I am a novice cyclist, using my bike to travel to work with a round trip of about 15 miles in moderate to heavy traffic. I have been thinking about upgrading my bikes platform pedals to a set of pedals with toe clips. (Clipless pedals are probably out of the question because traffic is too heavy). My question is whether I can expect a performance boost (in terms of my average speed) by doing this, and if so how significant it is likely to be. (based on studies / past experience of other riders)
I found toe clips to be better than platform pedals, but not by a huge amount.
Seriously, get clipless pedals. It doesn't matter how much traffic there is as it's so easy to get your foot in or out of the pedals. The advantages are huge.
- The cycling shoes are so much more comfortable than street shoes
- Your foot is so secure on the pedal - you can confidently apply as much force as you want, knowing that your foot will not slip off the pedal
- You can get extra oomph up a hill by pulling with your back leg.
Once you get clipless pedals you'll never look back!
A foot retention system of some kind is preferable to platform pedals for anything other than a short ride.
The reason is that your pedal stroke, when done correctly and efficiently, will almost completely remove all load from each pedal on the upstroke. You will also pull back slightly at the bottom of the stroke. If you attempt a really efficient pedal stroke using a platform pedal, your foot will invariably go astray on the pedal and this impacts efficiency and causes you to constantly reposition the foot. I don't think it is possible to quantify this other than to say that it will make a difference on long rides or situations where you are trying to spin very fast.
Clipless is the best as others have mentioned, but you're asking about platform vs toe-clips....
A top-clip system with proper shoes can be operationally as good as clipless, just not as convenient. Most people have never seen shoes intended for toe-clips, but they did exist and they had a ridge in them that kept the foot from slipping straight out when the straps were tightened. The shoes were as rigid as today's clipless shoes.
If you just want basic foot retention on normal street shoes, toe-clips are OK, but there are some other options which may be better for commuters and urban riders:
Toe clips will definitely improve your cycling, if used correctly. (After all, pro cyclists used them for decades before clipless pedals were invented.) In terms of speed increase it's hard to say, though -- it's probably more in terms of acceleration.
They take a bit of learning to use correctly, but, even if you end up with (misnamed) "clipless" pedals, toe clips are a good "gateway drug".
The most important thing to learn is how to route the strap and how to tighten/loosen it. The strap needs to be routed so the end is pointing up in the air. You tighten by gripping the end of the strap and tugging. You loosen by placing a finger on the flange sticking out from the buckle and pressing down. Both these motions can be easily done while cycling, though you generally should not tighten so tight that (absent cleats on your shoes) you cannot slip your shoe out with a brief wiggle.
Similar experience to @ʍǝɥʇɐɯ, although I use Shimano A530 pedals, which use an SPD cleat. They have a platform on one side, and a clip on the other side, allowing you to ride with regular shoes if you are just going out the store or some other short ride. They also allow you to keep one foot out for situations where you are anticipating having to stop quickly or frequently. They are really easy to get in and out of, and I've only fallen over a couple times, but that was more due to me not unclipping when I should have. Clip out early and often, and you really shouldn't have any problems.
I second @Mac's answer, however, there is something you need to know about clipless pedals: they are not all the same.
I ride with Time ATAC pedals and I think they are fantastic. The ones I use are the basic ones that look like this:
They don't look like this:
The way I ride is to keep my traffic-side foot permanently locked in with my kerbside foot rarely locked in. I hook the front part of the cleat into the pedal properly and pedal just like that, not pushing down with the back of my foot to fully lock in. I don't lose time by pedalling 'half-clipped' I just have perfect foot alignment and lots of 'float' for my ankle to move about. My feet never slip off the front of the pedal and I can ride very safely.
The SPD pedal does not work so well 'half-clipped in' and the design is very different in terms of where the springs are and how the 'float' works ('float' is how much freedom you have to change the angle of your feet).
With the Time pedals I am also able to ride with both feet 'half clipped in' and with shoes that do not have the cleat (although flat, leather soled shoes are almost lethal on Time ATAC pedals in the wet).
The 'float' on Time ATAC pedals is a bit weird at first - it feels like you are dancing on small ice cubes - but, once you have given it a go, the older pedals that lock your feet in one position feel badly wrong. That includes regular platform pedals that have spikes that go into the rubber of the shoe.
As for toe-clips and straps, the main things I remember from them are: how the toeclips would scrape on the ground when I was not in them, how I lost all momentum when I needed it most trying to get my feet into them, how those 'Medium' size clips almost killed me because I needed the 'Large' size to get the ball of my foot over the pedal spindle and how the pedals that went with them ate my trainers. They were also harder to get out of when you needed to, plus reaching down to adjust the straps wasn't an art I perfected. On your commute I guess you will spend a lot of time being pre-occupied by them - don't get them!
Much is said how that you can pedal through the whole 360 degrees on clipless pedals, to pull up as well as push down. For the majority of your commute you will not be doing that. In real life there are only fleeting moments when cyclists pull up, even on the Tour de France it is 'push-push'. The real benefits for performance come from a more secure footing, better footwear and no time spent constantly repositioning your feet.
To go with your hopefully fantastic Time ATAC pedals, consider getting some basic Shimano shoes. These come with a stiff yet slightly flexible sole. From these shoes you will get an extra ten percent or so of power and that will make you quicker. Plus you will not be wearing out your other shoes that have not been specifically designed for cycling. Therefore an investment in cycling shoes will pay off because your footwear bills will be a lot lower in the future. Specialized also make nice affordable shoes with sensible 'lace-locks' to keep the laces out of the chainset. Both the Shimano and Specialized shoes come in sizes where the foot is measured rather than the 'last' used to make the sole. Consequently a 44 in Shimano is larger than a 44 by an Italian shoe company. If you do have a quality bike shop in your area with shoes then do pay them a visit and try before you buy. They may not stock the Time ATAC pedals - go online to get them and don't go for the much more widely available Shimano pedals in the hope that they are just as good - they are not.
I 've used toe clips but switched to clipless pedals for almost three decades. I also tried flatless pedals on one of my bikes. Eventually I returned to toe clips and double straps. First reason for going back is reliability: cleats tend to quickly wear out if used a lot. As a result I inadvertedly detached from the clipless pedals several times over the years. I also learned that most clipless pedals, except the most expensive are not well made. In particular, the quality of the ball bearings is much better with conventional pedals. Second, clips/straps are more convenient: if not tightened up you can use them with almost any sort of shoes. If used in a proper way clips /straps are perfectly safe. However, you do have to learn how to use them. Thus they should probably not be used by the average inexperienced cyclist.
Being an avid mountain biker (3+ times a week, and been riding since I was 10) I can say that clips are a definite advantage even in traffic, clipping in and out can be just as fast as a standard flat pedal provided you know how, just simply raise your heel and twist it outward, and you are out!
There are a few times where clips are bad, such as downhill mountain biking, however I still wear my clips doing this when trying to keep up with my downhill mountain biking buddies and I have no problems whatsoever.
You will see a significant increase in performance as well (assuming you have the other components such as seat height and riding form figured out [many people have terrible form and seat heights]) because it allows you to isolate your legs from your upper body and push and pull with a lot more force on each pedal stroke, also since you are using both legs simultaneously you get the advantage of using less energy to create the same output force, so you can ride either faster or longer.
I am an spd user myself. As I don't hang out with many mountain bikers a lot of my friends tend to look at them and take an instant dislike to them but I have found them to be fantastic. I was never keen on the toeclip type of pedals because I always found it incredibly difficult to get my toes into the right side of them and they would often end up scraping on the floor.
Double sided spds are fantastic though. The speed increase is amazing, it is like suddenly getting super powers when you can also pull up as well as push down. The real beauty of them is that with a twist of the hex key you can adjust their tightness so that they are at the perfect strength to be able to slip in and out of really easily. The only instances in which you might not have enough time to put your foot down is when you are taking a fast corner and for whatever reason your tire slips out from under you. It very rarely happens. I do not trust the type that you have to slip your toe into though, an old girlfriend of mine broke her leg due to those.