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A friend of mine has been riding a road bike since last year. He is considering switching to clipless pedals but he doesn't want to be locked in to his bike while he is riding around the city. We have many irresponsible drivers who open their car doors without checking their mirrors. He will probably get a pair of dual-sided clipless pedals which have a flat side and a clipless side. These pedals are compatible with MTB shoes. Do you think this is an ideal solution for his case? Would you have any other advice for him?

Double-sided clipless pedals

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    I personally think, if you ride road bikes for a year or two you'll ultimately end up with road pedals (SPD-SL, Look, Speedplay etc...) because you definitely get used to it and imo the selection of road-specific shoes is way larger but for a start, that's probably the way to go. Most people say you get out of MTB pedals easier, but you can also get road pedals with more movement and loosen the mechanism up.
    – DoNuT
    Mar 10 at 19:09
  • You don't need to get out your foot at all with these pedals. You just use the flat pedal when you enter the city.
    – Ender
    Mar 10 at 19:14
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    Personally I think road pedals aren't that great for riding around the city, because walking with the big cleats is kind of awful. Road bikes aren't the best for that either...
    – ojs
    Mar 10 at 19:49
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    @DoNuT I've been riding MTB-style SPDs on te road for nearly 10 years. Several reasons (to do with wanting to be able to walk off the bike, and not messing about with even more shoes given that I clip in for commuting and mtb as well as road rides). But one reason is what the OP is thinking of
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 at 6:37
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    The only time I ever had any issues at all with my feet being tied to the bike was the very first time I ever rode with toe clips as a kid (~10-12 years old). I parked with my front wheel against a curb, having forgotten to loosen the strap and fell over. Never made that mistake again, and never had an issue with getting my foot out of clipless pedals, either. Lean up against something for stability & practice getting in & out. They natural action of pulling your foot off the pedal to put it on the ground will release the clip. Never had issues with new cleats or old.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 11 at 13:58

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This kind of question doesn't really have a right or wrong answer; it's all up to personal preferences and intended use case. I've been using clipless for about 20 years, starting with combi pedals (like in the OP's picture) and currently have SPD-SL for my road bike and both dual-sided and combi SPDs for my gravel bike.

The most decisive thing, in my opinion, is what is meant by "driving around the city". Or specifically, does the use of the bike involve walking around (like doing the groceries). If yes, then road pedals (SPD-SL etc.) and shoes are a no-go. They are awful to walk in and at least the plastic SPD-SL cleats wear very quickly if you walk any long distances. On the other hand, if your friend only needs to ride in the city to get to his favourite countryside road, then, as DoNuT writes in a comment, road pedals will likely be what he ends up having, even if he starts with something else.

Many people (me included) start with combis because they are not sure if they want to commit to clipless and they are afraid of falling. But I don't think they are very good for that purpose. If you are using clipless, you need to learn the unclipping ankle-twisting movement as a reflex. And when you have it as a reflex, it's practically no slower than putting your leg to the ground from flat pedals. I've had my share of falls due to failing to unclip, but it never happened because of emergency braking. In all cases the problem was that I was applying power to the pedals, and you can't unclip in such a situation. The prototypical case is that you are going uphill and realise you are in too big a gear, try to grind to the top, but lose all momentum and start falling. At that point you must stop trying to pedal to be able to unclip, but stopping pedalling on a steep hill feels counterintuitive. On the other hand, if somebody opens their car door in front of you, you'll try to brake and you only need to unclip when you've stopped. At that point you're not trying to pedal and unclipping is easy (you still need to have the basic reflex, but you don't need to fight against your instincts of trying to continue pedalling).

Using the flat side of combi pedals with clipless shoes is also not great. Cycling shoes that meant to be used with clipless MTB pedals tend to have quite hard rubber at their bottom (perhaps to protect the cleat) and because of the cleat, there is not that much rubber to start with. That means that the flat side of the pedal can be quite slippery, making the combination less safe than being clipped (your shoe slipping off the pedal when braking is no fun). I'm sure there are some shoes that don't have this problem, but you definitely need to check before buying.

Combi pedals have their uses. If your friend intends to use his bike with clipless shoes (say, for exercise) and with normal shoes (say, for doing the groceries), I'd go for combi. That's one of the reasons why I have combi pedals. If your friend plans some walking (say, commuting where he can switch to normal shoes at work), then MTB-style clipless can be a good choice. But if the road bike is primarily for riding on roads, and the city part is only the necessary evil to get to and from those roads, then, as said, I would go with road pedals.

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    Flats and clipless shoes can work well together. When I get off the train I ride another bike with the sort of pedals you'd expect to find as stock on a cheap hybrid, and my SPD shoes are as good as anything else. My current ones are styled like skate shoes with a flat outsole apart from the cleat recess. My last pair were some proper MTB shoes from giro. One review described them as feeling like trail running shoes, and I have done a 5km run in them. Just don't get road-style 2-bolt shoes and you'll be fine.
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 at 7:29
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I commute with SPDs (mountain/touring style cleats and shoes - I ride to the station and get a train so need to be able to walk and even run) and have done for some time. I use the same shoes for long road rides

I did try a set of those pedals, but didn't get on with them, though others do. They seemed to insist on being the wrong way up. Instead I got pedals with a cage around the cleat (M424). With those I can comfortably and securely pedal unclipped in slow traffic with the cleat under the arch of my foot, even up a steep bit. That does rely on having shoes with a decent sole, not road shoes with hard plastic underneath.

It's worth setting aside an hour or so to practice both sides when you first get them, while leaning on something and then while riding somewhere forgiving. There's another reason than just training - if your cleat bolts aren't tight enough unclipping gets tricky, so better to know that when you can lean on your own wall or car, and put either foot down. It also allows you to set the cleat angle and position to something that feels natural.

With experience unclipping can be almost instant. I've had mechanicals lock the back wheel at low speed and unclipped in time to not fall. Despite that I'm still very willing to unclip as a precaution, and generally unclip both feet when I stop (after a couple of crosswind incidents).

And, to start with at least, adjust the tension screw to allow very easy unclipping.

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  • BTW the pedals I use can be ridden for short distances in hiking boots, running shoes etc. but not anything with very hard or thin soles - the former slip, the latter get uncomfortable. That's handy for within my village, up to about a 3km round trip
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 at 7:32
  • +1 for the “training to make sure the cleat bolts are tight”. And crosswinds are indeed the other prototypical unclipping failure. It seems my SPD shoes have been on the CX end of spectrum (in hindsight, most of them have had screw holes for studs).
    – EyeBrown
    Mar 11 at 18:01
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I'm using MTB flat pedals with half toe clips, but unfortunately you can't buy specific half-toe clips that would fit flat pedals, so if you can do without the clips then easy, otherwise you can try making something like this.

This is my setup. enter image description here

enter image description here

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I agree there is no single correct answer.

I have SPDs on all my bikes, including my commuter. But I also acknowledge that there's not really a performance benefit to clipless pedals compared to platform pedals and appropriate shoes. I would suggest that if you are not comfortable riding clipless pedals in traffic, then either don't ride clipless pedals, or find a way to get comfortable.

If you're concerned about being doored (and you should be!) the solution is not to ride flat pedals. The solution is to avoid the door zone. Being doored will be very unpleasant regardless of your pedals. With rare exception, your feet will eject from clipless pedals in a crash, and you can change the release tension on (Shimano-brand) SPDs.

Riding in traffic requires heightened alertness for hazards, and an ability to predict what everyone around you is going to do. As you get better at this, you can clip out one foot preemptively when a situation looks dicey. When riding with clipless pedals, there are situations where

  1. you know you need to clip out (full stops);
  2. you don't know you need to clip out (emergencies); and
  3. you should know you need to clip out but didn't (dicey situations).

Your goal is to minimize type-3 situations.

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TLDR: the other answers focus on unclipping, but clipping with this kind of pedals can be an issue as well (or "having" the right side of the pedal).

Depending on the person, these pedals can be either a good or a bad compromise - it will always be a compromise.

Good dual pedals should be weighted (on side being heavier than the other), so that the resting position of the pedal should be the same. You can then approach them by the front if you want the "flat" side, or from the rear if you want to be clipped. That only works if you can start gently, if you start "hard", the pedal starts to rotate and side that will arrive to your foot is "random".

The shoe/pedal combination is also important. On mines (Shimano PD-M324 , Sidi Gravel shoes), the shoes tend to slip a lot on the "flat" side, which can be stressful.

I appreciate these combi pedals for bikes that I can potentially use with regular shoes and biking shoes, but not the use-case mentioned here. The problem is not so much unclipping, but clipping. I think that for a bike that is used only sportively, it would be better to use dual-sided MTB pedals (Shimano PD-M540 for example) and adjust the "hardness" so that it's easy to unclip. It should also be noted that if unclipping is the concern, there is also the possibility to use different cleats. Shimano has for example a different set of cleats, called "multi-release" (SM-SH56), that allows unclipping in different positions. I don't really the situation with road pedals, but it's possible that cleats with similar properties exist as well.

But my experience with them is that they can be more stressful than proper dual-sided MTB pedals (SPD) if you are learning to use them (road pedals - SPD-SL are single sided). In urban riding (or uphill on steep climbs), you tend to start fast, and having a random side of the pedal being presented - and then having to rotate the pedal have the good side later - is not optimal either: with the "bike" pedals, you'll clip when you don't want and the "flat side" can be slippery, with soft-sole regular shoes, the "clip side" is very uncomfortable. By contrast, with dual-sided pedals, no question asked, you'll clip. And with a bit of training, you'll unclip as well.

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