bike touring resources:: are clipless pedals for you?

to clip or not to clip: the battle rages

The debate's still not settled, but here's some information to help you decide whether or not to clip. The main advantage of a clipless pedal combined with an SPD shoe is that it offers great energy savings.  Clipless pedals work the same way ski bindings do, giving you are more solid interface with your bike.  Since the shoe is clipped into the pedal,  you can pull more efficiently on your upstroke.

Clipless systems are generally two-sided for touring bikes and mountain bikes. That means you have choice to ride either with the cleated SPD shoes or regular shoes without cleats.

Road bikers almost always go clipless.   They're interested in speed and appreciate the added efficiency of being locked in to the pedal.  

Long distance touring cyclists seem to be split down the middle on this issue.  Some clip, some don't.  We wore cleated SPD mountain biking shoes for the first 17 months of our tour, until we made it to Cape Town and our SPD shoes wore out.  Then we replaced them with normal running shoes and used the flat sides of the pedals.  Honestly, I didn't notice much of a loss in pedal efficiency.  

Many cyclists insist that once you've used the clipless SPD system, you'll never go back to cycling the old-fashioned way.  That wasn't the case for us.

The obvious advantage of wearing normal street shoes is that they keep your feet comfortable when you're off the bike and you don't have to carry an extra pair of shoes.  And if you'll be traveling through West and Central Africa, keep in mind that you may be doing quite a bit of pushing.  

the mechanics of clicking in

It's easy--just position your foot over the pedal and twist and push -"click" and voila - you're "clipped in".

don't flip out when you try to clip out
Clipping out is the tough part and you're bound to have a few falls before you get it right.  I learned in the relatively safe environment of my spinning class at the local fitness center.  Eric learned on the road and he ended up with a few scrapes and some hoots of laughter from obnoxious kids on their way to school.  There is definitely a learning curve so give yourself time.  Here's the trick: just turn your ankle slightly away from your bike and your cleat should click right out of the pedal.  After a few rides, it should become second nature.

Before you set off on your big tour with your new energy saving clipless pedals, try them out while holding onto something. Practice turning the heel out to make the release and then clipping back in until you're comfortable with the new movement. Be patient with yourself, because it will take time before the reaction to click off becomes automatic. 

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