Dear Cyclist Waiting At The Junction… Yes, you – and no doubt you at numerous points along any given ride, be it on a commute or a bunch paceline – do yourself, and all other road users, a favour…
Before I go on, let me just remind and reiterate fact that I am a cyclist too, and that this is, ultimately, a cycling-based blog. All the more reason for you to heed this advice:
Learn to clip-in to your clipless pedals WITHOUT LOOKING. Please, for the love of all things cycling, do it. NOW.
Cycling is, we are repeatedly told, ‘the new golf’ – I get that. I also get that this means there’s a lot of new cyclists (or ‘recent enthusiasts’ is perhaps a better way to put it, given that many of us became ‘cyclists’ as young kids). Not only do I get that, but I even like that fact. The cringe-worthy offset of this though is the fact that many cyclists have bypassed the very basics that make up the difference between a ‘cyclist’ and an ‘experienced cyclist’. For one thing specifically, that most ‘experienced cyclists’ can clip-in by feel.
Why do I care about this? For this simple reason: I have lost count lately of how many near misses I have seen – both from cyclists nearly crashing into other cyclists, and from cars, vans and lorries almost rear-ending cyclists. The cause of these near misses being cyclists who have just set off from a junction with one foot clipped in, and are far too busy looking down and trying to flick their other pedal around with their unclipped foot to realise they’re wandering all over the road – all the while risking mayhem in a bunch ride, and risking their own life amongst other road users. I even saw one chap almost come to a complete standstill to ensure his clip-in was a resounding success… It’s only a matter of time before one of those ‘near misses’ escalates to me witnessing something nasty, and I dread to think how many times it has already been the underlying cause of a cyclist being in an accident.
I first rode clipless pedals on a mountain bike. Often the very nature of mountain biking is such that you either need to clip-in in a hurry, or you need to learn to manage your pedalling such that you can apply power without risk of the dreaded ‘saddle-to-nether-regions’ impact that results from a slipped foot. You learn to mange it, and often in doing so will end up clipping-in ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ (by which I mean by simply riding your shoe and pedal interfaces find each other naturally and you clip in). Learn what you need to do when setting off to get your road pedals the right way up and you’ll often find that exactly this happens.
It’s easy enough to do. Get used to the motion which results in you setting off and being able to place your foot on the pedal the right way up. This is usually a very simple case of bringing your foot towards the pedal from ‘behind’ the pedal, such that the toe of your shoe flattens the pedal out ready for clipping in and pedalling as you set off. This is actually the exact reason that your pedal hangs the way it does – it is hanging such that the motion of your foot results in the engagement of the front of your cleat which, in turn, engages the rest of your cleat to the pedal. It is what you might call a ‘natural’ clip-in. And if you don’t get it right first time, carry on pedalling gently to prevent slipping, get some momentum and try again when you’re up to speed and not causing a road block or putting your life on the line.
You don’t need to flatten the pedal to clip in. You don’t need to aim the toe of your foot into the front of the pedal to clip in. You just need to pedal to clip in. I don’t want to teach anyone to suck eggs, but I still ride with folk now who consider themselves ‘good riders’, and even they can’t get this right.
When my wife started riding more seriously she was using toe clips. The nature of those being that you can set off, get moving and then decide to flick the pedal around to slot your foot in. Perfect, right? So why not take the same approach with your clipless pedals? It does work. When I convinced her to switch to clipless pedals she started with a spare set of mine – a set of Look Keos. She got the hang of it using the same approach as her toe clips, but on returning to the bike after some time off for an operation she lost her confidence. This was when I switched her to Speedplay pedals. She found herself getting used to them really quickly, and being dual-sided she quickly learnt that all she needed to go was to find roughly the right spot on the bottom of her shoe – by feel – and start pedalling. More often that not she clipped in without really trying to. I’m not saying that you ‘need’ Speedplays to do this, but dual-sided pedals can certainly help (although I cannot condone MTB pedals on a road bike – it’s just not right!).
So please, learn. Stop staring at your foot creating a road block and get used to what you have to do to clip in without looking – or at the very least, learn to apply power to an unclipped foot without risk of slipping such that you can look at your foot to clip in further down the road. It’s such a simple thing, and you’ll thank me for it once you’ve got it right.