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As a newbie rider, I was asked by many experienced riders and bike shop experts if I was using clipless pedals yet? The implication was you are not really a serious rider until you are clipless, sort of a rite of passage. No one ever told me you can break bones, but told 'everyone' falls a few times, count on it, and move on.

Are there precautions or conditions where one could or should not use clipless pedal products?

The previous year, I had ridden 1700 street and paved bike trail miles on a comfort bike and a Mountain tandem with Pedal Cages and never had an issue. I incorrectly assumed I was ready to advance. I purchased a new touring bike with Shimano M540's.

Here is an XRAY of the damage I experienced riding clipless. It was an unexpected stop due to a flood closing a tame paved trail. Someone had painted a bright blue line from the trail up to where I fell (me standing in the picture). It was my error in trying to ride around the obstacle and ended in the railroad ballast (2"-3"). I had un-cliped going up but the M540's re-clipped I stopped at the edge of the ballast but was clipped. My ankle twisted > 150 degrees. It was my third ride and fall clipless. It all happened in 10-15 seconds.

I know through good friends of two very much younger but very experienced riders who were hurt much more severely than I due to clipless.

Should I try again with the beginner clips and different pedals, or as my son and wife tell me, are you crazy?

Revisited

Having just rolled over 2,000 miles this year with flat pedals on the road I can report I have found a solid solution for me. I now ride with "Pin" Pedals available from several manufacturers I use (Xpedo MX Force 3). These pedals have a grid work of short pins sticking up on both sides of the flat pedals. These pins rather lock my foot on the pedal preventing foot creep or shifting out of position while allowing for quick mount and dismounting as necessary.

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By clips, are you referring to straps or clipless pedals with a cleat on your shoe that locks the shoe to the pedal. (Confusing - yes - why they ever calls a contraption with things that clip together clipless is a lesson in history ) –  mattnz Feb 20 '13 at 3:29
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@mattnz - He could be referring to either one, of course, and the answer would still be "yes". It's unlikely that you'll break bones, but one should have a basic level of skill before trying to use either toe clips or "clipless" pedals. The hazard is mostly that you tend to forget about them, come to a stop, and fall over rather inelegantly. Mostly an injury to pride, maybe a skinned knee. Vague possibility of a broken arm, worst case, if you stick your arm out to break your fall. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 '13 at 3:44
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I asked about the effectiveness of clipless pedals earlier. Might also be worth a look. bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/14059/… –  user1049697 Feb 20 '13 at 19:00
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(But given the OP's traumatic incident, he's probably got a serious aversion to clips, and for psychological reasons clips are probably a bad idea for the near term.) –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 21 '13 at 12:27
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This is turning into a big clips/clipless/flat pedals debate. If somebody wants to edit the question into a more constructive and clear question that's less likely to solicit debate, arguments and extended discussion, we can re-open this question. We should also consider deleting or editing some of the more argumentative answers and comments. –  freiheit Feb 22 '13 at 17:30
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13 Answers 13

up vote -3 down vote accepted

I believe the first question you should ask yourself is this: Is some marginal perceived effiency gain worth the added risk of injury that clipless pedals provide? EVERYONE (including most of the posters in this thread, and surely any comments to this post as well) will give you dogma about how clipless pedals are better, more efficient and the defining trait that separates the amateurs from the pros. This is at worst dangerous misinformation, and at best a coercion of a preference. I asked a question earlier about any scientific sources backing up the claim that clipless pedals are more effective than flat pedals, but the data that is available seemed to conclude that this is not the case, and pedal choice does not dictate the effectiveness of the pedaling.

Another spokesperson for using flat pedals is James "Bikejames" Wilson who has been a proponent for the use of them for a long time. He has compiled the self-titled flat pedal revolution manifesto which is a compilation of some of his blog posts about the subject of clipless and flat pedals. It is definitely worth reading for some good arguments for using flat pedals.

I personally believe that clipless pedals are best suited for racing, and that strapping yourself to such a finicky machine as a bicycle is an inherently bad idea. Searching through the databases of scientific journals does also give you quite a few hits in medical journals about studies of injuries related to the use of clipless pedals, something which I have yet to see for flat pedals. Judging by your post you do not seem to want to use clipless pedals for other reasons than the societal pressure to do so. I think you should give it all a good thinking, read the arguments, and then decide on what you feel is best for you. You should not let anyone persuade you to do something you are not comfortable with doing, if you do not feel that it makes sense for you. The type of bicycle pedal is one of the most important choices you can make in your life, and you should not leave it up to others to decide it for you. :)

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The author of the "Flat Pedal Revolution" manifesto has only used clipless pedals "for a few trial runs around [his] neighborhood". While I agree that clipless vs. flat is a matter of personal choice, I think that people should try clipless for more than an hour before making a permanent decision. –  amcnabb Feb 20 '13 at 23:12
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-1 Does not answer the question asked. Specifically, "Are clips dangerous". –  mattnz Feb 21 '13 at 1:17
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@JoeDaddy - sounds like you already knew the answer you wanted before you posted your question. You don't need us to tell you to use what feels right for you - that should go without saying. –  James Bradbury Feb 21 '13 at 8:51
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@user1049697. It's ironic for those in favour of clip/clipless to be called dogmatic when the flat-pedal advocates have a "revolution manifesto". :-) –  James Bradbury Feb 21 '13 at 8:53
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Sorry put a damper on the witch hunt, but being unable to clip out is not going to cause you to do an endo, and people not clipped in don't magically just step over their bars to avoid faceplanting when it happens. People crash bikes with clipless pedals. People crash bikes without clipless pedals. So knock it off with the pointless anecdotes. –  Stephen Touset Jun 12 '13 at 17:24
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You'll most likely have a few light tumbles.

Also, you can get "beginners cleats" for Shimano peddels. The propper name is Multi Directional Cleats and the model number is SM-SH56.

These will let go if you pull really hard in any direction. I used them for around 4 months when I first went clipless. Saved me some skinned knees.

After switching to Crank Brothers' Eggbeaters I've only had one SPDisaster, the only thing really hurt was my pride though.

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SDP is a clip less system. Confusing I know... –  mattnz Feb 20 '13 at 3:26
    
I assumed he meant Clipless. I doubt many people would be pushing him towards toe clips. –  alex Feb 20 '13 at 3:48
    
@alex, you sir are the first to provide me with new and useful information. I was totally unaware of the Shimano beginners cleats. Perhaps, if I had known about these, I would not have the 10 screws and the metal plate in my right ankle. –  Joe Feb 20 '13 at 17:08
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Terminology is important here. Pedal Clips (refer here) are straps that tighten around the shoe. Clipless, such as SPD have a cleat - refer here

Toe clips are not common these days - but still used by some (touring and fixed hub bikes) more niche applications. I assume you are talking about SPD style clipless pedals, but the following discussion does not really change if you are using clips. I do not believe they are dangerous. However, there is a learning curve - it's similar to asking "Is learning to ride a bike dangerous", in that you will get exactly the same answer. Do it in the right locations and take appropriate precautions, expect a few skinned knees and at very worst, a broken bone. Do it in the wrong location at the wrong time, at worst - death.

What precautions - learn to use them in the same place you would teach a person to ride a bike. Avoid heavy traffic - no point falling under a B-Train - and mountain trails with large cliffs along side the track until proficient (Unless you are wearing a parachute) . i.e. Use common sense. Practice clipping and unclipping - and don't venture too far from your safe area until you can do both without looking down (If you look down at you feet, you will fall off). Then - practice "emergecy exits" - Not needed so much for onroad riding, but MTBing, you often need to unclip without expecting it. Eventually you will be able to unclip at any time, without thinking about it.

Don't use mix the use of toe clips and clipless pedals - it will end in tears, as the exit methods used for of each is completely incompatible with exiting the other.

Where not use them - anytime a fast, unhindered separation between the bike and rider is likely to be needed - BMX, Downhill MTB and Trials riding come to mind. In some XC riding, it is advisable not to clip for some sections - depending on the riders confidence and competence, however most of the time an XC rider will be clipped in.

Some riders prefer flats - especially MTB - there is nothing wrong with that - don't feel forced into using clipless pedals.

Edit: Updated in response to comments.

In response to you photo and attached picture - not an entirely unexpected outcome of a novice to SPDs riding rocky ground, as might be expected putting a novice bike rider on same ground. Unfortunately you now have an additional couple of problems to overcome if you decide to go with SPD's. You will have a mental aversion to them, and to rocky ground - that needs work but is relatively easy to overcome compared to the other - If you go with SPD's your wife will be certain you are mad - nothing you do will change her mind on that....

I suggest not using beginner clips - they will install a false sense of security "I'm on beginner clips, I can un-clip easily....".

However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with flats.....

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Good answer, one caveat: "Toe clips are pretty much not used nowadays" - News to me. Roadies don't use them, yes, but they're somewhat popular with touring cyclists. Some shops will try to convince cyclists that straps and clips are deathtraps so they can sell you SPD pedals and shoes. –  Neil Fein Feb 20 '13 at 6:19
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Toe clips and Foot Retension Straps are also still in use by fixed gear riders regularly since you can't safely ride a fixed gear without foot retention of some kind. –  Benzo Feb 20 '13 at 13:19
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Thanks for the comments - two cases I did not consider. –  mattnz Feb 20 '13 at 20:04
    
I used some shin/knee guards while I was learning. It helped avoid some damage from pedals hitting my shins and some scrapes from crashes. I also set the cleat interface on my pedals to hold on loosely, so It was easier to bail. I dialed up the tension on the pedals as I got better with them. –  Benzo Feb 20 '13 at 20:19
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I have flagged this Q for moderator attention, as I believe you are violating the principles of stackexchange by asking a question when you already knew what answer you wanted. I also suspect the -1 was a vindictive response to my down voting the question you marked as the correct answer, I notice that no other answers along the lines of this one have been down voted..... –  mattnz Feb 21 '13 at 4:24
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First let's clarify the difference between "clipless" and "clip" pedals. They are confusing terms as both have clips.

Clip pedals (which I prefer to call cages) look like this: "Clip" pedals - aka cages

Cages have the advantage that they can be used with normal shoes. To get your foot into them you push it in from the rear and (optionally) reach down and tighten the strap. In my opinion this is pretty fiddly and potentially hazardous. Getting your foot out is a case of pulling backwards, possibly after having to reach down and loosen the strap. Not quick.

Clipless pedals (which I prefer to call cleated) look like this: "Clipless" pedals - aka cleated

Cleated pedals require special shoes to go with them, and there are several (incompatible) systems. The one pictured is Shimano SPD, probably the most popular. The ones shown also have a flat side for use with normal shoes. To get into the pedals, you push forwards and down until a click is heard. It can take a bit of fiddling to line them up, but with practice you're always connected in under 2 seconds. Disconnecting requires twisting your heel to the left or right, something which I find comes naturally when trying to get off in a hurry. Shimano also do "beginner" SPDs which will disconnect more easily. This might present an additional hazard to the experienced cyclist pedalling hard and throwing the bike around. SPD pedals are adjustable, so you can set how hard you have to push/pull to disconnect. I'd strongly recommend setting them quite loose to begin with and tightening up any time you come out of the clips accidentally.

In conclusion: In my opinion, cleated pedals are easier and safer than cages. However, both systems do present a risk that you won't be able to get your foot down quickly when you stop, resulting in you and the bike falling over sideways. As this only happens when going very slowly, it's unlikely to cause serious injury in itself (although you could break an arm/collarbone trying to catch yourself). It's more serious in traffic or precarious situations. So:

  • Practice in a safe place like a park or spacious cycle track until you are confident.
  • When approaching a stop always unclip early and pedal on the arch of your foot to avoid reconnecting.
  • Practice some more until you can unclip in the time it takes you to emergency stop.
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+1 for the pics. very confusing for a noob –  PeteH Feb 20 '13 at 12:50
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I disagree that clipless pedals are safer than toe clips. Falls while learning to use clipless pedals happen a lot more frequently than falls while learning to use toe clips. –  jimirings Feb 20 '13 at 14:08
    
@jimirings It's fair to say that with cleated pedals it's easier to forget you're using them, while cages you can constantly feel around your foot. How many people have you seen recently learning how to use toe clips (cages)? –  James Bradbury Feb 20 '13 at 15:20
    
@JamesBradbury thanks for the pics, they help some. Had to google toe clips and my Shimano m540 does not look like the ones in your picture. I rode 1500 miles on cages and thought I was ready for the biggs. Took me 3 rides and 3 falls to kill the bike season. Bike shop experts need training IMHO on how to coach newbies and wannabies like me. I lost a full year and a half of biking because of it. Just my 2 cents. –  Joe Feb 20 '13 at 17:23
    
@JamesBradbury Quite a few people are still learning to use toe clips. The fixie crowd loves them and large portion of touring cyclists prefer them. –  jimirings Feb 20 '13 at 21:54
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You ask about danger, when/where to use, and when/where not to use, so...:

  • There's the danger that you forget to unclip when you stop, and fall to your side. This is a real danger, but not a serious one except if your fitness is a bit low (risk of wrist, shoulder, hip or ankle lesion). You should then practice a lot first, both clip and unclip while riding in a safe place, as clipping and unclipping during stops.
  • There's the danger that you get a sore ankle or knee because of the rotation needed to unclip. I had this issue with my last clipless, and solved it by lubing it a slight bit and releasing the spring tension (the soreness went away soon after that).
  • The danger that you get stuck to the bike if you fall, or that you fall while moving because of the clip, or the clip gets suddenly loose while riding, is very, very unprobable and you can safely ignore them.

You should consider using the clip:

  • If you want some extra efficiency;
  • If you like to control the bike better, specially to do small lifts of the rear wheel while going up a curb or over a pothole (very easy and useful);

You would consider not using the clip:

  • If you'd rather use a regular shoe;
  • If your riding style is casual;
  • If you prefer not to be so "connected" to the bike, to let your feet be more "free";
  • If you have a set of different foot positions over the pedal, and the fixed position of the clipless bothers you.

I have bikes with clipless which I ride with regular shoes and even flipflops when I want a "not-so-serious" ride, but definitely if you LIKE riding bikes clipless are the way to go. The vast majority of riders (95%+) never switch back after getting used to the clipless, to the point of saying "how could I live without it? If I only knew it before..."

Hope this helps!

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If you go for a clipless (cleated) pedal system there are 2 danger points

  • The first couple of times you use them or so. This is because they're new and you have to remember to unclip. You'll be really concious of this as well as clipping in so watch out for things around you.

  • The second is a few weeks later. By then you'll have got used to the whole clip in / unclip routine but it's not entirely automatic yet so you'll likely stop and forget to unclip ... clipless moment ensures.

Once you get used to clipless pedals you really will wonder how you ever did without them.

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There are extra risks associated with being physically attached to the pedals, however the risks are probably quite small. I found the following articles on Pubmed:

Two cases of acetabular fractures sustained during competitive cycling

cyclists who are attached to their pedals by straps or clips are likely to tumble with their bicycle and fall directly onto one or other hip, thus sustaining this kind of injury to the pelvis.

Proximal femoral fracture in a man resulting from modern clipless pedals: a case report.

A 38-year-old Caucasian man who was a club cyclist sustained a displaced intracapsular fracture of the hip whilst cycling. As a direct result of the incorrect set-up of his clipless pedals he was unable to release his feet whilst slowing to a halt. This resulted in a loss of balance and subsequent fall with a direct impact onto his left hip.

AN UNUSUAL CYCLING INJURY

A fit 37 year old dub cyclist (average weekly mileage 500 miles) was on a training session with three companions. After 12 miles of quite intense effort, and while cycling along a sea wall, in a moderate onshore breeze, a freak wave washed over the wall and swept him into the sea. Initially he was unable to release his feet from the pedal toe clips and remained underwater for 2 to 3 minutes. He was rescued by one of his companions, brought ashore, and taken to the local cottage hospital

...

The bicycle was recovered at a subsequent low tide.

It's worth noting that these cases, while serious, appear to be rare. The first case report describes 2 cases, and the 2nd case report a single case. The 2nd case report notes "To the best of our knowledge, this has only been described once before, and this was in the non-English language medical literature."

The third case report describes a freak occurrence, I searched for news reports of similar incidents but was unable to find any (just drowned dog walkers).

Unless you're a professional racer then the pedals you use are purely down to personal preference. You shouldn't feel that if you don't use a particular piece of equipment that you're somehow not a proper cyclist.

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I have been using biking shoes with SPD cleats for nearly 20 years, and I definitely fell and got banged up as a new user of clipless pedals. I have since learned how to get in and out of them to the point where it is second nature and I hardly think about it at stoplights, etc. I find them especially valuable for damp conditions, when regular shoes would slip off of a wet pedal, potentially causing an accident (this is how a friend of mine broke her collar bone).

However, I think the danger of being attached to your pedals never completely goes away. This morning I hit a patch of slick pavement, and when my bike went squirrely under me, I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn't get my shoe off the pedal. I didn't end up wiping out, but it showed me that even after a looong time of using them, my instinct to pull straight up off the pedal had not changed.

In summary, clipless pedals have simultaneously increased and decreased my safety over roughly 2 decades of use. They are definitely a danger to the newbie, but IMO, this can be managed and they are probably worth it in the long run.

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Thanks for your response. –  Joe Feb 22 '13 at 19:57
    
I too have been riding clipless for a long time [25 years] and think that they are far more safe than strapping myself into toe clips. Do I still forget to click out of them at stop signs every now and then? Sure but rarely and only when I'm around a bunch of other cyclist! No, they aren't just for racing and you have a much greater chance of clicking out of clipless pedals than you do unstrapping yourself from toe clips –  user1207758 Oct 28 '13 at 18:41
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First off: Thanks to everyone who clarified what clipless, clip-in, platform pedals are.

Arguments for using Clipless pedals (in order of importances to me):

  • Knee Pain: When I was riding with platforms I used pedals that had large metal spikes protruding from them to improve grip. This caused my kness major issues because they could not pivot or float on top of the pedals. Switching to crank brothers clipless pedals has remove knee pain from my cycling experience.

  • Safety: Before I switched to clipless pedals I had several crashes caused by my feet slipping off of the pedals. None of these crashes was especially life endangering however they were all unpleasant, embarrassing and/or painful. In my first few weeks I had some clipless crashes but I haven't had any since*. It is good to know that you feet are going to stay attached to the pedals. I have fallen off flats because of rough terrain that I wasn't expecting, because I had ice on my platform pedals and once becuase my sandles fell off.

  • Control: Similar to safety but having clipless pedals arguably gives better control of the bike.

  • Shoe wear and tear: No spikey platform pedals to destroy shoes.

  • Smoother pedal stroke

  • Efficiency(?)

In my opinion I feel faster/more efficient with clipless pedals however as primarily a mountain biker this is less important that the other factors. In terms of safety alone, after 10 days of riding you should be very safe with clipless pedals. It is possible you may have a few slow motion falls after that but it depend

* Not entirely true. I have had some low speed fall-overs on my mountain bike when climbing a very steep hill with loose dirt. Probably avoidable but I am a stubborn cyclist.

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Just picked up this from a casual search on return from a nightmare holiday in France.

I am a lifelong cyclist who used to ride with toeclips, straps AND shoeplates (when the old Queen was on the throne). Try getting your feet out of that combo in a hurry, you are on the bike for good!

Anyway I picked up on clipless (Shimano SPD) fairly quickly and until very recently was a big fan on the lines of minor spills with or without clipless was swings and roundabouts. Generally you come out with clipless anyway (with sensible settings).

But here's the thing. My wife - who has used clipless for 12 years, even though not that confident on anything other than smooth tarmac - has had two low speed spills in a matter of four weeks, both causing injury. The last one during a holiday in France being a bad break of the lower leg and ankle WITH dislocation (messes up the ligaments big time). She will never have the same joint again and may need a fusion (the problem compounded by the initial medical care we had, but that's another story).

The cause? An instant loss of the front wheel on unexpected gravel in combination with the left leg being at the bottom of the pedal stroke and hitting the ground first/foot not releasing....

So in summary, some back luck and combination of factors combined. My view is no longer black and white and I may put some 2 ways or flats on my mountain bikes (although I will stick to clipless on the road).

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In my mind/opinion, flats, cages and cleats (using terminology that should have been invented years ago...) have distinctly different purposes, and their strengths for each application should not necessarily be crossed over to other uses.

Let's start with flat pedals. Flats come either with or without pins. (Here's on with pins. http://fcdn.mtbr.com/attachments/all-mountain/535342d1271127491-what-pedals-do-you-push-your-am-shimano-mx30-pedals-04.jpg I used these for several years with the longer pin set-up) Flats without pins are usually low end stock models such as the ones you might see on a kids bike. By adding pins, flats develop an new purpose - the increased grip and hence control that they offer makes them ideal for intense cycling, such as free-riding, downhill, bmx or street trials to name a few. What makes them so good for these disciplines is the ease and speed of connection - put your foot on, and it grips. More importantly, releasing your foot from the pedal is achieved with ease. This enables speedy ejects in accidents or easy releases for hardcore bike tricks.

Cages, aka toe clips, straps... are in my mind mainly there to prevent accidental foot release that would lead to smashing your shin or calf. They are not particularly effective at transferring power on the upstroke, but can be used in this manner as well. The other use for cages is to adjust foot position in a kind of set-and-forget way. This is another reason they are so well suited to touring bikes.

Finally, cleats, aka clipless, SPD... These pedals offer a large degree of control and unparalleled power transfer in up and down strokes. This alone makes them ideal for road and race bikes. Nowadays, with xc riding and MTB racing gaining popularity, MTB cleat systems are becoming widely acceted. The benefits are the same, better control and power, but that comes at the price of "bailability". Despite the learning curve, accidents still happen to masters, so it is a question that each person should address on their own terms.

Long story short, choose whatever system works for your interests and riding style, and stick with it to see if you improve and make progress. Follow that, and it should be all good!

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I would argue that toe clips, properly used, can be reasonably effective at transferring power on the upstroke, with the added bennie of being less likely to come loose unexpectedly vs "clipless". –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 30 '13 at 0:15
    
Sure, cages do transfer power in the upstroke, but a lot if their potential is lost in deformation of the shoe. With cages, it is really only a fabric strap fastening your foot/shoe to the pedal whereas cleats effectively turn your while shoe into a pedal platform, and the whole roof if the shoe into s fastening strap. –  Saxman Oct 1 '13 at 4:05
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The answer to this question will vary from rider to rider, based on their riding patterns:

  • For long rides with significant uninterrupted portions (especially on cycle paths), clip-pedals or cleated pedals have relatively little drawback, and they can extend your range. (I found myself able to go maybe 25% further before getting worn out.)
  • For rides where short bursts of acceleration or hill-climbing are required, clipped/cleated pedals can make it much easier, because you have more muscles to use. Medium-difficulty hills become easy, and high-difficulty hills become medium.
  • For rides where there is a lot of stop-and-go, like dense urban areas with many stoplights in a row, clipped/cleated pedals can become more annoying.
  • For casual rides, where the question is "do I bother jumping on my bicycle or no?", clipped and cleated pedals can be a bit of a big production, especially for cleated pedals where you need the special shoes. But some double-sided pedals exist so you can have it both ways.

So consider whether your bicycle rides would be improved by better acceleration and a longer range. If not, you're certainly free to forebear! Heck, it costs money; that's reason enough.

However, all told, the primary dangers to cyclists in most circumstances are probably going to be crashes with automobiles, and crashes/wipeouts at speed due to sudden loss of control. But if you have enough time to break, you have enough time to unclip: it's not likely you'll be able to avoid a crash just by having your feet free. Feet just aren't that useful in accidents, unless you're traveling at low speeds already and swerving to avoid a pedestrian or something.

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IMO the advantages of clipless pedals outweight the drawbacks, for example :

  • no pedal hits in the tibia (ouch)
  • no crash because the foot slips off the pedal
  • much better control of the bike (easier to bunny hop curbs, etc)

However the type of pedals is very important. I hate SPDs. Cranks are the best but the axles and bearings break. TIME is a good compromise, clip/unclip is quick and instinctive, and getting out of the pedals happens naturally.

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