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The Complete guide to clipless pedals

Why are clip-in pedals good?

The main advantage of clip-in (also known as clipless) pedals is an increase in control over the bike and the confidence you get from knowing your feet will not slip off the pedals, especially in wet conditions.

When correctly set up, a clip-in pedal will ensure your foot is always in the correct position over the axle, helping to transfer your power more effectively.

As well as well as pushing through the first half of the pedal stroke with your quads, clip-in pedals allow you to lift through the second half of the pedal stroke, using your hamstrings, increasing efficiency and output.

Clip-in shoes are stiffer. This has benefits in terms of efficiency but will also increase comfort on longer rides.

How do they work?

Clip-in pedals are made up of two main components. The pedal, attaches to your bike like a regular flat pedal and the cleat, which attaches to your shoe. A sprung mechanism allows you to clip your feet in and out of the pedals.

With most systems you push your foot forward and down onto the pedal until the cleat “clicks” into place. Your foot will then remain attached, to the pedal, until you unclip. With most systems this is done by twisting your heel outwards, until the cleat releases.

It is important when setting off to start with one foot already clipped into the pedal so that you only have one foot to clip in when moving.

Using clip-in pedals for the first time can be daunting but with a little practice you will soon become confident and start to concentrate on all the benefits of your new clip-in pedal system.

Are there different cleats for different pedals and shoes?

There are two main systems. The first is mostly used for road cycling and uses a large plastic cleat, fixed with three bolts, with a clip-in mechanism on one side of the pedal. As with road shoes, road cleats are not designed for walking any significant distance.

Cleats and pedals

The second system is used primarily for off road cycling. This system uses a smaller metal cleat, fixed with two bolts, with a clip-in mechanism on both sides of the pedal. As these cleats are smaller, they can be recessed into some shoes and therefore they are more suitable for walking in.


Some shoes are compatible with both systems but many, including more specialist performance shoes, are only compatible with one or the other so it is important when buying shoes and pedals to ensure they are compatible. Shimano make an adaptor plate to allow two bolt type cleats to be fitted two three bolt shoes.


Speedplay road pedals use a four bolt system for their cleats but this is not really an issue as their pedals and cleats come with adaptors for most three bolt shoes.

It is also important to note that most cleats are specific to the manufacturer. For example, Shimano SPD-SL cleats are based on the Look system but Shimano cleats are not compatible with Look pedals and vice versa. Some companies, like Ritchey and Wellgo, do make cleats and pedals that are compatible with other brands but it is important to check compatibility before buying.

What do the different colour cleats mean?

Some manufacturers such as Look and Shimano colour code their cleats, depending on the amount of float they provide. Float refers to a small amount of lateral rotation that is available, depending on your setup, with most clip-in pedals systems. A few degrees of float will ensure you are not fixed with your feet misaligned with your knees, leading to potential knee injuries. Shimano and Look colour code their cleats differently so be sure to check before you order.

Shimano – Red 0° Blue 2° Yellow 6°

Look – Black 0° Grey 4.5° Red 9°

What cleat/pedal combination do I need?

Are you a Mountain Biker? Then consider…

  • Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) – SPDs were the first mass produced off road clip-in system and still remain the most popular. They are well known for their performance on the trail and their durability.
  • Crank Brothers – The Egg Beater style mechanism on Crank Brothers pedals sheds mud well and allows you to clip in on four sides. They do however require more maintenance than some of the competition.
  • Time ATAC – Another long time favourite with mountain bikers and cyclocross racers alike. Favoured for its good mud shedding abilities and consistent engagement and release, even in the worst conditions.
  • Speedplay Frog – As with their road pedals, Speedplay have incorporated the mechanism within the cleat rather than the pedal. They have a good reputation for durability and plenty of float but the cleats are larger than most and some shoes may require slight modification, to the tread, to fit.

Are you a Road Cyclist? Then consider…

  • SPD SL – The Shimano is based on the Look system although they are not compatible. Shimano have a good range of pedals from budget to top end and are well known for their durability.
  • Look– Look developed the modern clip-in road pedal from ski binding technology in the 1980s. Since then their basic system design has changed little but they have used the latest in materials and technology to ensure their pedals are some of the lightest and best performing on the market.
  • Speedplay – Speedplay are different from any other clip-in systems in that the mechanism is incorporated in the cleat. This allows you to clip into two sides of the pedal and the system also has finely tunable float adjustment. This does however mean that the cleats are more expensive than many other brands.

Article supplied by Wiggle

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