I don’t think Claude Pepper, the American politician, quite had SPD shoes in mind when he said this, but I’m sure Einstein was definitely thinking of clippy pedals when he said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.“ But if two wise historical figures both said it, then it must be true. In a thoroughly scientific experiment this weekend I proved both these men correct, by taking to the bike with my feet clipped on…and by falling off three times whilst stationary.
I was very confused when starting to look at purchasing myself some SPD equipment that they were often referred to as “clipless pedals”. Surely a shoe that is clipped onto a pedal is the very antithesis of “clipless”? But apparently the “clipless” refers to the shoe no longer being in a pedal cage but instead having a locking mechanism on the bottom.
I have known for some time that I would have to get myself some clipless pedals, mostly due to Ryan constantly saying to me “you need to get yourself some clipless pedals” but also because everything I have read in every cycling book/website/magazine says the same thing. Attaching your feet to the pedals may sound scary (it is!) but it also a more efficient way of cycling. Instead of pushing down on flat pedals you can rotate your legs in a smooth circle and the pedals come with you. Using clipless pedals means you use less energy for the same effect.
Left with very little choice, I took the plunge and bought myself some SPD shoes.
I choose some which are designed for commuting/touring and look more like trainers then cycle shoes, this will be useful as I don’t need a change of shoes to walk around in when not on the bike, and the clip is recessed so it’s easier to walk on (anyone who has seen Ryan waddle around on his pointy clippy shoes knows what I’m talking about!)
Ryan kindly gave me some old pedals which we attached to my bike Saturday morning, just in time for our 60 mile ride around Oxfordshire. When I decided to make the switch to SPDs I had envisaged trying them out first, maybe on the stationary bike, or on a nice short ride…right before setting off on a whole day of riding was not my idea of good planning, but that was how it turned out and I swallowed my fear and went for it.
The positives: I was most worried about unclipping in time for busy junctions when riding through town, but this turned out to be the easiest time as you can see junctions and traffic lights quite far away. I was unclipping quite early for these, but I think with more use and more confidence I won’t be panic unclipping at the whiff of a junction in the distance. Although I wasn’t racing up hills with the vigour of the Brooks pair, I was a lot faster overall than I had been on previous rides, and I think that had a lot to do with the clipless pedals.
The downsides: Ouch. We were coming to a stop at a gate and I managed to unclip on the right but struggling on the left I looked down and toppled myself over, into poor unsuspecting Megan. I have a very nice large bruise on the left thigh from this tumble. Undeterred we got through the gate and continued cycling only for me to notice my saddle had been knocked and my body was twisted to the left. I unclipped on the left but found I couldn’t quite manage on the right due to the twist of the saddle, I promptly came off again less than a minute after the first time. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. It’s a shame Ryan didn’t have his camera out as he heard a yell and turned to see me lying on the floor, legs in the air, laugh/crying and unable to get up. The third tumble happened five minutes later, and was a little less funny as I landed hard on the sharp pointy edge of a manhole cover. I had a brief sulk and we continued on our way.
There were a few more stumbles as I unclipped whilst falling sideways, but I managed to stay upright, admittedly with little dignity as each time I looked like I was attempting a drug-induced dance involving trying to jump away from a bike as it attacked me.
Overall, I’m quite happy with being attached to my pedals as the benefits far outweigh the negatives and I haven’t been deterred. I even made Ryan take away my flat pedals so I wouldn’t be tempted to swap them back for commuting. On Sunday we went out for our second ride of the weekend, 30 miles, and I managed to stay upright at all times thus proving the Pepper/Einstein theory to be true….just keep pedalling and you’ll be okay.