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I got a new mountain bike a year ago, with SPD pedals. I'm OK with these on a road bike (that I don't normally crash), but on a mountain bike when I crash I usually can't jump off the bike like I used to. I can handle stopping OK, but when I'm about to crash I can't jump off and land on my feet.

Do I need to loosen the pedal settings? Should I unclip when I'm getting to a hard part on the trail? (I have pedals that work both ways.) Or should I just practice crashing until I get it right? What do "real" mountain bikers do?

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I don't mountain bike, but I do like to unclip in "touchy" situations where I may need to stop suddenly or some such. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 1 '11 at 10:44
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6 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your best option is to practice a lot on how to unclip your foot, so you get accustomed to it. I suppose you have already done this. So you must now adjust the spring tension on your pedals. Refer to the instruction manual on how to adjust it.

Aside from that, I have found that dirt, grime and other pollution in the cleats makes it extra hard to get the foot free. It gets to your pedals every time you step on mud or soft soil and then go back to he pedal, something that does not happen so frequently for a road biker.

When you cleat after stepping on mud or soft soil your shoe picks up little stones, little stems, leaves and all sort of things that clog up the pedal's mechanism, and the pedaling action makes all this dirt get to critical places.

That's why I recommend to thoroughly clean the pedals and oiling them between rides. Normally you won't get too much dirt in only one ride, but you don't want it to get accumulated, for this worsens the performance of the release mechanism. Oil helps a lot for clipping in and out, but also helps a little by not allowing some dirt to stick to the mechanism (Your pedal won't be so dirty by the end of the ride).

Tip #2: you should periodically inspect your pedals and cleats for dents, deformations and other that can affect your ability to clip out. Specifically I've had trouble with the "ramps" that push the cleat out when you twist your foot. For some reason these develop a kind of hook that prevents the foot from twisting. You can easily file out these deformations, usually they are surprisingly tiny! Use a fine file or a rotary tool (dremel) with a fine grit grinding stone.

Tip #3: Part of some training I also did, was about conquering difficult technical sections without removing any foot from its pedal. I did this by building small obstacles in the middle of an ample flat terrain. The Obstacles where made of stones and logs, trying to make then with increased difficulty every time, but always made then in such a way that if I fell it wouldn't hurt much, hence the flat clean terrain around the obstacle. This kind of training gives the rider a lot of self confidence and builds the necessary skills that make the use of cleated pedals more intuitive at the required level for MTB riding.

These tips have kept me clipped for 10 years of mountain biking, doing XC, and a little all-mountain and downhill.

My final comment: IF you're accustomed to SPD on your road bike, make an effort to stay on SPD for your mountain bike, if you remove them, almost sure you'll miss them!

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Consider switching to SpeedPlay pedals? I'm told they're not as tolerant of dirt/mud, so probably not an ideal option. However, they stay perfectly secure for all my road cycling (I use platforms for mountain biking, no clipping in for me there), unclip easily as designed, but in emergency situations I was able to pull my foot off the pedal (with the kind of force you can do during an emergency) without doing the unclip motions.

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My girlfriend used to use SPD pedals on her mountain bike, but switched to eggbeaters after a head-first meeting with what she nicknamed "The Bog of Eternal Stench", and a very long, smelly, damp ride home. She's found that they're easier to get into and out of quickly, that they are less prone to getting clogged with mud, grass, and other debris, and are much more intuitive in situations on the trail that require rapid response.

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I must agree. I ride with the Crank Bros. "Mallet" pedals and they are perfect combo of retention and easy exit. With them I've successfully unclipped both pedals and dropped the bike between my legs when going over the bars, letting me hit the ground running. ;-) –  Adam Franco Sep 5 '11 at 3:11
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You can adjust the tension on the pedal release, but you should also check your cleats.

Shimano has two different SPD cleat models:

  • SH51 - unidirectional release
  • SH56 - multidirectional release

The SH56 is marked with a large 'M' on the pedal facing side of the cleat, and will allow you to click-out more easily than will the SH51.

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Thanks -- I've got the SH-56. –  xpda Sep 2 '11 at 2:12
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Stay clipped in at all times, especially during tricky spots because that is when you need the most control and the most power.

When you say that 'you're able to bail when you know you're going to crash', you are describing a situation that has the luxury of time to decide. You would have time to unclip too.

Whatever happens it is OK to wipe out while attached to your bike. It won't hurt you "more" than wiping out without it (modulo some exceedingly rare freak accidents that aren't worth trying to avoid).

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I agree, I felt the same at start, but now I feel quite comfortable while clipped in on dangerous downhiill sections. –  Papuass Sep 1 '11 at 12:31
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I've generally found that when I hit something hard I end up getting unclipped automatically by my momentum. I basically agree with this answer but I do wonder if @xpda has experienced that? It's not something that can be tested easily. –  Colin Newell Sep 1 '11 at 13:15
    
"When you say that you're able to bail when you know you're going to crash... You would have time to unclip too." No, that's not correct. That's the problem -- sometimes when I would normally bail, I can't because there's no time to unclip. –  xpda Sep 1 '11 at 13:47
    
@xpda, how much time do you need to unclip? –  Angelo Sep 1 '11 at 15:19
    
I agree with xpda, to the extent that I can understand the situation, not being a mountain biker. Getting unclipped often makes the difference between simple wounded pride and some non-trivial scrapes and cuts. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 1 '11 at 17:31
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I would start loosening pedals so that you can unclip them much easily than you do now but that they don't unclip suddenly when you don't want them to do so.

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