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I recently switched the pedals on my road bike over to the SPD clipless system. The pedals I got have an adjustable spring. Tightening the spring increases the force required to twist one's foot out, while loosening it does the opposite.

Initially, I set the tightness as low as it would go. I have ridden the bike every day in the last week without issue, and without even the prophesied falling (though I'm sure my time will come!).

Today, while biking uphill against a strong headwind, my foot detached from the pedal, and I nearly lost control of the bike. It seems to me that this is the result of pedaling vigorously while also swaying a bit to keep my balance. This also seems like exactly the wrong time to have one's feet come loose.

This event makes me think I should tighten up the spring. At the same time, I have had several near falls where I forget to unclip at a light, but was able to quickly unclip after stopping and catch myself.

I have two questions:

1: Is it more dangerous to set the tension too high or too low?

2: What sorts of schedules might be optimal for gradually tightening up the tension while learning to use the clipless pedals?

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How tight should you be? Three sheets to the wind! But, re the pedals, give them some time. Once you get used to them and your feet become adjusted to them you'll not come accidentally unclipped nearly as much. Re forgetting to unclip, I did that exactly twice in two days (fell both times), and have never done it again. It becomes second nature quickly. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 27 '12 at 3:18
    
A new pedal is more difficult to unclip. A worn out pedal unclips easier. So I advise you to lube the pedal (both the moving parts and the parts that friction with the cleat) in the beginning, and never more lube it again after you get used to it. I have a pedal that is 12 years old (and still works) and never lube it. But I had to in the beginning. Recently I bought a new one, and even with a very loose spring, it must be lubed so that I can unclip easily. And I think the pedals should, at any time, be as loose as it is safe to ride. –  heltonbiker Mar 27 '12 at 13:48
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the first time I went on click pedals with shoes, I had like 20 falls to the side when I wanted to lift up my foot instead of turning. practice a lot before you go on your first ride. –  Alvar Mar 28 '12 at 16:29

5 Answers 5

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Setting the release higher than your comfort level is asking for trouble.The risk of not being able to unclip while in traffic is just too great.As you get to the point that you are popping out more times than you forget to unclip increase the tension in 1/8 turn increments until you are not unclipping unless you want to.If at any point you feel that you are having trouble getting your foot unclipped back off the tension a little.As everything wears unclipping will be smoother and more consistant.

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+1 for "as everythink wears, unclipping will be easier" –  heltonbiker Mar 27 '12 at 13:51

My preference is to start with the pedals wound right back so your feet fall out if you even think about unclipping. But from my experience of novices most people will fall off at least once due to being clipped in. Regardless of how loose the pedals are.

After a week or so, or when the learner starts complaining that they're unclipping unexpectedly, I crank the tension up to normal levels. I'm not a fan of any kind of gradual change. I do err a little on the loose side while they work out what tension they prefer, but not in a smooth change fashion. It's a step to "firmly fixed" in one hit.

I suspect it's more dangerous to have the tension too tight - at some point anyone will be unable to unclip without damaging themselves - your ankles are not particularly good with twisting forces.

What I did find when I was learning was that there are time when I twist my feet in the pedals without realising it, so I was unclipping unexpectedly not because of pedalling force per se, but through half unclipping then pedalling. If you're off the saddle and throwing the bike around a bit, you may well have been pulling sideways out of the pedal. Don't do that :)

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Completely agree with ankles part. Have a sore ankle because of that. –  heltonbiker Mar 27 '12 at 13:52
    
My broken ankle has mended, but will never be like it was before SPDs. 1,024 miles ytd without them, life is good. –  Joe May 29 '13 at 4:25

Tighten the springs up a little if your feet are starting to pop out. Before I moved from SPD's to TIME's I had the SPD's cranked down as tight as they would go and I would still blow out of them and the scars on my kneecaps to prove it :/

The biggest thing you need to do as you tighten the pedals up is to practice clipping in and (especially) out to build up the muscle memory. Eventually you'll find yourself twisting your heels outwards even when riding flat pedals. So..
-Tighten the springs several notches,
-go in your backyard where there a soft area to fall over onto (and where nobody can see you),
-clip in and out a few dozen times.

Repeat this for a few days. If you find yourself tightening the springs down significantly again, run though the routine again. I'm not guaranteeing that you won't fall over anyway, but in my experience this process has helped new clipless riders.

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With a recently bought pedal, I got a very sore ankle because it was too tight to unclip. That's why I would suggest not to tighten it so much... But of course that's personal. –  heltonbiker Mar 27 '12 at 13:50

to begin with, have them really lose so it's easy to get out of, but then when you've learned the turn so you always do it without thinking. then try to make it harder, it's very different from person to person this. But I liked to have them really loose so you can get out of them. Still I fell probably 20-30 times my first run with them. An this is the falls were you know that it will happen 3 seconds before it happens.

so the basic rules are:

  • practice a lot of clicking in and out before you take your first ride.
  • make them loose so it's easy to click in and out.
  • make yourself comfortable with having the pedals on when you ride.

this last point is easy to try with just easy riding, so you stand up, brake, stop and make yourself comfortable with that before you have your first serious ride.

I didn't do all this, and it hurt, a lot.

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cleats moving aside... i also make sure i buy shoes that fit snugly and are tied and/or strapped down

I once went the lazy way and slipped into my shoes loose-foot . When I tried to unclip, the foot slid one side in the shoe while the shoe moved too little to disengage from the pedal. Classic fail.

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