#AskPedalPT: Should I switch to clipless pedals?

Welcome to our newest installment, #AskPedalPT! If you have a question you’d like answered in the future by our bike PT experts, e-mail us HERE !

Today’s question:

‘I’m a bike commuter looking to increase my cycling for longer rides/touring. I’ve been using regular, flat pedals and was wondering:  Should I get clipless pedals and shoes?’ -New (but stoked!) Rider

Thanks for your question! Clipless (or ‘clip-less’) pedals are a specialy-designed pedal + shoe/cleat system where the shoe integrates and ‘clips-in’ directly to the pedal surface.  This is accomplished by stepping the cleat of your shoe onto the pedal until you hear/feel a ‘click’ and you are then locked in. Trying to pull up to get your foot off does not work, and coming-to-a-stop, embarrassing falls are a general right-of-passage. Just be sure to laugh at yourself- See Fig A.

Fig C: The all-too-common instance of slow-speed tip over, trying to get the shoe to unclip form the pedals- It takes practice!

Fig A: Whoops! The all-too-common instance of slow-speed tip over- It takes a little practice w clipless pedals!


[Side note: The term ‘clipless’ was created in response to the original cage-style coverings with straps installed on a pedal (called ‘toe-clips‘) as a convenient way to keep the foot anchored to the pedal, and are commonly still used today by many. (See Fig B). Since there is no need for the toe-clips with these newer cleat/pedal systems, the term ‘clipless’ was born, and still used in bike industry today. ]


Toe-clips- a nice way to hold the foot on the pedal, however can be bulky, and oftentimes awkward for many to get the foot inside the clips.

Fig B: Ah, toe-clips: Because of you, people will always ask: “Why are these pedals called clip-less?” 🙂


There are LOTS of different clipless systems and shoes available, but some of the more common are the Shimano SPD, Speedplay, Look, and Crankbrothers Egg Beaters-(See Fig C). Depending on the style of the shoe/cleat, some systems are recessed into the shoe to allow for better walking when off the bike (the cleat is recessed), vs a cleat mounted on top of the sole to the of the shoe, like in Fig D 

Some basic examples of clipless pedals. Each pedal has a specific cleat that installs on a cycling shoe

Fig C: Some basic examples of clipless pedals. Each pedal has it’s own corresponding cle

Fig D: Some cleats are recessed (above Right), and others (Left, a typical Look-style road cleat) cause riders to walk on their heels a bit more.

Fig D: Typically based on the shoe, some cleats are recessed (Right, w SPD), and others not (Left, with road-style cleat)





Are you ready for clipless?

Generally speaking, we advise new riders considering clipless pedals to meet these 2 simple safety criteria first:

  1. Riders should feel comfortable and safe on their bike, and feel comfortable mounting/dismounting
  2. Riders should be confident with starting/stopping/shifting, and pedaling on difference surfaces + weather conditions

Of course, there are pros/cons for riding clipless pedals, but for most riders exploring longer rides (15-20+miles), clipless pedals/shoes are a really great way to go, and are fully adjustable to your individual body and cycling goals. And, for that reason, we strongly recommend getting your cleats fit by a professional initially, or with any equipment changes, as you’ll be pedaling literally thousands of repetitions in that fixed-foot position, and being off a few millimeters can lead to knee, hip, and ankle pain/injury.


  • Solid connection to the pedals = better power, efficiency, speed and energy transference (racing, anyone?)
  • Makes a huge difference for longer (>20miles) rides, less wasted motion, typically leads to improved pedaling speed/cadence and less fatigue
  • Less weight (generally speaking)
  • Keeps your feet on the pedals on slippery/uneven, rough terrain, such as cyclocross, mountain bike
  • Can typically use more of the full pedal stroke (i.e. pulling up/ ‘wiping off’ of the foot at bottom)
Speedlplay clipless pedal, with shoe cleat shows a nice snug fit when clipped in!

Speedlplay clipless pedal + shoe cleat = a nice snug fit when clipped in!


  • Takes practice to clip in/out
  • Price/cost – (an investment to buy individual shoes, cleats, pedals)
  • Chances of low-speed, tipping-over type falls (embarrassing, yet a rite of passage)
  • Can be tricky to position the cleats correctly yourself- Improper positioning can lead to knee, ankle, foot pains/numbness and  (bike fit is advised)
  • Shoes and cleats can be slippery on unstable, rocky or slippery surfaces- (Remember: they’re made for cycling. . not hiking!)


We’ll see you next time on #AskPedalPT!

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, we’d love to hear it! Feel free to contact us HERE

– Kevin Schmidt, PT, MSPT, CMP, Bike PT is the owner and founder of Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon.