Meandering Musings

Everything not fit to publish

Clipless Bike Pedals

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I tell ya, bicycles are friggen' expensive.

I am just a beginner, and probably always will be, and it is still expensive.

I guess I don’t really need my nice earbuds - which eliminate most of the wind - to listen to music. I probably shouldn’t do that while riding since it makes me space off and not pay attention. I wonder if that was one of the causes of my nasty crash last fall. Including the earbuds, I ride with about $2000 worth of stuff. There are so many things: proper clothing, sunglasses, helmet, bike computer, of course, the bike, and the newest additions: clipless bike pedals, shoes, and cleats.

The scary part? None of what I buy is near the best, and it is easy to spend 5x or more on all of this crap.

I still love my bike, even though I am still a bit afraid of it. I legitimately get surprised when I come home intact. I never loved riding; it was something I just did because I am so limited physically. Last summer, I started to love it, and now I am afraid of riding. I guess that is weird.

Clipless is a strange term because you clip into the pedals. It is called that because, in the 80s, there were terrifying clip-in pedals, and these are far less scary, and with clipless pedals, you can now easily detach from them. I still call them clip-in pedals because I am a rebel.

I looked into these pedals because I could tell that a significant amount of energy was lost with the standard pedals, especially with steep hills. I read a lot about them before diving in. Some say that they are great, and others claim that they add little.

In my very limited experience, if I didn’t ride long distances, and go over some seriously steep hills (sometimes > 20% grade) it would probably be a waste of money. Still, even riding 10-20 miles that don’t feature any difficult hills, there are advantages.

I don’t ride where there is much traffic very often, which makes it okay. Clipless pedals would probably be challenging to use in heavy traffic if you ride to work or whatever.

My driveway is on a bit of a slope, and I use that to start. I am still halfway down the block before my other foot is clipped in, and that slope keeps me going enough that balance doesn’t become an issue. I still randomly stop to practice getting out and then back into them.

Today, I almost crashed into my garage door because I forgot to slip a foot out when I started braking. That would have been embarrassing! Less so than toppling over at a busy intersection. It does take a bit of time to get used to them, especially after a lifetime of flat pedals.

The pedals I bought were mid-level, the Shimano PD-R550. They are a bit wider than the ones that were $40 less, which is nice. I can transfer more power to the bike.

I do wish the bike shop had a set that could be clipped in on either side. I would have paid a bit more for that. When you begin to get going, it sometimes takes a little time to get clipped into the second pedal because it is often upside down. There was a pedal for $100 more that looked more like a standard pedal but had clips in the center. That would have been nice because there wouldn’t be a need to switch to my flat pedals when I ride with my grandkids.

To make this more useful, here is the video I watched a few times to learn how to use them. Because I am still trying to gain confidence from my crash, I went to the park 3 days straight before heading out on the bike path. Besides the minor almost goof today, I have had zero problems with them, even at intersections.

I imagine in a few weeks, clipping in and out will be instinctual.

I followed this video, putting them on my indoor bike for a while, before going to the park over a couple of days.

They have a lot of great videos for us non-professionals. I am watching more of their videos to get tips on cornering. They have some seriously great cyclists on that channel. I get a little panicky just watching some of them and wonder why they aren’t crashing. Hopefully, I can regain some confidence and become even better on curves.

The shoe is a stiff mesh, and the sole is carbon fiber with a rubber heel, and the result is a solid, stiff shoe that is extremely light, even with the cleats attached. Not very fun to walk in, especially with my bad ankles, but it is great when on the bike. One issue is that on much longer rides, I like to stop halfway and walk around. That will be a problem. I might have to pack some light shoes in my water backpack.

There are all sorts of biking shoes, from cheap to extremely expensive. Deciding on the pedals will narrow down your choices and vice-versa. I went kind of mid-range. The shoes have a lot of toe room. It is so nice to be able to wiggle my toes mid-ride. The bike shop had only two road models that would fit the cleats that clip into the pedals. The other was from Shimano and was $100 more. That one had two dials to tighten up the shoe and probably would have been more comfortable. That is because, with two dials, you can get really accurate with the fit. It seemed a bit excessive for a beginner such as myself. Plus, between my landscaping project, the need to replace my computer’s motherboard, CPU, and memory, I have spent way too much money this Spring.

The cleats came with the pedals and are adjustable. I have been tweaking the alignment on the shoes all week, and the results have been pretty good. Here is a picture of the bottom of my shoes with the cleats attached.

Yup, I am a terrible photographer.

Is it worth the $260?

I think it is.

My overall speed isn’t significantly higher - about 25% overall from my admittedly slow-because-I-am-still-getting-back-in-shape rides - but one of the big advantages is riding up hills.

With my feet clipped in, hills that were a struggle the day before in standard pedals are almost trivial.

Since I can use my legs on the upstroke, it makes standing while peddling easier, and it works out more muscles. For my usage and my goals, it is a significant improvement. My legs also feel significantly less tired than they did just last week after riding the same path. On hills, my thighs don’t burn like they do with flat pedals because my calves are now part of the effort.

It also makes me feel like I am part of the bike. My feet become the pedals which makes me feel more in tune with it and hopefully that will translate to more stability.

The best advantage for me is that once I got the cleats set up correctly, my knees hurt significantly less. My right knee, which is by far the worst, is almost pain-free. The left cleat still needs a little more adjustment and testing, but it is much improved also. The cleats ended up needing to be aligned differently from one another to accommodate my dumpster fire knees.

One downside is if you do not set up the cleats correctly, it could cause injury. I set the cleats pretty much at center with the shoes, and it put enormous stress on my knees. If I had ridden more than around the park, going slowly, it could have damaged them further.

I am curious about what will happen in whatever type of crash is next.

Like I mentioned, if you don’t ride a lot, ride fast, don’t take on big hills, or mostly ride in traffic, these might not be a good investment. If you ride more than just for a casual Sunday ride or more than commuting to work, these are highly recommended.

Hopefully, these will help to reach my 100 miles (161 km) goal for a single ride by the end of June September, but if they can continue to help me be pain-free that is worth what I paid and a lot more.

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