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.
- 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?)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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’.
- 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’!
- 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!