I was averse to clip-less pedals when I started putting in more serious miles. I’d seen one friend come back with one side of his leg and arm scraped up pretty severely and another with her leg pretty messed up after an endo, both attributed the wrecks to not being used to their feet being locked into their pedals on the first attempt.
I’m not a chicken, but I don’t mess around either when it comes to being as safe as possible on my bikes as I’ve got a wife and kids to provide for. In a nut shell, I have to maintain a balance between safety and adrenaline seeking and this balance will differ from person to person. I won’t be mountain biking on the side of a cliff, at least till the kids are out of college, on the other hand simply riding in traffic is a lot more dangerous than being a couch jockey. Of course, the argument is, being a couch jockey is just as unhealthy as riding in traffic – and therein lies the balance.
With that discussion left to the talking heads, I was nervous about switching over. My buddy Tim finally convinced me to switch over about two or three weeks after I bought his Trek. I followed the standard web advice (click on clip-less pedals) and actually practiced in my back yard for a half hour to get used to clicking in and out of my pedals before I hit the road. Knock wood, I’ve never gone down – though I was close once when a car blew by me to make a right turn about 20 feet in front of me – I was cruising at about 23 mph and I had to jam the brakes so hard that the back-end of my bike lifted off the ground, I was more worried about keeping my weight back to keep from flipping that I only clipped out at the last half second. That said, now that I’m thoroughly used to the pedals and how they work (they became second nature after a week or two) that I really think they’re safer than standard pedals for a variety of reasons:
1. On trails, when you’re going fast down a bumpy hill, your feet won’t bounce off of the pedals (see also item 4).
2. Again on trails, on the steeper climbs, they improve balance and allow both legs to work at the same time – I wouldn’t be caught dead without clip-less pedals on a trail anymore.
3. On the road they allow me to round out my stroke (though there is research that showed negative pressure on the upstroke – meaning the front leg still tends to push the back leg up, even in the pros). In other words, I don’t feel like I’m mashing the pedals on the down stroke which is typical with standard pedals.
4. I can push harder and have a longer stroke if I’m not worrying about my foot slipping off the pedal. I don’t have to comment on the pain a foot slipping can inflict – Lance Armstrong, in the 2003 TdF should do…OUCH! (1:43 in):
5. I feel more connected to the bike – though this took some getting used to. I was more into jumping and dragging my foot for balance around tight corners when I was a kid. I didn’t have to rely on knowing the limits of my bike. If it started to slip, I could just put more pressure on the drag foot.
To sum the clip-less pedal discussion up, now that I know what I’m doing on the bike with them, I wouldn’t want to live without them – in fact, I paid extra so I could get the dual purpose pedals for my mountain bike and I’ve only ever used the standard pedal side one time. Riding clipped in, in my opinion, balances out as safer in the long run – the benefits outweigh the negatives.
By the way, I should state this for nubes (like me) who might not know better… The pedal on the right, while on my road bike, is technically a mountain bike pedal. I’m too cheap to buy another pair of shoes for road riding… If you’re more concerned with performance (and looks) or you’re only going to be road riding, get the proper pedals and shoes…
By the way, speaking of only road riding, if you’ve never been mountain biking on real trails, you’re missing out. Playing in the dirt is FUN! A little more intensive on the clean up, but it’s a great workout. Remember your clear safety glasses though – you will catch a branch in the face and sunglasses are too dark in the woods.
The most useful tip I’ve ever read for cycling came in two sentences:
If the front of your knee(s) hurts, raise your saddle. If the back of your knee(s) hurts, lower it.
About three months ago I started experiencing some knee pain after I had my Cannondale worked on – tune up, stem raised, simple stuff. A week later, with a serious mileage increase, my left knee started hurting (in front). I remembered reading the tip so I raised my seat about 1/4″… Sure enough, the pain stopped within a day or two and never came back.
Of course, it should be stated, if you’re new to biking, buy a bike that is fitted to you by a pro. They’ll take things into account that, as a rookie, you won’t know about.
To begin, let’s keep this simple. If you have enough money to walk into your local bike shop and buy a mountain bike and a road bike, stop reading. Don’t waste your time or your money – you’ll be happier with two bikes. Also, if you want to rocket down the flats at 35 mph on your mountain bike, it isn’t going to happen. Mountain bikes are too heavy and the front suspension will rob you of power that is normally transferred to the crank. On top of that the chain rings are smaller for climbing, rather than speed and mountain bikes are not aerodynamic. Period. It’s physics and it’s the law. Not liking it won’t change it. With that in mind, I built my Trek 3700 (which I bought used for $100) into a heavy weight screamer with less than $400 – including the price of the bike. Now that’s not all of the cost involved in biking, this is not a cheap sport unless you just want a decent workout or to tool about town.
When you go to implement some of these changes, search the procedures out on the web so you don’t break your bike (or you) in the process. Start simply and cheaply with the tires, which will give you the greatest increase in speed because of the decrease in rolling resistance. Knobby tires rob you of speed, start with a nice 26” pair of road tires for a mountain bike, they’re thin enough to race on but thick enough that you won’t kill yourself on a shoulder or dirt road – and they’re less than $30 each. Next, if your mountain bike has a 40 degree rise on the stem as mine did (the part that holds the handlebar), lose it for a ten or seven degree rise ($30 – $70). Mine is a 10 degree, flipped upside down. Also, if you have a 25.4 mm handle bar, this would be a good time to upgrade that to a 31.8 ($20-$40) – make sure you get the proper stem with the bar, though this won’t be difficult as bike shops rarely carry the 25.4 stems any more. This will drop your handle bar down by an inch or two so you can add aero bars ($115-$135). The aero bars, next to the tires, will gain you the most speed. Make sure your saddle is the right height for you, then adjust your stem so it’s a couple of inches lower than your seat. You can do this by juggling the spacers around (for those with Direct Connect stems). Let’s see, a decent Craigslist bike, some bolt on parts and you’re well on your way at a grand total of $265 – and all of the components that are linked are very decent. Now, if you’re going to buy your bike at an online auction site or on a garage sale website (like Craigslist) and you want a Trek, Specialized, Scott or Cannondale mountain bike for $100 or slightly more, it will take patience (usually), persistence and luck – and you will likely have to deal with a rusted chain, a dirty cassette, rusted control wires, dings and scratches or any number of issues. Most are cheap and easy fixes – Google is your friend, use it wisely to learn how to complete the repairs. Point is, most are between $150 and $350 so finding the really good deal takes some work, but beware: Don’t buy a nice bike that someone beat the hell out of. A poorly cared for bike can be a money pit. Take it for a ride before you pay… Check to make sure the crank isn’t bent, make sure the chain rings track straight as you pedal, no nasty noises etc.
Here’s my bike with the setup for my first two triathlons, the courses were mainly dirt roads:
Next up you get into the technical stuff (stuff, by the way, you would have had to add to your brand new $1,000 road bike anyway). Get rid of your stock pedals and trade up for the clip-less model (if you don’t want to fully give up your pedals – I didn’t – Shimano makes a dual pedal for around $85) and the mountain bike shoes to go with them ($90 – $120). Truthfully, the pedal upgrade should be done if you’re going to ride on trails too – I wouldn’t go near a trail without them (I’ll get into that another day). Get the mountain bike shoes too, not the road shoes… The mtb shoes have treads so you won’t be walking on hard plastic (or carbon) and steel as you would if you bought road bike shoes. Pedals and shoes will do wonders for your speed as well… We’re up to $420 – still under the price of a brand new high-end entry-level mountain bike. Throw in a helmet ($40), air pump ($30), gloves ($20), glasses ($30), water bottles and cages (2 ea. @ $25 total), a small bag to carry everything in ($20), new cables and some chain oil (use the new “dry” stuff) <$15, shorts ($60), jersey ($80) and, you’re ready. For less than the price of an entry-level road bike – and when you want to go out on the trails you can pull off the aero bars in 2 minutes and change the tires in 10 minutes and switch the spacers on your stem to raise your bar in another 5 minutes (with only 2 Allen wrenches, an air pump and tire tools)… You can hit the trails, and ride fast, with one bike, for under $750 if you work at it. By the way, and this is important. If you are reading this, you are not a purist and may not be too adept at bicycle maintenance and repair (I wasn’t)… Buy everything you can at your local bike shop. If you buy your equipment there and they get to know your face they will help you with issues that perplex you.
This is my bike with the new stem and handle bar (set back up for Island Lake in Livingston County, MI…it’s a fun 14 miles):
There is one technical item that I skipped over but I’m told can be done – the question is, at what cost; a new crank with bigger chain rings. In the end, I “geared out”, I couldn’t pedal fast enough in the top gear to go any faster, topping out at a little more than 40 mph going downhill. Switching the crank out to solve the problem is not a cheap thing. Depending on the setup on the bike, you may have to buy a new derailleur in addition to the crank… At that point, I just bit the bullet and bought a road bike. Now I can get to 35 on the flat (though not for more than a couple of miles) and I’ve been faster than 50, simply impossible with my old setup.
Now this is the problem with trying to make a mountain bike do something it isn’t meant to; all told, I’ve got about $1,200 into my two bikes used bikes at this point (and this includes items that I’d have bought whether I picked up brand new bikes or gone with used)… I’ve got a mountain bike that fits great and a road bike that I absolutely love but is a touch too small. I’m going to hang on to the mountain bike, but I’ll be upgrading the road bike as soon as humanly possible because the down tube shifters are terrible and upgrading them to STI while possible for a seven speed, the cheaper option is not perfect and the idea is to shift correctly all the time and I don’t want to have to buy a new rear wheel, cassette, spread the back-end and everything else that has to be done to make it right. So I’ll keep my old school as a back up (or a travel bike for vacations) and get into decent racing bike as soon as I can… After all that money, I’m going to end up buying a new $1,500 road bike anyway. Of course, when I started out in cycling, I just wanted to run a couple of triathlons – I had no idea that I’d like cycling as much as I do, so there’s that. The point is, if you really want to assign a mountain bike to dual purpose, within reason, it is possible even on a budget. Just be sure to think it through so you don’t waste more money than it’s worth.
UPDATE: Changed a few grammatical errors… Note to self, don’t post late in the evening.