Road Cycling Skills

How to: Get Quicker at Clipping Into Road Bike Pedals

Struggling at the lights? Leaving a junction? In a race? Here are some tips...

The clipped in journey doesn’t stop when you learn to ride them without toppling over at the lights – the next skill to master is getting back into them quickly when you need to.

Riding clipped in is more efficient, more comfortable once you’re used to it, and actually safer as there is no risk of your foot sliding off the pedal. It also limits injury as long as you’re set up properly, as your knees are always tracking in the right pattern. However, even once the initial grief and worry of learning to ride clipped in has passed, pedals and cleats can cause cyclists problems.

In the early stages, your main concern is avoiding ‘clipped in falls’ – these happen when you’ve failed to remove your foot from the pedal in time, and found yourself sailing towards the ground with your feet still firmly attached. Avoiding this simply involves training your brain to associate stopping with un-clipping, and learning that even if you do come to a halt when clipped in, it’s quite easy to maintain balance whilst you disconnect yourself. We’ve got more advice for those just getting started here.

Once you’re happy with all that, you’re pretty much there. But do you ever wish you could be just that little bit quicker off the mark? When moving off from traffic lights, exciting junctions – or if you’re at a whole other level – at the start of a mass participation race, it’s always helpful if you can push off and clip in quickly.

Here are some tips to help make the whole process quicker…


Always start with the clipped in foot in a ‘drive down’ position

Start in a position where you’ve got power

This was the advice Chris Boardman gave us when he explained the basics of road cycling to our MTB writer, Jess. However, it’s just as applicable to experienced riders wanting to get off to a quick start.

Your clipped in foot is the one that’s going to drive you forward, giving you enough momentum to then get moving so you don’t wobble around as you try to get the other foot sorted. Therefore, always start with it somewhere between the 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions.

You don’t have to hear that click straight away

Just rest the second foot until you’re ready

It’s tempting to feel like you absolutely must feel that decisive ‘clunk’ before you start pedalling away properly. However, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t ride a couple of metres with your second foot just resting on the surface of the pedal. This gives you enough time to move away from the junction, lights, or get stuck into the race. Then, once you’re settled and in a good environment, you can shift your foot around and get it into the right place where it just slots in.

This approach takes the pressure off in the initial moment, and means you’re not hanging around when the lights change worrying that drivers are getting annoyed (let ‘em!) or missing the front group in a race environment.

One way to practice this skill, by the way, is doing a little cyclocross racing. In this case, pedals tend to become so clogged with mud, you have to bash them on the pedal for a little while before re-clipping every time you mount!

Adjust the pedals

It’s not all about things you need to do – the actual pedals you choose can go a long way to making the job easier!

Firstly – most pedals have a tension adjustment – if you’re finding yours take considerable force to get in to, then it is worth loosening this. Doing so will give you more ‘float’ which means there will be more movement available as you pedal, giving you a bit less power, but it will make clipping in and out easier.

If adjusting the float isn’t enough, it’s time to look at the actual pedals you’ve chosen, as there are quite a lot of options on the market. Most road cyclists opt for Look Keo, or Shimano pedals and cleats as a first port of call. These are great, readily available and have many benefits. However, there are other options.

Pedals for commuters

For commuters, it might be a good idea to look at MTB SPD pedals. These are easier to get in and out of – because mountain bikers often need to make quick adjustments! They offer a smaller platform, so a little less power transfer, but that’s fine for most rides around town.

The other benefit of SPDs for commuters is that the cleat is recessed – so you’re not clomping around town and can walk normally – there are even quite a cycling few shoe providers who create smart options which you can wear on the bike and for the rest of the day.

Stepping it up a gear, Shimano offer a one sided SPD, with a flat pedal on the other side in the form of the ‘Click’r’ pedal – this offers a great compromise as you’ve got an alternative platform if you fail to clip in.

Pedals for racers

For those after something more powerful, racers perhaps – Speedplay pedals are very popular. Where in most cases the pedal provides the wide platform and the cleat is small, Speedplay turn the connection on its head – the lollipop shaped pedal is tiny and most of the platform is on the shoe.

Types of road pedals explained: Look, Shimano, Speedplay and Time

The key benefit is that you can clip in on either side of the pedal – so there’s no desperate spinning as you try to get in. The cleat position is also more adjustable than most, so bike fitters are big fans as they have more chance of getting the foot in just the right position with these. The downsides are that most of the connection comes from the cleat, so you don’t want to walk around in these too much and do have to take good care of them.


Have you heard the saying ‘practice makes perfect’? Sure you have. Well, it’s wrong – practice makes permanent.

If you keep doing the same thing, it’ll become ingrained in your muscle memory. Therefore, if every time you move off and clip in, you wobble around and find yourself looking down at your second pedal to try to connect, that’s what you’ll do every time. What you want to be able to do is move off, and securely join the two without looking down.

Take yourself off to a car-park, or ride around a quiet housing estate, and practice clipping in confidently, without looking down. Eventually, you’ll learn where your foot needs to land and it’ll all feel much easier. And if it doesn’t connect with a click? Just rest that foot on the pedal and try again once you’re moving.

Liked this? You might also like… 

How to: Position Road Bike Quick Release Skewers

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