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I just bought some SPD shoes and pedals last night and I was trying them out (on one foot) while balancing in my living room. I ended up falling over because I couldn't get unclipped. What suggestions do you have for breaking out of the clips? Do you simply twist your foot strongly to the outside or will that damage the cleats?

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Do you have access to a gym or fitness facility with a "spinning" class? Gym spinning bikes are often mounted with spd pedals and the bikes are almost impossible to tip over...so potentially a good place to practice your technique. – user313 Mar 24 '11 at 15:53
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Falling over at least once in front of someone is a clipless pedal rite of passage. – whatsisname Mar 25 '11 at 0:20
    
I've been riding clipless for 15 years and in a moment of not quite paying attention I almost fell over last week. Been probably 14 years since I last had a close call. – curtismchale Mar 25 '11 at 4:34
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You'll get comfortable getting out after a bit of practice. I found that just after that was the most dangerous time. I thought it had become second nature and that was when I started forgetting and fell over for the first time. Haven't done it for a long time now; probably will tomorrow now that I wrote this. – Wayne Johnston Mar 26 '11 at 3:04
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If you are not comfortable with using SPD pedals there is no shame in using flate pedals instead. Don't let bike shops, SPD enthusiasts or internet forums convince you to use a pedal interface you are not comfortable with. – user1049697 Mar 25 '13 at 17:34

13 Answers 13

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Make sure the tension is low at first (should be a little screwn on face of pedal). Generally you will get to a point of looseness where you are popping out unintentionally, go just tigher than that.

Cleat placement also can be a factor. The closer to the toe it is, the easier it tends to be to get out. Be careful about moving too far from the balls of your feet, it could end up with achy toes!

Lastly, see if the sole of your shoe is interferring with the pedal. If it is dragging, you can get little spacers that go between sole and cleat.

Don't worry about damaging the cleat, you will do more walking around on concrete. Also, you will probably fall at least once while getting used to them. It is almost a rite of passage.

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"The closer to the toe it is, the easier it tends to be to get out" - I found the opposite to be true: I find it's easier to pivot about the centre of my foot than about the toe. – ChrisW Mar 25 '11 at 2:29
    
I'll add that on one pair of shoes with a tread I carved out the tread a bit to increase the clearance. – curtismchale Mar 25 '11 at 4:36
    
Just went for the first ride of the season and had a few close calls but having the tension low helped a lot – Joe Philllips Apr 10 '11 at 16:46
    
I feel this depends on the shoe. I have tested both: front and back and it is equally hard. Or if easier then it will hurt my leg after riding. Apparently it is a compromise between easiness to take away and pedaling or? Is there some good way to test different combinations? – user652 Jun 27 '11 at 0:12

You aren't likely to damage anything that way. However, you may wish to adjust the tension of the cleat retention mechanism on the pedal to be a bit looser, especially since you're not yet practiced at clipping and unclipping.

There is likely to be a small screw on each pedal that adjusts the tension of the spring...loosening it will make clipping in and out easier.

That said, you may also want to tighten it back up once you become more used to the pedals and cleats.

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Just two bits of advice from me. First, make sure that the cleat is tight on the shoe. If you twist your ankle, and the cleat rotates in the shoe, that will not end well. Second, and I'm the only one I know who does this, I find it much easier to rotate my ankle in (towards the bike) than out. Maybe it's the way my leg and/or hips are built. Who knows? I do know, though, that it is much easier for me personally, and I have no problem getting in/out of my pedals in a hurry.

And as everyone else said, "Practice!"

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I rotate my ankle toward the bike as well. But a word of caution, I've found that the side of the heel has become a little worn as it sometimes rubs against the tire. – Kibbee Mar 18 '13 at 17:50
    
I pick my foot up so it is at the top of pedal stroke before getting out. I prefer to not hit my wheel, chain, or derailleurs. – Jarrett Meyer Mar 18 '13 at 20:10
    
I preferred rotating inward also, but I ruined a pair of shoes doing that. My heel would strike the seat tube and it quickly wore a hole right through the shoes. – Carey Gregory Jun 24 '13 at 22:23

Just practice - preferably on a soft surface!

You also need to be a little more aware, especially in traffic, think a little further ahead about where/when you will have to stop so you can be unclipped as you stop at the light.
Suddenly braking to a halt and then having to stop and think before you unclip leads to falls.

You should also get into the habit of always unclipping the same foot first - generally the kerb side - so it becomes automatic.

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Excellent point about thinking ahead. I always like to unclip my right foot when I'm getting near a stop light/intersection, or when in a parking lot. Saves me from having to worry about my foot being stuck on the pedal when I need it somewhere else. – Jared Harley Apr 10 '11 at 4:17
    
Unclipping the same foot each time is a good idea, but I would suggest the inside foot is best (so depends what side of the road traffic drives on). On roads with a high crown, or a sharp drop-off into the gutter at the edge, the outside foot can be left a couple of inches further from the road surface than you expect and can lead to a fall (at least you fall outwards though...). – Penguino May 18 at 23:14

I recently moved the clips twoards the back of the shoe (now, instead of being under the ball of my foot, they're 1 cm further back). I did that for other reasons but, coincidentally, I find them now much easier to unclip: now that the clip (about which I must pivot to unclip) is closer to the centre of my foot.

I was trying them out (on one foot) while balancing in my living room

Hold onto something, e.g. a vertical pipe, when you need to balance at a stand-still like that.

Also people advised me to:

  • Practice away from traffic (e.g. on a dedicated bike path) until I'd fallen off
  • Practice in winter (when I'm wearing a winter coat, when falling will hurt less)
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So after a few years of riding with these cleats, I've learned a couple things:

  • Keep the tension pretty loose (I rarely pop out but it's still easy to get in/out)
  • Twist the ankle so the heal swings outward to break loose
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It happened to me twice in my first month of riding with SPDs. The first time was my first day out and was when a car stopped suddenly in front of me. I just wasn't ready. The second time was after I had become used to being clipped in and confident in my ability to get out quickly but I had a problem changing down the gears on a steep climb and came to a sudden halt. This time I WAS ready but still went over. Here's some advice that would have saved me both times:-

Get one foot out and put that foot down, making sure you lean towards that side! It's of no use waving in the air as you fall towards your clipped-in side! I now try to think of my left leg as a bike stand. I'm sure I'll get caught out again at some point but the benefits of riding with SPDs make it worth it.

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Shimano make 2 types with the black ones (SH 51) restricted to unclipping when you twist your foot in one direction only. The silver cleats (SH 56) allow unclipping by twisting your foot in either direction. If you are new to SPDs I'd make sure to use the silver ones.

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I don't see how the silver ones necessarily help - its pretty hard to clip out in more than one direction. – Batman Mar 26 '14 at 0:01

As others have commented, get used to unclipping kerbside foot first - and then (and for me this is crucial) make sure the foot that is still clipped in is at the top of the pedal stroke. I made the awful mistake of having the unclipped foot at the bottom of the stroke and when a small child looked like she was about to step out (I was moving slowly up to a junction) my automatic reaction was to put my right foot down. I took myself over onto my right hand and fractured my radial head. No cycling for a while, and I'm not sure if I'll have the confidence to use clipless pedals again, even though I know it was my own stupid fault.

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Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. That's a good relevant first answer, thank you. I look forward to future contributions. – Criggie May 19 at 2:14

You might not damage the cleats, but you could tweak your calves - careful with that.

In addition to adjusting tension screws and cleats, dry lube can help.

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My advice (as others have said) is to loose the tension, and with time adjust it.

The cleat will wear naturally, don't worry about that.

I just started using SPDs last week and when I tried (with an "actual" ride on the back of my house) it went very well, clipping in and out was so easy!

Until I made a stupid mistake, had the left foot uncliped and staning on the floor holding my weight, the bike was tipping over to the left side and I didn't even realise I had to twist my ancle and fell on my left shoulder. Not too painfull and a great lesson, I then spent about 30 minutes riding and clipping in and out a lot!

I believe if I didn't fall down I wouldn't have payed as much attention as I did and wouldn't train the in and out, but as with anything else, it's a matter of practice.

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I agree with Jarrett - I also unclip by turning the heel inwards and it is also logical in that your foot is facing slightly away from the bike on release, just seems to make more sense and going the other way seems un-natural for me.

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The only problem with inward is that there might not be quite enough space to accomplish that, especially on the right side. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 18 '13 at 10:57

Combine the twisting and stepping motions.

The first couple of months I was following the algorithm

  • twist ankle (heel outboard) - the cleat unclips
  • move foot horizontally outboard, until you clear the pedal
  • move foot vertically, until it steps.

This is a flawed approach, especially while crashing in technical off-road conditions. An improved approach would be:

  • twist the ankle, at the same time pushing the heel diagonally directly towards the point on the ground where you want to step

Done correctly, this is even easier (and much faster) than the first approach. There is no mental overhead of following an algorithm. Practically after a month of training your nervous system to automate the move, you forget you are unclipping - you are simply stepping somewhere!

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