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I am just thinking about investing in some clip-in pedals (and presumably shoes). I want to use them mostly on my older road bike but in the future I might want to move them over onto my mountain bike.

What do I need think think about when investing in clip-in pedals/shoes? (I have never ridden clippless pedals before).

I am thinking about picking up a pair of the Exustar E-SM440 Mountain Cycling Shoes or the Lake MX 85 Cycling Shoes. Would this be a reasonable shoe to start with?

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This is the first time I wanted to ask a question here and have found that it's already asked, with nice and detailed answers. A good omen for this site. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Sep 29 '10 at 11:47
    
Related question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/2690/… –  amcnabb Sep 2 '12 at 2:17
    
Here's what I really look for in clipless pedals and shoes. But for some reason here is what I usually get. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 11 '12 at 0:12
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7 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Pedal Selection

Pick a system that will work well for your current and future use. It's annoying to have different shoes for different bikes. My experience is limited to Shimano SPDs and Crank Brothers systems -- both of these work very well for road and mountain biking. The shoe cleat is similar for both systems and is fairly small, which means you can use it with shoes that allow recessed cleats. Very nice to be able to get off the bike and walk like a human being rather than a duck.

If you're just starting out with clipless, definitely get double-sided pedals (some "road" pedals only clip in on one side). If you think you might still occasionally use the bike with regular shoes, consider getting a pedal that also has a normal platform.

One other thing to keep in mind: float. This is how much freedom your foot has to rotate. Some folks like almost no float, others like/need plenty -- I need lots for my peculiar pedal stroke. If in doubt, err on the side of more float, your knees will thank you.

Shoes

Like regular shoes, fit is very important so make that your first priority. Remember that your feet swell later in the day so don't try shoes on first thing in the morning.

Also look at sole stiffness. A completely rigid sole transfers more power, but is more awkward to walk in. A partially rigid sole is a good choice for touring where you're not likely to pack a pair of normal walking shoes. I have a pair of each but much prefer the rigid soles for normal riding. Both pairs have recessed cleats.

Practice

Once you get your nifty new shoes and pedals: practice, practice, practice! You need to be able to unclip on either side at a moment's notice. Practice coming to a stop and unclipping -- better to get it right when you're not in traffic trying to stop at a light. That said, you will probably still have a few falls. It normally hurts your pride more than your body and this phase should wear off after a few months.

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Wow, that is a great answer! Thanks for the answer. One more question for you though. How can I tell what the float of the pedal is? –  sixtyfootersdude Sep 10 '10 at 11:42
    
Float should be part of the specs of the pedal. Might be listed on the package but your LBS should know or you can find it on the manufacturers' website. I remember Shimano offering cleats with different amounts of float. –  darkcanuck Sep 10 '10 at 14:37
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Just be very prepared to fall. Everyone I know has taken a dive after switching to clipless. I suggest practicing on grass for a while. –  Jack M. Sep 10 '10 at 15:35
    
+1 - On the shoe fit advice! A friend of mine spent ~$200 on a pair of 'cool' bike shoes, but they hurt his feet so bad that he had to replace them in a few months. –  user313 Sep 10 '10 at 17:38
    
I posted a follow up question here: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/845/clipless-pedals-float –  sixtyfootersdude Sep 10 '10 at 19:33
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Re: Float

Typically, manufacturers will supply this information in their description of the pedals, and retailers will mention it as well.

I've used clipless pedals since 1990 or so, far longer than I ever used toe-clips. I've used systems like LOOK (which Shimano has co-opted) which have a larger cleat, but I recently switched systems.

I switched to Crank Brothers pedals for a few reasons:

  1. Four-sided entry: The 'eggbeater' pedals I have now can be accessed from any side at any time, unlike the Look style which has a distinct 'top' side and 'bottom' side. This makes starting from a dead stop a little easier, because you don't have to mentally 'hook' your toe and step down quite as deliberately.

  2. Smaller cleat: I don't use recessed cleat shoes, but I wanted the option in the future. Also, to continue from the previous point, clipping in is significantly easier.

  3. Lower 'stack height': The vertical distance from the ball of my foot to the spindle of the pedal is significantly shorter with the eggbeaters than with my old Look pedals.

  4. Lighter Weight: Okay, this one was less important, but even the heaviest Eggbeater was lighter than the pedals I was replacing.

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Downsides of Crank Bros pedals (Egg Beaters, anyway) is that the bearings don't last. They have one bearing and one bushing and the bushing wears quickly, leading to a pedal with a lot of play on the axle. Be prepared to rebuild/have them rebuilt. –  markdrayton Sep 11 '10 at 12:18
    
I've used the same pair of EggBeaters for over 4000 miles, and they're still going strong. I bought them on sale for ~$40. They are the cromoly ones with the blue threads. They don't spin /quite/ as well as they used to, but they are by no means in need of replacement. –  Dennis Wurster Sep 14 '10 at 21:43
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My first piece of advice to you would be - "be prepared to fall, because you will". I remember the first time I used clipless pedals. I finished a ride, got back to the house, went to put the feet on the floor. JAMMED! Panicked, slowly fell to the side. But don't worry, you'll soon get used to it. I definitely wouldn't go back to toe straps now.

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And it will be somewhere embarrassing in front of witnesses. Without fail! –  geoffc Sep 12 '10 at 14:32
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Every time someone tells me that they just went clipless, I always (jokingly) ask "So, have you fallen over yet?" If they chuckle, I know they have, and if they don't, I say "Don't worry, your turn is coming, it happens to everyone." –  Dennis Wurster Sep 14 '10 at 21:45
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If you start to fall, try leaning the other way. I fell twice with my clipless pedals, but the third time (which would've been a nasty fall indeed, as the ground was lower where I was falling), I leaned really hard to the left and managed to right myself. Note that there are two potential problems: (1) Not unclipping at all; (2) Unclipping one foot and then leaning to the other side! –  Kyralessa Oct 10 '10 at 22:01
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Others have done a good job on the pedals; I'll focus on the shoes.

I like riding with mountain biking shoes since you can walk around easily with them. You never know when you'll need to walk around; today at work work I wound up using them all day long because I forgot I brought my shoes home the other day while driving. That would have totally sucked if I had been using my road shoes.

Spend a bit of time in an empty parking lot getting used to clipping in and out. Twisting your foot is really pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it.

I ride the Shimano SH-M086L shoes:

alt text

And I ride the Crank Brothers "Candy" pedals:

alt text

I have over 2000 miles on this combination this year alone and love it. Bought them both at Performance Bike and spent < $100 total.

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One significant choice point, which I think deserves its own answer, is the choice between "walkable" or non-walkable shoes/cleats. Some cleats (eg, SPD) are fairly compact, and with the right shoes ("mountain biking" or "touring" shoes with lugs and a depression to accept the cleat) it's reasonably (if not incredibly comfortable) to walk a moderate distance with the shoes.

Other cleats (eg, SPD-SL) are larger and cannot practically be installed on shoes in a way to permit walking any distance.

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Time for Time!

Personally I ride Time ATAC (Auto Tension Adjustment Concept) pedals, however, I tend to recommend Shimano SPD for similar reasons that I would recommend Windows XP over Ubuntu as a starting point (you don't want to confuse people). Given no mention of Time pedals in this thread I best speak up...

Time ATAC pedals are remarkably similar to the Crank Bros design, however, the Time pedals came first and the Crank Bros pedals are a johnny-come-lately version of the design (might be licenced). Crank Bros pedals can get in the way of the standard two-hole part of the shoe, needing extra spacers that are not what you want to be buying with future shoe/cleat sets. They also tend to be warrantied more than competing pedal brands.

The Time pedals have better patents than the SPD efforts and I don't think they will be licensing the elegant simplicity to Shimano any time soon. The guy who started Time was the guy that designed the original Look clipless pedals - also an enduring design classic that Shimano did licence.

Time ATAC pedals come with various prices, the affordable models with cr-mo spindles will do nicely. Pedals have to take abuse and sometimes there is a lot to be said for cr-mo steel. I have the cheerful ones and I have never thought 'damn, wish I went for carbon fibre spindles instead!'.

It is very hard to destroy Time ATAC pedals and there is no spring tension on the pedals to 'adjust'. They just clip in and that is it. You can put the brass cleats on the 'wrong shoes' to get a bigger release angle but I have not needed that.

The Time ATAC system is not ubiquitous, so you cannot always get the cleats. However, a bit of online shopping later and the cleats can be sent to your door for minimum post 'n' packaging.

In use I do not always click in. I hook the cleat in the front and pedal without clicking in fully. This gives you all the foot security you need in that your feet will not slip off the front or sides of the pedal. For more security I click one pedal in, for long distance, no-stop riding I click both pedals in.

Because of the realities of pedalling (even Tour de France riders on finest smuggled EPO do not pull up on the pedals) you should be able to start with the ATAC design and have only one pedal completely locked in. This will mean that you will not have to collapse on the pavement during a release (as happens with new SPD riders, usually horribly so).

From riding ATAC I get a lot of 'float' that initially (ten or more years ago) seemed weird. However, nowadays I cannot stand riding on platform pedals that lock into your shoe/trainer. It does not feel right as repositioning the feet is not as easy or natural feeling. The SPD system does not have this float - newbies to them do have mishaps. In engineering terms it is simply inferior.

I think it is fair to say that the basic Time ATAC pedals last forever with no need to even think about 'servicing'. I can see why Tour de France riders have those big SPD-SL/Look KEO pedals, but, if you have traffic lights to stop for then ATAC has so many advantages, chief being that you don't have to be locked in before you pedal away.

Posh Shoes or Cheap Shoes?

Personally I ride (and wear off bike) cheap and cheerful shoes by Shimano and Specialized. In fact I only have one set of shoes that do not have the cleat and would not consider getting 'pedestrian' shoes with flimsy, flexible soles.

Because shoes have to fit I do go to one of the commuter oriented bike shops in my area to get my next set of Shimano/Specialized shoes when the ones I have start to look a bit too scruffy. Because I have a fair few shoes with the cleat on I always have a dry set to wear.

Your long term ambition should be to become a Sidi shoe fetish person, they have the best fit, the best materials and the best technology. You should only consider the high end models and, whilst you are at it, get the ones that are massively bling, e.g. in shiny red 'patent' synthetic leather. They do them for MTB two-whole cleat and work perfectly with Time ATAC. You can also replace the tread as the rubber bits bolt onto the carbon-layer sole. Due to material choice the Sidi shoes do not stink even if worn 24/7.

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I fell twice in the first week that I had clipless, and then didn't fall again for about 5 years (and that time was something of a "planned fall" when I couldn't quite make it up a steep hill).

The second time I fell was especially embarrassing, as I came to a stop at a traffic light and then proceeded to slowly fall over, in front of about 15 witnesses.

One thing to learn is how to unclip early and pedal with the arch of your foot, when conditions indicate that you might need to stop suddenly (as when approaching a "stale green" traffic light). You usually only need to unclip one foot when doing this.

(I'm partial to the SPD system -- fairly simple, several suppliers of pedals, "walkable" shoes. But then it's the only system I've ever used.)

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