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Are Clip-In Pedals Necessary for Cycling?


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clipless pedals

The pedal is one of the main points of connection between you and your bike, and while most of us started cycling on flat pedals, many experienced cyclists choose to switch to clip-in pedals. So, are clip-in pedals necessary for cycling?

Clip-in pedals are ideal for improving riding efficiency if you’re road cycling at your maximum cadence, so it’s crucial for racers. They also have several advantages that make them ideal for better control and a stronger connection to your bike, so they’re also a good choice for mountain cycling and most forms of long-distance cycling.

If you want to find out more about clip-in pedals and whether you should upgrade to one, this guide will walk you through all the key points that you need to keep in mind. Let’s dive right in!

How Do Clip-In Pedals Work?

Although clip-in pedals are also known as “clipless pedals”, it’s always easier to use the term “clip-in” because it’s not as confusing as its counterpart. The word clipless here is actually in comparison to the times when cyclists used clips and straps to secure their feet on the pedal.

A clipless or clip-in pedal is a type of pedal that works by attaching special cycling cleats to the pedal using small plastic or metal spring-loaded clips.

The clip-in design offers almost instant attachment and release by allowing your cleats to snap in place giving you a better connection to the pedal while attached.

They’re the most popular alternative for flat pedals, which are simple platforms with an anti-slip design that helps in keeping your feet on the pedal and prevents it from sliding around but without any clips or mounts.

Are Clip-In Pedals Necessary for Cycling?

Now that you know about clip-in pedals and how they work, you might be wondering whether they’re the right kind of pedal for you.

The simple answer to this question is that clip-in pedals are only necessary for racing and competitive cycling, especially road cycling.

However, even if you’re not racing, clip-in pedals still come with several advantages that you might want to consider.

We have more about that in the following section, but for now, let’s discuss the necessity of clipless pedals from two main points of view:

What Science Says

One of the most popular reasons why clipless pedals are preferred over flat ones is that they’re said to improve your cycling efficiency, and according to some studies, they actually do!

For example, a study that focuses on maximal power output while cycling found that using clip-in pedals improved maximum sprint power by up to 16.6%. It also found that it improved uphill cycling sprints significantly.

With that said, you should keep in mind that most studies only found an increase in efficiency when the pedals are used at maximum power output (ie. sprints and hill climbs). This was also confirmed by a 2016 study that focused on pedaling dynamics.

It Depends on the Type of Cycling You Do

road bike with clip in pedals

While deciding whether clipless pedals are the right thing for you, another essential point to consider is the type of cycling you do. If you do road cycling, especially if you constantly pedal at high cadence, using clipless pedals would be ideal for you!

This is because clipless pedals establish a secure connection and can improve your pedaling efficiency, as previously discussed.

Additionally, if you do mountain cycling, you can benefit from the improved control of the bike that clipless pedals give you.

On the other hand, if you’re a casual rider who hops on and off the bike frequently (for example, you ride beach bikes), clipless pedals may not be ideal for you because they can be a bit hard to walk with.

Yet, there are some types of cycling cleats with clips that recess into the sole when not in use, making it a more versatile solution for those who want to walk and ride.

What Are the Advantages of Using Clip-In Pedals?

In addition to the previously mentioned points, clip-in pedals also have several benefits that you might be interested in. here are some of the most notable advantages of using them:

  • With clipless pedals, your feet are always attached to the pedals, allowing you to pedal at very high speeds. This guarantees excellent performance while road bike racing.
  • Helps you feel more connected with the bike, which is ideal if you’re riding a mountain bike or venturing through bumpy roads.
  • While it may seem complicated at first look, it’s actually surprisingly easy to get in and out of clip-in pedals once you get the hang of its release mechanism.
  • Unlike other types of clipped pedals that may snag on road debris, the minimalistic design of clip-in pedals has no projections where grass and debris get caught in.
  • Remarkably safer and more comfortable than strapped or caged pedals that can cause more harm than good.

Types of Clipless Pedals

There are two different types of clipless pedals, these are the two-bolt and the three-bolt clip-in pedals.

As the names suggest, the main difference between the two lies in the number of bolts in the cycling shoe.

2 Bolt pedal designs and shoe equivalents are typically used on mountain bikes because 2 bolt designs are easier to walk in and easier to unclip from. When you’re mountain biking you’ll need to unclip very quickly if you fall and you’ll need good walkability to walk over uneven terrain.

3-bolt systems are typically used with road bikes since they are harder to unclip from. Typically on a road bike, you’ll only unclip if you come to a stoplight or you’re done riding. So, needing to easily unclip isn’t a problem. This doesn’t mean it’s hard to unclip, you just have to shift your foot a little further than with mountain bike pedals. Road bike pedals also are harder to walk in since you won’t typically be walking far when on a road bike, this isn’t really a problem.

However, three-bolt systems are usually lighter in weight when compared to two-bolt ones and offer more ample contact with the pedal. But, two-bolt systems are easier to walk with than three-bolt ones.

Generally, the choice here depends on how much you’re going to walk while wearing compatible cleats as well as personal preferences.

Final Thoughts: Are Clipless Pedals Worth It?

This wraps it up for today’s guide which walks you through the importance of clip-in or clipless pedals for cycling.

As you can see, there’s scientific evidence that shows the positive impact that clip-in pedals have while road cycling, especially while sprinting or climbing steep hills. This happens due to the secured foot position that allows you to pedal more quickly.

For that reason, if you’re a road cyclist looking for improved cadence and speed or you’re a mountain cyclist opting for better control and oneness with your MTB, clip-in pedals are exactly what you’re looking for!

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