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I have bought Shimano SPD pedals and MTB shoes recently. After riding for a while with cleats I decided to go back to regular pedals as I had trouble getting used to the SPDs:

  • With cleats power is decreased dramatically. It's became much harder for me to stick with fast riding group.
  • After riding, muscles are aching.
  • It's became more difficult to pick up speed at the start.

Most likely that's because others groups of muscles are working. However, more than one month passed and I feel like I am still much faster with regular shoes. With regular pedals I used to ride with middle of the foot over the pedal. That is the main difference.

One more thing - uncomfortable feeling in my knees. However, cleats position are set up completely fine, according to multiple instructions and tutorials.

I'm wondering, if anyone have ever faced with same issue when starts to use cleats. What changes can you suggest trying to alleviate the problems I have described?

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"With regular pedals I used to ride with middle of the foot over the pedal. That is the main difference." This indicates that your bike fit is poor, or perhaps you have very weak ankles. If you have some bike buddies ask them to critique your bike fit and posture. Make sure your seat is high enough, and it's not positioned too far forward. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 29 '13 at 20:45
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@RitchMelton - But if the bike inclines you to ride mid-sole then something is most likely wrong with the fit. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 29 '13 at 22:33
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Anton, have you done any riding with "toe clips" (straps)? This produces a similar foot position to "clipless" pedals, but without the rigidity, and without the requirement for cleats on your shoes. This is probably a good "gateway drug" to full-on "clipless" pedals. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 29 '13 at 22:36
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@RitchMelton - I'm not inclined to believe one blog vs probably 75 years of cycling history. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 30 '13 at 0:00
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@DanielRHicks - I'm not either, but I'm inclined to believe the studies mentioned in the blog and comments. –  Ritch Melton Aug 30 '13 at 1:07

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm wondering, if anyone have ever faced with same issue when starts to use cleats. What changes can you suggest trying to alleviate the problems I have described?

After I first started using cleats, I started to developed knee pain. I asked about that here: you may like some of the answers. I discovered that in my case, the cause was the placement of my U-lock, which meant that my left leg travelled slightly further away from the top-bar than my right. Having the feet locked in place can cause problems (from repetitive strain). Some clips allow more freedom of motion than others. I fixed my problem by keeping my knees warm, and changing the location of the U-lock.

After a year and a half (10,000 km) I discovered that I can run on my toes, without putting my heel down, which I couldn't before. My calves had become stronger. People whose only exercise is walking (or cycling with the pedal under their arch instead of under the forefoot) may not have strong calves.

With cleats power is decreased dramatically. It's became much harder for me to stick with fast riding group.

With cleats you can push in a circle, instead of just pushing up and down. For example when each pedal is at 12 o'clock, you can push it forwards.

Also I agree with using a lower gear and a higher cadence. If another cyclist overtakes me on my commute, I found that it's because I'm in too high gear: changing down one gear so that I can spin more quickly helps me keep up with them, i.e. it lets me deliver more power.

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I didn't notice the [mountain-bike] tag on this question. My experience above is with commuting: I don't know how/whether it's applicable to your situation. –  ChrisW Aug 30 '13 at 17:20
    
MTBers tend to run a low cadence on average for a number of reasons - bumpy technical ground tends to upset speeds and balance enough dialing the perfect cadence would require a gear change every second or two. , however, when it relatively flat and level, the guys with roadie experience tend to spin at close to road speed. –  mattnz Aug 31 '13 at 8:12
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@mattnz Maybe MTBers are supposed to use cleats which have more float (ref, ref, ref) than on roadbikes. I use Shimano SPDs with "MTB shoes" for commuting, because they're easier to walk on than other types of cleat, but still mine don't seem to have much if any built-in float. –  ChrisW Aug 31 '13 at 10:52
    
+1 - especially for the comments on Float. My understanding is pedals, not the cleats, determine float (With SPD-SL its the cleats). I have a couple of bikes with different pedals - one had a lot more float than the other with the same shoes. –  mattnz Sep 1 '13 at 20:14

Firstly the "uncomfortable feeling in my knees" needs to be addressed and are a concern. You don't say how much and how long your rides are, but its warning that should not be ignored, more so if your rides are short (under about 2 hours).

What cadence are you riding at. With knee discomfort and being used to pedals in the middle of the feet, my guess is you are 'mushing' (slow pedal rate) rather than spinning. You cadence should site around 80RPM - typically faster for experienced roadies and slower for off road MTB. If its under about 60, it can cause knee pain. SPDs work better with higher cadence, so if you are mushing, there is unlikely to be much benefit. If you are a musher, it feels wrong to spin, but you need to for efficiency and your knees. the best thing to do is get out, hit a lower than normal gear and sit in it. Use your riding companions for a guide, ask them what they think - would/are they be in the same gear as you?

If you are not mushing, or you start to spin faster and the knees don't come right, then the cleats are setup wrong. If you think they are right, try changing the angles a little and see if the knees come right. Be cautious, and look after those knees.

In the end, flats are fine if you want to stick them. There is no law that says you have to use clip-less pedals, and not everyone benefits from them. If someone looks down on you because of flats, best option if you cannot ignore them is give them a lot of time to study your rear end on next ride.....

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Good point about cadence. One needn't do 80-90 RPM, but staying above 60-70 should be a goal, and there probably is a tendency to want to pedal mid-sole at low cadence. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 30 '13 at 11:20

I feel fastest with clipless pedals. But you are not alone. http://www.pinkbike.com/news/Which-Muscles-are-Really-Used-During-the-Pedal-Stroke-2012.html

I prefer to ride with older style strap in pedals because I like to walk normally when I get somewhere.

Also your shoes may not be adjusted to your pedals properly.

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In my experience, my knee pain was always fixed by sliding forward the seat (this kind of alignment). In general, I would check your setup with someone experienced and reliable because there might be a lot of variables involved in this kind of aches.

I think most of the problems you're having are due to being used to pedaling with the arch of the foot. Your calves are weak and get to burn in such a way that you can't push with all the power of your thighs and buttocks, or at least it would make your ankles bend. I can't think of any other reason why clipless pedals would make you weaker, because they make you use more muscles so at least you should achieve the same power.

I see some comments that suggest that pedaling with the arch of the foot is not that bad. Well, for mountain biking it is, because with ankles and calves you absorb the higher frequency (i.e. smaller) bumps, because of their shorter levers I guess. I feel much less in control if staying on the pedal with the arch of the foot, just because of that. OTOH, the "regular" position will make your calves burn until they're not trained, above all in descent, but at least in my case, it was pretty satisfying seeing them growing before my eyes! (obviously the training should be progressive to avoid inflammation of tendons and muscles).

tl;dr

Train you calves and get used to pedaling the "regular" way.

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For how often did you ride during this month? You describe quite novice errors. I've done the switch recently and I understand what you mean, but each time I was scared to do something with cleats or fell, I beared in mind the thought that I simply need to get used to them. Now I prefer cleats to flats, even I don't feel that 100% confident with them. Anyway, the reason for muscle pain is that you use another muscles now. Difficulty to get a quick start is only in your head, moreover cleats let you give exploding amount of power without being scary that your feet will spin too fast and you'll lose the pedals. Same thing about power. IMO you simply don't trust 'em, so I think you should give them another try (for two months at least, if you ride twice a week), and only then you will be able to get some kind of objective conclusions.

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