Shoes. I’m one of those folks that have a bunch of these things – I’ve been a bit obsessed about them at times. I have 3 pairs of clipless shoes, and at this point 5 pairs of sneakers that qualify as bike-first, walking shoes. I’ve had a professional bike fit for my road bike with my SPD pedals. There are some that say clipless is pointless for all but the most dedicated racers, but I think that there is a time and place for many different shoes on bikes. One of my favorite pedals has been the Shimano A530. This pedal has SPD on one side, and flats on the other. I’ve done 300k on these pedals, and have commuted for several years in both SPD and flat shoes.
I’m starting to form some opinions on what shoe, what situation at this point, however, this year I’d like to do at least one ride of 200k plus in sneakers. I was told by my fitter that it’s easier on the legs and knees to be clipped in. The reasoning was explained to me as it makes less work for you as your feet won’t be moving around on the pedal and getting mis-aligned. This seems counter-intuitive to me. I feel like there has to be some give during the pedal rotation in the “play” of your shoe or your knee tendons will be slightly stretched. I think this manifested last year on my longest ride when my right knee went out with 50 miles to go. I don’t know how many folks have knees that are aligned in perfect planes to the pedal rotation – mine definitely aren’t.
Since I’ve been clipping in and out of pedals for 20 years now, I’m pretty comfortable with the technical points. When you start going clipless, do it in the dirt on the hills. It’s like learning to drive a manual transmission first. You get the hardest part out of the way, and master it early. You often have to get clipped in when you’re going up a 20% grade in dirt or mud with rocks and roots in the way, and you quickly learn the key ways to start pedaling and transfer your weight quickly so you can get that second pedal going before you stall. You also learn how to anticipate and unclip (or panic unclip) when you come to a sudden unintentional stop on that rock/root in the trail. If you don’t, it’s a softer landing in the dirt (usually).
Clipping in and out isn’t a problem. It’s really just the longer rides and the stresses it introduces that make me wonder if it’s not a great idea. I also don’t find myself using the real benefits of clipless (picking up the bike, or keeping your feet glued to the pedals when airborne) while I’m riding a road bike. I admit it is nice sometimes when I have to make a quick curb hop, but that’s pretty rare…
Using modern flat sneaker pedals like VP Components Vice or VP001 meant for BMX and freeride mountain biking, along with a sticky-soled shoe like a Five Ten Spitfire (current fave) or Evolv Cruzers has been really interesting to me. It provides such a sticky grip, I find myself having to lift my foot to move it on the pedal. This gives me nearly the feel of clipless, but at stops I don’t have to twist out or clip in, and I can walk around in normal sneakers. This is really great for the following situations:
- Commuting – I have a lot of lights and stop signs on the way to work. It’s nice to put both feet down…
- Errands/shopping – wearing cleats in restaurants and shopping sucks.
- Visiting friends/relatives – no need to clomp around or take off the shoes.
- Just riding. I don’t have to do the “uniform up” before the ride – I just jump on the bike and go. Liberating!
There are still times I prefer clipless:
- Mountain biking – gotta get maximum lift to clear those bitchin’ logs – although I may just need to learn the trials tricks and pick the bike up with my arms and bounce.
- Long road rides – this is perhaps debatable, but it is good to have an ultra stiff shoe so the feet don’t get sore
- Racing? I don’t do this, so YMMV.
On the long rides, I need to work out the trade off between foot pain and knee pain. If I can get the balance just right on the knees, I may be able to keep going clipless, as the roads are generally smooth, and there are minimal stops and long distances involved. We’ll see…
1/16/14 Update: I angled the cleat on my Sidi Spyders to get my right foot out a few degrees. This seems to have helped. I didn’t get any knee soreness this week (yet). I plan to start doing some longer 30+ milers going forward, so we shall see…