My first day with my clipless pedals was supposed to be an easy ride around my neighborhood so that I could grow accustomed to being attached to my bike and practice the art of “clipping in and out.” About 200 feet from my house I started to break, unclipped my left foot — and promptly toppled over to my right. I tried again further down the street. Slow. Unclip my left foot. Fall over to the right.
This pattern repeated a total of three times before I finally realized that my natural inclination is to step down on my right side. Hence, if I slow and unclip my right foot, I stood a much greater chance of staying upright on the bike since it’s hard to step down when your foot is still attached to the pedal. I had bruises all along the right side of my hip and thigh to prove this point.
After last week’s Q&A about women’s cycling, I received some comments and email asking about clipless pedals. So I went to Georgena Terry, the owner and founder of Terry, to ask about going clipless along with proper bike fit and women’s specific equipment.
(If there’s an area of endurance sports or any of of its components that you’d like more information on, drop me a line and I’ll do my best to make it a future Wednesday Q&A feature!)
Do you start with the shoes or with the pedals?
Georgena: Start with the shoes and make sure the shoes are going to be compatible with the pedals. Usually there’s a lot of compatibility between certain brands but make sure that your pedals will work with your shoes. The other thing about the shoe is to decide if you want the cleat to be external or more recessed into the shoe. When the cleat is recessed, you can walk around more easily without your toes in the air. If they’re recessed, it’s easier to get a good grip on the floor or bike path or whatever surface you’re walking on.
What are your recommendations for beginners?
Georgena: If you’re just beginning, Shimano makes a wonderful pedal that’s a cleat on one side and on the flip side is a standard pedal. It’s neat because if you can’t get into the clip, you can just pedal on one side until you compose yourself. Then you can flip your pedal and clip in right. The other thing you can do is just concentrate on getting in and out of the cleat on one side and not worry about the other side. By learning one side at a time and always with one foot free, it starts to become second nature. And be prepared to fall at least once or twice.
What do you tell people who are having problems adjusting to their pedals?
Georgena: A lot of people don’t realize with many pedals the tension can be adjusted so it’s easier to get out. It’s easy to do and you can take it to your local bike shop and they can adjust the tension for you.
What are the advantages of clipless pedals?
Georgena: I believe they’re actually a lot safer than the old cages. With those, you have the strap cinched down and your foot is not coming out. You have to reach down and tap the buckles. With clipless pedals, you just pull your foot out to the side. And if you do fall, it’s like a ski binding — your foot will just come out of the pedal. Of course, it also makes a rider so much more efficient because you can pull up on the pedal and you’re not just pushing down. It’s much more efficient and more comfortable.
Most of your bikes and gear are women’s specific. Why is that so important?
Georgena: The most important thing is if a bike fits and if it’s comfortable. If the bike doesn’t fit you, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or what the components are made of or how much it weighs. We are still as an industry doing a very poor job of accommodating women who are 5-10 and under and still the industry turns its back when it comes to those women. You’re SOL if you are a petite woman, no doubt about it. You can probably find something, but it’s been compromised out the wazoo. Part of that is fear of the industry about having a bicycle that looks a little bit different. For instance, we use a smaller front wheel in some cases for a better fit. I think it’s a slap in the face to intelligent women that the industry is saying, ‘Honey, you’ll never figure this out so don’t bother to try.’ It’s very rude to the customer.
What should someone look for in a proper bike fit?
Georgena: The first thing you’re looking for is if it’s a comfortable reach to the handlebars, that you’re not real stretched out and putting a lot of pressure on your shoulders or hands. It should be a very comfortable fit and it should show in how it feels when you ride it. Even when you’re not on top of your game, the bike should deliver a ride that resonates with you. You should never feel like I’m pushing as hard as I can and this bike is fighting me.