My wife rides a road bike with flat pedals. It’s interesting to watch how people react to that. Rather, it’s interesting how reactions are so uniform.
“You need clipless pedals.”
“Why don’t you get some riding shoes?”
“You are losing so much power.”
“When are you going to ditch those flat pedals?”
“You’ll go so much faster with clip-in!”
Most of the people who see fit to comment on her sad state of pedal affairs know that we are married and that I ride a bike a lot, so it’s kind of curious that they don’t run that through their filter, like this: “She’s got flat pedals, but she’s married to Seth so she probably knows about clip-in pedals, so there’s probably a reason …”
The reaction is uniform and knee-jerk: “Are you going to get clip-in pedals tomorrow? Or today?”
I wondered why people care which pedals she uses. The ostensible reason is that she will pedal more efficiently and therefore go faster. But that’s a bad explanation; the last thing that a new cyclist should do is go faster. New cyclists should go slower and learn to control the bike at lower speeds. Physics aren’t linear when you fall off your bike. Incremental increases of one or two mph result in much greater force when you fall off, and therefore greater injury. Telling beginners they need to go faster is like telling new drivers they need to go faster. Huh?
And from a psychological perspective, why would you want someone to go faster anyway? Doesn’t that mean they will beat you? You should want them on the worst equipment possible, in fact, eating nothing but peanut butter and ice cream five times a day.
The biggest reason people want you on clip-in pedals, I think, is because without clip-ins, you look like a Fred. This means two things: If you’re riding with me, and you’re a Fred, then I’m a Fred, too. Or it means that riding with you reminds me of when I was a Fred, and it’s a lot more comfortable to think I was born knowing how to drape myself coolly over a 100% carbon bike that is all carbon and made of pure carbon rather than to remember that, yeah, I used to not know anything, either, and I looked like it.
And of course in road cycling there’s the fashion element, where people instinctively shun those who are clearly unfashionable in an activity where the way you look is oh-so-important.
With regard to safety, everyone should start with flat pedals and most people should never leave them. On a road bike there are too many instances where taking your feet off the pedals will keep you from crashing. Anyone who thinks that you need clip-ins to climb well should have seen Josh Alverson or Stathis Sakellariadis shred the Donut Ride the times they rode it in sneakers.
And a bit of Internet reading confirms that the idea that clip-in pedals somehow yield huge improvements in pedaling power is not true. At best, the differences are negligible. Tellingly, the athlete in the power test confides that he still wants clip-ins because they help him when sprunting for peak power. Not sure that has any meaning at all for 99.999% of all people on bikes.
I’ve used both, but prefer clip-ins for a very particular reason.
And I’m not telling why. At least not today.
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