Buyer's Guide to Clipless Road Pedals

By Jez Loftus | Saturday, March 31, 2007 11.00pm

Clipless pedals are a much better way of delivering power to the cranks than traditional toe clips and straps. They produce a huge performance advantage over regular platform pedals by mechanically attaching your feet to the pedals for the greatest possible efficiency.

Over the past decade their popularity has soared and clipless pedals are no longer the sole choice of competitive riders. Their popularity accounts for numerous designs that vary depending on the intended use. From the pricey, high-tech and lightweight road racing pedals to more user- friendly, double-sided mountain bike models, there's no reason not to go clipless.


These vary in design depending on the pedal, but the majority fasten to the sole of the shoe in the same way. Look's original three-point fastening system is the most common fixing pattern for road pedals. Mountain bike SPD-style pedals (Shimano and Crank Brothers) use a two-bolt fastening pattern.

Cleat Adjustment

The cleat fastening is designed in such a way that it allows for a degree of adjustment. This enables you to find the optimum and most natural position in which to clip yourself to the pedal.


Most pedals have a degree of float to allow your feet to move laterally as you pedal, to prevent damaging your knees. Float is measured in degrees and is the amount by which the foot can move before releasing from the pedal.

Stack Height

This is measured from the middle of the pedal axle to the sole of the shoe. The lower the stack height the better, because it places your foot closest to the axle's centre for the best possible efficiency. You may need to adjust your saddle height if swapping between pedals with different stack heights.

Release Tension

Most pedals enable you to adjust the release tension of the mechanism. If you're a beginner, start off with a low tension for easier release. This will also make it easier to engage the pedal.


A double-sided mountain bike pedal is an ideal starting point for beginners. The mechanism can be adjusted for easy entry and release, and the double-sided design (or four-sided in the case of Crank Brothers pedals) makes clipping in simple. Shimano's original SPD design is still widely used and the mountain bike design has proved popular among commuters and tourers. Another advantage of SPDs is that the cleat can be recessed into the shoe's sole, enabling you to safely walk without damaging or slipping on the cleat.


Clipless pedals are a lot safer and easier to use than toe clips and straps. Beginners often worry about the perils of trying clipless pedals, but they really shouldn't. Your feet will naturally release from clipless pedals, something they won't do with toe clips and straps. Learning to ride clipless is a short learning curve and once you've mastered the release, it really does become second nature. Start off with a low release tension and you'll be fine.

Cleat Alignment

  1. You need to angle your cleats to match the angle of your feet: are you slightly pigeon toed or splay footed? Get the angles wrong and you could hurt your knees. Both feet are not necessarily angled to the same extent either. A good way of checking these angles is to sit on a table with your legs dangling off the side, then note which way and by how much your feet splay or turn in. Outline the positions of your feet using a piece of A4 paper.
  2. Put the shoe on, find the ball of the foot by feeling for the bony protrusion on the inside of your foot, now mark the spot on the side of the shoe.
  3. Position the cleats on the bottom of the shoe using the screws supplied and to the approximate angle indicated in step 1, but don't tighten them firmly yet.
  4. Place the shoe on your foot and clip into the pedal, then waggle the shoe fore or aft until the mark aligns with axis of the pedal axle when viewed from above. At this stage make any corrections for the angle of your dangled feet in step one.
  5. Get a helper to mark the cleat and the sole of the shoe both at the front and the side, then unclip, check that the marks you made on the sole and the cleat are still aligned and then tighten the screws very firmly.

For our latest clipless pedal recommendations, check out BikeRadar's Best road bike pedals round-up.

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