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I'm about to teach my daughter how to use clipless pedals and got wondering if there were any advantages of pushing off from a start with the left leg or right leg. Is there any difference?

To add a bit of context. She'll be mainly bunch riding with a school group using a road bike on sealed roads. We live in a country where traffic drives on the left hand side of the road.

Edit: Thanks for the answers. A couple of my own thoughts are: 1) in athletics, there are analogs of "no right answers, whichever feels right". For sprint starting blocks, a simple test is: relax and push the person forward. Whichever leg is extended to arrest the fall is the back leg in the starting block. It's nice to have an informal test like that. 2) camber of the road: our roads have a reasonable camber, and I tend to ground my foot on the lower side of the camber: would it be better to ground the foot on the higher side of the camber?, 3) if most of the bunch uses one leg, would it be better to do the same so that you all lean toward the same direction when you stop at lights etc.

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I taught my daughter to use clipless pedals by putting her bike on a wind trainer while she watched television. I got her pedals that are flat on one side with SPD's on the other side.

A random intervals I'd call "left foot down", or "right foot down", trying to time my call for the most inconvenient moment. And as I mentioned in comments, I never did tell her that everyone eventually falls.

When she was comfortable with those exercises, she started riding on the road with her new pedals. Sometimes she would ride with the flat pedals, but she quickly came to like the feeling of confidence that comes from knowing one's feet wont slip off the pedals.

After four years she still hasn't (yet) fallen because of the pedals.

To answer your question - it doesn't really matter which leg they usually push off with.

But it does matter that they learn to be able to start and stop on either leg. In my observation falls come when the rider "has the pedals wrong" when they make an emergency stop. They need to be confidently able to unclip and stop with either foot.

Edit - re the additional points.

To restate my previous paragraph in a different way: it matters for her safety that she be able to start and stop on either foot. Not all stops are preplanned. It's the sudden stops that lead to falls, where the rider gets themselves tangled up trying to get the wrong foot out of their pedal.

For starting, it's a great help to be able to start from either foot also. It's normal to have a favoured foot, and it doesn't matter which one it is.

And if most of the bunch uses one leg, would it be better to do the same so that you all lean toward the same direction when you stop at lights etc? No, IMHO you are over-thinking it at this point. I suspect you are thinking that because the bikes are leaning when they are stationary, that everyone will wobble or turn in that direction as they start off. If that is what happens, then I suggest that they are not ready to ride on the road. In practice, I just don't see experienced riders (including my own daughter) wobble that much. And the amount they do wobble seems random: members of the bunch push off at slightly different times, and make their first pedal stroke with different levels of effort. And when they stop, the bunch will generally stop in a random arrangement, depending on how hard they were concentrating, who they were taking to, what gear change they were trying to make, etc, etc.

So the conclusion hasn't changed: no it doesn't matter which leg, but she should be able to use either.

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There isn't really a difference that matters. Whatever she finds most comfortable (typically, clipping out with the less dominant leg) is what she should use. I find myself clipping out my right leg even though it is dominant in some cases so I can put one foot on the curb in some cases when riding with clipless pedals.

The key thing is to practice clipless pedals until she gets the hang of it before going out on the road.

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    One extra point - many people tell beginners everyone falls when they're learning. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy Don't say this - it just adds to the stress. Just teach really positive habits. – andy256 Nov 10 '14 at 6:15
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    @andy256 - 100% agree you should not say it to prevent the self fulfilling bit.... but they will still fall... :). She should make a point of telling everyone in the group she is new to clipless. It might be the difference between her taking out the entire bunch in a "GoPro goes viral" kind of way and will be the difference between upsetting someone or getting support when.. sorry... if... it goes wrong. – mattnz Nov 10 '14 at 6:25
  • @mattnz Yep, I agree with telling the group. I now recall that I took the approach I advised with my daughter. She has never had a fall that was related to the pedals. Famous last words ... – andy256 Nov 10 '14 at 6:31
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    I think it's important to be able to use either leg to push off. – Carel Nov 10 '14 at 10:52
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One thing that I've noticed is that I tend to put my stronger (right) leg down. This leaves the weaker left leg to give the initial stroke. I'm (eventually) going to try to train myself to put my left leg down so that the stronger leg is making the stroke.

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I'm in the UK, so obviously drive on the left-hand side. In general, I'll unclip with my left foot (I'm right-dominant), because then, when I pull over to the side of the road, I can put my left (outside) foot on the curb/grass/similar. That said, however, I do sometimes unclip with my right, for example if on a camber.

Further to my reasoning is this: my only two forms of transport when I'm at home from uni are my bicycle and my motorbike. When I stop on my motorbike, I should (nearly) always put my left foot down, as I have my right foot on the back brake. As such, it is natural for me to put my left foot down when I stop.

If your daughter is ever thinking of getting a motorbike, then I would highly recommend getting very used to unclipping on the left, so as to do the same on a motorbike.

Hope this helps! :)

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Could always teach her to track stand. It's a very useful skill, especially if you learn to do it with either foot forward. That sort of bike control will save her at some point when unclipping isn't practical or a quick enough solution for an awkward situation.

Best time to learn such skills is when they are young. Have flat bed pedals to start with, just need a slightly rising gradient to practice on. It's fun to try and learn.

I rarely unclip when stopped but will if I feel it's necessary. As an amputee cyclist, I can't unclip my prosthetic side easily, and I simply prefer to track stand and not bother unclipping at all. Makes starting off so much quicker.

Else, learn to unclip both sides, she'll probably prefer one over the other. If nothing else it evens out cleat wear.

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I put my left foot down when I'm stopped (at traffic lights etc.) - this is mainly because I can put my foot on the kerb which is higher than the usual road surface. I also live where they drive on the left-hand-side of the road (UK) - people in countries where they drive on the right may find the right foot to be better.

As people have said though, it's a case of whichever suits her best.

When I first started using clipless, I found I often set off pedalling with one foot as I couldn't get my left foot clipped back in quick enough!

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I've been riding clipless for a bit over 2 years. Right leg dominant, I unclip right, push off with my right, but I am currently contemplating a switch to the left.

Once or twice, while riding with a pannier bag on the right side of my rack, I've knocked the bag off the rack. Been reasoning that if I were to unclip left, and leave my right foot clipped in all the time, that I would not risk knocking the pannier bag off the rack.

I am presuming that in the UK, most cyclists carry a single pannier bag on the left so as to make rear lights more visible to drivers. For this reason, I'm thinking it's best to unclip left if one drives on the right side of the road, and vice versa. However, other than pannier bags, I cannot think of any advantage of one over the other.

Danger of making the switch that I'm contemplating is that I'll end up tipping over when I stop and forget to unclip either side.

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Left side unclip because if you use the right and it slips when you are in the small chain ring you have a large likelhood of slicing open your calf. I've seen it happen. Not pretty and needs stitches.

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    Hi and welcome to bicycles.SE. I think this has the potential to be a useful answer if you can expand it a bit. Could you explain what you mean by "left side unclip"? – Móż May 29 '16 at 11:40
  • Welcome to Bicycles @Squid. Please press the edit button and expand your answer to make it clearer what you mean. Check out the help center for more info on how to write good answers. – andy256 May 29 '16 at 14:51
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Most of the answers agree that there is no one definitive leg that should be used, and that the rider should be able to clip and unclip starting with any leg.

Suggesting an informal test for the bike: Ask the new trainee to simply make several starts and stops with regular (non cleated) shoes, and notice which foot is preferred in the pedal and which on the ground each time. That is the natural pattern already in the muscular memory of the trainee, so, that should be the way when riding with cleats.

My general recommendations for learning to ride cleated are:

Practice a lot getting in and out of the pedals while stationary, one foot at a time and in different positions of the pedal stroke. (I have found that it is easy for me to unclip my foot while in the highest part of the circle, but making an inward twist while in the lower part I do an outward motion).

Another answer depicts a strategy with a trainer, which I consider is great. But if you don't have access to a trainer, I recommend (and practice myself) the following drill:

Get yourself with the bike under a door frame or a in narrow alley, and while hands are on the handlebar and one foot is in the cleat, try to clip the other, unclip and go back to the floor. During this drill the bike should not move forward. The purpose is to develop a better sense of equilibrium and faster clipping and unclipping movements.

The point of doing it in a door frame or narrow alley is that in case of a fall you'd only get a smaller bump to the shoulder instead of a full drop to the ground (or at least have something to hold on).

The drill can be practiced halfway: try to clip completely before letting the shoulder touch the wall. Or the opposite, when fully clipped, hold yourself with a hand on the wall and quickly move your hand to the handlebar and then unclip.

Finally: It is advisable that any rider trying to use cleated pedals is proficient with all the other skills necessary for the commute, i.e. knows the rules of the local roads and paths, knows the use of signs, signals and hands gestures, stopping points and is accustomed to general behavior of other users of the route (pedestrians, drivers and other cyclists) prior to attempt the use of cleats. Also, the rider should have practiced enough in a controlled environment and be confident with the pedal mechanism.

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