Clipless pedals hate me

Elden recently lent me a super-posh pair of Sidi cycling shoes to test out and determine whether or not I'm as inept on clipless pedals as I claim to be. I was skeptical, but one doesn't borrow a $300 pair of shoes and not at least try to fall in love with them. I bought a used pair of Time pedals in Hurricane, but decided to keep my platforms on through that trip because the riding there is hard and my knees and one elbow were already scarred.

When I finally set to removing my old platforms, I could not get them to budge. Rusted to the crank arm they were. My dad, armed with a fat crescent wrench, a hammer and a piece of lumber wedged against the crank, could not remove them. I eventually took the bike to Canyon Bicycles, where a pro with a big long pedal wrench failed on his first tries. I was certain I was looking at buying a new crank. But the mechanic took the bike to the back of the shop, and 20 minutes later came out with two fairly bent pedals and a stern lecture about the importance of greasing the threads (believe me, they were greased at one point, long before 16" of October rainfall followed by a freeze-thaw winter followed by a high-mileage spring in the dirt.)

Anyway, the Time pedals went on and I set out to take my maiden voyage on the trails around Herriman. Reaching those trails involves a 15-mile approach on pavement with a lot of stop lights thrown in. I had a beast of a time trying to click into those pedals. I'd position my foot and push and reposition my foot and push again and again, but nothing would happen. When I finally did get my foot clipped in, I'd race and race just to make a green light, but I rarely did. Then the slow-moving battle would commence, again.

Finally at gravel, I hit the steep stuff quick and stalled out a couple of times when my rear wheel ran into too-large-to-summit rocks. One time my foot made it down. Another, it didn't. I laid for a minute in the dust, knee bashed and bleeding, hands pin cushioned with thorns and sharp little bits of gravel, actually laughing out loud because I was so angry and amused at myself at the same time. Why am I such a perpetual beginner? Why can't I get better at the one hobby I love the most? Why can't the whole world be covered in snow?

I raced some roadies back to Draper, with a stream of dried blood still clinging to my leg. I kept up with them for a while. I really wanted to pass them, on my steel mountain bike with a big backpack and a T-shirt and all kinds of things hanging off my handlebars. But then I remembered that I was wearing $300 shoes, and I didn't feel so smug. I didn't pass them, anyway. They reached a slight downhill and dropped me.

Finally at home, I bent down to take the shoes off, and couldn't loosen the strap. It's set up like a snowboard binding, with the lever that clicks to tighten it. Everything I did only seemed to make it tighter. After about five minutes I just sat down and wrestled the tight shoes off my feet, reasoning that I'd figure out how to loosen the strap when I hadn't just returned home from racing roadies and my head was more lucid.

Later that evening, I was sitting in the living room with my entire family - my two sisters and my parents - and solicited their help. Everyone passed around the shoe and played with it for five minutes while we talked. No one could figure it out. We gave up for a while, but eventually everyone went back to it, twisting and clicking and passing it on like a Rubix Cube, intrigued by the sheer puzzle of it all. "It's just a shoe," I said. "A brand new expensive shoe. It has to be something I did." I said that I was going to have to call Elden, and he was going to laugh at me and probably pen a hilarious paragraph about it on his blog. "You tell him that three people with bachelor's degrees, one with an associates and one who's a semester away from a bachelor's couldn't figure it out," my dad said. Eventually my mom cheated and consulted Google, but that yielded little useful information. Finally, a light lit up in my sister Lisa's eyes and she grabbed the shoe, pressed down on the little red buckle that we had all but pounded with a hammer, and slid the strap out. Easy as that.

Somewhere down the line, this has to all be worth it. I just can't imagine how.


  1. Two words:
    Pedal Washers....

    Damn it, two more:

    Use Them

  2. Anonymous4:18 AM

    You're better off just sticking to the platform pedals if you're used to them. Clipless pedals are a bitch to try and clip into whenever you're in the middle of a steep hill, stop, and have to restart. If you can't clip in right away you're stuck pedaling up the rest of the hill with your foot not clipped in. If the hill's steep enough there won't be any time to coast, look down, and try to clip in again, without losing momentum and falling over. Rock gardens are also a pain too if you can't get clipped in right away.

    Having said that, I've been using clipless pedals now for 20 years with very few problems. Some designs are better than others. I found the Look style road cleats to be lousy to walk on, and harder at stop lights to flip the pedal over and engage the cleat while trying to make it through the light. I have SPD pedals on both my road and MTB, and use MTB shoes while riding both bikes because the SPD's and MTB shoes are easier to walk on, without that annoying CLACK,CLACK, CLACK, noise.

  3. I feel your pain Jill - literally. I HATE clipless pedals. I'm using the word hate here - about pedals. I think I was the only person in the Wisconsin Offroad Series to NOT have them. But Anonymous is right too, it's all about what you're used to. If you really want to be clipless, you will be

  4. Fifth Column5:00 AM

    I always tell people who buy clipless pedals from our store for the first time that learning to ride them is like learning to drive stick-shift: No one can explain to you how to do it and you're going to feel stupid that you don't get it right away; trust me it will just click one day and all the embarrassment will be worth it.

  5. Ray from Ohio5:23 AM

    I had trouble with clipless pedals after a stoke. But, with a little work I'm back in them with no problem. I did switch from SPD to Speedplay frogs. The frogs aren't as secure but you get in and out easily. So, If an old guy with three strokes on him can get the hang of them, I sure you can, just give them a chance.
    PS It took me a while to figure out how to work my SIDI shoes also. But they are well worth it.

  6. As a bicycle store employee, the first thing I show people on SIDI's is the crazy ass buckle. The next thing I do is give them a lesson in riding clipless pedals. I have nothing against them, and once you've ridden in them for a while you'll never know you have them on.

  7. You crack me up, so strong and so willing to blindly explore. You one day will go where no man has gone!

  8. Anonymous5:42 AM

    I had trouble with a pair of rossignal x-country ski boots. I was at the store to buy a complete new set up of skis bindings and boots because they were haveing a huge sale. I put the boots on,walked around and then sat down to take them off. The sales person sniggered. After ten minutes of struggle, I asked for help. The sales person said that no one could figure out these shoes and it was always entertaining to watch people struggle. I promptly purchased the solomon boots.

  9. Aaron7:59 AM

    The Sidi buckles suck! Even when you know how to use them, they still clog with dirt and fail to release. That being said, they still are the finest shoes on the market. Clipped-in is also the way to go unless you're freeriding. Try Crankbrothers Mallets....they're not perfect, but I've found them to be an acceptable compromise between the stability of a platform and the power & pedaling efficiency of clipless.

  10. Mountain biking: I 2nd the recommendation for Crankbrothers. I hated clipless until I got Crankbrothers Eggbeaters. If you get your foot anywhere near the pedal, it clips in. Seriously - it's mindlessly easy.

    Road biking: Have tried a number of pedals, and find that Look KEOs give me the best footbed coverage for long hours in the saddle. Also, the KEO cleat is small enough to fit on the bottom of a woman's shoe without hanging over the edges (like regular Looks).

    Can't afford SIDIs, which is just as well because they're too narrow.

  11. I was hit by a car a few years ago (drunk woman ran a red light and took me out cold, then took off), and the clearest reoccurring moments I remember from that whole day of gray dizziness in the ER are those of the numerous people (firemen, policeman, nurses, doctor, family members) each taking a turn trying to figure out how to undo my Sidi shoes. I remember coming to as a nurse was cleaning and sewing up my shoulder and about four people were working on my Sidis, threatening to cut them off since they needed them off before the MRI scan. Knowing how much I paid for them, I muttered, “Push down on the buckle…don’t cut them off.” Eventually, someone got the buckle to move, and they came off. I still run those shoes daily, blood stains and all. Sidis don’t die. But there’s nothing too logical about their ratchet system!

  12. Anonymous9:08 AM

    Yeah, it sucks/hurts to learn to ride clipless. My first ride, I fell 11 times. Next ride, once or twise and haven't fallen since. (My girlfriend/now wife never fell when she learned). I use SPD, which allows you to adjust the tightness - I have them on very loosely to make them super easy to click in to and out of. Just a slight twist sideways - now I don't even think about it. I recommend just sitting still on the bike, holding onto something, and repeat getting in and out of the clips a few dozen times, taking a break for a few hours and then repeat. By then, it will start becoming a habit.

  13. This is a funny post. Luckily no one has Ph.D.'s otherwise it would've never been figured it out.

  14. Mindy9:49 AM

    Hi Jill,
    I use an inexpensive pedal that has a platform one side and clipless on the other. I've seen them called "rodeo" and "campus" pedals. I like them for when I come to something technical, then I unclip 1 pedal, spin it to the platform side and pedal through. I clip back in once I'm past the technical section. I also do this when coming to red lights, although most of my riding is single track/woods - I don't care much for riding in traffic - too many fast logging trucks on narrow roads.

    Love reading your blog and hoping you'll ride the GDR. Hope your toes are feeling better.

    best regards,

  15. Jill - don't know if you check or use your hotmail account. Please check it if you don't. Top Secret message about someone we both know. (I am co-captain for Team Fatty - Seattle Livestrong ride. Steve

  16. I don't have a degree, and the SIDI ratcheting system was immediately obvious to me (or I would have explained it to you).

    So there you go: you're all overedumacated.

  17. Stick with it and you will not regret it. Anyone who uses clipless will tell you that a few embarrassing tumbles is the price of admission (if they don't say this then they are lying). Once you get through that phase you get more power and actually find that it's easier to bail out than with clips.

    Also I have found the really stiff soles are a pain on those occasions you have to walk, but some of them come with a slightly flexible sole which I recommend (just bought some Shimano S086s that are sweet).

  18. I dunno Jill. With all the riding that you've done these past few years I would think your skill set would be pretty advanced, and yet... ;-)

    Then again, on the majority of your rides your tires have not touched the track, only frozen H2O. Besides, you have gotten a whole lot better over this entire time frame. Remember that endo-but-still-go move on the East Glacier Trail? Your natural instincts kept you going; your brain did not have time to mess you up.

    Not sure if this will translate for you but I attribute attitude and low fear to my success (and joy) in riding the technical stuff. One day in my early mtb riding years, I consciously decided that falling down was not likely to have dire consequences and that dabbing or bailing from the move precluded my success. Therefore, I was going to commit 100% to everything and fall down trying as opposed to stepping off my pedal and playing it safe. I’m not suggesting you be crazy like me. But I will suggest you consider overriding some of your fear and carefulness and putting more trust into your abilities and instinct.

    Also, I won't debate you on pedal types, Lord you've put some thought and field tests into that subject. But one point that I will add is that platform or combo petals have a lot more profile than my little spd's and that can make the same moves on rocky trail more difficult in comparison.

  19. Anonymous2:13 PM

    Hi Jill--

    Few years back warming up on the slickrock practice trail in Moab and my wife was riding behind me. I was soooo happy to ride frozen sand dunes--I forgot the #1 rule--keep checking in and trade time in the front of the line. Even guys who've been well trained forget once in a while. Anyhow, she'd cleaned pretty much everything and had a large group of guys riding behind her taking every line she took...then she hit a fold of rock in a transition and it flipped her front wheel sideways and launched her over the bars into hard rock. Huge hematoma. She doesn't cry. Ever. But she was intensely quiet. When I clued up and rode back to check--all of these guys were dismounting and walking behind her on every technical section she decided was too much. Apparently they'd all biffed trying to ride by her. The point is sometimes it's good to practice where you can have some success and a little bit of challenge; it's always good to get off early if you think it might help. It's always good to check in. She uses Frogs--the float is easy on her knees and the big metal cleat is tough and helps guide her shoe into the pedal fast and there's no spring resistance to get out. I use Time pedals--the Time are easier to open beer with. If you get a chance to ride up at Sundance there's great singletrack on the north side of Timp off the loop road and a long time ago i built a lot of the switchback turns in Park City and Sundance which generally have softer landings than what you've been riding lately. Loved the SIDI shoe story--you're not alone. Thanks!

  20. This is not like the movies. When in doubt, always press the red button :)


  21. I'll throw in another recommendation for Crank Bros.' Eggbeaters. I LOVE them. I started out on Time ATAC pedals, and I never grew to truly like them; they screwed me too many times. Eggbeaters rock, though. You can mount the cleats to release at 15 degrees (easy) or 20 degrees (stiffer). I go with the easy, as I like to be able to clip out fast if I'm falling or just need to steady myself. It's so easy it's almost like I'm just stepping off of platforms, yet I still get the performance adavantages of clipless while climbing, descending, etc.

    I don't know what it is with the Time ATACS - even the loosest setting was never good enough for me. Maybe the pricier models are better. It's ironic, because I switched to Time RXE pedals for my road bikes a couple years ago, and I LOVE those. It's just their mountain pedals...

    Anyhoo, I think if you used Eggbeaters, you might find yourself actually liking clipless.

  22. When oh when will I be an expert at this hobby that I love, like you I feel so inadequate at times, at things both mechanical and the actual skills of riding. Still, I can't resist the urge to get out there on my bike. Though, I have to admit, I envy the great open spaces you have to ride in.

  23. Jill, My knees had fresh scabs for a month as a clipless newbie. Now I never even think about it. My feet stay on the pedals when I want them there (not to be underrated!), and magically detach when I need them off. For me the learning curve was worth it.

  24. Amen to the Crank Bro's. I have the Candys and love 'em.

  25. Somehow your post made me feel better. I switched to clipless not too long ago and I've fallen...twice... After the second time I said to my son "will this ever get easy?"

    Cycling has been the best/hardest thing I have ever done. It's humbled me and challenged me and I love it.

  26. Hey Jill. I've just bought new sidis and the Keo pedals too. They're hard to use - even after 15 years of racing SPuDs. But light, Oh so light.

    I've been away again. Sorry to hear about you and Geoff. Keep on enjoying the sabatical. You and I are both looking forwards to winter already but what a shame to wish away the summers of our lives.


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