In this guide, we look at clip-in (also known as clipless) pedals and cleats. We consider their advantages, how they work, and the various models available.
What are the advantages of clip-in pedals?
The main advantage of clip-in (also known as clipless) pedals is increased control over the bike, as well as greater confidence from knowing your feet will not slip off the pedals, especially in wet conditions.
When correctly set up, a clip-in pedal will ensure your foot is always in the correct position over the pedal axle - helping to transfer your power more effectively.
As well as pushing through the first half of the pedal stroke with your quads, clip-in pedals allow you to lift up through the second half of the pedal stroke using your hamstrings. This helps to increase efficiency and power output.
Clip-in shoes, which partner with clip-in pedals, are stiffer than normal training shoes. This also has benefits in terms of efficiency while also increasing comfort on longer rides.
How do clip-in pedals work?
Clip-in pedals are made up of two main components: the pedal, which attaches to your bike like a regular flat pedal; and the cleat, which attaches to the sole of your cycling shoe.
A spring mechanism on the pedal allows you to 'clip' the cleats on your shoes in and out of the pedals.
With most systems, you push your foot forward and down onto the pedal until the cleat 'clips' into place. Your foot will then remain attached to the pedal until you unclip, which with most systems is done by twisting your heel outwards until the cleat releases.
When setting off, start with one foot already clipped into the pedal. This means you only have one foot to clip in when moving. When stopping, try to ensure that you do so next to something you can lean against. That way, if you can't unclip for some reason, then you won't fall over.
Using clip-in pedals for the first time can be daunting, but with a little practice, you will soon become confident and start to concentrate on all the benefits of your new clip-in pedal system.
Are there different cleats for different clip-in pedals & shoes?
There are two main systems of clip-in pedals. These are most easily identified as 'three bolt' and 'two bolt' cleat systems.
Three bolt road cycling clip-in system
The three-bolt system, known as SPD-SL under the Shimano brand name, is mainly used for road cycling.
This system has a large plastic cleat which attaches to your shoe with three bolts. The clip-in mechanism on the pedal is one-sided only, so you need to ensure the pedal is the correct way up to clip in.
Road cycling three-bolt clip-in systems provide a larger, more stable platform on the pedal because the cleats and cleat contact area is larger. This can enhance power transfer and performance. However, because the cleats are large and protrude out of the tread on the shoe, these are not great for walking in.
Two bolt mountain biking clip-in system
The second clip-in cleat/pedal system is used primarily for off-road cycling, commuting and touring.
This system uses a smaller metal cleat, which attaches to the cycling shoe with two bolts. The clip-in mechanism on the pedal is on both sides; making it easier to clip-in.
As these cleats are smaller, they can be recessed into the tread of some shoes, making it easier to walk around when off the bike.
Cycling shoe and pedal cleat compatibility
Some shoes are compatible with both two bolt and three-bolt pedal systems, but many, including more specialist performance shoes, are only compatible with one or the other.
Look carefully at the product description on the cycling shoes product page to ensure your pedals and cleats are compatible with your shoes.
Note: Shimano does make a cleat adapter plate, though we would recommend using the correct cleats for your cycling shoes' sole.
N.B. Speedplay road cleats and pedals
Speedplay road pedals use a four bolt system for their cleats; but this is not really an issue, as their pedals and cleats come with adaptors for most three bolt shoes.
Choosing the right clipless pedal cleats
When you purchase clipless/clip-in pedals, the cleats designed to be used with those pedals are included in the box.
Clipless/clip-in pedal cleats are specific to the manufacturer; so, for example, Shimano cleats are not compatible with Look pedals. The exception to this rule is there are now some two-bolt systems created with cross-brand compatibility, namely from brands like Ritchey and Wellgo. That said, be sure to double check the compatibility on the product pages before you buy.
What do the different colour cleats mean?
Some manufacturers such as Look and Shimano colour code their three-bolt road cleats. This is to indicate the amount of 'float' the cleat facilitates. Float refers to the small amount of lateral rotation available once the cleat is clipped into the pedal.
Without a few degrees of float, your feet will be fixed into place, which if misaligned can lead to knee injuries.
Shimano and Look colour code their cleats differently, depending on the float:
Shimano SPD-SL Pedal Cleats
- Red 0° Float
- Blue 2° Float (provided with high-end e.g. Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedals)
- Yellow 6° Float (provided with most Shimano SPD-SL pedals)
Look Pedal Cleats
- Black 0° Float
- Grey 4.5° Float
- Red 9° Float
What cleat/pedal combination do I need?
Are you a Mountain Biker?
If you're a mountain biker, you're looking at two-bolt clipless pedal systems. At Wiggle, we stock clipless two-bolt systems from the following brands:
- Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) – SPDs were the first mass-produced off-road clip-in system and still remain the most popular. They are well known for their performance on the trail and their durability.
- Crank Brothers – The Egg Beater style mechanism on Crank Brothers pedals sheds mud very well and allows you to clip in on four sides of the pedal. They do however require more maintenance than some of the competition.
- Time ATAC – Another long-time favourite with mountain bikers and cyclocross racers alike. Favoured for its good mud shedding abilities and consistent engagement and release, even in the worst conditions.
- Speedplay Frog – As with their road pedals, Speedplay have incorporated the spring mechanism within the cleat rather than on the pedal. They have a good reputation for durability and plenty of float, but the cleats are larger than most and some shoes may require slight modification to the tread to fit the cleats.
- Look S-Track - These have been used by professional level mountain bikers to achieve World Championship podiums on numerous occasions. Their unique design offers increased contact area between pedal and shoe, facilitating better power transfer.
- Ritchey - High-end pedals from a heritage brand. Ritchey has a great reputation for delivering quality components.
Are you a Road Cyclist?
If you're a road cyclist, you are more likely to need a three-bolt clipless pedal. At Wiggle, we stock three-bolt systems from the following brands:
- SPD SL – The Shimano is based on the Look system although they are not compatible. Shimano has a good range of pedals from budget to top end and are well known for their durability.
- Look- Look developed the modern clip-in road pedal from ski binding technology in the 1980s. Since then, their basic system design has changed little but they have used the latest in materials and technology to ensure their pedals are some of the lightest and best performing on the market.
- Speedplay – Speedplay pedals are different from any other clip-in systems in that the mechanism is incorporated into the cleat. This allows you to clip into two sides of the pedal and the system also has finely tune-able float adjustment. This does, however, mean that the cleats are more expensive than many other brands.
- TIME - Time pedals have been on the road cycling scene for decades and have a cult following for their reliability and performance.