For those of you new to the sport of mountain biking, seeing other people ride around with their funky looking shoes clipped in to their odd-shaped pedals may look A) weird or B) like a death wish! Actually, there are a number of very good reasons to use these special shoes and pedals… which is why almost everybody who’s serious about riding singletrack does.

What are the benefits to using clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals were originally developed primarily to increase pedaling efficiency in order to help riders go faster. With a standard set of flat pedals, you are only able to put power into your drivetrain on each downstroke of the pedals. But when your feet are clipped in, you’re able to provide constant power with both legs by utilizing the upstroke as well.

Of course it’s not physically possible to generate as much power on the upstroke as on the down, but being able to add power to the system constantly does make you a significantly more efficient machine. As an added bonus, this constant power (as compared to the surges of power that come from just mashing the pedals) helps you to maintain better traction on loose, steep climbs.

While all of these things are very true, none of them are my personal favorite reason for using a clipless system. For me, the advantage of being “locked” into my bike made me fall in love with clipless pedals. When you’re clipped in, your feet will never slip off of the pedals, even when the going gets rough! I’ve met hardcore downhillers who claim that if you’ve got the right pair of flat pedals and shoes, your feet will be as rock solid as if you were riding clipless. Maybe that’s true – but the downhill skier in me doubts that even a pair of DH flats can beat the feeling of being mechanically connected to your bike.

Not only do clipless pedals increase your efficiency and keep your feet from slipping off, but they offer increased control as well. It is much easier to put “body English” on the bike when you’re be in a sticky technical situation, easier to jump your bike and control it in the air, easier to ratchet the pedals and provide partial strokes when needed, and clipless pedals force you to try harder to stay upright because you don’t want to constantly be clipping in and out.

When should I switch over to clipless pedals?

The simple fact that you’re reading this article is a good indicator that you should try a pair of clipless pedals. You’re obviously interested enough in mountain biking that you are spending time researching it on the internet.If this isn’t just a passing fling for you, not just a sport that you’re going to participate in every once in a while, I’d recommend going clipless.

Sure, go ahead and learn the basic skills with flat pedals. They offer lesscommitmentto technical moves, and not having to buy specific shoes or another pair of pedals is definitely cheaper. But once you’ve been riding for several months and are getting out on the singletrack at least a couple of times every week, it’s time to get serious and take advantage of all the benefits I’ve detailed above.

It’s time to take the plunge and buy some clipless pedals!

Coming Soon: What gear you need to buy, and how to use it once you’ve bought it.

Your Turn: If you’re an experienced rider, do you have any points you’d like to add on the benefits of clipless pedals?

# Comments

  • trek7k

    One of the things that’s often confusing to beginners (and just annoying to me) is that clipless pedals are named for what they’re NOT rather than what they ARE.

    Pedal clips are actually those adjustable band things that go around the top of your shoe’s toe box (also called toe clips). Nevermind the fact that clipless pedals also clip your shoe to the pedal. Maybe we can start calling clipless pedals “sole clips” or “pedal locks” – anyone have any better suggestions?

  • dgaddis

    Good article. I’m with you on clipless, main reason I switched was because I was having problems with my feet sliding around on the pedals in the rough stuff. Extra power was just a bonus.

    Eventually you get so used to them it’s automatic, clipping in and out just happens, you don’t think about it. It’s like breathing.

    I’ve ridden happily without gears and without suspension. But I’ll never go back to flat pedals.

  • RJen

    Sooner or later while riding with flat pedals, one foot will slip off and your other foot wile drive that loose pedal into your shin – OUCH.

  • njhaley

    For beginners, I’d suggest a pedal you’re able to adjust – like most Shimano mtb pedals. I started with a pair of Crank Bros that were not adjustable, and crashed just about every time I peaked on a hill. Almost made me question the clipless decision, until I swapped them out for a pair of Shimano pedals.

  • seenvic

    Clipless pedals are more important to me than front or rear suspension.

    If I went somewhere w/o my bike and got to ride for a day or so and had 2 bikes to choose from….I’d take the fully rigid bike with clipless pedals over the F/S or hardtail without clipless pedals.

    If the later was my only choice, I’d choose not to ride at all and just ride when I got home.

  • seamusoskinner

    I just started riding last fall and was unsure about how I would like the clipless pedals. I hedged a bit and bought the Shimano PD-M324 which I would classify as a “hybrid” as it has a platform large enough to be ridden comfortably with regular clipless shoes.

    I absolutely LOVE being clipped into the bike and cannot imagine riding with the old top clips or nothing. I would recommend clipless pedals to anybody that is considering it.

    I do agree with Trek7k that the term clipless is confusing. I thought it was only me. 13 below zero today…can’t wait for some warmer weather.

  • neuraxon77

    I’ve been using well worn SPD M5s for about 7 years now and I’m constantly surprised at how locked-in and robust they are while still being able to twist and rock my feet without ever accidentally releasing them.

    Originally my bike had Wellgo clipless that were much less release friendly, flexible or robust, and I eventually mashed them against rocks and bent the shaft destroying the bearings. I’m glad I destroyed them! With the SPD M5s I’ve never looked back. They may not be the lightest pedal but they work for me.

    As a beginner with the hard to release Wellgo’s, riding my new bike home from the bike shop I twice forgot I was wearing them and keeled over when stationary. However, it soon became second nature to twist and with my SPDs, wear-in and proper adjustment I can now rip my feet out now in the worst case of emergencies.

    I rode flats the other day and really noticed just how much I’ve come to rely on my clipless for stability and that extra the up-stoke gives on steep ascents when everything else aches.
    My only complaint is in my shoes, in that I sound like a horse on concrete because of the lack of rubber designed into either side of the cleat. At first I was embarrassed of the noise and concerned I’d wear the cleats down so I made rubber covers, but I soon lost those and just became accustomed to the click-clack.

    The Shimano shoes I have are so comfy on the bike, and the solid plastic under the ball of the foot really makes for a nice stiff platform for power transfer. However for walking I often have to tighten the velcro strap because of additional movement because of the stiff plastic under the ball, but otherwise I love them and I’ll never go back to flats.

  • maddslacker

    Second that on the Wellgo pedals. I had a pair and they were awful for clipping in and out of. I also had a pair of Shimano M-324’s and those were much smoother.

    Now I run eggbeaters and will never go back to SPD.

  • element22

    Funny thing is that I was a big time clipless user. However riding FR / DH bikes and even agressive trail where I am doing alot of skinnies or elevated things I found myself using flat pedals more and more. There is just no delay when figuring you have to bail…

  • dgaddis

    Yeah, for free ride, where you may have to truly bail off the bike, ditch it completely and jump off and away….can’t do that with clipless.

  • oldspoke

    How about “clip in” pedals? Not that catchey I guess though. To me they are one of the best things you do to increase your performance on a mtn bike. Clipping out just takes a little practice to train yourself to do it right. I ride with Candies and I just had to learn to twist my foot to the side instead of pulling up. Don’t even think about it any more. Just be careful doing wheelies unless you are pretty skilled at them. You will end up flat on your back!

  • XCTolen

    I totally 2nd NJHaley that beginners should DEFINITELY get adjustable clipless pedals. About a year and a half ago, I finally made the switch and opted for the more expensive crank bros candy’s thinking the concept of having more clip-in points would be easier. NOT SO. Definitely more important to get clipped out than in!! I got so frustrated not getting clipped out and taking some awful spills that I cursed them and went back to flats for another year. Still, I kept thinking about it and read that if you find yourself thinking about it a lot – its time. So I bought some adjustable Shimano 520’s for about 1/2 what I paid for the Crank Bros. and now I’ll NEVER go back! I used to regularly shred my shins to the point I thought I would always have scars. Now its not a problem and in fact it has really taken my skills and confidence (at first it nose-dived) to a new height and I rarely fall or even dab the most technical of trails now. When people told me that ultimately it’s safer, I always thought “BS” – NO, they’re RIGHT!
    However, if you’re relatively new to mtn. biking, I’d recommend learning your skills on flats first. Also, don’t think that you can’t be a “serious mtn. biker” unless you’re riding clipless. I couldn’t help feeling self conscious when I was riding flats and seeing most everyone else riding clipless. It does have great benefits but may not be for everyone. Ultimately, do what you feel comfortable with and have fun – that’s what its really about. You’ll know when or if its right for you!

  • Goo

    Great responses guys, I’ve enjoyed reading all of them! Ya’ll have contributed some great nuggets of information that I didn’t touch on!

    @trek7k, I was thinking about mentioning it in the main article, but then scratched it because it didn’t really seem to flow with the rest of it. Thanks for adding that!

    @dgaddis, glad I’m not the only one the sees the power factor as secondary!

    As for everyone else emphasizing the importance of clipless, I totally agree. At Sea Otter last year I tested out a number of different bikes, but I always made sure to put on my own pedals that I was comfortable with. In fact, many of the vendors didn’t even have pedals on their bikes because they just assumed people would bring your own.

    On the same note, many bikes are sold nowadays sans pedals because everyone is pretty particular about which they use… and generally for good reason!

    Keep the comments coming, I’m enjoying these insights!

  • Johneblz

    Like Goo had mentioned my bike came sans pedals. Not knowing what the transition would be like i quickly decided to go with the Shimano M324 pedals due to the “hybrid” makeup after they were recommended by my LBS. Clipping in and out became second nature rather quickly aside from some falls due to losing momentum and I have recently purchased the M520 as I am tired of looking for the clip side which always seemed to be facing down. When clipped in the power and stabilty seemed to be unmatched. Cant wait for the weather to break to break them in.

  • dgaddis

    One more point to add…everyone I know that has tried 2 different brands/styles of clipless pedals has like the 2nd set better. Every person, doesn’t matter what two brands they tried.

  • trek7k

    @ dgaddis – interesting observation. It seems like several riders who commented report being uncomfortable with Crankbrothers pedals because they’re “too tight.” In my experience, CB pedals are too loose – but maybe that’s because I didn’t try them first. 🙂

    I think my first set was one of the Shimanos and I rode with them for years. The tension was adjustable and so I made them as loose as possible when I was starting out which seemed to help.

  • RidingPastor

    MY road bike (Scott S40 Speedster) came without pedals and I put SPD mtn pedals on it. My first experience with clip in pedals. I was nervous about mountain biking clipped in. Once I saw the power difference on the road I was willing to try them on the trail. I then was given Richey pedals for my old mountain bike. I transferred the Richey’s to my new mountain bike. They were well loved and super easy to adjust too. It is amazing how second nature it is to click in and out in emergencies on the trail. I would be interesting in trying eggbeaters some day.

  • edl419

    I made the jump to clipless pedals last summer. I wasn’t sure if I’d like them and didnt want spend a lot of money so I just got a pair of adjustable SPD style from nashbar for $25. The shoes i got have a cleat cover in case i didnt like the pedals.After installing the pedals and practicing clipping in and out in my yard I went for a ride around town. I could feel that my pedaling was a LOT more efficient especially climbing hills. And my feet didn’t slide around on the pedals either (which is nice for wet or muddy riding). The next day I went to the local singletrack to try them out. It wasn’t good, I fell over a few times but mostly because I didn’t have the confidence to keep my momentum up to get over obstacles like rocks or logs, but, after a few times riding and getting used to turning my foot to unclip i slowly got the hang of it. (I got sick of wiping out too!) But now I would definitely recommend clipless pedals to anybody thats serious about biking. this summer I want to upgrade my cheap pedals to something a little better and maybe a new pair of shoes. Any suggestions?

  • Goo

    I’m currently riding a pair of Ritchey pedals and loving them! Got them for cheap on close out on Jenson USA, and they have been performing admirably. The model I have is super bare-bones and sheds mud so much better than my old Shimano SPDs.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    Wow! I’m new to MTB’s and to clipless. After 2 outings on single track with my SPD pedals, the second on bad MUD, what feels like my more rational better angels tell me to give it up and put the rat traps back on. 🙁 But then I think of the way it feels when I lift on the up stroke(and I want to be like the Cool Kids.) Maybe I just need more expensive stuff. LOL

  • Narcosis

    I encourage everyone to do your research on the physics of pedaling, particularly muscle use in the pedal stroke. Read two articles on flats vs clipless. This guy is pro flat but recognizes there is a place for clipless.

    If you can’t stay on a flat pedal, then you a) need to buy some Five Tens b) buy some pedals with aggressive pins for the Five Tens to stick to c) learn how to ride over rough terrain without using a crutch, aka clipless pedal, before switching to clipless.

    • 702Markk

      I agree. Do diligent research on both options before making a decision. Don’t just let others tell you what you need.

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