How to Use Clipless Pedals for Beginners

Founder, Mr. Mamil

You’ve been riding your new bike for a while and feel more at ease. Your rides are getting longer, and you’ve seen people with cycling-specific shoes and pedals. You’re intrigued.

You may be asking yourself if it’s time to make the switch. It’s fun to get a new bit of kit, but do they make a difference, or are they just for show?

The fact is that going clipless improves pedaling efficiency and power and increases your overall performance. There is a learning curve, but I’m here to help with that.

Here are eight tips on how to use clipless pedals for beginners.

You’ll fall

Let’s just get this one out in the open right away. 

If you are new to using clipless pedals, especially in the first days or weeks of use, you will probably fall at least once.

Think of it as a necessary step in the learning curve. The advantages of clipless pedals outweigh any growing pains you may have to assume. 

Think of it as the next step of being a cyclist.

More reading : How to Prevent Crashes in Group Rides

Get a proper cleat fitting

Your feet are fixed on the same pedal position with clipless pedals.

Having the cleat correctly installed and aligned is essential for your comfort, pedaling efficiency, and preventing injuries. What feels OK at home or riding around the neighborhood may not be great for longer rides.

DIY cleat fitting at home is possible, but it’s easier to set them up with an experienced professional to avoid any problems. 

Our knees can be a weak link for a lot of us. Do yourself a favor and invest in getting a proper bike fit. It’ll make the transition a whole lot easier.

Practice on soft ground

Practicing in the house is one thing, but the reality is the best teacher. 

Head outside and find a patch of soft grass or ground, hold onto something stable like a tree with one hand, and place the other hand on your handlebars. If possible, keep the brake engaged to avoid rocking as you practice, or slide your hand close to the stem for better balance. 

Clip-in by engaging the toe-side portion of the cleat and then putting pressure on your heel until you hear a click. Turn your ankle out (or in) to release. 

Try riding in a circle on the grass, repeating the process as you turn.

More reading : How to Avoid the Common Beginner Cyclists' Mistakes

Anticipate your stops

You’ve begun to get a feel of your clipless pedals and are ready to hit the road. Getting started is one thing, and rolling on the flats is easy, but when there’s an intersection or a red light ahead, you begin to get nervous.

Relax, everything will be fine. 

Until you have more confidence, anticipate your stops by releasing the cleat well before you may need to. That way, you’re quickly ready to put a foot down if necessary.

Get moving before clipping in

The opposite of anticipating your stops, practice getting the bike moving before you clip back in. 

An excellent way to do this is to place your clipped-in foot at the 10 o’clock position at the stop. Pushing off from this angle will give you the most leverage for good take-off on flat ground.

Once you get going, clip in the opposite leg and start pedaling like normal. If you’re not gaining enough speed, try to pedal several more revolutions and try to clip in again.

Loosen the pedal tension

Clipless pedals have a tension screw that allows you to adjust the amount of force it takes to release your foot from the pedal with a turn of your ankle. 

Some may require a screwdriver, others an Allen key. Follow the + and – signs to adjust accordingly.

Clipless pedals are designed to release in all directions, meaning that your feet should come off the pedal if you fall. Be aware that if you loosen them too much, your feet may come loose when you don’t expect it.

Try them out before heading out on a longer ride to avoid unnecessary frustration.

More reading : How to Remove Bicycle Pedals

Minimize walking with the cleats

Cycling shoes have a rigid sole to help you transfer the most power into your pedal stroke. Their rigidity is one of the reasons you may feel like you’re walking like a duck when you first put them on.

It’s the lack of flexion under the forefoot that is responsible, but without it, you’ll get used to moving around in them soon enough.

New cleats aren’t cheap, and wearing your cycling shoes around like your Sunday’s best will wear them out more quickly. Inspect your cleats from time to time and check their wear marks to ensure proper cleat and pedal function.

Some brands such as Wahoo (formerly Speedplay) and LOOK sell heavy-duty rubber covers that fit over your cleats to protect them when you’re walking. 

Most cyclists put a habitual foot down when they have to stop, so one cleat will usually wear faster than the other. It just depends on which side is your dominant one.

Practice, practice, and practice

While these tips and tricks will help you get acquainted with your new pedals and cleats, nothing can replace a good old experience. The time-old adage holds; practice makes perfect.

You’ll get used to the feeling of clipping in and out just by getting out and enjoying your time on the bicycle.

Some brands make changing the cleat a snap by leaving a small marker on the bottom of your shoe. The new cleat fits right over the marker, finding the exact location of its predecessor. 

If your brand doesn’t have this feature, get a Sharpie pen or other type of marker and trace out its shape on the bottom of your shoe before you replace it.

Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.