I have a stupid question:
“Why do they call them clipless pedals when you are ‘clipping’ your shoe into your pedal?” I once asked of my very knowledgeable co-worker. It seemed like something I should have known inherently from working in a bike shop, but I was too intimidated to ask the “stupid” question. I will gladly take the hit to my pride if it means that it clears up confusion, even just marginally. The answer comes in the form of a question.
“What are you thinking the clip refers to?”
I was under the impression that it was referring to the noise that a clipless pedal makes when you, well, clip in. It is indeed the source of some confusion amongst the younger generation that didn’t grow up in the time of toe-clips or cages. The term stems from the toe-clip pedals that you would slide your foot into and strap down to get less foot movement and thus more efficiency. We recently had a young professional mountain bike rider come through our office and we asked him if he used clips or flats, and even this pro, immersed in cycling culture, was slightly confused.
I am here to help bolster your confidence when it comes to the sometimes scary clipless pedal game. Jerald, one of my co-workers, wrote a very helpful article about clipping in and out. His article outlines many tips for starting down the clipless road, as well as providing education regarding the body mechanics behind clipping in. Because I am the kind of person that likes to learn through observation, as a beginner I keenly watched other cyclists and how they approached stops and starts, along with their general ease while riding when using clipless pedals. A lesson gleaned from this is that even though I have years of experience “clipping” in and out, I still unclip early when coming to a stop in a particularly scary intersection, just to be sure.
Let me be the first to say that you are not alone in your fear of falling over. Even though I have been in the clipless pedal scene for quite some time now, I still remember the first time I fell over. It was several months after I considered myself proficient in clipping in. Jerald mentions in his article that balance has a huge impact on the success of your clipping in. There couldn’t be more truth to his statement. There I was sitting in my driveway with one shoe attached to my pedal, when I shifted my weight slightly, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground looking up at the concerned faces of my colleagues. Even though I still have a residual fear of untimely tipping, the efficiency, smooth stroke, and added control of my bike from being clipped-in far outweigh the now infinitesimal chance of falling over.
When I first started riding my bike for fitness, I rode a fixed gear bike (single gear bike with no capabilities of coasting) and platform pedals. I was cresting the first hill of the ride and was more than happy to start a descent because the climb was brutal. My legs were tired and my feet were jumping off the pedals uncontrollably. After that day it was a pretty easy decision for me to go clipless. Even though the advantages of riding clipless pedals are undeniable, and I encourage everyone to stick it out and develop proficiency on clipless pedals, you should do what’s comfortable for you. Many mountain bikers use flat pedals because they appreciate the ability to use foot positioning to influence bike control. These include pros at the top of their field who are still able to put out some very large power outputs safely. Ultimately, ladies, it is about what makes you comfortable on a bike and if that means flat pedals, do it.
One thing that really helped me when I was becoming more accustomed to riding with clipless pedals was spending time on a grassy field. I rode around on the grass clipping in and out to gain muscle memory for that specific movement. Falling down is disconcerting and precisely what you do not want to do, but if you want to learn in a slightly less threatening way, the grass is a nice safe place to test the skills.
From what I understand while talking to women approaching the task of clipping in, the thing that holds them back is fear; fear of falling down, fear of not being able to get out, fear of feeling stupid. I guarantee I have done all of these things and I have survived all of these things, you will probably fall again and you will probably feel stupid again, but the joyful feeling of accomplishment and competency will make it all worth it when you get that first seamless clip in at a stop light. My mom, who is sometimes crippled by fear, clips into her bike. She was scared for a long time, but she picked it up in no time. I have every confidence that if she can do it, you can too!
I will leave you with this.
“Failure is only a temporary change in direction to set you straight for your next success.”