Are Clipless Pedals Really More Efficient?

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I live in one of the most bicycle friendly cities in America, and lately I’ve been hearing a lot of heated debate about clipless pedals. 

The key question here seems to be are clipless pedals really more efficient? I looked into both sides of the debate and put together this blog post to share what I learned.

So, are clipless pedals really more efficient? Clipess pedals are more efficient than flat pedals, especially if you’re mountain biking or road biking in the city. Clipless pedals give you more power by engaging force and energy on the upstroke as well as the downstroke. They also keep your feet firmly in place on the pedals, but allow for a quick foot release when you stop.

Clipless pedals come in two main styles, road pedals and off-road pedals, and you will require special clipless pedal shoes as well. Most clipless pedal system manufacturers also make compatible shoes, specially designed to fit into their pedal systems. 

Clipless pedal systems are more expensive than clip or strap systems, but they do help to improve your pedal stroke, your speed, and your balance.

Take a look at this post where we explain the differences between the different types of pedals.

What Are Clipless Pedal Systems?

Clipless pedal systems are comprised of three components, all of which work together to give you a more secure grip on the pedal, while providing you with more ergonomic and efficient energy use. 

Each clipless pedal system includes:

  • The pedals in a clipless system look very different from regular pedals because they don’t provide a platform on which to place your feet. There is a great deal of variation in the design and style of clipless pedals, but many of them come with cleats for your shoes. You can also get single sided or double sided clipless pedal systems, depending on how much flexibility you want.
  • Cleats. Clipless pedal systems are designed to securely accommodate cleats, allowing them to fit into the pedal. There are two main types of clipless pedal cleats, off-road and on-road cleats. Off-road cleats are thicker and are recessed into your shoes. On-road cleats are more aerodynamic, but the cleats stick out of the soles of your shoes, making it harder to walk in them.
  • Clipless shoes are designed to be bolted onto your cleats. Most companies that manufacture clipless pedals have their own line of corresponding clipless shoes. These shoes tend to be lightweight and some come with their own cleats as well. You need to make sure that the shoes you get are compatible with your clipless pedal system.

Why Are Clipless Pedals So Much More Efficient Than Other Systems?

There is a lot of debate among serious mountain bikers and urban bikers about the efficacy of clipless pedals. 

Check out this quick guide we made to explain the different types of pedals.

Some believe that they are no more energy efficient than flat pedals, with the only difference being that clipless pedals keep your feet securely in position. 

However, the vast majority agree that clipless pedals are more efficient – in fact, they are the preferred pedal system of competitive cyclists.

So what is it about clipless pedals that makes them so much more efficient that their strapped, clipped and flat counterparts? Well, there are a number of key reasons, including

Upstroke Force

The ability to exert force on the pedals during the upstroke is actually the main benefit of clipless pedals. When you don’t have a clipless pedal system, your foot is not attached to the pedals. 

So when your foot goes back up after the downstroke, you’re simply utilizing the force exerted on the pedal by the downstroke. You’re not building extra energy with your upstroke.

However, when you’re using a clipless pedal system, your foot is attached to the pedal. This forces you to actually pull your foot back up with the upstroke, rather than just riding the motion of the pedal crank. 

When you pull back, you generate more energy which you then expand on a more powerful downstroke during your next pedal cycle.

This extra energy makes for a much stronger pedal stroke, which in turn, helps you to go faster. A stronger pedal stroke is not just useful for competitive racers. 

It makes cycling up steep inclines easier when you’re off-roading. When you’re urban biking, it lets you easily speed up to pass motorists or to keep up with the pace of traffic.

Foot Position Security

The key disadvantage of flat pedals is that there is nothing to anchor your foot to the pedal, so your feet tend to move a lot. 

This is especially difficult to deal with when you’re traveling on uneven surfaces like gravel roads. 

If your feet slip completely off the pedals, you could lose control of your bike or suddenly stall it. Either way, you could end up in a serious accident.

Even a momentary loss of control due to a foot slip can cause you to lose your balance. 

Having your feet constantly moving on the pedals also affects your balance and can lead to a wobbly, unstable ride, especially if you’re moving fast. 

Clipless pedals mitigate all of these issues and they also let you build energy on the upstroke, which is something flat pedals just can’t do. 

Ease of Use in Off-Road Situations

Serious bicyclists love clipless pedals because they’re far easier to use than flats when you’re mountain biking. Clipless pedals allow you to build up the momentum you need to get up steep hills, while maintaining acceleration at the same time. 

That same momentum also helps you to get over and around obstacles like rocks and pebbles embedded in off-road biking trails.

Clipless pedal mountain biking shoes are also designed to allow you to walk comfortably. 

The design also keeps the cleats from making contact with the ground, so you won’t wear them out. 

This makes them the ideal choice if you’re biking on trails that require you to stop and hike a fair portion of the way.

Increased Safety for Urban Bicyclists

Clipless pedal systems also afford urban bicyclists more safety, especially those of you who commute to work everyday by bike. 

These systems keep your feet anchored to the pedals, which helps to keep you balanced and your bike stable. 

Maintaining that stability is really important when you’re moving through heavy, fast-flowing traffic.

Clipless pedals also allow for a quick release – you just pull your heel backwards and out and the pedal will release. 

This makes it a lot safer to come to a quick stop, which you often need to do when you’re biking in a city. 

Although you can get shoes designed for urban riding, most urban bicyclists still use mountain bike clipless shoes in the city because you can also walk in them.

Types of Clipless Pedals

There are lots of different brands that make exceptional clipless pedals and clipless shoes, like Shimano and Speedplay. However, when it comes down to it there really are only two types of clipless pedals and shoes.

Mountain Biking or Walkable Clipless Pedals

Mountain biking clipless pedals use special cleats that are designed to fit neatly into the recesses in your shoes. These pedals come double or single-sided. Single-sided pedals allow you to easily switch from flat to clipless pedaling.

Mountain biking shoes are made using a flexible material and have thicker soles that can accommodate the cleats, all of which makes them pretty comfortable to walk in. 

These shoes are a bit heavier than road biking shoes, which makes them less aerodynamic and probably not a good choice if you’re looking for clipless pedal shoes to race in.

Road Biking Clipless Pedals

Road biking clipless pedals are pretty much the same as mountain biking clipless pedals in terms of how they work. 

The difference is that these pedals only come one-sided and they cannot be reversed to allow you to ride flat pedal. 

Road biking shoes are built to be lighter and more streamlined, so they have pretty thin soles and their cleats stick out, making walking difficult.

They do work very well for racing, especially if you’re running a closed road course. 

However, if you plan on doing a race that involves off-road trials, you’d probably be much better off with a mountain biking clipless pedal system. What it lacks in speed, it makes up for in greater maneuverability.

Do you want a now a bit more? Take a look at this guide to understand the differences between all types of pedals by clicking here.

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