Going SPD – 7 top tips if you are just going clipless!

The first few times you slip on those shiny new SPD shoes and get on your bike it will be normal to feel a little apprehensive. Assuming you, or someone else who knows what they are doing, have properly attached the cleats to your shoes, aligning them for proper comfort, and attached the pedals and set these up with a fairly loose tension (see point 3), there are a few more things you could do to reduce the fear factor of “going SPD” for the first time.

  1. SAFETY FIRST: don’t go out in traffic until you have gained some confidence riding clipped in. IF you were to ‘topple’ (OK, WHEN you topple), you do not want to do so in front of a moving car! Also wear a helmet! (Did I really need to emphasise that?)
  2. Try before you ride. Before you even go out on your first SPD-powered ride you are going to try out just sitting on the bike, propped up somewhere (i.e. ensuring zero chance of falling over!!), and clipping in and out to get a feel for it.
  3. Stay loose. Adjust the spring-loading (using the screw on the pedal) to a tightness you are comfortable with. You will want to have things pretty loose for the first few rides so you can get out really easily. Once you start getting used to the feel you will realise that the setting is probably TOO loose and your shoes can unclip a little too easily, so you will want to gradually tighten things up.
  4. Get a feel. Try doing some short runs in a driveway, dead-end street or wherever there are no obstacles or distractions. Clip in your less dominant foot, start moving, then bring up your dominant foot (glance down at the pedal very briefly, makes it much easier to get in quickly) and clip that in. Cycle for 10-20 metres, or however much space you have and then as you come towards the end of the run, think EARLY about unclipping – NOT when you’re at a virtual standstill! – and unclip BOTH feet in time to place them both on the ground! Don’t try and be clever and only unclip the foot you THINK you will place on the ground – only the other day I toppled because I misjudged and couldn’t get my foot out in time, and I have been riding clipless for a while!
  5. Don’t run before you can walk! Even if you are a mountain biker, you are not going to go straight out to some gnarly single-trail, right? You are going to take a little road-ride the first few times out to see how it goes, to get a feel for the SPD shoes and pedals and the connection between them. Obviously there are far fewer situations in road-biking where you can come unstuck (though see point 1!). You will find yourself really concentrating in order to remember to unclip when stopping so it’s quite unlikely you will forget to do so – the first time at least, see next point! Take a few road-rides before even considering going off-road – the winter training period might be an ideal time to ‘go SPD’.
  6. Prepare for the inevitable. Let’s be honest, a topple is pretty likely on one of your early rides, and it probably won’t be your first ride because you will be ultra-careful then – it will more likely be your third or fourth time out when you get overconfident! As I said in another article, chances are it won’t happen at speed, it’ll be when you are practically at a standstill. You will unclip the wrong foot, head the other way, panic, fail to unclip the other foot and topple gracefully to the ground together with your bike. The most you are likely to suffer is a bang to the elbow or hip, so anything you can do to protect those, like some elbow pads, why not? Mostly it will just be your pride that gets hurt, so you definitely want to avoid places where there are a lot of people to see you fall from grace, as it were. Especially if they are your ‘friends’!
  7. Feel safe. If you are a roadie then probably the above tips are all you need – you’ll be confident in no time. Mountain-bikers have a huge additional challenge – learning to ride clipped in offroad, where there is so much more that can go wrong 🙂 This topic would need another set of tips of its own, but the most important thing is your mindset – you must come to appreciate the security of riding clipless, not see it as an additional danger. Don’t imagine what might happen if you bailed while clipped in on that gnarly descent, imagine what might happen if you WEREN’T clipped in – you could bounce off the pedals and go flying, your foot could slip off and you could end up in a twisted pile of bike wreckage. When your feet are firmly anchored to your pedals you have the greatest possible control and you will be SAFER for it, so adopt that mindset!

Hopefully these tips will help you start riding clipless in confidence, with the minimum of spills. Soon you’ll be saying, like the rest of us, “How did I ever manage without?”!

Been in SPD shoes all your life? Got any more tips for newbie clipless riders? Share them in a comment below and I will add them to the list!

5 thoughts on “Going SPD – 7 top tips if you are just going clipless!”

  1. I have a theory about why most of us have fallen over or will fall over more than a few times while leaning to ride with clipless pedals. Most of us learned to ride a bike at a very young age of around 3-5years old. While learning we never analyzing how to balance our bike, we just learn balance via sense memory. So by learning the mechanics of balancing a bicycle, we will learn why and what causes us to fall when learning how to use clipless pedals.

    1. The first thing we need to learn is the mechanics of balancing your bike, and do to the fact that you already know how to ride your bike this task should be easy. First let us assume that you are riding your bike right know. If you feel the bike falling to the left, than you need to turn the front wheel to the left which will make the bike pull back from falling to the left. Next as the bike pulls back from the left and continues up and past the center balance point and then you will feel the bike begin to fall to the right, at this point you will turn the front wheel to the right which will make the bike pull back from falling to the left.
    2. The Next thing we will learn is what happens in the most common type of fall while using clipless pedals. Most of us in the first few days of using clipless pedals will fall. As you are coming to a stop at an intersection, a stop sign, or at the end of a ride in the parking lot, you will be putting your foot down as you roll to a stop. So let’s say you have taken your right foot out and at the last second you just slightly turn the front wheel too far to the right, which make the bike start falling to the left. Know as you have taken your right leg out of the pedal naturally your left foot has rotated to the bottom of its stroke and you are standing on it with a strait leg and all your weight as the bike starts to fall to the left and you start panic. We all know what happens next a lot of arm waving and cussing as you go splat.
    3. So now Instead of focusing on taking your foot out, and or trying to lean so as to make sure that you don’t fall over, you only need to remember that as you come to the last six inches that your bike will roll you need to turn your front wheel away from the foot that you put on the ground. This will make your bike fall away from the way you have turned your wheel and on to you extended foot.

    • Coming to stop.
    • Take foot out.
    • At the last 6 inches
    • Turn the bike away from the foot you put down.
    • Bike now falls to your extended foot.
    • Wala!

  2. TJ thanks for this interesting take on this -- true, I never thought about which way I am turning the wheel. Actually, you are going to have trouble believing this, but I read your comments when you posted them yesterday IN HOSPITAL where I was lying after an operation to put 3 screws in my femur after I wiped out in a race last Sunday. I had time to think about why I did myself such an injury, and I have to say it was in good part due to being clipped in. I washed out, and there was no way I could get my foot out quick enough, and there was no impact to dislodge my shoe from the pedal, with the result I fell hard on my side, foot still clipped in, bang, straight on my hip. I may have to revise my basic “SPD is safe” premise after this. I plan to write the whole thing up on the blog asap, but just thought I’d run that by you!

  3. “it will more likely be your third or fourth time out when you get overconfident!”

    Great articles on SPDs. This is very true, in fact I didn’t fall for about 6 weeks till I actually forgot I was clipped in during a really slow move around a gate. Gash running right up my right calf now. They are definitely more dangerous than flat pedals no matter how many people say things like, “It’s down to the rider” etc, sooner or later ‘everyone falls’. But having said thyat, cage/straps were dangerous as well and the benefits of SPDs outweigh the risks for me.

    1. Hey, well it’s ironic considering the theme of this site, but I am really weighing things up at the moment as regards SPDs. Don’t know if you saw my comment about the injury I suffered this summer -- basically a broken hip (a pretty serious injury really) -- which could well be blamed on being clipped in to pedals, not being able to unclip in time and falling flat on my side. It now turns out that is not such an uncommon injury, indeed I have fallen several times like that before, as have biking friends of mine. It’s kind of a worry -- I expect to be as good as new eventually, but the question is, do I go back to riding and wearing SPD? To be honest, I can’t see myself riding any other way really. Maybe I will wear them a lot looser, I don’t know if that is really a deciding factor. I guess I will just hope it doesn’t happen again! (as will my wife!)

    2. P.S. Agreed, cages and straps (and especially those thingies where you had to actually bend down and unclip the pedal by hand!!) were more risky than SPD!

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