Riding in cleats for the first time can be intimating. Just the thought of having your feet “stuck” to the pedals is a concept that can be difficult for a beginner cyclist to grasp. If you’re just getting started with riding your bike in cleats, here are some tips for you to follow:
Practise Somewhere Isolated and Safe
Before hitting the road or going off road in your cleats, it’s important to get some practice in. Find an isolated area such as a car park or a dead-end street to practice clipping in and out, finding your balance, and getting used to the cleats. An isolated area will make your practise much safer in case you lose your balance or have a hard time clipping out of the cleats. Even ride on an oval with short grass, that way if you fail to unclip and fall over the landing is softer. Another great place to practise clipping in and out is on a home trainer if you have one available.
Knowing How to Clip and Unclip
One action many beginners find difficult is unclipping with ease. As mentioned before, it’s important to practise before trying it out on the road. Once you hop on the bike, you’ll know your cleats are locked in when you hear them click. Take a moment to pedal backwards to get used to how it feels.
When you’re ready to detach, the unclip action has to be quite deliberate. Start by twisting your heel away from the bike and ensure that while you’re twisting out that your toe is not potting down or else you’re less likely to disengage. Keep your foot parallel to the ground or drop your heel a little, twist, and you’ll release. Learn to unclip one foot and to lean over on that leg when stopping.
Your natural inclination may be to lift your foot off vertically your pedal like you can do in normal shoes, this is simply not possible and the more you try to do it the more you may panic. So, perhaps think of intentionally pushing your foot down as you rotate your heel away from the bike (to avoid getting into the trap of trying to lift up).
Getting used to wearing cleats can be difficult. Beginners will experience common pitfalls that are likely to lead to losing their balance and falling over. This is largely due to overbalancing, losing concentration, or reverting back to just putting your foot down and toppling over. For your first couple of months of riding in cleats: make sure the tension in the pedals is as low as possible, try to be proactive with clipping out early (eg: if you see a red light, don’t wait until you need to clip out, get it done early), be intentional with having your unclipped foot ready to plant on the ground and have your weight going on it. It will take time to get used to the cleats and how it feels to ride with them. Perhaps even let the people you are riding with know you have just started riding in cleats and ask them to keep an eye on you and remind you to clip out.
Many beginners also don’t realise that switching up gears is important while riding in cleats. Moving from heavier to lighter gear will make the push-off much less difficult.
By keeping these common mistakes in mind, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding them while you practise or when you finally gain the confidence to go out riding in your cleats.