"Get up! Stand up!"
- Bob Marley lyrics
Recently, a question was raised by a reader in a post about how to get into toeclips easier to help improve their ride.
That simple question set off a few days of conversations about the topic between myself and some other cyclists. Even experienced cyclists agreed that this very simple aspect of cycling can be problematic.
Toeclips are my preferred pedal accessory because you can use them with just about any shoe (unless you have steel-toed construction boots) and don't need any extra gear. Cleats require special shoes and the learning curve for locking into and getting out of the cleat is steep with nearly 100 percent of all first-time users taking at least one spill over the handlebars during the breaking-in period. Of course you can go without anything on your pedals. However, the frequency with which your feet will slide off the pedals will be great and you will lose half your power - using toeclips or cleats allows you to gain as much power from raising your leg on the second-half of your sprocket rotation as you do from the downward push that generates the bulk of your power.
Getting used to new toeclips can take some time, but it is worth it in the long run.
As with everything The Urban Cyclist does, frugality is key. Toeclips do not need to be expensive to be worthwhile. Take a look at the street-worn toeclips I use in the photo above. There is nothing fancy about my toeclips. I even removed the straps when they started to get frayed which is something everyone should do. If you notice your straps getting loose or frayed, remove them. The worst thing you do is ignore a strap that has become torn and allow it to get caught in the chain. Your bike would lock up instantly and send you flying ass-over-ears as you pull a "Superman" - flying over your handlebars with your arms still extended in front of you while you slide down the pavement like Pete Rose stealing third base head-first. (I've done it before. The road rash scars are still very clear years later. Yes, it hurt.)
OK, you have your toeclips on the bike and the straps are perfect (loose but not with enough extra strap that it can get in the way), so how do you get started finding a rhythm to getting your toe into the clip regularly after each stop without having to look down? You follow the advice of Bob Marley, and stand up.
Everything about using toeclips is about "feeling" them. Looking down to see your foot go into the toeclip takes extra time and can be dangerous if traffic behind you is eager to charge through the stoplight that probably just changed.
So you need to learn how to feel the pedal with your foot. The best way to do this is to ride standing up on your bike for as long as you can in the beginning. The reason you're doing this is to use your own body weight so that the balls of your feet can get used to feeling where the pedal hits your foot naturally. In my case, the back edge of the pedal lines up with the balls of my feet. Ride standing up as much as you can to exaggerate the feel of the pedal edge to your foot.
In the beginning, it may feel awkward riding in a standing position. But pay attention to where the pedal fits to your foot because when you get accustomed to the feel of the pedal on your foot you are going to use that area along near or on the balls of your feet to feel for the pedal when you slip your toes into the clips.
Another suggestion was to try your best to stay consistent with everything you do, including the shoes you wear. If you wear the same shoes when cycling each time, then the rubber soles of your shoes will gradually adopt grooves in them where the pedal edges have cut their way into the rubber (if your pedals have metal grips on their edges, which they should. NOTE: If you're using child-like rubber pedals replace them today and get pedals with grips on them.). That way using the same shoes each time can help you "feel" the pedal by allowing the pedal grips to find the grooves in the rubber soles of your shoes that have been created.
After riding for some time standing up, hopefully you will get used to the feel of exactly where the back edge of your pedal falls on your foot. What you want to do is then remember where that area is on your foot and when you step into the clips the next time, you want to concentrate on stepping with the balls of your feet, not your toes. Your toes are rather useless to you when getting into cleats. The real important part of your foot is the area around the balls of your feet. You should be feeling the back edge of the pedal with the balls of your feet. When you are comfortable with this, you will learn to consistently step into your toeclips by pushing the balls of your feet into the toeclip first, when the pedal hits the bottom of your foot where it should you simply rotate your foot forward and the toes of your shoe should slide into the clip. (This is why you want your straps to be loose. NOTE: I love riding without straps and would have never installed them if I had known that toeclips can be used even easier without the straps because it makes the clip move easier when you slide your shoe in.)
It sounds complicated when you break down such a common thing down with instructions, but it's very simple. However, it's very crucial to enjoying your ride.
While writing The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide (which hits stores next week), my co-author, James Rubin, and myself did not think to discuss toeclips in such a great detail. I wish we had because being able to use toeclips quickly and easily will improve your enjoyment of your rides. We'll include a section on toeclips in the second edition.
The suggestions above are only a beginning. I would urge anyone who has any other suggestions to offer them as a reply to this entry.
However simple these suggestions, I can't help but feel that any time we can use Bob Marley's words to get something accomplished, we're on the right path. Unless it's about shooting a sheriff or his deputy. If you find yourself in that scenario, you're on your own.
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