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A residual habit from cycling in tight spaces inside the city is to keep all body parts as confined to my personal space as possible.

This led me to routinely unclip towards the bike, a bad habit I'd like to unlearn now that I'm on open roads most of the time.

While I'm at it, and before I learn again a bad habit that becomes unconscious, I'm wondering about the best location to unclip (front, bottom, back, top, or, looking from the drivetrain side: 3, 6, 9, 12 o'clock) during the pedal stroke. Does it matter? Is that detail personal?

Related questions:

Does courtesy sometimes mean unclipping towards your own bike?

When cycling with a group, it's best to unclip as soon as the person in front of you drops down to 5-8 kph. It's a bad idea to wait until they are down to 3-5 kph.

What if there is by then also someone on your right/left? Is there a rule of courtesy that requires you to unclip towards your own bike in that case?

Should one unclip on the free side?

I always unclip with my right foot—a habit in preparation to rest my right foot on the sidewalk (British term: pavement) and remain seated during red lights (riding on the right-side of the road).

What if there is a cyclist on my right, but no one on my left, is there an accepted courtesy in group rides to unclip in that case on the left to avoid leaning towards them?

Should it ever be unconscious?

I am starting to suspect that it is unwise for unclipping to become unconscious in the first place. The cyclist should make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Example: When joining a cyclist who already stopped, on their left side, I must unclip on my left side, to guard against them leaning, or even starting to move, while my left is clipped in. Can you elaborate?

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  • For a proper answer, we need to know one detail: how wide are your handlebars and shoulders and do you need more space than this for unclipping? If yes, could you provide the math that shows it?
    – ojs
    Apr 8, 2023 at 16:23
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    You are way overthinking this Apr 8, 2023 at 18:39
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    Not sure about Roadies, but as a MTBer, unclipping should be completely unconscious, Your though process is about the outcome you want, not the actions to get to it. Unclipping is an action that should 'just happen' when its needed.
    – mattnz
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:52
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    There are a lot of questions here.
    – kmm
    Apr 9, 2023 at 0:43
  • @kmm Well, the "related questions" are secondary to the main one. They wouldn't stand on their own.
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:32

3 Answers 3

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I've got into the habit of unclipping both feet (almost always). But even for road use I run mountain/touring SPDs that allow me to build up some speed before clipping in. Even the simple M520s are good for that, but the M424s on my commuter/tourer make a full power stroke easy in the wet unclipped. I can also unclip early when stopping in traffic, before changing to the right gear for starting again.

The actual reason I chose to form the habit of unclipping both by default is that I've been blown over by stormy crosswinds at junctions 2 or 3 times, when I unclipped the upwind side, stopped, then got hit by a gust. I've also been glad of being able to change my mind about which foot to put down in other situations.

Unclipping outwards at the bottom of the stroke works best for me, and I've always got time to do that at planned stops. Training your instincts is good because it's occasionally necessary to unclip instantly. Twice I've had the back wheel lock up while pedalling (once the rear derailleur ended up in the spokes, a few days later a broken spoke snagged the chain, both times slightly uphill so I skidded almost instantly to a stop) and been able to get a foot down.

All this works equally well riding in a group. In fact early bilateral unclipping has a benefit in groups - some people stop closer than I expect, and/or lean more when stopped, leaving me without space I thought I'd have.

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    I can unclip both at the same time in an emergency, when stopped I had to stop suddenly and I am about to fall to one of the sides and it can save one from a nasty fall, but it is quite awkward when one is not seated. Apr 9, 2023 at 7:24
  • @VladimirFГероямслава I can see it would be hard to unclip both at once while standing. Being more into endurance than speed I tend to climb seated, so when I stand it's often for poor surfaces and I'm likely to be freewheeling when I need to eject (ignoring MTB).
    – Chris H
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:33
  • "Unclipping outwards at the bottom of the stroke works best for me" You are corroborating what mattnz mentions in a comment above. It may well be that unclipping with the foot extended is the best from a muscular/joint standpoint.
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:53
  • @Sam it's hard to assess, but it feels to me like getting the pure twisting motion needed for most cleats is easier with the leg (almost) fully extended, compared to folded
    – Chris H
    Apr 9, 2023 at 20:40
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I always unclip my left foot, because its the one I always put down on the ground when stopped. (we travel on the left here, so left foot is kerbside/nearside)

I always unclip by swinging the left heel outward from the bike, that's the only way my cleats work. There's no space toward the bike unless I was at full leg extension and that's going to hit the chainstay on rising. If I unclipped the right side toward the bike, it will get into the chain.

I'd never intentionally unclip under power - only while coasting up to the stoplight/sign.

And, if I'd have to consider other rider's personal space while swinging my ankle 10cm/4" outboard, then I'm riding FAR too close. My shoulders will be wider than my ankles at full unclipping position.

Also, if you're that close to other riders while stopping, then you have no room to manoever in the event of need. Whether that be other road traffic, or minor obstacles like glass or potholes or gravel.

The minimum horizontal spacing between riders should be no less than a metre, which is an arm-length. That means you could put your arm out horizontally, and your hand would be on another rider's shoulder.

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  • 3, 6, 9, or 12 o'clock?
    – Sam7919
    Apr 8, 2023 at 22:06
  • @sam clock directions could be confusing - I'd go with top, forward, bottom, rear/back of cycle. This presumes you're pedalling the bike forward. I'd unclip anywhere between bottom and top, but TBH its autonomous so I'll think about it more on my next cleated ride.
    – Criggie
    Apr 8, 2023 at 22:15
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    I read somewhere long long ago that unclipping at the bottom is better for your knees. I’ll never be able to find that article and re-assess how trust worthy that advice is. I (nearly) always unclip at the top, rotating away from the bike.
    – Paul H
    Apr 8, 2023 at 23:43
  • @PaulH yeah - its so autonomous that I can't even visualise what I do. Unclipping at the bottom means your other foot is ready for a power stroke (if sudden need arises) and your loose foot is that much closer to the ground - you were likely unclipping to put that foot on the ground in the first place.
    – Criggie
    Apr 9, 2023 at 0:13
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    @Criggie True, if you're clipped-in on one side at the top, and your loose foot is at the bottom, you're ready for a power stroke. Yet you then have only three "and a half" contact points with the bike: saddle + grips + one pedal in an "unbalanced equilibrium" position. Contrast with unclipping at the top, with the other foot having full balance (through pushing) in some "balanced equilibrium" position, and you have four firm contact points with the bike.
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:29
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There's some overlap between the question and related questions, so allow me to answer without answering the questions individually:

  • it looks like you are overestimating the amount of space required to unclip. As pointed out by criggie, 10cm is sufficient, but if you consider shoulders or handle bars, the extra space is even less: you should never ride as close to fellow cyclists, not only for courtesy reasons, but for your and their own safety.
  • if unclipping is not unconscious, you won't be able to unclip in emergency situation, which would put yourself and other in danger.
  • (when stopping, you should not lean on one side or the other, if your saddle is at "optimal height", the best is to get out of the saddle and stand. It's way more optimum to start when climbing on the saddle rather than staying in the saddle when stopped.)

If unclipping inwards works for you, good for you, but it's a unsafe habit to my opinion: the crank will prevent you from unclipping in the "front half" of the paddle stroke. Even if it's unconscious, you won't be able to unclip 50% of the pedal stroke.

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  • you should never ride as close to fellow cyclists”: Understood, but compare cyclists with birds and their flocking behaviour. For both, the price of a collision while moving is very steep, and so everyone maintains a tight distance (either for drafting or for conversation), but they're not too close (for safety). Now consider that you are reaching a stopping point (red light, …). Should the left-right space that you left between yourself and each other rider remain as large as it was while you were cycling?
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:54
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    Birds on a wire seem way too snug for flying. They often cannot even fly off the wire simultaneously. They must take off one after the other—exactly like cyclists do after stopping.
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:57
  • when stopping, you should not lean on one side or the other, if your saddle is at "optimal height", the best is to get out of the saddle and stand.” But you still need to unclip one foot at a time, for else you would need to perform a minor stunt to jump off the bike grasping the handlebar while clutching the brakes. (assuming, as you mention, that most riders can barely touch the ground while seated).
    – Sam7919
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:59
  • @Sam about "flocking". Can be closer at the traffic light than when riding, but I would say that I keep at least one meter (there are "accumulator zones" for bikes before cars at traffic lights here). Then all bikes start more or less at the same time, not uncommon to be overtaken when the traffic light turns to green (with clips, I would clip later than just after the start). When riding, I keep a safe distance with people I don't know. I only remain close to people I know/trust. Otherwise, for pelotons, clubs have rules about gestures and etiquette, but that would not apply "in general".
    – Rеnаud
    Apr 9, 2023 at 19:08
  • @Sam for stopping, what I do is basically during the coasting before the stop is standing on the pedal, unclip the "high foot", and put the unclipped foot on the ground when off the saddle. When stopped, I raised the clipped foot to be ready to start, then stand on this foot to start, sit in the saddle and clip the other foot. Doesn't seem like a stunt for me, it's quite natural once you are used to it.
    – Rеnаud
    Apr 9, 2023 at 19:14

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