A Beginner’s Review of Going Clipless

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    • #100379

      The "clipless debate" (clipless vs flats) is long and multifaceted, with good points on all sides as to which is best. Let me say first that I don’t know which is best, but what I hope to do here is provide other beginners with some insight from my first day clipping in.

      So, what kind of beginner am I? I started MTBing in May with an entry level 29er from Marin. I’m 23 years old, in decent shape, and am not completely unfamiliar to bikes (I raced BMX when I was 12). Still, I’m new to the sport. My pedals are the Shimano M520’s, and I ride XC.

      I had two main reasons for going clipless: I got tired of my feet slipping off the pedals when I hit some gnarly stuff, especially going uphill, and I wanted an "upstroke" to help me climb faster. I assumed this could be solved by going clipless, so I took the plunge.


      The first thing I noticed is that clipping out was far easier than I thought it would be. Every time I wanted out I was able to get out. That’s not to say you might find a situation where it won’t work, but I rode a really flat 2 mile "greenway" before the singletrack, clipping in and out in several different pedal positions to get used to it. It was so simple.

      Secondly, acceleration improved greatly as I began to "spin" and not push. I was able to accelerate in higher gears than normal. This included going uphill. There is a certain efficiency gained when you’re strapped to the pedals. I felt so in control; I was able to be dynamic with my pedaling to avoid getting my pedal clipped by high boulders or get half strokes in when cleaning roots. I felt so connected. It felt good.

      Thirdly, I didn’t come off the pedals once, which actually made me feel safer (no more nut busters, no fear of a slipped pedal and cracked shin). I made sure to go hard and hit some of the rough patches I would previously slip on to test them out. Wow! What an improvement. I’ve heard the same can be said for getting a good, high texture flat pedal and some soft bottom shoes, so I have no imput there. But I was stuck like glue.

      The last thing I discovered by accident… literally. I took a turn too fast and ran my right ride into a tree, which sent me spilling onto my left. When I made impact with the ground my feet came loose anyway. I was certain the bike and I would be a mangled ball of aluminum and flesh, but I came loose from it. This gives me reasurrance that the big crashes (I considered this one pretty big… I mean, I hit a tree) wont be exacerbated by being clipped in. What I’ve heard is that MORE small spills are created from being clipped in (i.e. foolin around in the parking lot, forget your clipped in and topple over) rather than WORSE crashes.


      I had to spend about 160 to figure all this out. Admittedly, I did buy everything new, so you could be much more frugal than I was. However, as with most improvements, there’s usually some sort of cost involved. I wish all newbs could find this stuff out for free. I don’t know if the LBS’ demo clipless pedals.

      Clipping in didn’t go so smoothe. I’m not yet trained enough to step on it and go. Sometimes it took me a few strokes to get in, which could be a problem on hills. I’m sure this just takes time to learn.


      I had a great first experience with clipless and highly recommend it to those who were in the same boat. I was told that the best thing to improve on your bike is the rider. Although the pedals are indeed part of the bike, I feel this falls into that category. I am now more efficient on my bike. I also recognize my enthusiasm for these is highly based on the type of riding I do. As an XC rider, I love the climbs and need to be very efficient. So, if I was a downhiller or freerider, per se, I don’t know how I’d feel about being clipped in, especially if I wanted to do stunts. I think the flat/soft soul shoe would be sufficient enough to keep me on the pedals, and thus keep me fast and safe.

      I hope this helps any newbs like me in their decision to go clipless or not. The only way to know if you’ll like it or not is to try it out, and that is an idea everyone on here can truly endorse (or so I hope 😀).

      Kentucky Roush 😎

    • #100380

      Thanks for your experiences on going clipless. I just started mountain biking this year (I’ll be 65 next month) after trying it once late last year on a fairly easy trail. It was just enough to make me want to do more. Bought the bike plus related equipment and took a series of 6 lessons. So now my total experience on trails is 7 times. I have only used my clipless (sort of dual purpose) pedals on paved trails and I am reluctant to try on ‘real’ trails since I have crashed in some shape or form every time I’ve been out on single track. I’m not sure if clipless would make it worse, although your experience with the tree makes it seem that you’re not going to be totalled by being attached to the bike. I guess it’s best to just do it.

    • #100381

      Crashing sucks, but I’m a little worried to fully endorse (at least at this point) that the clipless pedals wont EVER cause a worse crash. My postulate was based off a small sample size. So, if you’re eating it pretty hard every time you hit the singletrack, I don’t know… I might stay out of the clips. Especially if i only wanted them to stay on the pedals better, I would go flats with soft shoes like the downhill dudes. But if you really need that upstroke, as of right now I’m of the opinion that you’ll pop off the pedals pretty easily in a crash.

    • #100382

      over the last several years i’ve introduced a lot of coworkers to mt biking and when it comes to pedals and the inevitable transition to clipless i always give the same advice, stick with "flats" until you get to the point where you don’t expect to crash everytime you hit the trail. after you’ve been out a couple times without eating dirt then start looking to move to clipless. sure it might seem pricey but realistically there is nothing that will increase your efficiency more out on the trail than clipless pedals. in other words you will probably get more "bang for your buck" buying clipless then you ever will from any other upgrade you could make. yes the transition sucks and can be painful but in the end you’ll be glad you did it. think of it like pulling off a band-aid, better to just get it over with!

    • #100383

      As a newcomer to mountain bikes I asked a few more experienced riders about this topic. Most experienced riders suggested I try them. My background was BMX and some freestyle a lonnnng long time ago, typical Vans were the shoes of the day. I was used to "beartrap" pedals and was nervous about the whole clipless move. When we bought my bike we purchased a bottom of the line entry level pedal, the Shimano PD-M520L, and a pair of RL mountain shoes. I fell over a few times in the yard just trying to get used to them, my family thought that part was great. After riding trails with the clipless I won’t ride without them. I have more control than ever, no pedal slips, really feel married to the bike, no bouncing off in downhills, yada yada. My point is after a short time period I’ve learned to come out of the pedals even in mid turn or when I slip on a root and need to get a foot down for a moment. After 4 months there isn’t any other way to me. I’m glad those friends got me to try it.

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