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One of the great mysteries of biking…why are clipless pedals called “clipless?” Before we jump into it, let’s first discuss the different types of pedals that are out there. This is important because the term “clipless” refers to pedals without clips, so we must first understand these mysterious pedals with clips. Starting from the beginning, let’s go through a little pedal history:
Platform pedals: Sometimes called “flats,” these were likely the pedals you had on your bike as a kid. They’re flat on both sides with little ridges or replaceable pins to increase grip and help keep your foot from slipping off. These are the pedals that most mountain bikers begin with.
Clip and strap pedals: Also called “toe cages,” riders began using these types of pedals to help keep feet secured in the correct place on the pedal and from slipping off. Additionally, the clips and straps helped maximize pedal power, giving riders the ability to pull up with their pedal stroke and not just rely on pushing down. These pedals were popular for quite some time however, there are many drawbacks. For one, the straps may cut off circulation to your feet when fastened too tightly. Each time you need to get into or out of the clips, you have to reach down and tighten or loosen the straps. This can cause serious issues if you have a crash, because you likely won’t be able to get your feet out of the pedals. Likewise, if you’re riding off road with your feet on the flat side of the pedal, the dangling toe cages and straps can get caught on roots or sticks, causing you to crash. These types of pedals went out of fashion when clipless pedals came onto the scene. You may see pedals with straps on a stationary bike, which is fine, but we do not recommend anyone using clip and strap pedals for any type of serious riding, especially mountain biking.
Clipless pedals: So why do we even use term “clipless,” when it seems like you are indeed clipping into them? Essentially, manufacturers needed a way to differentiate toe-clip and strap pedals from this new type of pedal that didn’t have the toe-clip, but rather a cleat. The term “clipless” really refers to the lack of toe-clips, rather than the action of connecting your shoe with the pedal. Clipless are popular for both road and mountain biking because you have more power throughout your pedal stroke and they keep your feet securely connected to the pedals when climbing and descending. There are two types of clipless systems; walkable with a 2-hole pattern and road with a 3-hole pattern. For mountain biking, we would recommend the walkable clipless system because the cleat is recessed into the shoe and features more tread, allowing you to walk or hike safely without the cleat protruding from the bottom of the shoe. The new clipless pedal system is much more safe and efficient than the clip and strap system, because you can easily get into and out of the pedals, without having to manually adjust anything. We would recommend clipless pedals for riders who are already comfortable with the basics of mountain biking and are looking to take their riding to the next level.
Now when you talk about clipless pedals, you’ll sound like a true pro and can even drop a history lesson on your friends. Whichever pedals you use, have fun and happy riding!