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.