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What is the reason for pedal straps? They look as if they are more awkward and I can't see what the benefits are.

I can't remember the last time my feet slipped off my mountain bike, so why would they on a road bike?

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As a complement to answers below, I'd say that it's much easier to get your feet out of clipless pedals than straps, which is one of the reasons why they aren't used that much anymore. –  Vache Oct 11 '10 at 1:52
@domsterr - untrue unless you keep the straps very tight. Some people speak of having to reach down and loosen the straps to get their feet out, which seems ridiculously unsafe. My bike shop looks at my pedals and calls them unsafe, but I've never had a problem with them. At the same time, a "clipless fall" is a relatively common event among new clipless riders. On the other hand, from a power-transmission standpoint, clipless is the way to go. –  Neil Fein Oct 11 '10 at 20:15
They can be helpful but if u slow down to a stop and don't get your feet out in time you will take a tumble I fell and almost broke my leg. ( you have been warned) –  user11385 May 25 '14 at 2:10

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are a number of reasons for using either toe-clips (pedal straps) or clipless pedals:

  • It allows you to pull up as well as down, increasing the efficiency of your pedalling. This is something that you need to work at to get full effect from, as it is not a natural motion to most people. In Cadel Evans' book "Close to Flying" there is talk of a bike he uses for training that has a "freewheel" mechanism for the cranks which forces you to practice lifting the pedals as well as pushing them.
  • It positions the pedal under the ball of the foot giving you better leverage. While you don't need straps or clipless to do this, it does help keep your foot in the right place.
  • It helps to stop your feet coming off in rough ground while mountain biking.
  • It gives you more control over the rear of the bike allowing you to lift and shift the rear more easily. This makes it easier to bunny hop, and helps with controlling the bike on rough ground.
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The "freewheel" cranks are called Power Cranks and have a one-way ratcheting mechanism. Your legs move independently with them. Most people I know use them for maybe a year before giving up on them. –  John Lam Oct 13 '10 at 6:37

The answer "so you can pull up on the pedals" makes good sense, but I don't buy it. I don't pull up on the pedals unless I'm climbing a steep, sudden hill. I suspect many, many cyclists don't pedal with full efficiency on the flats. (This is my gut feeling, I have no proof or numbers on this. I remember seeing a study that agreed with this, but I also recall that it was limited in such a way as to cast doubt on the data.)

The reason I use clips and straps is that a lot of energy is expended simply keeping the balls of your feet centered on the pedals. If you don't believe me, try pedaling exclusively with clips and straps until you're used to them, then remove them. You'll find that your feet keep slipping off the pedals. This demonstrates that you were expending effort to keep your feet on-target.

(The only reason I don't use clipless pedals and shoes -- which are a much more elegant way to achieve the same effect clips and straps are going for -- is that I don't want to have to deal with an extra pair of shoes, and I want comfortable shoes when I get off the bike.)

An experienced cyclist will make constant, small adjustments to keep their feet in the optimal location on the pedals. Clips and straps keep the cyclist's feet in the best places to deliver the most power to the pedals (the balls of the feet), saving the cyclist that effort. (I have a regrettable habit of pedaling on the arches of my feet, which clips and straps correct.) As a bonus, the straps are there when you turn a corner and then see a sudden hill you didn't have a chance to build up momentum to climb.

Edit: I'm at least half retro-grouch touring cyclist, so take this with a grain of salt! I'm a non-racer, saddle-level-with-the-handlebars-for-comfort cyclist.

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I also pull when starting, sprinting and when facing strong winds. Although the rest of your post is very interesting, and probably right, pulling is pretty useful. –  Vache Oct 11 '10 at 1:54
@domsterr - Well, my post is my very strongly-held opinion. Feel free to downvote, of course! Headwinds... that's an interesting point. The next time I'm in a headwind, I'll take note if I'm pulling or not. –  Neil Fein Oct 11 '10 at 4:54
I was wondering why my feet kept slipping off the pedals... then realized that I'd just taken my toe clips off because the shoes I was wearing didn't fit well into them. –  Brian Campbell Oct 11 '10 at 4:56
@neilfein: I should mention than I ride a "race" bike, even when commuting. So that might have an effect on my pedalling. Pulling is a bit more natural with that type of geometry. –  Vache Oct 11 '10 at 15:15
The studies I've seen suggest than even experienced riders don't pull up much if at all, but the big advantage of straps is that you don't have to push down on the upstroke to keep your feet on the pedals. This can be a significant energy savings. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Nov 2 '14 at 1:17

The reason for using pedal straps is to allow you to transfer power from your legs to the pedals while both pushing down and pulling up. If your pedals do not have straps you can only transfer power to the pedals when pushing down on them.

While road cycling you typically don't need to take your feet off of the pedals as often as you do when mountain biking. By having pedal straps or "clip-less" pedals you can transfer power from your legs to the pedals for the full pedal stroke.

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The reason for straps is that properly tightened straps give you the best absolute power transmission, because you can both push and pull on the pedals at the same time, with zero risk of the pedals unclipping themselves. Clipless pedals, while they have been getting better, could historically unclip randomly at crucial moments such as sprints, with usually catastrophic results.

In the old times, you would find straps (toeclips) on road and track racing bikes, or bikes of people who had some pretence to racing. The advent of mountain biking occurred simultaneously to the invention of clipless pedals, so it's rare to find clips on the MTB. They are still used in track racing.

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Old post I know, but clipless pedals today are not just getting better, they are superior to straps in ever aspect except for cost and the need for special shoes. Straps are responsible for far more catastrophic results, because you cannot quickly undo them before a collision like you can with clipless. –  whatsisname Mar 9 '14 at 5:15

The other answers rightly point out that being able to pull up on peddles can help improve power output but completely overlook low speed bike control.

To help with balance when the bike is stationary it is very useful to be able to pull the forward pedal up just slightly and apply a tiny amount of pressure. This can allow you to stay clipped in and immediately accelerate rapidly when a traffic light turns green (because proper cyclists stop at red lights). And that applies to a fixie or a freewheel.

Toe straps and cleats both allow this kind of pedal control.

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Grew up riding with straps. Imo i have much better, smoother, stronger, faster, cadence being able to use my whole leg to spin the crank... feels like driving a fast car when your accelerator and clutch makes it seem like you're in a rubber band. Yes, that good lol

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I prefer using straps, been using them for 40+ years now and love 'em. As mentioned by previous posters pulling up can have its advantages. While setting myself up for a sprint I worked on bouncing the back wheel as I was already in motion, this has to be timed just right,the wheel would hop and you get that xtra spin like a burnout as you're just about to give it your all.

I once did that and my chain decided to break at the same time I was over the handlebars going for the finish, that hurt a lot skating on my chest on hot asphalt.

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