Ah, cycling shoes. They're so elegant when you're on a bike - but they can be really awkward when you're not.
Like many things in my middle-aged athletic "career", I was introduced to cleated shoes through injury.
I'd given up running and reluctantly embraced sports cycling as my primary form of exercise, but as the distances grew, my feet rebelled – the spongy-soled running shoes I favoured gave no support, and plantar fasciitis turned me into a hobbling degenerate every morning. It was time to join the click-clack shoe brigade.
It's funny how much mystery and even animosity these sensible, comfortable items can stir among non-cyclists. Any punter is allowed to buy a golf club collection to rival that of a professional, or a quiver of surfboards for every size and shape of wave imaginable … but don cycling-specific footwear, and you think you're off to ride the Tour de France, don't you? It's almost as bad as the silly whingeing about Lycra.
Of course, you absolutely don't have to wear them – I know of people who've cycled across continents in street shoes. And regular footwear is the go for me if I'm doing easy, short trips.
But if I have any serious distance to cover – a race over mountain-tops, a Scandinavian odyssey – I reach for purpose-built shoes. So, for the uninitiated, the converted, and everyone in between, here are a few observations about clipping in.
They make me feel safer and more secure: When I'm riding at speed, a four-point attachment to the bike gives me a greater feeling of connection and control. Your feet won't slip off, even if you hit a bump, and you can also learn to hop over rogue items in the road.
They can prevent injury: My foot problems cleared up thanks to the stiff soles of my new shoes. Meanwhile, I find having a defined range of movement keeps the knee niggles at bay. A cyclist on a five-hour ride might turn their legs over some 15,000 to 20,000 times. A fixed position can help eliminate misalignment and subsequent aches and strains.
Pushmi-pullyu: Being attached to the pedal means you can pull up on the backstroke as well as push down. Great for a surge in power – at the risk of leaving you doubly knackered at the end.
Pick and choose: There is a range of pedals to choose from, with unique cleats to match, and every brand has its pros and cons, including the cost and frequency of cleat replacement. Ultimately, however, the road selection boils down to two teams: Speedplay, and the rest. You'll recognise the former because the pedals look like two metal lollipops. Aficionados will bang on for hours about double-sided entry, float adjustment, "coffee covers", etc. It might be a cult ….
"Clipless": Yes, the pedals you are clipping into are called clipless pedals. This term originated to distinguish them from predecessors, which had a bulky toe-clip and strap mechanism attached to the pedal. It makes no sense, but has inspired a few fun memes.
Clip-stacks: As you roll to a halt, you casually remove your foot from a pedal - oh wait, foot is stuck. The next thing you know, you're lying on your side, still attached to your bicycle, preferably with a gallery of spectators. A rite of passage for the novice - and at times, a trap for older players.
No one need know: If you don't fancy walking like a duck, there are shoes that appear to be regular, but with the cleats recessed into the sole. They are great for cycle touring and casual workplaces. Other covert options include straps and yes, the classic toe-cage clips.
And a final safety tip
Make sure you can pedal with one foot unclipped. This is something I only learned after years of cleated riding, and I reckon it's invaluable.
Getting going from a dead stop is one of the most vulnerable times for a cyclist – you might wobble, you may be entering an intersection, cars might be trying to get past you. This is exacerbated if you're concentrating on trying to clip into a reluctant cleat.
If you miss the clip and are losing momentum, simply place your cleated foot on top of the pedal and do most of the work with the other leg. Once you're moving nicely and have exited any conflict zone, you can take the time to clip in properly.
Just make sure you don't get out of the saddle before you're clipped in – your foot will likely slip off the pedal and you could compromise your love life on the top tube of the bike.
Do you ride with cycling shoes - sometimes, always, never? What's your preferred brand or style? Ever had a clip-stack?
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