CLIPLESS PEDALS AND BIKE FIT
September 16, 2004
Back to questions
Recently I switched from a Trek
mountain bike to a Canondale R500 road bike.
In the process, I tried clipless
pedals for the first time. Please take in my tale of woe.
Any advice offered would be greatly appreciated.
I got clipless pedals on Friday,
fell Friday night, and promptly had my clipless pedals taken
off Saturday morning. I had never tried clipless pedals
before and the business of learning a new bike with radically
different components and the new dynamics of stopping were
just too much. I have a scab on my knee the size of an orange.
I think Im going to take the rest of the season to
familiarize myself with my new road bike before attempting
clipless pedals again. I now have toeclips. Are clipless
pedals really that more advantageous than toeclips? How
long does it take to get used to those d*mn things? What
are the advantages and disadvantages to clipless pedals
versus toeclips? Im doing a century in a few weeks
and I wonder if Im prematurely disadvantaging myself
with my clipless phobia.
I went from a huge, hefty mountain
bike that I had for twelve years to a road bike. I was never
fitted for the mountain bike. I went into a bike shop, pointed
at a mountain bike, and basically went home with it. With
my road bike, I received a professional fitting on a size
cycle at [a local bike shop]. (They were fantastic, by the
way, extremely knowledgeable, patient, and hospitable staff).
According to my professional fitting, my mountain bike was
entirely too big for me and stretched me beyond an efficient
With my new measurements in hand,
I purchased a Canondale R500. I had the 500 built specifically
for me based on my professional fitting results. Despite
all of this care, my road bike feels entirely too small,
fragile, and dangerously awkward.
tell if my new road bike is just too small or whether it
will take months for me to get acclimated to a bike that
(1) fits me properly and (2) is a road bike.
The experience of being on a waif
of a road bike in comparison to my hefty mountain bike is
like night and day. Although Im stretched out on my
mountain bike, I have had it for over twelve years and it
fits me like a glove. Im not worried about getting
a skinny wheel wedged in railroad tracks or sidewalk crevices.
My mountain bike absorbs the shock of potholes. My road
bike, on the other hand, leaves me feeling unstable, tipped
too far forward, crash ready at a moments notice, and shriveled
up. Are these normal feelings associated with transitioning
from a hefty mountain bike to a frail road bike? I cant
tell if the frame is just too small or if I can fix my ill-fittedness
by get a longer and higher stem and adjusting my seat further
up, tilted up, and pulled up?
You raise a bunch of issues, and
Ill take em one at a time.
I glean from your message that you
live in a big city. Many people like mountain bikes, with
their wide tires and flat, platform pedals, for city riding.
Road bikes often dont do as well; their skinny tires
bend easily from potholes, and having ones feet clipped
into the pedals make it hard if youve gotta start
and stop a lot. This explains why some folks have two bikes:
A mountain or hybrid bike for city traveling; and a road
or racing bike for going long distances fast, as they do
when touring or racing.
I find your experience with clipless
pedals all too common. They take lotsa learning, and you
shouldnt learn in traffic. Learn to use clipless pedals
in a quiet, wide parking lot with lots of room. Wear long
pants and sleeves and (of course) a helmet. Go short distances
slowly and practice clipping and unclipping. Work up to
sudden stops where you have to unclip quickly.
Whether you use clipless pedals
or toeclips for everyday riding depends on whether you want
or need the faster speed that such pedals give you. If you
live in a hilly or particularly windy place clipless pedals
and toeclips could make your life lots easier. Personally,
I dont like having to wear special shoes or clothes
It sounds to me like your new road
bike doesnt fit you correctlydespite the fitting
exercise you went thru. I believe a bicycle should never
make you feel uncomfortable. But you should expect feeling
some difference (tho not pain or discomfort) when you switch
from a bike that has you sitting upright to one that has
you leaned over.
Having shop staff tell you that
a bike youve ridden comfortably for a dozen years
causes inefficiency frosts mebut Ill
suppress the urge to rant about the American bicycling industry.
I suggest you take your road bike
back to the shop you like so much and have them check you
out on the fitand specifically address your complaints.
You might solve your problem by, as you mention, simply
changing the handlebar stem so you dont stretch forward
as much. (See pictures of alternatives in my book, Urban
Bikers Tricks & Tips.) But if youve
got a frame with a horizontal length truly too short for
you, no amount of adjustment will make it feel right.