Clipless pedals (also clip-in or step-in) require a special cycling shoe with a cleat fitted to the sole, which locks into a mechanism in the pedal and thus holds the shoe firmly to the pedal.
Most clipless pedals lock onto the cleat when stepped on firmly and unlock when the heel is twisted outward, although in some cases the locking mechanism is built into the cleat instead of the pedal.
Clipless refers to the toe clip (cage) having been replaced by a locking mechanism and not to platform pedals which would normally not have toe clips.
The clipless pedal was invented by Charles Hanson in 1895.
It allowed the rider to twist the shoe to lock and unlock and had rotational float (the freedom to rotate the shoe slightly to prevent joint strain).
The M71 was a clipless pedal designed by Cino Cinelli and produced by his company in 1971.
It used a plastic shoe cleat which slid into grooves in the pedal and locked in place with a small lever located on the back side of the pedal body.
To release the shoe a rider had to reach down and operate the lever, similar to the way a racing cyclist had to reach down and loosen the toestrap.
The lever was placed on the outside edge of the pedal so that in the event of a fall the lever hitting the ground would release the foot.
The pedal was designed for racing, in particular track racing, and because of the need to reach them to unclip they have been referred to as “death cleats”.
In 1984, the French company Look applied downhill snow skiing binding or cleat technology to pedals producing the first widely used clipless pedals.
Initially used by triathletes in order to facilitate faster “transitions”, Bernard Hinault’s victory in Tour de France in 1985 then helped secure the acceptance of quick-release clipless pedal systems by cyclists.
Those pedals, and compatible models by other manufacturers, remain in widespread use today.
The cleat is engaged by simply pushing down and forward on the pedal, or, with some designs, by twisting the cleat in sideways. Then, instead of loosening a toestrap or pulling a lever, the cyclist releases a foot from the pedal by twisting the heel outward.
The next major development in clipless pedals was Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) pedal system.
Whereas Look cleats are large and protrude from the sole of the shoe, SPD cleats are small and could be fitted in a recess in the sole, making it possible to walk (although comfort will vary, as the soles of different cycling shoes vary in their rigidity depending on design).
Cycling shoes have rigid soles to maximize power transfer and efficiency.
They may be specific to road or mountain biking, or usable for both.
Shoes designed for mountain biking typically have recessed cleats that do not protrude beyond the sole of the shoe, and have treads for walking on trails, as walking or carrying the bike is often required.
Road cycling shoes are typically lighter than their mountain bike counterparts, and feature a protruding cleat and less weather proofing.
The protruding cleat makes these shoes impractical for walking, as doing so can damage the cleat.
Mountain bike cleats can generally be mounted without difficulty to road shoes although sometimes an adapter is required.
Such attachment is not usually possible for road pedals, as the cleats are normally too large to be mounted on mountain shoes. The smaller mountain bike cleats are attached to the sole of the shoe by two bolts; larger road-specific cleats are attached by three. Various manufacturers have produced their own designs of clipless pedal systems over the years.
Platform adapters are designed to temporarily convert clipless pedals into more traditional platform pedals which have a larger and flatter area for the foot to rest on.
Clipless pedals can have advantages over flat ones, especially in mountain biking and racing.
They keep the foot from slipping in wet and muddy conditions and provide better transfer of power.
Since the pedal platform adapters temporarily converts these into platform pedals, this allows riders to wear normal shoes without switching to another bike with a different pedal setup.
They can be fastened by using bolts but as they are normally in temporary use, it is also common for them to be mounted using different snap-on techniques.
Although it’s possible to use clipless pedals with regular footwear, they will be much less comfortable than platform pedals, as the shoe sole is more likely to bend or slip.
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