There comes a point in a cyclist’s life when they decide to make the move from platform pedals to a system that connects them more with the bicycle. This is sort of a “Zen-like” experience of being one with the bike. This attachment is however more mechanical than metaphysical.
When it comes to being more attached to your pedals, there are two basic choices – clipless pedals and toe straps. The latter, the toe straps, have been around for years and while remaining essentially the same, there has been some development and innovation. Recently Power Grips offer a system that does not lock you in as much as even toe straps. This system is of a band, than a shoe cage. As such, these are a good alternative that wasn’t around when I first went with the straps.
But back to the history lesson. The ‘strap’ system has the advantage of allowing you to ride with just abut any type of shoe, but the disadvantage of locking you in when you are looking to achieve the most efficient pedal cadence and thus limiting the rotation in the pedal.
This system is perfectly fine, but I personally did find it problematic when mountain biking. On a road bike it is rare that you are involved in an accident, but small spills are actually fairly common on a mountain bike. In contrast it can be quite dangerous to be locked into your pedals and “wreck” on a mountain bike. Even in a small spill the bike is more likely to hit you or your knees, which can be injured by the bike flying one way and you going to other way. After a few of these wrecks, which I was able to actually walk away from, I chose to move to clipless pedals since they offer the release mechanism just like ski bindings.
Moving to clipless pedals not only involves purchasing the pedals, but also requires the purchase of shoes that can accept cleats. Most systems out there now use a two or four-bolt system so make sure you know what is required by the pedals you choose before buying your shoes.
There are quite a few clipless pedal options on the market and as a result the choices can be quite daunting. Most of them operate the same basic way. You step down on the pedal to clip in and rotate your heel outward to unclip. The choices really involve the following – cleat rotation/float, pedal weight, the choice number of entries, can the pedals be ‘serviced’ & mud clearance.
Cleat rotation or ‘float’ is the degree of movement that your foot can rotate before unclipping. This can be especially important of you have knee problems & require more movement for your knee while riding. The degree of float varies from 0º-20º with 6º being the most common. For most riders 6º of float is fine, but if you have a history of knee problems it is best to speak to your doctor to see if the recommend more or less float.
The materials used in the construction and amount of material will determine the pedal weight. Most pedal spindles are constructed of chromoly, which offers the greatest strength, but weighs the most. Other choices are stainless steel and titanium. Titanium is typically the lightest choice, but will probably have a rider weight limit for example 200lbs. for the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 11s. Titanium also tends to cost a bit more, which is something to keep in mind. You can have light and expensive or cheap and heavy. This is another trade off to consider.
Dual-sided pedals are the norm for mountain bikes & single-sided are most common for road bikes. There are four-sided entry systems out there, most notably the Egg Beaters from Crank Brothers; and there are clipless/platform pedal options out there, like the Shimano PD-M324, for those that want the best of both worlds. This pedal is a good one for those learning the ropes with the usual clipping in and out. It is flat like a tradition pedal on one side, but features the Shimano SPD system on the other side.
The biggest benefit to the PD-M324 is that it is ideal for commuting as it can be used with normal shoes as well as cycling shoes. The only downside is the added weight, as it isn’t a small pedal.
Even if a pedal is advertised as mud shedding like the Shimano XT M770, it is more than likely that you will find a way to collect enough mud in your cleat to interfere with the pedal entry. Look for a pedal that has less places for mud to become impacted & the likelihood of not being able to ‘clip-in’ will be reduced. Spraying oil, like Triflow, on your cleats and pedals can aid in shedding mud and easy of entry/release from the pedals.
Being able to ‘service’ the pedals means that you will more than likely have the pedals for a longer period of time before you need to replace them. Most pedals can be taken apart so that the bearings and bushings can be greased, but some pedals, like the Speedplay Frogs, include a grease port so that the pedals do not have to be disassembled to be greased.
There is no ‘best’ clipless pedal out there so a little research will be required on your part. One factor to consider is that most pedal systems are incompatible with one another, and the higher end models aren’t exactly cheap. Still, pedals are an easy part to change out on a bike. They are also a part that many riders are quite passionate about, so keep that in mind when asking for advice from your fellow riders.
But with the right pedal system, whether it be toe clips, Power Grips or clipless pedals the important part is to get with the spin.