Saturday, January 20, 2007

Clipless-less

Date: Jan. 20
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 514.5
Temperature upon departure: 35

In a post a couple of days ago, I thought I was admitting to a fleece fetish, but instead I was confessing a woeful lack of what some consider a basic piece of essential bike gear - the clipless pedal. It must have been quite the confession, because I have since been a peripheral part of at least a couple debates.

I own three bikes - a "Roadie" that is really more of a light touring bike, a full-suspension mountain bike and a rigid big-tired mountain bike built for the main purpose of riding on snow. The first two have platform pedals with plastic cages. The "Snaux Bike" has only an oversized set of studded platform pedals and no grips. Of the three, the Snaux Bike has my favorite set-up. I find the total lack of pedal barriers freeing, especially on a bicycle where my day-to-day foot gear ranges from a small pair of indoor track shoes to a triple-sock stuffed pair of Northface winter boots buried in N.E.O.S. overboots. And the pedals are so sticky that I don't even notice a real difference in the grip-ability between those and my cage-covered pedals. Call me an idiot. If I can't find much advantage to cages, am I really going to be blown away by clipless?

But I'll concur. I've only tried clipless a couple of times, and any initial feelings of positive connectedness were quickly buried in the embarrassment and frustration of tumbling sideways when I simply wanted to stop. It was about three years ago, when I swapped bikes with a friend during a short ride. She told me I'd love it and I believed her. I fell once and she laughed at me. The second time, she seemed annoyed. The third and times thereafter, I managed to yank my feet out of the bindings. But the prospect of falling again stressed me so badly that I couldn't even focus. I spent much of the time riding unclipped, pressing down on those obnoxiously small pedals with my toes. I was still pretty new to biking, but that experience cemented a rigid aversion to clipless.

Now that three years have passed, and I have more than a passing interest in going faster, I probably should revisit the clipless pedal. But I still have a pretty limited frame in which I'm even interested in using them - only during the summer months, and only on my road bike. I can't even imagine trying to integrate them into winter cycling. First of all, I can't even clip into my cross-country ski bindings when they're really packed with icy snow. Secondly, I'd have to buy at least two different sizes of shoes to compensate for my varying thicknesses of neoprene and wool sock layers. Third, some snowy trail riding involves as much walking as cycling, and I have doubts that those skinny shoes can double as comfortable hikers. Fourth, some snowy trail riding involves as much falling as walking, and I need the confidence in my ability to bail. Fifth - in a word, overflow. I still haven't figured out a system to keep my feet completely dry in all situations. But if I was wearing clipless pedal shoes, I never would.

I know there are winter cyclists out there who use clipless pedals exclusively. Those cyclists are more hardcore than I am, and I would wager that they've had more brushes with frostbite. Besides, I like the flexibility of moving my legs and feet independently of the machine they're operating, of choosing my foot gear based on whatever suits me, of lifting both legs high in the air when I'm happy and coasting. Someday, I will make an effort to go fast. But for now, I just want to make an effort to go everywhere.

14 comments:

  1. I have to admit Jill - I was totally reticent to talk of clipless pedals with you, because I was afrid you might lose your toes. I am sorry I brought it up.

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  2. I don't think you're actually allowed to use the words: "Those cyclists are more hardcore than I am"

    Riding... so far... 500+ miles this year.. IN THE SNOW is *more* than hardcore.

    Back to the shoes though, I love clipless, however, you're right about the shoe sizes, there are various boots you can get, that are pretty substantial and you could probably get a fair amount of socks in a larger than normal size, maybe even drop some socks as the boots are usually windproof with goretex and insulated (but the shoes you use now are probably too).. however, I'm not sure you'd go much faster in the snow with clipless pedals.. if you're only using flat pedals with no cages now then maybe you could try just a toe cage?

    If I were to recommend a boot, the winter one from LAKE is worth a look, also they seem to be selling at a reduction on RRP around the internet, but you probably need to try them on in a shop to get the right size.

    You're right about snow and the clip mechanism, it's a massive pain sometimes, but I beleive that Time and Crank Brothers pedals suffer less from this problem.

    500 miles in the snow.. sheesh, don't know how you do it. I ride a lot and I'm stuggling at 450 miles in the mud/wind here in the UK.

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  3. Anonymous6:13 AM

    Like you I went a long time without clipless. Then I put them on my road bike and learned to love them after a somewhat rocky affair. After a season I broke down and put them on my mountain bike. Took about two rides to get used to them and then there was much adjusting of tension etc. Almost went over a cliff once. But finally...

    I was pretty picky about clipless shoes for mountain biking, I finally found a pair that I liked though.

    Now I wouldn't bike without them, except for maybe in my old career as a bike cop (plastic cages and multi-use shoes being much more apropos for that activity.) The pedaling is just that more efficient.

    Gotta agree that for the snow bike you probably have the right set up as is, though.

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  4. Anonymous6:58 AM

    I normally ride clipless I had fully intended to put on some platforms when winter came around. I wanted the ability to put my foot down quickly when encountering ice. However, we've only had about two weeks of winter this year, not the norm, and I'm thinking I'll just say, "screw it" and leave my clipless on. I love my clipless but platforms are the way to go in a normal winter - at least for me.

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  5. There is a huge amount of money and effort expended by people who want to ride clipless through the winter. Shoe covers, winter shoes, foot warmers, etc. I wear my Vasque leather hiking boots with wool socks on the coldest days and have no cold foot problems.

    I don't believe the nebulous claims about efficiency, etc. Experiments have been conducted in various ways to show that the gains in efficiency are minimal or nonexistent. IMO, the primary advantage of clipless is that you can pedal like a maniac without regard to slipping off the pedals.

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  6. Anonymous11:55 AM

    I just went clipless this summer and have take many a tumble. I fall all the time, usually at very slow speeds. I think it kind of goes with the territory. So no worries over clipless.

    Here's what you may be missing out on. It's the shoes!!! (except for your Snaux Bike/hiking shoe set up. that sounds ideal for the conditions)

    Try a mountain bike type shoe with big treads or even tennis shoe treads. The stiffness of the shoe will increase you efficiency way more than any type of pedal set up.

    I swear by my combo of road bike, tiny clipless pedals and huge treaded, stiff mtn bike shoes.

    As for the hard core part...Jilly-Jilly-Jill, you are hard core. There is a photo of you next to hard-core in the dictionary. How many outdoor miles in Jan/Feb in Alaska? Really?
    Yeah, you're it! Hard core.

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  7. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Gee cyclists are fairdinkum about their peddles! I'm not qualified to enter this debate as my preferred riding gear consists of shorts a T-shirt and thongs (flipflops). From what I've read about winter riding up there I'd say you'd have the best idea about what to wear on your feet.
    It's your adventure! to most people I'd say it's all pretty much theory. I've never met anyone who cycles 80km in thick snow. Actually until I started reading this blog I'd never even heard of snow riding.

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  8. Anonymous5:35 PM

    Have you tried Power Grips. They are a nice compromise and are flexible enough that you can ride using just the platform.

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  9. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Although I am a big fan of clipless and use them on both my road and mountain bikes, I would agree with you that they would not be appropriate for the bulk of your riding. If you do decide to try them again, try learning on an old well-worn pair of pedals with loose tension. This makes it much easier getting used to slipping out when you want. Just remember, "Heel out, foot out." Maybe that will help.

    Dan

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  10. Anonymous9:05 PM

    Jill- My first time with clipless pedals was horrible. Believe me, I fell at least 20 times. I'm not exaggerating either!

    I eventually learned though and I love them. I've used eggbeaters (by Crankbrothers) in all conditions and I've never had a problem clipping in. They have a four sided entry, so even mud won't clog them.

    I don't have winter shoes (yet) but check out Joe P.'s post today-www.partridgeracing.blogspot.com. He thinks that he has the perfect combo for warm feet :-)

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  11. I was going to mention Power Grips, but KM beat me to it. The nice thing about them is that they'll fit pretty much any size of boot (I rode one winter in bunny boots, no problem with the straps). They are also quicker and easier to get out of than most anything else.

    I also rode clipless for a few years in the winter. I used my summer mtb shoes with standard shimano type pedals. A thick pair of neoprene booties (cut out a hole in the bottom for the cleats) over them was good down to around -20 F, and then I'd add a pair of gators over that which kept my feet fine down to -58 F for a couple of hours.

    The bunny boot setup with power grips on a large platform pedal was the warmest my feet ever were even down to seriously ridiculous temps (-62). Also, if you break through a river with bunny boots you don't have to worry about your feet freezing later on. They were a little heavy at first, but I could ride forever at any low temp without worrying about my feet.

    Oh, and with either setup I only ever had to wear one thin pair of socks.

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  12. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Never mind the mileage, I think the conditions you ride in guarantee that you begin where the hardcores quit. As everyone seems to be saying, ride what works for you - discussion sure is fun, though, yes? You may have already seen this: http://kentsbike.blogspot.com/2007/01/cycling-with-platform-pedals-and.html but if not, it tends to parallel this thread. Rubber side down! Val

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  13. Anonymous4:52 PM

    I have three bikes, three different sets of pedals and a spare, so I have an opinion, and here it is, whatever you say works I believe, but when your ready to try them again in the summer on the one bike, just set them really loose in the beginning where you can get out of them fast, then when you are used to them you will want them tighter, but wait a while, let them really annoy you loose for a bit, then tighten them down. And never put your hand out when you fall, broken collar bones are really a common injury for that, and they are totally painful to adults.

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  14. dhtrible4:00 PM

    I recommend the hybrid clip-pedal that has a base more like a regular pedal and a place to clip into in the center. (You should be able to adjust the tightness to be able to release more quickly without being ridiculously loose.) Then you can do either, when the weather's more clement. I wouldn't sweat it for the Juneau winter when versatility of footwear is important, as well as possible super speedy unclips.

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