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I got my first real road bike a few weeks ago, and am now hearing from my local bike club fellows that I should get some clipless pedals.

A quick Internet search reveals that the main types are SPD and SPD-SL, and that shoes made for one type cannot be used with the other. That's not really a problem, since prices seem to be about the same for the whole pedals + shoes package.

Being new to this, I am concerned about not being able to unclip in time to avoid falling over, and for this reason if there is a definite difference in ease of unclipping, I'm heavily in favor of whichever one is easier.

So in the experience of those of you who have used both types, which is easiest to unclip?

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    Depends if the pedal in question has a spring tension adjust or not - the bottom-end Look Keo road pedal has no such adjustment, but most everything else can be tweaked to require more or less force to undo. – Criggie Feb 2 '19 at 1:20
  • I should get some clipless pedals. You can just ride some more first. There doesn't have to be a rush to get more bike-specific equipment. That equipment evolved to solve problems with riding longer and more often. How often are you going to ride? For how long? If the pedals you're using work for you, then they're all you need. You'll know when you need better pedals and shoes - they're a system that works together - when your feet are uncomfortable during or after your rides. Like your feet hurt, or you get hot spots on your feet. When you do get them, you'll go "So THAT'S hot spots!" – Andrew Henle Feb 2 '19 at 15:34
  • @Andrew: This is written as an answer, and should be one. – EvilSnack Feb 2 '19 at 18:11
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    As you are riding with roadies, be sure to check their reaction before buying MTB oriented SPDs (of anything else MTB oriented). The response could be anything between you will be hung, drawn and quartered to they don't even notice and don't care. – mattnz Feb 2 '19 at 19:41
  • Oh, there's no elitism with the folks with whom I ride. – EvilSnack Feb 2 '19 at 19:50
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All road and mountain style clipless pedals are actually easy to unclip from if you twist your heel outwards. You need to build muscle memory so you unclip without thinking about it when you need to get your foot down. What I advise people to do is 'unclipping drills' - ride around in a safe area and repeatedly unclip and touch the ground with alternating feet, say every few crank rotations. When on 'real' rides be mindful to unclip early when you need to stop.

You can make a decision between road and mountain shoes and pedals. In addition to the points ojs made, road pedals are generally lighter and offer more support underneath the foot, but they are harder to get into as they are one sided.

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  • Also note that it sometimes happens that you (unintentionally) install the shoe plates cockeyed so that the shoes cannot easily be twisted out. Or sometimes the plates were not fastened tightly to the shoes and slide back and forth when twisted. It may take some study of your particular shoe/plate/pedal combo (and the crank arm too) to work out the best adjustment. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 2 '19 at 3:46
  • @DanielRHicks: The fact of practising clipping and unclipping technique while the bike is stationary also helps in finding the ideal position for the cleat. Leaning against an object is good but better still would be a turbo-trainer, a borrowed one would do. – Carel Feb 2 '19 at 14:52
  • @DanielRHicks How does clipping in stationary help find the correct position of the cleat? – Argenti Apparatus Feb 2 '19 at 15:05
  • @ArgentiApparatus : You can adjust the position of the pedal axle under the ball of the foot, but more you may detect if the longitudinal axis of the foot puts strain on the knee. Especially if you do it on a trainer. – Carel Feb 2 '19 at 17:06
  • @Carel makes sense on a trainer, but not leaning up against something – Argenti Apparatus Feb 2 '19 at 17:12
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In my experience, Time/Mavic Iclic.

This should, however, not be the reason for decision. Both are easy enough to unclip if you remember to twist your foot instead of just lifting it and neither will unclip if you forget it. Don't believe the people who claim falling is part of learning, just practice leaning against a wall and unclip a couple of hundreds times or until it feels natural.

What you should consider is:

  • SPD-R and road systems in general are very uncomfortable to walk in. They are compatible with some very nice and lightweight road shoes, work very well with shoe covers and have some roadie credibility

  • SPD is walkable (but uncomfortable, has loud crunching sound on pavement/rocks and destroys floors), compatible with MTB shoes including waterproof and insulated ones and has credibility among grumpy stackoverflowers. There are some SPD shoes that look like road shoes but are in general heavier and less stiff.

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  • I use these SPD shoes, and the cleat doesn't come into contact with a smooth floor at all. It certainly makes a crunching sound if there are bits of grit on the ground though. Road shoes are serious slippy on some surfaces as well - the lack of brakes when walking around at the velodrome last week was disconcerting – Chris H Feb 4 '19 at 16:01
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    It's not that falling is part of learning, it's that probabilities are you will fall at some point. This probability decreases over time as it becomes a subconscious reflex. I can remember when I was 13 and started using clipless, that a vehicle cut me off as I approached a red light and slammed the brakes (classic MGIF). Even with a few months of experience, I forgot to unclip until it was too late and fell over. This wouldn't happen today, 25 years later. Some people will never fall, some will fall tons of times. – Gabriel C. Feb 7 '19 at 20:34
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You can get shoes compatible with both, but I don't really get on with my pair and I'm not sure whether that's me or the shoes.

For touring, audax (i.e. long days riding, quick but not racing) and commuting I have a strong preference for my walkable shoes, that go with SPDs. They're much more suited to when you have to get off at a stop or if a hill becomes too much. In stop-start riding it's much easier to get a couple of pedal strokes in before clipping in, or ride very slowly unclipped in traffic, if you're using shoes with a conventional sole (which means touring or mountain shoes) and a suitable pedal. True road shoes slide off the pedals if you try that (or at least mine do). If you're thinning of a lot of winter riding, there's much more choice of winter bike footwear in SPD (and sandals for that matter)

For SPDs you can also get cleats that release if you pull up hard, but I've never tried them. This is the one hardware factor that may actually make a difference.

The actual ease of unclipping, once you're used to the movement, and assuming no trouble with your legs isn't a big factor. I have my SPDs set quite loose because that's what I've always done, but I recently did a track session with Look Keos (more like SPD-SL) and while noticeably stiffer to twist out of, the actual twisting action was no more difficult (doing it on fixed gears was). It all comes down to practice, so get plenty while leaning on something solid.

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To answer your direct question:

Personally, I've ridden SPD for years, and have now ridden SPD-SL for months. For unclipping they're equally easy - different, but equally easy.

To expand I'd say that for road riding and wanting a large platform optimised for power transfer go SPD-SL, anything else, SPD as it's more versatile.

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