I mentioned when I wrote about my new bike that I fitted pedal straps – specifically, Restraps. I really like them, and have used a similar (but slightly more flexible) style of straps before on my recumbent bike. However, after using them for a couple of weeks, I found that I had great trouble getting my second foot into the strap. I tried tightening it, loosening it, entering from different angles, but nothing really seemed to help. It was frustrating, because the first foot (my right) always went in just fine, but I would be fiddling around for ages trying to get the other foot secured. Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge issue, but with a single speed bike, you are pushing quite a big gear from the start. Unless you are starting on a downhill slope, you need to get out of the saddle and push hard when starting to get going. Because of my difficulty with the straps, I was doing all this with one leg, and was slightly concerned that not only was I in danger of damaging my right knee, I might end up looking like a male fiddler crab, with one gigantic leg and one weedy one1. That’s an additional fitting issue I can do without when making clothes, frankly.
I had used clipless2 pedals before on another bike, years ago, and decided that might be the best idea. If you haven’t come across these, they are pedals built on similar lines to the bindings on skis: a metal cleat on the bottom of special shoes engages with a spring mechanism on the pedal, which clamps shut on the cleat when you press down, securing the foot on the pedal. I knew that I wanted clipless pedals compatible with shoes where the cleat on the shoe is recessed (often called mountain bike shoes), otherwise you walk like a duck on ice off the bike. I also knew that I wanted pedals that allowed a fair degree of ‘float’. Many kinds of clipless pedals lock your foot quite rigidly to the pedal, which is great for pedalling efficiency. Any lateral movement of your foot (or your knee, for that matter) wastes energy and does not contribute to turning the pedals. However, I knew from the Shimano SPD pedals and cleats that I had used before that this caused pain in my knees. My legs just want to do their own thing, and if my foot and knee can’t wander about a bit, they end up hurting. This narrowed down the choice a bit more. I also wanted a pedal that was really easy to get into and out of, from a variety of different angles.
After a lot of research and dithering back and forth between different options, I decided to go for the Crank Brothers Candy 1 pedal. It’s an unusual design, with four large ‘wings’ forming the mechanism, which rotate inside the composite body of the pedal, allowing you to clip in from a variety of angles and positions. There is also a rebuild kit available, so the pedals are serviceable at home, hopefully prolonging their life somewhat. I liked the idea of having a platform (albeit a small one), as this tends to make life a bit more comfortable for your feet, and means you can – in a pinch – pedal for a while when not clipped in.
I’ve used them for a couple of weeks now, and love them. They are superbly easy to clip in and out of, and the float means that my knees don’t hurt. I remember now how much I like the feeling of being part of the bike, and being able to power through the whole pedal stroke. Riding up hills has become a lot easier as a result. It is an odd feeling though. You’ll be quite happily pedalling along, when your brain suddenly goes I AM BOLTED TO THIS BIKE! EEEEP! Having used clipless pedals before, I’ve already experienced the shame-inducing comedy fall that virtually every cyclist has when using clipless pedals for the first time. You practice clipping in and out like mad when the bike is stationary, and then have several days of serene rides when everything goes perfectly: you clip in and out like a pro, and start to feel really comfortable with it. Then there comes a point when you have to stop unexpectedly: a car stops right in front of you without warning, or someone steps off the pavement into your path, and you have to slam the brakes on. At that point, your reflexes kick in, and you try to just lift your foot off the pedal the way you would with no pedal restraints, and you realize – to your horror – that your foot is still firmly attached. You then go into full-on panic mode, completely forgetting all your hard-earned training to simply flick the heel out to release the shoe. You realize that you are going to crash over to one side, very slowly and humiliatingly (still attached to the bike), like a felled tree falling in a forest. Sometimes, your brain finally gets its act together just before you hit the ground (but too late to stop the fall) and you get one foot out of the pedal. Somehow, that’s even worse. This happened to me in Oxford a few weeks after I got clipless pedals for the first time. I was riding down a quiet street when a car pulled out in front of me suddenly, I hit the brakes, panicked, and capsized to one side in slow motion. While I was trying to extricate myself from the mess of bike and panniers, a driver behind stopped and came over, asking what happened and if I was OK. It was very sweet of her, but having to admit that you crashed because you couldn’t get your feet off the pedals is pretty humiliating.
Anyway, so far – touch wood! – I have not had the same problem. I tend to clip one foot out pre-emptively when I’m passing people or dogs on the shared cycle path, or when coming up to junctions. With these pedals, it’s quite easy to to cycle for a bit like this, and it’s easy to clip back in again once the potential danger has passed. I still don’t really trust my brain to deal with an emergency clip out situation properly.
You might laugh, but when I was doing my PhD, I had to climb in and out of a piece of experimental apparatus many times a day. I always used the same leg to step into and out of the apparatus, and after a couple of weeks, my legs were noticeably different sizes. ↩
A really stupid term, because clipless pedals clip your feet to the pedals. They are ‘clipless’ because they don’t do this using toe clips or cages. ↩