If you're new to road cycling then we probably need to talk about what can sometimes be a touchy subject for newbies. Cleats.
Cleats are the bits of plastic you screw into the sole of your road cycling shoes. If you’re not familiar with cleats by eye, you might recognise them by ear… They’re the annoying clip-clop sound you hear accompanying most road cyclists as they walk around – usually through cafe's and coffee shops when out on their rides.
If you're starting out as a cyclist then I get it. The last thing you want when you’re self-consciously walking around in a tight, overly-revealing outfit that looks like it's painted on, is a pair of noisy plates on your feet drawing the attention of everyone towards you! Oh... And not to mention the incorrectly perceived risk of physical maiming /death when you start using them (perhaps I should start with this concern next time?)
When it comes to someone suggesting you should add cleats to your cycling attire I know some of you will be thinking,"there’s no f-ing way I’m riding on the road, which I’m already nervous about, with my feet physically stuck to my pedals! For the love of God, what’s wrong with you man?!"
And I’ll forgive you for having those thoughts because I’ve been there. When I made the switch to clip-ins, I had many reservations. All I could picture was embarrassingly toppling over at the traffic lights, or going arse-over-tit into a bush as I battled to release my foot from the pedal. And, being totally honest, this is exactly what happened to m2M's very own Daniel-son when he first used them.
I still reach for the Tena pants at the memory of him clipping in for the first time; rolling down his road at an unsteady. ‘break-neck' speed of 5mph; gently hitting his brakes and then – as if like a tree being felled in slow motion – falling horizontally onto the grass verge to his left. TIIIMMMMBERRRRR! There he lay, like a lycra-wearing beetle struggling to roll over from being turned on it's back. So a key lesson when it comes to using cleats for the first time? Be less like Daniel-son.
Nevertheless, I still strongly advise getting used to them for a number of reasons:
Firstly. It really is much safer and easier than you think to release your foot from the pedal with just a simple outward flick of your ankle. A few practices up and down a quiet road and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Secondly. It improves your pedal stroke – both your smoothness of rotation, and optimising the transfer of power from your legs and feet as you push down, drag back, pull up, and kick back over the top of the whole rotation of your pedal stroke.
This way to ride just isn't possible unless you're clipped in. It's probably more advanced than you're used to right now, and it's not worth getting too hung up on it at this stage, but there's no harm in practicing it from the get-go. The quicker you master it, and the faster the new muscle-groups in your legs can acclimatise to this way of riding, the quicker you'll get more effective and efficient with your riding.
Thirdly. The alternative - the traditional flat pedal set-up - has a high tendency to spin out of control when your foot falls off – often punishing you with a generous whack to the back of your ankle or achilles when it spins back round again… and that is extremely painful.
And finally - while pedal and toe cages seem to be the perfect halfway-house, they come with their frustrating, angering, and often embarrassing downfalls. Picture yourself at the traffic lights… The ride is going great. Your supporting leg is keeping you upright as you await the amber signal to stick your foot firmly back into that cleverly designed foot cage and then, all of a sudden…
‘Where’s the bloody foot cage?!'
'Oh man, what’s happening?!'
'Shit, it’s facing the floor. Sodding gravity!'
'What should I do?'
'The cars are moving?'
'I’m going nowhere.'
'Hang on, I’ve got it.'
'No, I haven’t.'
'What’s that scraping along the floor?'
'I HATE F-ING TOE CAGES!!!’
Get the picture?
The weight of those cages does not defy gravity, so once your foot is off the pedal, they’ll spin to face the floor like the buttered side of a piece of toast. And, like toast that hits the floor butter-side down, your pedals will be knackered and need to be tossed in the bin.
So save yourself the hassle and jump straight into cleats in the first place. I reckon most of you will have a five-to-ten-minute learning curve before you’re wondering why you didn’t switch to them sooner.
Give it a try and let us know how you get on in the comments below... Even those that do make a bit of a tit of themselves during the first couple of attempts.
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