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I was persuaded to switch to race SPD-SL pedals after losing the old MTB pedals to theft (along with the bike!). They're one-sided, though, unlike the MTB pedals, and I find that coming off of a red light full stop, I either pop my down foot right into the pedal, or I miss and have to toe it across the intersection while trying to get the cleat in. It's too dangerous to look down and watch the pedal when this happens.

Is there a strategy that makes this easier and more consistent (and therefore safer)?

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Practice a bunch? –  Stephen Touset Jan 15 at 4:20
    
What I do with my SPDs is to pedal with my instep until I get moving, then clip in "at my leisure". And I find the style of pedal makes a lot of difference. My (Shimano) bike pedals are fairly easy to clip into, but some (no-name) pedals on exercise bikes at my gym are a lot harder. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 15 at 12:11
    
This is why I went with SPD (mountain) pedals, even though I have a road bike. SPD is so much easier to clip into, and with the pedals I picked, I can even ride quite well without being clipped in. Riding in a group, I wonder why casual riders would choose road pedals when they seem to be fumbling so much trying to get clipped in. –  Kibbee Jan 15 at 13:59
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When I need to clip without looking to see if my Look pedal is rotated up or not, I point my toes to the ground and push the top of my foot against the pedal -- then I can feel the difference between the top and bottom of the pedal. If it's oriented correctly, then I can pull up foot upwards, then slide my toe into the cleat, otherwise, I flip it and try again. Sounds complicated but (usually) works well with practice. Though I'm thinking of switching back to doublesided mountain SPD's on the road bike. With those, I just blindly mash my feet on the pedals and I clip in almost everytime. –  Johnny Jan 16 at 1:06
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After riding 15 years with SPDs, the single sided ones always give me problems clipping. Double sided ones never. With single sided you are sitting on a pointy fence - best to get off the fence.... –  mattnz Jan 16 at 9:35

6 Answers 6

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When stopped, you'll tend to always put the same foot down and leave one clipped. For me, I unclip my left foot. And in preparation to take off, my right foot and pedal are just over the top of the pedal stroke to get the maximum push when I launch.

The catch, at least for me, is to get my left foot off the ground ASAP and get in contact with the pedal before the left pedal comes up over the top of the pedal stroke. Up until that point, the heavier back end of the pedal should be hanging below and slightly behind the spindle. And if you can get your foot up to the left pedal before the down-stroke, where the heavier back end of the pedal starts wanting to swing over the top, and around and around, it's just a matter of sliding your cleat over the spindle and down into clip position.

All of this obviously means gear choice is a big deal when stopping. If you have it in too easy of a gear, there's no way you'll be able to get your foot off the ground onto the pedal before it's on the down-stroke. On the other side, if you're in too hard of a gear, you may not get enough momentum with the first push to go anywhere.

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I have observed that many people likely tend to stop with their strong leg down, making that initial half-stroke weaker than it would otherwise be. –  Daniel R Hicks Jan 18 at 2:39

The best way is to practice, practice, practice!

Do it enough times and it'll become second nature.

When I was first starting with my road pedals (Keos, but they're pretty similar) I would push my shin against them after setting off to steady them before trying to clip in.

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Take some time when you're not in traffic to have a look at the way the pedal hangs naturally, when you're unclipped.

In my case, my one-sided Shimano SPD-road pedals always hang cleat-side down. So to clip in without looking, I put my toe underneath and roll up from the back, staying in contact with the pedal the whole time. This doesn't always work, but it's more reliable than guessing and stamping.

Take extra care in the rain as I find the (metal) non-cleat side of the pedal can be very slippery when wet. I've learnt through painful experience that staying seated until cleated is best!

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and if the pedal doesn't rotate freely you need to lube it/check the bearings –  ratchet freak Jan 15 at 15:17
    
Also keep in mind that when you clip into one pedal and step on it, the centrifugal force will often reverse the opposite (unclipped) cleat at the top of its upswing. –  jimirings Jan 18 at 3:36

With one-sided road specific pedals there are a number of factors to nailing the one pedal stroke clip-in. Depending on how the manufacture has weighted the pedal this differs from pedal-model to pedal model, so you will need to experiment. (I personally use Time, which are weighted well, but have a pair of Shimano SPD road pedals on my commuter where the the weighting makes this more difficult). Typically, most single sided road pedals will flip up (aka clip surface to the rear) when not engaged to a shoe.

The key is to spin the crank at a fast enough speed so that the clip-in surface presents its self at top of the pedal stroke. At this point you have one chance to hit the clip-in target with your unclipped foot. The force from the ensuing down stroke will engage the cleat. If you spin the crank to slow at the start of the pedal stroke, the unclipped pedal may remain with the clip surface down making it impossible to clip-in.

Nailing the starting crank speed is easy to figure out with some experimentation and ensuring you start in a low enough gear. Hitting the target needs to be become an automatic/learned response. If you are thinking about it, it is not automatic and you will likely mess it up. This takes a while to master, so I suggest practicing in low risk environments so you can relax and not over think it.

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Practice is pretty much all you can do. If you had regular SPD, they make two sided pedals, which solves some problems (this is probably what I'd use if I wasn't on Look [because I got the pedals for free...] already), but this may require changing your shoes (or Shimano SM-SH40 like adapters) and will require new pedals. I don't see the point in SPD-SL over SPD for most riders. There are SPD+SPD-SL compatible shoes though, but typically these aren't good for walking in, so if you have to walk a decent amount in the shoes, switching to SPD may be a good idea. In any case, you'll need to practice if you aren't used to clipless pedals. Note that the adapters for 3 hole to 2 hole will make it harder to walk, so if you choose to switch to regular SPD with a 2 sided pedal (or a 1 side platform, 1 side SPD which is OK for transitional periods but you do end up with the wrong side to some extent a decent amount of time).

Also, are you racing, or did you just buy race pedals? If you're not racing, I don't see the point to owning the SPD-SL in the first place (much like owning a race bike for commuting).

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I don't commute very far, but I do go on long rides when I'm not holed up at work. I didn't see the point in owning two sets of pedals, and I plan to train more heavily in the future. –  Trevor Alexander Jan 15 at 6:14

If you're using LOOK Keo pedals or something similar it's obviously down to practice, but I also found this little tip useful:

Don't just push your foot down onto them, you have to slide it forward to engage the nose then press the back down.

The act of sliding forward also puts the pedals the right way up so you don't try to engage them upside-down!

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