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 – 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!