This week our ‘family bike guy’ Henry takes his first step (or is that pedal?) into the world of cleats and clipless pedals. We gave him an entry level pair of Shimano shoes and pedals to use whilst reviewing bikes for us and thought it would be interesting to hear how he got on with them.
Considering that I’ve been riding bikes for over thirty years it might come as a surprise to learn that I’d never tried an SPD pedal and shoe combination before now. Truth be told I’d always felt that it was too much hassle, too dangerous, too costly… I had all the excuses in the world, put it that way. I’m pretty sure that this is not a unique perspective either. I’d be willing to bet that hundreds of men and women getting back into cycling (or trying it for the first time), spending money on a road bike, mountain bike, touring bike etc. don’t even consider clipless pedals. Well, after about 100 miles of riding with cleats, I am a convert. I really want to encourage anyone out there cycling with toeclips (or bare pedals)l to give the SPD’s a try.
SPD stands for Shimano Pedalling Dynamics in case you were wondering. They are often referred to as Spuds too.
The clipless experience
The first thing to bear in mind is that the system requires an SPD pedal and shoe fitted with a compatible cleat. The cleat clips into the pedal, holding your foot securely. So if you want to upgrade your current bike, you’ll need to change the pedals and find a pair of shoes that fit. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be expensive. The pedals and shoes featured in this article are available from the Cycle Centre for less than £80.
Shoes – M064
These entry level shoes from Shimano are a great all rounder. They work on either an MTB or an entry level road bike. I certainly didn’t feel daft using them on either. The sole of the M064 has a recessed cleat with decent tread all round, so you can walk on slippery surfaces without worrying about falling on your behind.
The Velcro straps allow for an easy and comfortable fit. There isn’t much padding on the insole so you definitely have to wear a decent pair of cycling socks though. These particular Shimano SPD shoes seem to be quite a narrow fit and wear on the small size, so I would definitely recommend that you try on a pair (with the right socks) before buying. The other great thing about these shoes is that came with a pair of cleats in the box. I’m led to believe that this isn’t normal and a pair of cleats for the SPD system normally cost around £16.
Pedals – R520
The pedals look tiny when you first get them out of the box. Especially if you’ve not used them before. These particular SPD pedals are duel sided, in that they have a spring loaded clip on both sides, so it doesn’t matter which way round your pedal is, you just clip in and go. Each of the four clips (two on each pedal) is adjustable, in that you can change the amount of tension in the spring thereby changing the degree of force needed to clip out. For riders new to cleats, setting it on the loosest setting to begin with is definitely recommended. Although the R520s are definitely not the lightest of SPD pedals they are reasonably durable and as long as you don’t leave them covered in rain and mud all the time (if you do, the will rust) they should last you a while.
I have to be honest here. I am now a total convert to the SPD pedal. I still ride my town bike with regular pedals but I hate it. SPDs rule! Why? Well, it isn’t to do with “getting more power down”. This is a common misconception about clip-less pedals. They do not make you more powerful or faster. What they do is hold you feet (assuming you have have them set up properly and have your bike fitted properly to you) in the optimum position all the time. What this means is that your pedalling is more efficient, so any power you exert is delivered to the chainset without waste. Interestingly, I was surprised to find that my feet were not held ridgid by the SPD system but allowed for ‘wiggle’. This helps to prevent fatigue and injury I’m told but it also makes it feel more natural. Unclipping from the pedal is done by rotating your heel away from the frame. At first this is a bit odd, but became second nature extremely quickly. I do recommend that you practice clipping in and out on your bike whilst static – I used my kitchen as I can reach a bench on each side of my whilst in the saddle. If you’re still not sure, try practising on a lawn, so if you do fall over you won’t bend your bike or your self. Most riders do experience the ‘zero speed fall’ at some point as a result of not being able to unclip but you’ll probably only do it once!
All in all I’d say investing in a comfortable pair of SPD shoes and a pair of (entry level compatible) pedals will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make for your bike. This is especially applicable if you are getting into road cycling, cyclocross or have a fitness hybrid.
Written by Henry Aarvold
I was allowed to keep the pedals and shoes reviewed in this article.