Your guide to clipless cycling shoes

What are clipless shoes?

Clipless shoes – the kind that clip right into your pedals – take a bit of getting used to but they offer a lot of benefits. They help you make the most efficient use of your power so less goes to waste. Their stiff soles help ensure the energy you’re creating with your legs transfers directly into powering your bike. You’re also able to use your entire pedal stroke, including the upstroke, because you’re attached to your pedals. Once you’re clipped in, you have more control over your bike and your feet remain in an optimal position on your pedals. This way you can enjoy your ride or focus on training hard without needing to readjust your feet every few pedal strokes.

Is there a difference between clip-in and clipless shoes?

Nope! These two terms – clipless and clip-in – refer to the same kind of shoe, one that uses a cleat attached to the sole to clip into your pedals. Clip-in shoes are also called clipless shoes simply because they don’t require the use of toe clips – the cages you’ll sometimes see attached to flat pedals.

How do clipless cycling shoes work?

It’s important to know how cycling shoes and pedals work together, or you might find yourself purchasing the wrong parts. There are three main components to any clipless system: the sole, the cleat and the pedal. The soles of clipless shoes have a specific pattern of holes that accept specific cleats – typically 2-bolt or 3-bolt cleats. Clip-in pedals are designed to be compatible with one of these specific patterns. It’s important to make sure all your parts have the same pattern – 2-bolt or 3-bolt – or they won’t be able to work together.

Types of cleats and pedals

Most clipless shoes and pedals are configured with either 2-bolt or 3-bolt fastening systems that use hex bolts to connect your shoes to your pedals. Remember, your shoes, cleats and pedals all have to use the same system with the same pattern of holes.

2-bolt system

This system is also commonly known as SPD, which stands for Shimano Pedalling Dynamics. 2-bolt shoes have recessed cleats that make it easier to walk around and use off-road, and the cleats are made of metal so they tend to last a long time. When someone says 'mountain bike cleats' they’re probably referring to 2-bolt cleats. You also have the option to purchase double-sided 2-bolt pedals which makes clipping in even easier. 2-bolt systems are used for everything from commuting, to mountain biking, touring, gravel riding and cyclocross.

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3-bolt system

3-bolt road shoes have exposed cleats that make them more difficult to walk in, and the cleats are made of plastic so they require more frequent replacements. But the wide platform of the cleat provides better power transfer and improved pressure distribution across the sole of your foot for less hot spots. 3-bolt systems are mostly used for road riding and racing.

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Tips for getting started with your clipless set-up

Learning how to use clipless cycling shoes and pedals takes practice, and it’s normal to be a bit nervous about it. Most people are worried they will have an embarrassing fall. But, if you ask around, everyone who uses them has a story about falling over – even the pros. Most falls happen when you’re going slowly, usually at a stop sign. Here are some ways you can set yourself up for success and start enjoying the benefits of a clipless set-up with as few tip-overs as possible. And when you do fall, just remember that there’s no need to feel embarrassed – it happens to all of us!

• Have the bike shop salesperson show you how to use your shoes and pedals on a stationary bike in the shop.
• Practise clipping in and out in a field or park so if you fall, it’ll be on soft grass.
• Unclip before you come to a stop – just keep your foot resting on the pedal. This reduces the chance you’ll be unable to twist out as balancing becomes more difficult as you slow down.
• Remember to twist! With most clipless shoe and pedal set-ups, you can’t just pull straight up and off as you would with a platform pedal.
• Don’t worry if you have trouble clipping in once you start riding again. Get up to a speed at which you can balance well, then coast and clip in your non-clipped foot.

How to adjust how difficult it is to twist out of my pedals?

Float is the amount of side-to-side foot movement your cleats provide when you’re clipped into your clipless pedals. Having a small amount of float is generally considered to be good. It helps cut back on potential knee injuries by allowing your foot to move naturally through your pedal stroke as opposed to being locked in one position. This can make up for minor misalignments of your cleats and pedals.

Float is measured in degrees and manufacturers will often colour code their cleats according to the amount of float they provide. Float is most commonly found in road shoe cleats, but some mountain bike cleats offer it too. Most riders prefer somewhere between 4 and 9 degrees of float, but some prefer to ride fixed – with zero degrees of float and no side to side movement – as it allows for a bit more power transfer.

How do I adjust how difficult it is to twist out of my pedals?

Pedal tension is what makes it easier or harder to clip in or out of your pedals. You can adjust the tension using special screws typically found on the underside of the pedal. Lower tension is very helpful when you’re new to clip-in pedals, as it makes it easier for you to twist your foot out. However, too little tension will allow your feet to come off your pedals accidentally, which negates the benefits of using a clipless set-up.

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