The clipless diaries, part 5: Before and after

So, pratfalls aside, how have clipless pedals changed my riding?

It took a while for me to get comfortable in them. I came from a flat pedal background, so when I tried driving my leg force through the pedal body, I found validity in some people’s claim of “hot spots” on the foot since the SPD mechanism effectively “shrinks” the pedal into a lump. Initially, my feet were curling up trying to apply the power to what they felt of the pedal body…which isn’t much. As hard as it is to believe, this might also be down to the RT33 shoes themselves not being the stiffest; Shimano rate them a 5 out of a possible 12 on their own stiffness scale.

Backing off, I relaxed and tried to just spin the pedals. This felt much better. With some more practice, I found the key was to drive the power through the shoes, not the pedals. With the shoe locked on the pedal, it effectively serves as an extension of the pedal body, so leg power can be delivered without applying as much force.

One thing clipless pedal advocates love to talk about is how the system lets you pull up on the pedals to make power – recruiting more muscles and effectively “doubling” your leg power. Hmmm, okay. While this is true, I doubt the force delivered by pulling up on the pedals is anywhere close to that of pushing down on them, or leg extension. Even with flat pedals, I could recruit my hamstrings and glutes by sliding rearward on the saddle, and even with clipless pedals, the act of pedaling is still primarily driven by the quadriceps muscle.

However, I felt that at higher cadences it’s easier to spin, and do so with more controlled power along slightly more of the pedal travel, than on flat pedals – resulting in more efficient pedaling and a higher average speed. Along BF Parañaque’s bumpy Concha Cruz Drive, on a tempo effort with flat pedals, my pace tends to drop from 20 km/h to around 16 at the exit gate. On the clipless setup, I could maintain 20 km/h the whole length, sometimes even breaking it. The benefits will only show up when I put in the effort, though.

The other situation where the clipless system comes into its own is when riding out of the saddle. Mashing away at lower cadence, or when sprinting hard, I no longer need to think about my foot positioning on the pedal or the feeling of my shins twisting from ankle over-pronation. I just drive each body-weighted pedal stroke to the ground.

So… As a friend asked me recently, am I now a clipless pedal advocate? I would have to say “it depends.”

If I were to ride mountain bike trails again, I wouldn’t be too keen on committing to clipless all the time. Let’s face it, there are unfamiliar features that can catch you out, requiring a dab of the foot off the pedals and on the ground. It’s here that the multi-release cleats are handy. If I’m on an initial reconnaissance run of the trails, I’d probably be on the T780 pedals’ platform side. That’s more due to my relative inexperience on trails.

On the road, the argument is much more straightforward. My particular setup gives most of the benefits of clipless pedals with very few of the drawbacks. Occasional cleat scraping and shouty logo on the top strap aside, the RT33 shoes even look like something you could take to the office, so it’s much easier to commit to the system more often.

Finally, on the days I can’t ride with “special cycling shoes” for whatever reason, the T780 pedals make it relatively easy to keep riding Hyro anyway. There also are other pedals with the same concept to choose from, such as Shimano’s light-action Click’R PD-T420, the classic PD-M324, and the sportier PD-A530.

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