Cycling 101: Learning to use your clipless pedals

For many people, using clipless pedals is a very daunting task.  The thought of being attached to your bicycle is scary.  I recently wrote an article on why you should use clipless pedals, and how they can he (Find it here:  Cycling 101: Why you should use clipless pedals)  Now – how do you use them?  Let’s talk about that.

The first thing you MUST do is properly mount your pedals and cleats.  If you do not know how to do this, seek help from a bike shop.  The cleats MUST be tight.  If they are not, you can have issues getting your foot out!  Make sure they are tight.  The cleat should be in the center of the shoe (right to left) and under the ball of your foot.  Most any shop that sells shoes can and will help you with this.

Virtually ever type of clipless pedal has a tension adjustment.  I suggest loosening that up as much as possible in the beginning.  As you get more experienced, but you can decide later.  This is TYPICALLY done with an allen wrench (hex key).

Before we talk about how to GET IN to clipless pedals, lets talk about how to get out.  I know of no clipless pedals you do not exit by pushing your heal to the outside.  Practice – right now – put your toe on the floor and rotate your heal outward.  Do that 10 times with each foot!  Boom – you are now an expert!

On most pedals, you enter by putting the front of the cleat into the pedal and then stepping down.  Usually, you hear and/or feel a “click” when you are engaged.  I like to “tug up” on my foot to make sure I am clipped in.

I _HIGHLY_ suggest you find a wall, rail, car, shoulder or something to hang onto and clip in, clip out, clip in, clip out, clip in, clip out…. repeat so you feel how it works.  It’s easy – but at first you will be nervous, knowing you can do it will help you when you are moving.

Key Point:  Pick your “stay on the bike foot”.  In 90% of stops, you stop and do not need to remove both feet.  Mine is my right foot.  I never take it off the pedal unless I am getting off my bike.  Every stop – I put my left foot down. It’s your choice 🙂

Starting:  Clip in your  stay on the bike foot.  Make sure it’s all good.  Put your foot in a good position to start and push off like you always do!  DO NOT IMMEDIATELY WORRY ABOUT CLIPPING IN THE OTHER FOOT!  It’s okay to put your to, heel, or any other part of your foot on the pedal and get up to speed.  Fast enough so you are stable.  Now coast and clip in your other foot.  Off you ride, safe and sound … connected!

Stopping:  Now – you are attached to your bike.  You have to change that to safely get off the bike.  MOST of the time, you plan to stop.  That’s easy!  As you realize you are going to stop, you simply coast, take your off the bike foot and rotate it out until you feel your foot unclip.  You may have to pedal a little more, that’s okay, but as you get ready to stop, ease off the seat and put your foot down.  BOOM!  You just did it!

Emergency Stopping:  This is just a fast version of stopping!  As soon as you realize you you are going to have to stop, disengage that foot!

Practice Makes Perfect: You are going to have some shady stops in your near future.  Do your best to relax.  You may want to ride around, clipping in, clipping out, practicing stopping.  The more you do it, the more you will feel confident! Confidence removes stress!

Remember that _NOBODY_ who has ever used clipless pedals has ever avoided falling over at least once.  We have all done it.  If you realize you are going to tip over, again – relax.  Putting your knee or your arm out is probably a mistake.  Your hip is generally more padded and can take a bump.

Cycling 101: Why should I use clipless pedals?

In an effort to keep this post a REASONABLE length, I am going to create two post.  One to discuss why you should use clipless pedals – and one to explain how to use them.  I recently wrote a long article about shoes and pedals.  If you need info on the various types, you should check that out!  (Let’s talk about your feet!)

Now, the $1,000,000 question – Why should you use clipless pedals?  I’ve got 5 reasons for you!

They are NOT dangerous:  I’m going to take on the “big one” first.  To many people, attaching their feet to a bicycle is very scary.  It’s not “natural”.  They worry about what could happen!  Others have tipped over (some dramatically, some just slowly.)  None of this is fun, but everybody reading this learned to walk at some point, and that wasn’t natural!  You can do this!

I’ve been riding and racing a bicycle for the better part of 45 years.  Over 30 of those years, my feet were attached to my pedals in some way or another.  I’ve never been hurt seriously as a result of being strapped or clipped in.  I’ve been hurt by other factors (mostly the GROUND), but my pedal attachment has not been a big issue.  You see, if you weigh 150 pounds and ride a 25 pound bicycle, the bike is only 16% of your weight.  When getting off your bike unexpectedly, it isn’t heavy enough to do much damage.  The thing you have to worry about is large immovable objects!  They hurt.  Feet attached or not, the worst thing a bike is probably going to do to you is give you a few oddly placed bruises.

Now – if you are new to this, you’re going to say “But Scott, what if I tip over because I cannot get my foot out?”  You’re not going to get hurt too bad, especially if you relax and let it happen.  Usually a skinned knee and a bruised ego.  Here is an ancient Chinese secret – We have all done it!  Everybody.  It’s okay!

You probably use a large knife to carve a turkey or slice a watermelon?  That’s could be dangerous – but you take steps to keep it safe.  We will discuss those in my “how to” article!  You can do this!

Improved Safety:  While this is a small factor, as feet rarely fly off the pedals, having a good connection ensures if you it a bump or something gets funky, your feet stay put and your bicycle stability remains in tact.  The key thing is learning how to safely enter and exit your pedals.  With a little practice – it becomes a natural and instinctive maneuver!

Proper Positioning:  Bicycle fit gurus around the world agree on one thing – having the ball of your foot on or near the pedal spindle adds to your efficiency and power transfer.  If you are riding without toe clips or clipless pedals, chances are your feet are moving all over the place.  That means your effective seat height, pedal stroke and power transfer is changing constantly.  The more it changes, the less change of being optimal.  By getting your cleats set up right – you ensure your in a good position at all times.

Added “Umph”:  The effect is not HUGE, but with clipless pedals you can actually pedal for a larger portion of your pedal circle.  Normally, you can only push down on your pedals and only get a small amount of power delivered through the bottom of the pedal stroke.  With the cleats engaged in the pedals, imitating the “wiping do poop off the bottom of your shoe” maneuver, you can pull through the bottom.  This is exceptionally effective when climbing hills.  The more you can get power to the pedals – the faster you are over the hill!

Comfort:  Piggy backing on the proper positioning, if you feet are properly positioned, in comfortable cycling shoes, your feet will be more comfortable.  If you’re not connected, you will like pedal in the middle of your foot which is inefficient and wears out your calves.

If you’re headed out for 100 miles, or a 3 day, 220 mile adventure – you should really consider clipless pedals.  You’re moving from “a person with a bike” to a “recreational cyclist!”  You deserve this little upgrade!

Cycling 101: Let’s talk about your feet

As a new cyclist, one of the BIGGEST choices you have to make is what shoes will I wear?  Unfortunately, depending on how you answer the question – there will be more questions.  Some of them may actually be scary as answering the question a certain way will result in your feet being “attached” do your bicycle.  My goal in this article is to help you answer the questions and help you get past any fear or anxiety.  Let’s start from the beginning!

What shoes should I wear for cycling?

The answer is simple – cycling shoes!  The reason is simple, cycling shoes are stiffer than most shoes you own.  They are designed to push on a pedal and not flex, putting all the power into the drive train.  Any flex in your shoe is a waste of energy, but more importantly – your foot does not like flexing that way.  It leads to sore feet and hotspots on your feet that are very uncomfortable.  There is no doubt in my mind that a good fitting pair of cycling shoes can/will enhance your cycling experience.

What kind of shoes should I wear?

Two things come into play here – Fit and Type.   Fit is the most important thing.  Your shoes need to fit and be comfortable or you will be uncomfortable and focussed on your feet, not on enjoying your ride.  Shoes should fit snuggly, but be comfortable.  No need to cram your feet in smaller shoes or any such lunacy!

Now what type?  You will have to make a decision here.  I’m not going to tell you what you need – I’m going to tell the pros and cons – and let you make the decision.  I’ll also share my choice.

Road Shoes:  Road shoes are made for road cycling, which rarely involves any walking.  They are not designed for walking.  They are characterized by stiff sole with a larger cleat mounted  to the ball of the foot.  The cleat is NOT recessed.  Walking in road shoes involves a “toe-up” step with a “clip-clop” sound.  You are able to walk around, get to your bike and stuff, but it’s not comfortable.  Walking will also wear out your cleats.  In general, road shoes will require a clipless pedal (more on pedals in a few minutes).  Your pedal choice on road shoes will be much larger – and in general allow a larger platform to “push on”, based completely on the size of the cleats.  The larger platform can help prevent hot-spots on your feet, but isn’t necessary.  My personal preference is road shoes/pedals.


  • More pedal choices
  • Larger contact area with pedal


  • Harder to walk
  • Cleats wear out when walking

Mountain Bike Shoes:  Before I get started, there are some touring and/or spin shoes on the market now that are not as aggressive as mountain bike shoes.  They, in general, offer all of the same features I’m about to discuss.  There’s very little differentiation, so let’s talk about them all together.  This class of shoes has a “tread pattern” similar to a running or hiking shoe.  Large, rubber lugs allow you to walk “comfortably” as the cleat is actually recessed.  There is some degradation in comfort as the shoes don’t flex.  That being said, they are much better than road shoes.  Now, the cleat on these shoes is a little bigger than a quarter and made out of metal.  It is hidden between a few large lugs of sole near the ball of the foot.  Please note, it MAY actually touch the ground when walking, so you probably don’t want to run around on your hardwood floors.  Unlike road shoes, you could use mountain bike shoes on regular pedals, or with toe-clips.  They are a great option for mountain bikers or recreational cyclists.


  • You can walk
  • You can ride without clipless pedals
  • Cleats are metal and rarely wear out
  • With right pedals, same shoes can be used for spinning


  • Smaller pedal contact patch
  • Can be a little tricker to clip in

I hope I’ve painted a picture that allows you to make your best decision.  I’ve found more serious road cyclist prefer road shoes.  The rest of the world enjoys mountain bike shoes!

What pedals should I use?

I use Shimano SPD-SL pedals and love them.  They only work with road shoes – now let me break down your choices:

Standard Platform Pedals:  These are your most BASIC pedals.  You put your feet on them and they work.  You can jump on them with your running shoes or a pair of mountain bike shoes and pedal.  The problem is your foot will move around a lot.  This will be cumbersome and ultimately lead to more fatigue.  Should you chose this type of pedal, I highly recommend getting some toe-clips and straps.

Toe-Clips and Straps:  The classic set up.  It offers you the ability to ride on the “bottom” of the pedals or put your foot in the toe-clips and straps.  In the old days, we would snug the straps down to hold our feet in there.  You do NOT need to do that, rather you can allow the clips and straps to hold your feet in place, eliminating the slip I mentioned earlier.  It does take a little practice to pull your foot back, but it’s really an easy thing to train yourself on!

Hybrid Pedals:  These pedals, I am putting in the middle – because they are part platform – part clipless. They are a GREAT solution for new clipless users as they can chose to use the clip-in feature when they want to, and opt out when they aren’t comfortable.  These are only good with mountain bike shoes, but they offer a GREAT solution for recreational cyclists!

Clipless Pedals:  I cannot capture all of the pedal options in photos!  These are the best pedals for cycling, as they allow you to “clip in” and they hold your feet in place.  This MAY SOUND SCARY – but they also disengage almost instantly when you fall off your bike.  I have heard a story or two of people getting a twisted ankle, but generally I believe clipless pedals to be COMPLETELY safe.  Mountain or touring oriented pedals are typical dual sided, allowing easier clip-in.  (Speedplay road pedals are dual sided as well).  Most pedals, you “shove your toe in” and then push your heal down to clip in.  To get out, you simply push your heal to the outside.  This DOES take some practice, but that’s what riding your bike is – practice!

In a soon to be published article, I’ll give you some tips and tricks to safely use your clipless pedals!  It can be intimidating, but starting slow and understanding how they work can make everything better!

Cycling 101: Standing up – your key to comfort!

A rider asked me about standing up.  They said in spin classes, they could stand up and it was easy.  On a bicycle, it always felt wobbly.  This is TRUE!

A spin bikes contact point with the floor is at LEAST 18-24″ wide.  Your bikes contact point with the road is about 1″ wide.  Let go of a spin bike, it falls over.  Let go of any bicycle – it falls over.  That being said – standing up on a *REGULAR* basis is a key to keeping your butt happy on a long bike ride.  It relieves pressure on your crotch, it stretches your legs, back, neck and anything else you want to stretch… but how do you do it?

Let’s break down some basics to get you started.

The first step is getting used to how the bike feels when standing up.  I suggest you find a flat, open, car free stretch of road.  Ride down the road at a good comfortable speed, hold onto your brake levers (on a road bike), with your pedals in a 3-9 position (level to the ground) gradually ease out of the seat.  Rise up as much as you feel comfortable.  Coast for a bit.  Enjoy the feeling!  As your speed slows, slowly move back into the saddle and start pedaling again.   Each “try” should last from about two to ten seconds.

Try this basic step as many times as you want, as often as you want – for the rest of your cycling career!  The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be.  You don’t have to do this all day, just until you feel more comfortable or understand how the bike feels.

Once you are comfortable with this, you can try some “advanced” standing and stretching.  That is, as you rise out of the saddle, put one foot at the bottom and drop your heel. This will stretch your calves.  Pedal around half way and stretch the other.  You can also push your pelvis forward and stretch your abs, obliques and other core muscles that have been “bunched up” for a while.  This relieves your back a little as well.  I find on-bike stretching to be very relieving.

As you progress in your standing – you can attempt to pedal while standing.  This is MUCH easier “under power”.  That is, when going up a hill or in a big gear.  As you pedal, the bike will move around under you.  This is COMPLETELY normal.  The change of weight distribution and power delivery will move things around.  Do not be alarmed.  Your bike does NOT want to fall over when it is moving.  Unlike our coasting standing up, I suggest you start standing up on a gentle hill, so you are applying some power.  On the “downstroke” gently rise out of the saddle. and keep pedaling.   You will feel a surge of power.  Now, you are using your leg muscles and your body weight to propel the bike.  This will make help you get up the hill or go faster.  Unfortunately, it will wear you out faster.  Your butt is no longer supporting you, your legs are!  This is great for stretching, sprinting, climbing – see where YOU like to do it!

Eventually – this will become as natural as getting up and walking to the kitchen, it just takes some practice!

Special Note About Trainers:  On any static trainer, your bike will feel funky when you stand up.  Any time you stand up on the road, your bike moves around a bit.  When the bike is fixed/held stationary, this movement is not possible.  I’ve mastered standing up on a bicycle on a banked velodrome, but the trainer still feels weird.  This is normal and not something to be overly concerned about!  Relax, stretch and get back to riding!    

Cycling 101 – Shifting Basics

As a life long cyclist, I have learned that most cyclists take a lot of things for granted.  If I had to explain how to balance on a bicycle, I would be completely lost.  That being said – there are many smaller components of riding a bicycle that scare and even intimidate novice cyclists.  As a YSC Tour de Pink cyclist, I’ve seen everything from very experienced cyclists to people who have ridden less than 40 miles before they start the 220 mile journey.  Sometimes, a little knowledge goes a LONG way.  In this article, I hope I can share some basics of shifting your average bicycle.  As *MOST* people ride road bikes on a TdP, and *MOST* have Shimano components – I am going to speak to that.  If you have SRAM or Campy, or ride a mountain bike – and have questions – feel free to ask questions!

Important note: There is a TON of info here, but realistically it all comes together with a little experience – read it slow, try it out, read it again, try it again!  You do _NOT_ have to memorize ANY of this!  Everything here could be taught in a 10 minute – in person – talk – it’s just challenging to convey in words!  

The Basics:

If you have a modern multi-geared bicycle you have 1, 2 or 3 chainrings in the front.  These are the large toothy things attached to your crankset.  The photo I included has 2 chainrings.  Some bicycle will have a smaller one.  We will call that the “granny ring”.

Which chainring you are in will dramatically affect how hard it is to pedal your bicycle.  If you are in the large or big ring (the one with the most teeth), it will be MUCH harder than in the small ring.  If you have three – the granny will be significantly easier.

All of the shifting in the FRONT of your bicycle is controlled by your LEFT shifter.  (We will discuss this more in a minute).  Your left shifter will move the chain from one ring to another – allowing you to go faster or be able to pedal up that big hill (or make it home when you are really tired.  There is no shame in riding in the small ring, the big ring or any other gear on your bicycle.  It’s all about riding the bike!

All things being the same (you didn’t change gears in the back) – shifting from your big chainring to your small chainring (shifting “down”) will make your bike much easier to pedal.  Shifting “up” or to the big chainring will make your bicycle much harder to pedal.

The next part of the bike we are going to talk about is the cassette.  This is the rest of the gears of a bicycle.  The cassette is mounted to the rear hub of the bicycle and much like different size chainring – will affect how easy or hard it is to pedal your bicycle.  Which gear you are in – on your cassette – is controlled by your RIGHT shifter.  Here is the “catch”.  While a bigger chainring makes it harder to pedal, a SMALLER cog on your cassette makes it hard to pedal.  This is VERY important to understanding how to shift a bicycle.

The cassette will have 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 cogs.  The smallest cog is the hardest gear on the cassette.  The largest is the easiest.  If you ignore (for a moment) which chainring you are in, shifting to a bigger cog will make it easier to pedal.  Shifting to a smaller cog will make it harder to pedal.

Note:  Some bikes have what is called “Optical Gear Display” or “OGD” which will give you and indication of what gear you are in.  This can be helpful, but I find that a quick glance down or through your legs to see what gear is just as effective.  

If you understand the basics I have set up here – you are ready to get shifting!


In most modern road bikes, the shifting is integrated into your brake levers.  As you can see in the photo here, there three basic parts of the lever.  The “hoods” are the large black area at the top of the photo.  This is a GREAT place to hold onto your bike.  It offers you access to your brakes, your shifters and is just plain comfortable!

The next part is the large silver part.  This is primarily your BRAKE lever, but it is also your shifter.  On both the right and the left, pushing the large lever will shift you to something bigger (remember, bigger in the front and bigger in the back do the OPPOSITE things).


Finally, on the “back” of the brake/shift lever, there is a smaller lever.  This is the “other shifter”.  Pressing this small lever will move the chain to something smaller.  It should be noted that the big lever can move 1 or more clicks allowing you to change MULTIPLE gears at once.  The small lever must be pushed multiple times to shift multiple gears!

We’ve covered a LOT of material – so let’s summarize with a few rock solid basics before we go into “How do I shift my bike?”

  • You have two shifters.  Right controls the REAR derailleur (notice Right and Rear both start with R!).   LEFT controls the FRONT derailleur.
  • Pushing the BIG lever on either side will shift to something BIGGER.
  • Pushing the LITTLE lever on either side will shift to something SMALLER.
  • BIGGER on the FRONT makes it harder to pedal (but may be faster!)
  • SMALLER on the REAR makes it easier to pedal (better for hills!)

With those 5 bullets, you know EVERYTHING you need to shift your bike!

Getting Started

If you have not ridden a multi-geared bike, I suggest you shift a few times, standing next to your bike.  Push each lever.  Get a feel for how they move.  (Please – only 1-2 clicks on each, if you are not pedaling when shifting, you do stress your bike a bit.) We just want you to get a brief feel.  The large shift lever moves a LOT more than the small – just see how it works.

The best way to get started is on a trainer, where you do not have to worry about traffic, curbs, kids and dogs!  If you have a trainer, put your bike on there and start pedaling.  If you don’t have one, that’s okay!  You will want your bicycle in a “medium” gear.  That is the small (or middle) chainring in the front and a “middle” gear in the rear.  If you don’t have a trainer, ask a friend to hold your bike off the ground, pedal the bike with your hand and shift away!

Time to pedal and shift!  Ride around a flat area (or spin on your trainer) and shift!  I would suggest a “drill” where you try a few things, after each, pedal for 10-30 seconds to feel the difference.  Here is a good starter drill:

  • Using your right shifter – go “up” one (push large lever 1 click) (pedaling just got easier)
  • Using your right shifter – go “down” one (push small lever 1 click)
  • Using the right shifter – go “up” a few gears (push the large lever 2-3 clicks)
  • Using the right shifter – go “down” a few gears (push the small lever multiple times)
  • Using the right shifter – go “all the way up” (push the large lever multiple times until it wont move any more) – This is your easiest gear – in this chainring.
  • Using the left shifter – go “all the way down” (push the small lever multiple times until it wont click any more) – This is your hardest gear – in this chainring.

Unless you live in a very hilly area – you probably have enough to ride for a long time, right now!  Many people rarely shift in the front.  I’ll talk about the front, now!  You will want to be in a “middle” gear in the back to start this drill.  Use what you learned above to sort that out!

  • Using you left shifter – go to the big chainring (push the large lever).  The bike should get a lot harder to pedal.
  • Do some of the drill from above – note, everything is exactly the same – just harder to pedal!
  • Using your left shifter – go to the small/middle chainring (push the small lever).  The bike should get a lot easier to pedal.
  • Do some of the drill from above – note, everything is exactly the same – just easier to pedal!
  • If you have 3 chainrings …. continue on!
  • Using your left shifter – go to the small chainring (push the small lever).  The bike should get a lot easier to pedal.
  • Do some of the drill from above – note, everything is exactly the same – just easier to pedal!

Things to Remember

  • Big lever always goes BIGGER
  • Small lever always goes SMALLER
  • Right lever is REAR
  • Bigger in the rear = EASIER
  • Left lever is FRONT
  • Bigger in the front = HARDER
  • ABSOLUTELY nobody is PERFECT at shifting.  I have seen a Tour de France stage lost by a missed shift!
  • Practice helps!  The more you ride, the better you get!