Going clipless-less

Chris investigates the myths of clipless pedaling as promulgated by Grant Petersen.

He changes out to flat pedals and rides 41 miles.

Chris enthusiastically encourages me to try flat pedals also. I’ve been riding clipless since I replaced my clips with a set of Looks in 1987. I’m not sure I even remember how to ride with flat pedals.

That’s three pairs of cycling shoes (with cleats) under my desk at work in this photo.

3 pair of bike shoes under my desk

21 Comments

  • Jennifer
    September 16, 2008 - 11:57 am | Permalink

    It's easy. Just like riding a bike.

  • Jennifer
    September 16, 2008 - 6:57 pm | Permalink

    It's easy. Just like riding a bike.

  • Dana
    September 16, 2008 - 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I don't think I could do it now! I went to hop on my bike for a few hundred yards with shoes on top of my look cleats and then wondered how I was really going to pedal by just pushing down. Seems almost unnatural. I decided to walk the bike instead so I never tried it!

  • Dana
    September 16, 2008 - 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I don't think I could do it now! I went to hop on my bike for a few hundred yards with shoes on top of my look cleats and then wondered how I was really going to pedal by just pushing down. Seems almost unnatural. I decided to walk the bike instead so I never tried it!

  • Ron
    September 16, 2008 - 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Howdy, all–

    If anyone's already seen this at the Bike Forum's Living Car Free list, or on the Surly Long Haul Trucker Group, I apologize for the triple post (and the length). I just thought I'd share this, since many people (other than Fritz) seem to be going through some of the pedal angst I've felt over the years. While your results may vary, this is how I've come to feel about the
    topic.

    I believe the much of the gain in efficiency from toe clips or even clipless pedals is illusory. Being connected to the cranks gives a rider a powerful feeling.

    Toe clips might give some benefit across the top of the pedalstroke, but unless you reach down and tighten those straps when you mount up, you can't pull up on the backstroke. You might feel like you're putting some pressure
    against your toes, but how much do you think you can really pull up against a loose strap and a flexible chunk of nylon?

    Clipless pedals are a big improvement. Older riders will remember cyclists frantically fumbling with toe straps they'd forgotten to slack before stopping; they'd tip over with one hand grabbing at a foot. Clipless pedals release easily, and they can theoretically provide power across the bottom of the pedalstroke, as well as on the upstroke. I say theoretically because tests don't bear out cyclists' perception that they're applying power throughout the pedalstroke.

    This is from Edmund R. Burke's "Science of Cycling":
    "When asked, most cyclists' response to a question regarding the direction of force application during the recovery phase is unequivocal. The say they
    definitely pull up." He goes on to write, "In all of our studies of the steady-state riding of the elite 4000m pursuit team and of recreational riders, we only found a few examples of pulling up."

    If people generally aren't getting power out of the backstroke–in fact, Burke even found that some racers were applying small amounts of pressure on the backstroke–then being attached to the pedals provides minimal benefit, mostly through the bottom and top of the pedal stroke.

    I've found that the traction afforded by a sticky set of flat pedals also allows power transfer through these parts of the stroke. BMX and downhill pedals also tend to have large platforms, which offer similar benefits to stiff bike shoes. These qualities make the pedals my top choice for most
    every type of riding, as they allow me to wear shoes that aren't so single-purpose as most bike shoes. Spiky platforms also eliminate concerns about slipping off the pedals (which suggests you have too much weight in the saddle, but that's another issue).

    For what it's worth (sorry, I don't care for acronyms), I rode toe clips from the '70s bike boom well into the mountain bike craze. I've ridden clipless from Time, Shimano and Crank Brothers, with shoes from Sidi, Northwave, Pearl Izumi, and others I've forgotten. I now have platforms on my mountain bikes and my Long Haul Trucker. On the LHT, I'm using the Kona Wah-Wah, which is wide, slim and spiky. The slim part is accomplished by using bushings
    where bearings would be preferable; I'll see how that works out.

    While others may have a different experience, I don't get a significant gain being attached to the pedals–especially off-road or on rough surfaces. In fact, I'd be surprised if I get two percent. Really. And if I'm wrong, I don't really care, because I'm so blissfully happy riding around in
    any old sandals or shoes, free to move my feet about as I please.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg

  • Ron
    September 16, 2008 - 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Howdy, all– If anyone's already seen this at the Bike Forum's Living Car Free list, or on the Surly Long Haul Trucker Group, I apologize for the triple post (and the length). I just thought I'd share this, since many people (other than Fritz) seem to be going through some of the pedal angst I've felt over the years. While your results may vary, this is how I've come to feel about the topic. I believe the much of the gain in efficiency from toe clips or even clipless pedals is illusory. Being connected to the cranks gives a rider a powerful feeling. Toe clips might give some benefit across the top of the pedalstroke, but unless you reach down and tighten those straps when you mount up, you can't pull up on the backstroke. You might feel like you're putting some pressure against your toes, but how much do you think you can really pull up against a loose strap and a flexible chunk of nylon? Clipless pedals are a big improvement. Older riders will remember cyclists frantically fumbling with toe straps they'd forgotten to slack before stopping; they'd tip over with one hand grabbing at a foot. Clipless pedals release easily, and they can theoretically provide power across the bottom of the pedalstroke, as well as on the upstroke. I say theoretically because tests don't bear out cyclists' perception that they're applying power throughout the pedalstroke. This is from Edmund R. Burke's "Science of Cycling": "When asked, most cyclists' response to a question regarding the direction of force application during the recovery phase is unequivocal. The say they definitely pull up." He goes on to write, "In all of our studies of the steady-state riding of the elite 4000m pursuit team and of recreational riders, we only found a few examples of pulling up." If people generally aren't getting power out of the backstroke–in fact, Burke even found that some racers were applying small amounts of pressure on the backstroke–then being attached to the pedals provides minimal benefit, mostly through the bottom and top of the pedal stroke. I've found that the traction afforded by a sticky set of flat pedals also allows power transfer through these parts of the stroke. BMX and downhill pedals also tend to have large platforms, which offer similar benefits to stiff bike shoes. These qualities make the pedals my top choice for most every type of riding, as they allow me to wear shoes that aren't so single-purpose as most bike shoes. Spiky platforms also eliminate concerns about slipping off the pedals (which suggests you have too much weight in the saddle, but that's another issue). For what it's worth (sorry, I don't care for acronyms), I rode toe clips from the '70s bike boom well into the mountain bike craze. I've ridden clipless from Time, Shimano and Crank Brothers, with shoes from Sidi, Northwave, Pearl Izumi, and others I've forgotten. I now have platforms on my mountain bikes and my Long Haul Trucker. On the LHT, I'm using the Kona Wah-Wah, which is wide, slim and spiky. The slim part is accomplished by using bushings where bearings would be preferable; I'll see how that works out. While others may have a different experience, I don't get a significant gain being attached to the pedals–especially off-road or on rough surfaces. In fact, I'd be surprised if I get two percent. Really. And if I'm wrong, I don't really care, because I'm so blissfully happy riding around in any old sandals or shoes, free to move my feet about as I please. Happy Trails, Ron Georg

  • Ron
    September 16, 2008 - 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Howdy, all– If anyone's already seen this at the Bike Forum's Living Car Free list, or on the Surly Long Haul Trucker Group, I apologize for the triple post (and the length). I just thought I'd share this, since many people (other than Fritz) seem to be going through some of the pedal angst I've felt over the years. While your results may vary, this is how I've come to feel about the topic. I believe the much of the gain in efficiency from toe clips or even clipless pedals is illusory. Being connected to the cranks gives a rider a powerful feeling. Toe clips might give some benefit across the top of the pedalstroke, but unless you reach down and tighten those straps when you mount up, you can't pull up on the backstroke. You might feel like you're putting some pressure against your toes, but how much do you think you can really pull up against a loose strap and a flexible chunk of nylon? Clipless pedals are a big improvement. Older riders will remember cyclists frantically fumbling with toe straps they'd forgotten to slack before stopping; they'd tip over with one hand grabbing at a foot. Clipless pedals release easily, and they can theoretically provide power across the bottom of the pedalstroke, as well as on the upstroke. I say theoretically because tests don't bear out cyclists' perception that they're applying power throughout the pedalstroke. This is from Edmund R. Burke's "Science of Cycling": "When asked, most cyclists' response to a question regarding the direction of force application during the recovery phase is unequivocal. The say they definitely pull up." He goes on to write, "In all of our studies of the steady-state riding of the elite 4000m pursuit team and of recreational riders, we only found a few examples of pulling up." If people generally aren't getting power out of the backstroke–in fact, Burke even found that some racers were applying small amounts of pressure on the backstroke–then being attached to the pedals provides minimal benefit, mostly through the bottom and top of the pedal stroke. I've found that the traction afforded by a sticky set of flat pedals also allows power transfer through these parts of the stroke. BMX and downhill pedals also tend to have large platforms, which offer similar benefits to stiff bike shoes. These qualities make the pedals my top choice for most every type of riding, as they allow me to wear shoes that aren't so single-purpose as most bike shoes. Spiky platforms also eliminate concerns about slipping off the pedals (which suggests you have too much weight in the saddle, but that's another issue). For what it's worth (sorry, I don't care for acronyms), I rode toe clips from the '70s bike boom well into the mountain bike craze. I've ridden clipless from Time, Shimano and Crank Brothers, with shoes from Sidi, Northwave, Pearl Izumi, and others I've forgotten. I now have platforms on my mountain bikes and my Long Haul Trucker. On the LHT, I'm using the Kona Wah-Wah, which is wide, slim and spiky. The slim part is accomplished by using bushings where bearings would be preferable; I'll see how that works out. While others may have a different experience, I don't get a significant gain being attached to the pedals–especially off-road or on rough surfaces. In fact, I'd be surprised if I get two percent. Really. And if I'm wrong, I don't really care, because I'm so blissfully happy riding around in any old sandals or shoes, free to move my feet about as I please. Happy Trails, Ron Georg

  • m e l i g r o s a
    September 16, 2008 - 3:38 pm | Permalink

    hot!
    ncie chrome pants, im still waiting for the women/version preferable, to wear under my skirts.
    im in between the sm-med of the men's line. argh.

  • m e l i g r o s a
    September 16, 2008 - 10:38 pm | Permalink

    hot!ncie chrome pants, im still waiting for the women/version preferable, to wear under my skirts. im in between the sm-med of the men's line. argh.

  • m e l i g r o s a
    September 16, 2008 - 10:38 pm | Permalink

    hot!ncie chrome pants, im still waiting for the women/version preferable, to wear under my skirts. im in between the sm-med of the men's line. argh.

  • cafiend
    September 17, 2008 - 9:51 am | Permalink

    4000 meters is not that long a ride. Pursuit is a balls-out proposition in a big gear, in which the bulk of the pedaling probably would fall into the strongest power zone: the front of the pedal stroke.

    Out in the real world I guarantee I pull up as well as push down. I can tell because of how my muscles fatigue. I also consciously shift the effort around the pedal stroke to move the strain.

    I have used slotted cleats on old-school cycling shoes for road riding. I might have gone to step-ins in the 1980s, but I got out of racing. Toeclip pedals let me get some extra power and security out of street shoes and full power with cleats. I do snug them, having mastered the track stand early-on to avoid having to drop the landing gear at stops.

    Toe straps feel like "feet belts" to keep my feet securely on the pedals. But wait: you anti-helmet folks probably think seat belts are BS too.:-P

    At some intersections or on some days I can't do a reliable track stand. That calls for creativity or a quick departure if I can arrange it. For instance, at one spot on my regular route I used to grab a handy street sign to perch. In any case, having both feet on the pedals ready to go got me away from lights way ahead of the motorists (especially the ones pausing to dump their car ashtrays in the street).

  • cafiend
    September 17, 2008 - 4:51 pm | Permalink

    4000 meters is not that long a ride. Pursuit is a balls-out proposition in a big gear, in which the bulk of the pedaling probably would fall into the strongest power zone: the front of the pedal stroke.Out in the real world I guarantee I pull up as well as push down. I can tell because of how my muscles fatigue. I also consciously shift the effort around the pedal stroke to move the strain.I have used slotted cleats on old-school cycling shoes for road riding. I might have gone to step-ins in the 1980s, but I got out of racing. Toeclip pedals let me get some extra power and security out of street shoes and full power with cleats. I do snug them, having mastered the track stand early-on to avoid having to drop the landing gear at stops.Toe straps feel like "feet belts" to keep my feet securely on the pedals. But wait: you anti-helmet folks probably think seat belts are BS too.:-PAt some intersections or on some days I can't do a reliable track stand. That calls for creativity or a quick departure if I can arrange it. For instance, at one spot on my regular route I used to grab a handy street sign to perch. In any case, having both feet on the pedals ready to go got me away from lights way ahead of the motorists (especially the ones pausing to dump their car ashtrays in the street).

  • cafiend
    September 17, 2008 - 4:51 pm | Permalink

    4000 meters is not that long a ride. Pursuit is a balls-out proposition in a big gear, in which the bulk of the pedaling probably would fall into the strongest power zone: the front of the pedal stroke.Out in the real world I guarantee I pull up as well as push down. I can tell because of how my muscles fatigue. I also consciously shift the effort around the pedal stroke to move the strain.I have used slotted cleats on old-school cycling shoes for road riding. I might have gone to step-ins in the 1980s, but I got out of racing. Toeclip pedals let me get some extra power and security out of street shoes and full power with cleats. I do snug them, having mastered the track stand early-on to avoid having to drop the landing gear at stops.Toe straps feel like "feet belts" to keep my feet securely on the pedals. But wait: you anti-helmet folks probably think seat belts are BS too.:-PAt some intersections or on some days I can't do a reliable track stand. That calls for creativity or a quick departure if I can arrange it. For instance, at one spot on my regular route I used to grab a handy street sign to perch. In any case, having both feet on the pedals ready to go got me away from lights way ahead of the motorists (especially the ones pausing to dump their car ashtrays in the street).

  • bikesgonewild
    September 17, 2008 - 10:55 am | Permalink

    …while i have massive respect for grant peterson, he's starting to sound like an ascetic in a cave…

    …soon, wool jerseys won't be enough…it will only be righteous if you sheared the sheep, carded & spun the wool yourself, dyed it w/ juice from berries you picked in the full moon & then proceeded to knit your own jersey…by candlelight, i'm sure…

    …in other words…clipless is here to stay & personally, i guarantee you, i do pull up…in sketchy situations on my cross bike there are times when i'm both pushing down on one pedal & pulling up on the other…

  • bikesgonewild
    September 17, 2008 - 5:55 pm | Permalink

    …while i have massive respect for grant peterson, he's starting to sound like an ascetic in a cave……soon, wool jerseys won't be enough…it will only be righteous if you sheared the sheep, carded & spun the wool yourself, dyed it w/ juice from berries you picked in the full moon & then proceeded to knit your own jersey…by candlelight, i'm sure……in other words…clipless is here to stay & personally, i guarantee you, i do pull up…in sketchy situations on my cross bike there are times when i'm both pushing down on one pedal & pulling up on the other…

  • bikesgonewild
    September 17, 2008 - 5:55 pm | Permalink

    …while i have massive respect for grant peterson, he's starting to sound like an ascetic in a cave……soon, wool jerseys won't be enough…it will only be righteous if you sheared the sheep, carded & spun the wool yourself, dyed it w/ juice from berries you picked in the full moon & then proceeded to knit your own jersey…by candlelight, i'm sure……in other words…clipless is here to stay & personally, i guarantee you, i do pull up…in sketchy situations on my cross bike there are times when i'm both pushing down on one pedal & pulling up on the other…

  • bikesgonewild
    September 17, 2008 - 5:55 pm | Permalink

    …while i have massive respect for grant peterson, he's starting to sound like an ascetic in a cave……soon, wool jerseys won't be enough…it will only be righteous if you sheared the sheep, carded & spun the wool yourself, dyed it w/ juice from berries you picked in the full moon & then proceeded to knit your own jersey…by candlelight, i'm sure……in other words…clipless is here to stay & personally, i guarantee you, i do pull up…in sketchy situations on my cross bike there are times when i'm both pushing down on one pedal & pulling up on the other…

  • Suzanne
    September 18, 2008 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading the comments section of this post, esp. by bikesgonewild. For city commuting/riding clipless is the best for balance and handling. For short and slower neighborhood rides, I prefer platforms so that I can wear cute(r) shoes when I enter businesses and meet friends. Thats why I have the flip-flop pedals. The best of neither and both worlds. Ta-dah.

  • Suzanne
    September 18, 2008 - 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading the comments section of this post, esp. by bikesgonewild. For city commuting/riding clipless is the best for balance and handling. For short and slower neighborhood rides, I prefer platforms so that I can wear cute(r) shoes when I enter businesses and meet friends. Thats why I have the flip-flop pedals. The best of neither and both worlds. Ta-dah.

  • Suzanne
    September 18, 2008 - 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading the comments section of this post, esp. by bikesgonewild. For city commuting/riding clipless is the best for balance and handling. For short and slower neighborhood rides, I prefer platforms so that I can wear cute(r) shoes when I enter businesses and meet friends. Thats why I have the flip-flop pedals. The best of neither and both worlds. Ta-dah.

  • Suzanne
    September 18, 2008 - 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading the comments section of this post, esp. by bikesgonewild. For city commuting/riding clipless is the best for balance and handling. For short and slower neighborhood rides, I prefer platforms so that I can wear cute(r) shoes when I enter businesses and meet friends. Thats why I have the flip-flop pedals. The best of neither and both worlds. Ta-dah.

  • Leave a Reply