than those crappy sneakers.
Why You Shouldn’t Put Clipless On Your Bike
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, those are five very convincing arguments he’s just rainsed for riding clipless. But what about the the contra arguments. Well…
There are some other great reasons to ditch the clips. First up, they’re a pain in the neck. Having clipless pedals on your bike means you can’t even jump on it to go down the shops for milk and ciggies. Sure you can get those double-sided pedals. They’re an awkward compromise though aren’t they? Or you can make short trips on clips in normal shoes. Really short. Or you can get pedal adapters. Or you could just ditch the stupid pedals and get some flats.
I might catch you. This is sad but true. At best an ordinary cyclist, I’m surprised by how often I catch cyclists turned out in full cycling regalia riding bikes that cost enough to personally fund a Kickstarter campaign to overcome the limitations of clipless pedals. When I ride up on a single speed dressed in jeans and shoes, it has to be a baffling moment for the other cyclist. (In the same way I’m often baffled when real cyclists glide past me so quickly I can only guess they’re motor-doping. Surely?) These guys don’t pulled turns either. At least I’m slow enough for them to draft. The guy on a Kona Unit who passes us both like we’re standing still isn’t letting anyone jump on back.
Lastly, you want to ditch the clips because you’re making cycling look hard. You’re raising the bar of entry into what should be a very easy and amenable way to get around town. I know you want all the kudos for having braved the mean streets. And perhaps you are a bit of a cycle warrior. I certainly thought I was in my youth. But does it matter? Get a neck tattoo or something. People already shudder in fear when I ride off without a helmet (for my 1km trip home along bike paths), like I’m bound to get killed one day. When we make out that cycling needs special clothing and footwear we are raising barriers against other people joining us. So if you’re one of those people who like to clip-clop into the office or cafe in your clipless shoes because it makes you look special, then stop it, because you’re not doing anyone any favours.