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.