Clipless Pedals FAQ


Last of the Summer Winos
As there seems to be a fairly steady stream of questions on clipless pedals I thought I'd put something together as a beginner friendly introduction to the world of Clipless Pedals and Shoes.

Perhaps this could be Stickied in either the General Cycling or Kit and Clothing sections?

What are Clipless Pedals?

Despite the name, clipless pedals are pedals which you clip into…. the pedal has a mechanism which binds to a specially designed shoe and "locks" your feet in place. The "Clipless" bit actually means you don’t need to use the traditional toe-cage and leather strap arrangement to hold your feet in place.

The clipless mechanism works much like ski boot bindings. To release the clip, you twist your heel outwards, and the bind releases. This ensures that in the case of an accident the shoes release automatically, and means you can
(with a little practice) unclip easily rather than having to bend down and release a buckle (as on the traditional toe-clip).

Should I Go Clipless?

It's a personal decision. There are Pro's and Cons on both sides of the issue.

Clipless pedals offer a more connected feeling to the bike, the shoes are generally stiffer soled than normal shoes, and this can help with efficiency and comfort on longer rides. Arguably clipless offer some power advantages over flats/clips and most, but certainly not all people who try a clipless pedal never go back to toe-clips or flats.

The drawbacks include the expense of the shoes/pedals and in most cases the loss of flexibility. The fact you're limited to a particular pair of shoes may not help. The pedals also need to be set up correctly, incorrect positioning can cause knee and/or ankle pain, some people seem to be more susceptible to this and never get on with clipless systems.

What Are the Different Types of Pedals/Shoes?

There are two "families" of shoes/pedals. Various different manufactures produce pedals/shoes but they almost all fall into one of two types, Road pedals (such as SPD-SL, Time, Keo) or Mountain Bike style (SPD, Crank Bros). The two styles both use a metal or plastic cleat fastened to the sole of the shoe. Most shoes will be designed to accept only 1 of the two types of cleat although there are a limited number of shoes which will take either.

Mountain Bike (Mtb) pedals and shoes - usually referred to as SPD shoes use a 2 bolt system to fasten the cleat to the shoe. The cleat itself is a small triangular metal wedge. The cleat is generally recessed into the sole and the shoes often have a treaded sole suitable for walking in.

Road Bike (SPD-SL/Look) pedals and shoes use 3 bolts to hold the cleat on the shoe. The cleats themselves are much larger than SPD cleats, and made of plastic. They stand proud of the sole and are very difficult to walk in. The shoes are usually light weight, with completely rigid, smooth soles.

Which Pedal system is Best?

Each type has pros and cons. There is no "best" system - simply one which works best for you.

SPD systems are traditionally thought of as the mountain bike solution, although many riders choose to use these on road bikes. The cleats are designed to be recessed into the shoe. This enables the shoes to shed mud better, and also to allow you to walk almost normally.

The pedals come in many designs. Many are double sided, meaning you can clip the shoe into either side of the pedal with minimal fuss. Some have a clip on one side and a traditional flat pedal on the other allowing normal shoes to be used if required.

The shoes themselves also run the full range from SPD compatible sandals through to incredibly stiff "race style" shoes. In most cases however the shoes will be stiffer than normal walking shoes (although not as stiff as a full road shoe).

SPD's tend to be easier to clip into than Look pedals, especially the double sided designs. The smaller cleat and pedal can give less support to the sole of the foot, and some riders complain of "hot foot", an unpleasant burning sensation on longer rides.

Look/SPD-SL (road pedals) are single sided, and have a large flat pedal surface and an equally large protruding cleat design. The pedals can be rather hard to clip into, but offer a very firm connection and substantial support. The shoes are almost always lightweight race style shoes with reinforced nylon or carbon fibre soles with no flexibility at all. Walking in these shoes is difficult at best, and also causes significant wear to the cleats, so is not recommended.

As a general rule, SPD shoes are more likely to suit if

(a) You need to unclip regularly - i.e. a commute with multiple lights/junctions.
(b) Want to walk about off the bike to any degree
(c) Want to wear "normal" looking shoes or have the option of a flat pedal in addition to the clips.

LOOK/SPD-SL will probably suit you if

(a) You're doing long distance rides with few stops.
(b) Want the the lightest/stiffest shoes and pedals available
(c) Suffer from hot foot with SPD shoes.
(d) Really don’t want to put MTB pedals on a road bike.

Adjustment/Float and Positioning.

Both types of pedals offer some form of adjustments, usually to the force required to clip in/out of the pedal itself. This is usually a screw/Allen key adjustment that tightens the spring force on each pedal. If you're just starting out down the clipless route it's suggested that you start with the loosest setting that will hold your foot on the pedal. As you perfect the art of clipping in/out the tension can be increased to grip the foot firmer if required.

Both SPD and LOOK/SPD-SL cleats are unclipped by twisting the heel outwards in a flat plane, SPD pedals have an optional cleat design that also allows the user to twist out in any direction (other than straight up). These multi-directional cleats make unclipping easier, but can pull free of the pedal if the tension is not fairly high.

Each pedal will allow a certain degree of "float" i.e. how much lateral foot movement is allowed. SPD types typically allow the most float. SPD-SL float is controlled by using different cleat designs. Cleats are available with anything from 0 degrees (no movement) to 9 degrees of float. The amount of float required is a personal choice, but I'd suggest that anyone new to clipless shoes should probably start with at least some float, until a suitable position can be found.

The position of the cleat on the sole of the shoe will control the riding position. Each cleat system has a limited amount of movement on the sole, and it’s important to get this correct. Trial and error is probably the best procedure, but a decent starting position can be obtained by sitting on the bike and allowing your feet to hang free. Note the angle at which they point in relation to the pedal and try and ensure that this angle is maintained when the shoe is clipped into the pedal. Also bear in mind that the new stack height of the pedal may affect the required seat height.

Clipless Moments.

The majority of people who switch to clipless pedals will probably have experienced the dreaded "Clipless Moment". Approaching the lights or a junction you coast to a halt, forgetting that your feet are now locked to the pedals. As you stop, you frantically try to pull your feet free as you slowly topple sideways to the floor. It's almost guaranteed that this will happen at the most embarrassing time possible, probably when there is a particularly attractive member of the opposite sex waiting to cross the road.

After a while, unclipping will become natural (trust me - it will). But at least initially I'd strongly suggest practicing starting and stopping several times on a nice soft grassy surface; and quite possible repeating the unclip….unclip…unclip mantra as you approach a stop sign for the first few days.


Good stuff, except I think you are exaggerating the difficulty of walking in SPD-SLs - I happily run around triathlon transitions in mine and have only once had a bad moment (and that involved a steep hill). Similarly, I carry my bike up and down three flights of stairs in them. Yes, you wouldn't want to walk a long way in them, but to say walking in them is "difficult at best" I think overdoes it a bit.


Legendary Member
A point regarding Looks, although this may apply to other sysyems...i had the greatest difficulty getting unclipped from mine at first leading to a few hairy moments. The thing you may not realise (and certainly i didn't) is that you need to twist your foot sideways to disengage from pedal.
It was like a revelation for me. You faff about tyring to get the hang of it, once you realise about twisting your foot, its pitifully easy.


BB wrecker
Really useful advice that thanks for posting. I am on the fence as what to purchase as it sounds like an improvement on trainers.

the snail

Good stuff Kevestan, two things I'd add: Adjust the tension on the pedal so that it's easy to engage/disengage but not too loose. Also make sure the bolts holding the cleats on are done up tight, or a clipless moment is guaranteed when the bolts come loose!


Über Member
thanks for this.

I've posted a separate thread on SPD-SLs but this seems more logical.

I've used SPDs for years with not a single problem, but i switched to SPD SLs last week, and it's fair to say we're not getting on!

I've got the tension turned down to the lowest setting, and my shoes feel like their floating round a dancefloor. My feet move so much the inside of the heel occasionally clips my crank!! Unclipping is turning out to be a nightmare. Not had a clipless moment yet, but i've not been on a ride where i need to unclip very often.

The advise was to press the heel down and rotate at the top of the stroke, but i can't get that to work. I literally have to twist but also force them out on the botttom of the stroke.

I know i need to give them some time, but if there's no improvment they're going on ebay, and i'll put my touring SPDs back on.


Nr Cambridge
You might actually have too much float there Paul, . I use Speedplay Zero & am very glad of it because I can set the float to exactly what I want. The stock float on the Speedplay pedals is massive.
Top Bottom