Riding clipped in may make you faster but can make for tricky moments at traffic lights, as well as being harder to walk in. We looked at flat pedals versus clipless pedals to find out what is best for urban commuters.
Clipless, rather confusingly, refers to cleat and pedal combinations that allow you to ‘clip-in’ to the pedals in a similar way a ski boot clips into a binding. Invented by French ski binding specialists back in 1983, the modern clipless pedals did away with old fashioned clips and straps. Instead of leaning down from the saddle to release a toe strap, a quick flick of the ankle is enough to disengage pedal and shoe. Quicker to engage and release, and safer in crashes, they were quickly adopted by the pro peloton.
Whilst there are now multiple designs, the principle remains the same across all brands. A cleat on the sole of your shoe presses into the pedal mechanism to hold it securely in place until you twist your heel outward to unclip.
Being clipped into your pedals connects you directly to your bike, increasing your control of your bike. When you are clipped in your feet aren’t skating around all over the pedals, and it can stop those hideously painful smacks to the shin when your crank spin round. Most importantly though, is the transference of power from your legs directly into propelling you forwards. Less wasted energy equals faster cycling. It’s not, as is often assumed, because you are able to pull up on the pedals but because less energy is wasted controlling your foot’s position.
Everyone’s first fear when switching to clipless pedals is being able to get in and out of them. You pull up to a stop, forget you are clipped in and before you can get your foot out you have keeled over sideways and are lying on the floor, still clipped in, with all the grace of an upside-down beetle! Nearly everyone will have one of those super embarrassing sideways falls when they first start out, we all did!
You don’t see many pro-racers riding flats or clips, but commuting is a different story altogether. Stop/start riding is easier on flats (unless you have mastered the track stand) and when you get to your destination you can stroll straight from your bike to the meeting room.
British cycling coach and regular cycle commuter Richard Eastham says, “There is probably a limit. Anything up to 20-30 minutes should be possible on a city bike in ‘normal’ clothes and flat pedals. After that go the full works – Lycra, jacket/jersey, shorts/tights and road shoes. Taking another pair of shoes with you (or leaving a pair in the office) is a faff but riding clipless means the rest of your outfit needs to swap too. Shirt, tie and jacket with clipless pedals? No!”
Joking aside, it’s not just a fashion choice, if we are riding far, or fast, we choose clipless. The benefit of riding clipless outweighs the faff. For shorter, slower, less sweaty journeys we prefer to stick with the ease of flat pedals and civvies over Lycra.
How far is your commute and what pedals do you use?
Clips or flat pedals
- Easy to get your feet off the pedals
- Can wear any shoes – even your best dress shoes
- Easy to walk around
- Connected to your bike for better control
- Less wasted energy
- Faster for less effort