Why Use Clipless Pedals?

It's not unusual to gear up with new equipment before a Backroads trip; we all know how wonderful it feels to don a fresh pair of bike shorts with a brand new shammy. There are some things, however, that should be broken in before embarking on an active travel adventure. For example: clipless bike pedals and shoes.

In general, I fully support people who want to make the leap from flat pedals to clipless ("clipless" signifies the pedals you clip bike shoes into). Clipping in makes us more efficient climbing hills, which comes in handy a time or two on a Backroads trip. But when a guest hands a leader an un-opened box of brand new bike pedals to try for the first time on trip, we can't help but have flashbacks of when we first clipped in. I have to admit, I was a late-bloomer in getting my own bike pedals. A week before my leader training with Backroads, I headed to my local bike shop and was introduced to a stunning pair of Shimano multi-purpose mountain bike pedals. My anxiety was eased knowing I could simply flip the pedal over and ride on the flat side.

These pedals also gave me flexibility--I could hop on the bike no matter what shoe apparel I had on. Shoes: check. Pedals: check. Confidence: we'll see. Send me to training!

I was extremely cautious all through training, and used my pedals sparingly (and successfully). I was too intimidated by the idea of exposing myself as an inexperienced rider to my new leader friends and the veteran mentors. When I graduated from training, my confidence swelled and I started using my bike pedals every day to ride to our warehouse for work. I seemed to be a real natural! That is, until I found the Achilles' heel of clipped-in riding: hill starts.

One frosty, February morning, I was well-bundled on my bike heading to the warehouse. I was cruising in the bike lane alongside rush-hour traffic, sure that all the drivers were admiring my agility and strength, when my flow was interrupted by a stoplight. No big deal: I unclipped, put my foot down and flexed my standing leg so everyone could see how ripped my calves were becoming. The stoplight had the unfortunate location halfway up a hill. I begrudged the theft of my momentum, and mentally prepared to restart with all my strength. The light turned green, I pushed down on my pedal as hard as I could, and tried to get going. I pushed hard enough to clip my shoe into the pedal, but not with enough strength to propel myself up the hill. I was off-balance and at a standstill, caught between trying to push myself onward and attempting to unclip my shoe. I felt helpless as I toppled in slow motion to the ground. Luckily I was in the bike lane and didn't end up under the wheel of a car. Unluckily, all the drivers had a wonderful view of me lying on the ground, both feet still clipped in. I felt like a fish on land, flopping around to free myself. I caught a glance of the driver closest to me; he was laughing his head off. My embarrassment numbed any physical pain I might have incurred, and I remember laughing out loud as I squirmed on the ground. Oh to be one of the onlookers instead of the main act! Needless to say, I eventually did unclip my feet. My cuts from the fall healed, as did my pride, but I learned a valuable lesson. Better to give these things--clipless pedals--a few practice runs prior to a big trip. Especially if you embarrass easily! Anyone who uses clipless pedals gets it--they've likely fallen a few times themselves. But it's still nice to have a little practice before making your big debut with a group of new friends on a Backroads trip. I, for one, was thankful I was by myself when I fell (save for the in-traffic spectators), and that I had time to take it easy and heal in private. Give yourself the gift of pre-trip practice rides. There are a lot of hills waiting to give you a challenge.

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