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Modern “clipless” pedals have been around since about 1990. The name is an unfortunate and dated misnomer. Before their introductions racers and performance riders used “toe clips” or cages that fit over the front part of the foot. What we refer to as “clipless” do not have the old-fashioned toe clips, but instead engage with a cleat on the bottom of the shoe that clips into the pedal. They fall into two general categories commonly known as “road” and “mountain”. Mountain shoes have the cleat recessed into a pocket on the sole of the shoe and are much more practical for walking when off the bike. Many road riders use mountain pedals.
There are many reasons to use clipless pedals. They will increase your power, efficiency, control, comfort, and safety.
Power and efficiency are the most noticeable benefits. The cleat keeps your foot at the optimum position on the pedal making your foot and efficent lever. You can pull up, pull back as well as push down on the pedals. The system of shoe, cleat and pedal is lighter than in the toe clip era. Being attached to the pedals will reduce or eliminate any bouncing and will enable you to spin at a higher cadence, which equals higher speed in the same gear. The stiff sole in the shoe does not bend with your pedaling effort. When riding in a shoe designed for walking or running you are constantly bending the shoe. Some of your effort never reaches the machine.
Stiff-soled cycling shoes will reduce or eliminate hot spots on your foot. You do not feel the pedal poking through your shoe. While they are not the best shoes for walking, they are more comfortable for riding. They are designed to support the feet at the correct places for riding. Keep in mind that a cycling shoe is rotating weight; lighter is better.
Safety and control are real benefits to this system that are often overlooked in this discussion. Your foot will not accidentally slide off the pedal when you hit a bump. When you are firmly attached to the bike at the pedals you can use more “body English” to control and move the bike. This is most obvious in technical riding, but in normal, more sedate riding you will do similar things in a more subtle way. With experience you will be better able to control the bike when an emergency situation pops up.
When you enter the pedals you will hear a click. There is no doubt that you are connected to your pedals. There is variance between systems but many are easy to get in and very easy to get out. Compared to a toe clip and strap system they are much easier. It is a new skill to learn and practice, but once mastered it is easy and unconscious.
On a personal note, they have improved my cycling enjoyment and efficiency greatly. I have been riding regularly since the mid 70’s. Everything in the cycling world has improved since then: frames, wheels, brakes, shifting, and more. Clipless pedals and shoes make the biggest difference to me of all those changes!
So, go ahead clip in to clipless!