Intro to Clip-In Bike Shoes: Do I Need These?

Written by Reid Hemsing

Intimidating at first? Perhaps. Easy to master? Absolutely. Worth it? I think so.

I’m an urban bike commuter. Not performance oriented at all. For as long as I can remember a pair of flat, stiff soles was all I needed.

In August, I traded a Two Wheel Gear bag to a new friend at Shimano & Pearl iZUMi and was able to give clipless pedals a try (but you actually ‘clip-in’…what?). 

I really couldn’t see myself in any of the traditional styles I see the lycra dudes sporting…but then I found the Shimano AM5 Gravity Shoes with PD-M647 pedals. These can also be used without the clips in just regular shoes. A little off-roady but I think they still fit pretty well in “urban sporty.”

shimano-am5shimano-m647-pedal

At first, I had the normal first hesitations. Do I really need clip-ins? Is it overkill for my city commuting? Will I walk around with that dreadful, stiff, click-click? What if I crash?

Let’s start at the crash bit

Crashing is going to hurt regardless. It won’t be intensified by being clipped into your pedals. Think skiing to snowboarding. No high speed ejection from your skis will save you now. I know this sounds rudely elementary but just ‘try not to crash.’ You’ll be sore either way and this should not be a limiting factor to trying out the clips.

IMG_6595.jpg

Next. Walking, Clicking and Commuting Overkill

First off, clip-ins have come a long, long ways since strictly popularized by professional cyclists and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). I’ve owned 3 pairs of clip-in shoes now (Vans, DZR, Shimano), although I only ever added the ‘cleats’ to the latest Shimano pair.

These shoes are urban enough and comfortable to wear all day. Thick rubber soles provide a great platform regardless of the clips. A rigid sole is a must. The subtle reflective accents are just cool. There is a minor click when walking in between rides. It is a wee bit annoying but these are commuting shoes and not necessarily shopping shoes. The shoe is shaped to minimize cleat contact but you can still expect to pick up the odd squashed berry in the right season.

Setup

When getting set-up out of the box, I took the intuitive newbie route: youtube. I landed on a video of an industry old timer with a giant pony tail and enhanced gut to match who has been riding with cleats since they came about in the early 90’s….or was that the 80’s. Not elegant in his articulation but his advice is solid and fun to watch.

The gist of the video:

  1. First mount the cleats inside the sole of your shoes (2 screws)
  2. Start with a centre aligned cleat (vertical and horizontal) and make any adjustments as you start to get used to the cleat.
  3. After the cleat is fastened in the shoe, loosen the cleat (using your hex wrench turning to the (-) as much as it will go. This will help you get out of the pedal quicker as you get familiar to riding clipped in.
  4. Next you need to install your new pedals on your bike (watch the video above)

Now your setup, you need to get used to the action of clipping in and out. Straight from the mouth of Bike Man 4 U, “Don’t even think about riding anywhere just yet.” Position your bike up against something solid and saddle up.

 

How to Get Used to Being ‘Clipped-in’

img_6577I practiced this up against my bbq. With each foot (one at a time) practice pushing down (clipping-in) on the pedal until you hear it set. Then try unclipping. This is awkward at first. Turn your heel to the outside. Your right foot heel goes to the right, your left heel swings out to the left. When your heel swings out, it disengages the cleat and you are free to kick and flail as you please.

When clipping-in after awhile your feet will naturally navigate to the correct placement. You press down and voila, your foot is set. Clip in and out with each foot about 50 times and your muscle memory will start to sink in. (Aside: Spin class is actually a very handy crash course to clip-ins. Here you can borrow a pair to use on the stationary bike with no risk of an unexpected crash. I did it…) 

The Benefits of Clipless Pedals 

If you are commuting longer distances, coming in from outside the downtown core or battling hefty hills along the way, the clip-in (“clipless”) might be a welcome addition to your daily ride. The pedal stroke is much more fluid and there is no risk of pedal slip jamming your shin on a sharp pedal.

With clips you not only get the “push” of the pedal, you also get the “pulling” action which makes your legs twice as efficient. A quick warning that this does engage a new set of leg muscles you’ve likely not used since your pee wee football days. The first few rides, my legs were noticeably more tired. However, now I am quite accustomed to the new action and love the extra boost of the clip in.

IMG_6581.jpg

My Verdict

Personally, I am a fan of gear and like progressing. Riding with clips is just levelling up with how serious you take your commute and your equipment. It will provide more efficiency, more security and boost your climbing ability. They will make you want to ride further and overall make your commute a little sportier.

If you are simply tooting around the inner city with frequent little stops then yes, clips may be overkill and frankly not needed. However if you live a little further out, then you will certainly benefit.

I have been enjoying leaning a little more intently into the turns and riding with a little more swagger. However, caution to the wise on keeping the afterwork beers to a minimum. Your clip-in intuition seems to rapidly dissolve and you can easily forget you’re clipped-in when high-fiving your buds leaving the pub.