Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
If you’re thinking of buying your first clipless pedals and want to jump to my best tips on how to avoid falls and crashes, you’ll find them all in my video here. By way of introduction and to express my respect for and connection with clipless pedals, here’s some personal history first.
Dateline: September, 1985
I don’t know if it’ll be possible to make out the text on the photo here, so I’ll explain that it’s a scan of my Technicalities column in California Bicyclist magazine from September, 1985. My title reads A Revolution in Pedal Design. The topic is the greatest invention to hit cycling in a long time, clipless pedals. As far as I have been able to determine, I was the first to cover clipless pedals in print.
I started riding AeroLite clipless pedals in 1983. It looks like they’re still available today http://aerolitepedals.com/. I then got one of the first pairs of Look pedals to hit America a little before I wrote my column back then. Bernard Hinault brought the first shipment here when he came to ride the Coors Classic (which had two stages in San Francisco before heading to Colorado).
My Look pedals were a gift from my boss at The Bicycle Center, Roger Sands. As a VIP at the race he had received them from Hinault. Hinault was already a proponent of the amazing new bindings for bikes and so was his La Vie Claire teammate Greg LeMond who won that Coors Classic on them.
You’ll notice that right next to my article is a Look ad, and if you can read the text you’ll see something interesting, the pitch: “SAFETY PEDAL, PEDALE DE SECURITE.” That was also printed in large lettering on the outside of the early Look pedal boxes.
The reason Look’s new clipless pedals were so revolutionary and safe was because they were the first quick-release clipless pedals. Unlike the much earlier Cinelli M-71 clipless pedals (late 1960s), on which you had to pull a pin out to extract your feet; and unlike my AeroLite pedals, on which you had to literally yank your feet off the pedals with a lot of force – with a mere flick of your heel you could escape Look’s pedals.
Dropped in an Instant
Only days after getting my set, I raced with them as the biker on a coed relay team in the 1985 World’s Toughest Triathlon. The bike leg was 120 miles covering three passes in the Sierras.
Amazingly, when Judy Scovil, our swimmer exited Lake Tahoe, she was in second place and as she sprinted into the bike corral to tag me, I looked over and saw that first place – a former Olympian (sorry I forgot his name and haven’t been able to find any records from the race), was tagging his biker – who was none other than Greg LeMond!
I’d like to say I hung with Greg for a while, but he was gone in a blink (he broke 5 hours and his team won the relay race easily). Meanwhile, I suffered like a dog crawling over Monitor and Luther Pass. Still, our runner, Marty Kruger had an epic marathon and we took third coed team.
Another Kind of Safe
There’s nothing like a tough ride to test equipment and those new Look pedals blew me away that day. They were ultra easy to get in and out of and held the feet better than the tightest toe clips and straps. There was no foot numbness or pain, either.
But, what was truly remarkable was that you could ever so slightly move your feet on the pedals. This was before float was introduced by Time. So the Look pedals and cleats didn’t float. Yet, because the pedals had sprung jaws, you could move your feet laterally.
Most riders might not have noticed. But, I have had “trick” knees since high school and straight away I realized that that little bit of built-in lateral play was a game-changer making cycling safer – for the knees! I realized it was another huge benefit of the new clipless design – only to get even better with Time’s and later Speedplay’s true floating pedals and cleats.
Clipless and Crashing
Back at the bike shop we placed orders for as many Look pedals as we could get and they quickly sold out. But, a strange thing happened. We started to have customers coming in and telling us that they heard that clipless pedals made you crash and were not safe but dangerous.
We learned from these shoppers that they heard this from friends who had tried the newfangled bindings and also from bicycle shops who refused to sell the pedals because they were dangerous. The shop didn’t want to be held liable for crashes.
This was a disconnect to us and even with the negative buzz out there, the demand from most of our customers was so strong that we kept selling Look pedals. Now, 37 plus years later, clipless is a super common choice.
The sad thing is – you will still hear people say that if you get clipless pedals for the first time you’re going to fall off or crash. It’s sad because if you are introduced to clipless pedals the right way – taught a few basic tips on using them, you stand an excellent chance of never hitting the deck.
To help new clipless pedal riders avoid falling and crashing, I made this video with the steps to take before pedaling out on the road. If you’re an experienced clipless user who has shown others how to get going with them, please share your tips, too Hopefully we can save some new clipless riders from falling or crashing.
10,249 Daily Rides in a Row
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.