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Is there a safety feature in any brand of clipless pedals which allows the mechanism to release in the event of an accident? For example, being hit by a car in traffic while commuting, I would hope the bike wouldn't fly with me, but that I would somehow be released from the bicycle. I have only used clipless pedals in a spin class and I am hesitant to use them on the road for this reason. Does this feature exist?

  • If you are hit by a car while riding and thrown through the air you really will not care if the bike follows you. Impact with the car and ground will vastly worse than getting hit by the bike. – Argenti Apparatus Jul 9 '18 at 20:06
  • Right, it will be bad to be hit either way, but I would rather fly off the bike than have the bike fly on top of me. Of course, an accident will be detrimental, but the detaching feature could make a difference in the severity of injury. – Biker123456789 Jul 9 '18 at 20:19
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    I ride with SPD mountain clipless pedals. Every major accident I have had (and a few minor ones) I automatically came out of my pedals without thinking about it. With almost all clipless systems, you can adjust the tension if that is a real concern for you. – kickert Jul 9 '18 at 20:22
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    You can rest assured that clipless pedals will release your foot when you're run over and fall. Speaking from experience. A slight left or right twist of the foot does release the cleat (I use Look road pedals) – Carel Jul 9 '18 at 20:24
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    Most pedals have a "tension/release" adjustment Simply tweaking this to a lighter pressure means your feet stay attached during riding but can just yank out given sufficient force. – Criggie Jul 10 '18 at 8:13
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In my humble experience with extensive crashing during mountain biking, including a lot of over-the-bar experiences and a few cases when I broke bones, before you hit the dirt, clipless pedals magically disengage themselves. In reality, being clipped is your least problem.

You really need to slowly stop the bike and then fall on a side to still remain being clipped in.

P.S. Just read the comments and discovered that it is not just me who observed magical disengagement of clipless pedals in the course of a crash.

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    As a rider who comes from the days where pedals had clips and straps it was far more common to fall and remain attached to the pedals then wriggling on the ground trying to disengage. When arriving at a potential stopping point you had to anticipate and loosen the strap. Strapless pedals were a heaven sent gift. – Carel Jul 10 '18 at 8:51
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    I have even managed to jump over the handlebars when a car turned into the cycling lane, landing on my feet. I was - and am - definitely confused how that worked, but magical clipless pedals are a good enough explanation for me. – linac Jul 10 '18 at 13:57
  • @linac I still don't know how I managed something similar without being clipped in! – Chris H Jul 10 '18 at 14:51
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The thing is, most clipless pedals let your legs out even in direction of upwards force (normal pedaling), when the force is "big enough".

Now when you think about your whole body weight times speed (or more precisely speed difference between you and bike), it is quite easily enough force in vast majority of cases (as confirmed also by comments here).

Imagine bike hitting the car, thus quickly decelerating, while your body continue the travel at original speed for a brief moment. The force at the pedals is just too big to keep your legs locked.

It is quite possible that some pedals need bigger force than others.

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    There's a video clip of Peter Sagan pulling up so hard he unclipped in last years TdF – Chris H Jul 10 '18 at 14:50
  • @ChrisH And these guys crank the springs in to the max. – Gabriel C. Jul 10 '18 at 18:59
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Clipless pedals are very safe if the cleats are properly installed. If not, they might become loose and then you will have much trouble getting your feet to detach from the pedals.

If you are doubting your ability to install them properly, let a professional shop do it for you.

If you look at Shimano SPD cleats, the two models (SH-51 and SH-56) have different shapes. I usually advise people who are less accustomed to clipless pedals to go for the SH-56 model as they release more easily in a panic.

Comparison of SH-51 and SH-56

The black cleats (SH-51) release only when pivoted in the Z axis (vertical axis) while the silver ones (SH-56) also release in the Y axis (same as pedal axis). Over time though, a more aggressive rider might want to be more secure on the pedals.

Of course, the force of a crash will make any cleat release in any axis. The previous paragraph concerns willful dismounts. Other brands have completely different systems, but most have a roughly similar behavior as far as the user is concerned.

  • The first automatic pedals ('clipless') were built by Look, a company that mainly manufactured automatic ski bindings. They used this system on the pedals. Ski bindings release the foot when the leg is rotating above a preset force or when the heel lifts above a preset force. The system on the pedals works in a similar way. – Carel Jul 10 '18 at 20:16

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