The Clipless Pedal Monologues

03.4.2015 | 1:15 pm


A “Great Ride, Great Cause” Note from Fatty: As you probably know, I’m a big fan of BikeMonkey. They put on the amazing Levi’s Gran Fondo, as well as Rebecca’s Private Idaho, as well as Boggs.

As you may (or may not) know, I’m also a fan of fundraising for good causes. Especially when those good causes are for good people (which they pretty much always are). 

And right now, a good Friend of Fatty — Angie Gibson — is working with BikeMonkey to help raise money for a friend’s medical treatment. By creating an awesome ride: Hermano, a 71.4-mile roadirt adventure in Northern California. 

If you can join the ride, do. And if you can’t join the ride, you can still help. Why don’t you kick in a few bucks? Thanks!

The Clipless Pedal Monologues

About twenty years ago — a few scant weeks after I had been persuaded to trade in my rollerblades for a mountain bike — I swapped out my flat pedals for clipless pedals.

I have not stopped conversing about these pedals ever since. Sometimes out loud. Usually in my head. Frequently with (at least) a hint of panic.

And always to myself.

Day 1

OK, right foot’s in. That wasn’t so hard. Let’s go. 

I’m moving. I’m riding with clipless pedals! I think that means I’m an advanced rider now. Except I haven’t found where my left foot needs to go to get it to connect up.

There it is. 

No, that wasn’t it after all. I’ll move my left foot forward a little bit. Huh, it won’t slide. Maybe I’m in after all.

Nope, I can lift my foot off the pedal. Not clipped in.

Why are these called “clipless” pedals anyway? Everyone says you “clip in,” so there’s obviously a clip somewhere in this contraption. Their name is the actual opposite of what they are. That doesn’t bode well for their functionality.

I just felt a scrape — metal on metal. I think my cleat must be touching the pedal. Push…down…harder…and….

I’m in! I’m clipped into my clipless pedals!

I just need to remember when I get to that stoplight: twist my heel out. Before I get to the stop. Not up. Out.

Slowing. Twist! Good, my right foot’s out.

And I’m stopped. And…I’m tipping left.

Twist out! No pull up! Pull up! Up! Up! Up! Why won’t my foot come off my pedal!?


Damn it. I needed to twist out. Not pull up. I knew that. 

Everyone said that would happen. That it happens to everyone.

But I don’t think it happens to most people so publicly. I’m laying here, on my left side. In the road. At a stoplight.

And my bike is on top of me, in such a way that I cannot twist out of this stupid pedal. 

This, I think, must be how an upended turtle must feel. 

Day 2

OK, you’re coming to a stop. You’re stopping. Twist out with all your might. 

You did it. You did it. It’s going to be OK. You don’t need to put training wheels on your bike after all. 

Day 5

Shouldn’t there be an upside to these things? So far, they just make me fall over a lot.

Day 30

Pull up. Pull up. Up. Up up up. Wow, you really do get a lot more power when you pull up. I just need to keep practicing, and soon I’ll have an upstroke that’s automatic.

(Five Minutes Later)

Huh. I seem to have stopped doing an upstroke. When did I do that? Sometime during the past couple minutes, I guess. 

Up. Up. Up. Up.

(One Minute Later)

Seriously, I’ve stopped doing the upstroke again?

Day 75

I just put my foot down, and I didn’t think about it. I just came to a stop, twisted my foot out of the pedal, and put it down and I did it without planning the motion for the previous thirty seconds.

This is a big deal. I think I’m getting the hang of these. Finally.

(Five Minutes Later)

OK, left foot on cleat and push. Nope, didn’t place the foot correctly. 

I wonder if I’ll ever just clip in without thinking about it.

Day 750

Up. Up. Up. Up. You’d think I’d have made the upstroke a habit by now.

Day 3500

OK, push down. Nope, not far enough forward. You’d think that after doing this for ten years I’d know exactly where to put my foot to clip into my pedals, every single time.

Day 5000

Huh. I just realized that I’m pulling up. I have an upstroke habit. And it only took me fourteen years to develop it.

Day 7000

Push in. Nope. Wrong position. I’ll get it on the next rotation. Nope, didn’t get it that time either. There you go.

Well, it’s not like I’ve been trying to learn to clip in right for twenty years or anything. 

Except I have.

Day 7001

Whoah, waah woh…


So I guess this is what an upended turtle (still) feels like.


  1. Comment by Tom in Albany | 03.4.2015 | 1:25 pm

    I remember lying on my side at an intersection in Forest Park in St. Louis, MO. The guy at the intersection couldn’t go anywhere because he was laughing so hard at seeing me having fallen over onto my left side while my right leg reached for the sky…

    Good times.

  2. Comment by AngieG | 03.4.2015 | 1:43 pm

    You are the most amazingly wonderful and generous friend. Thank you so much for your support of our ride. I know Yann, David H and Dave Thompson are all coming. Our health care system SUCKS!! When a life saving treatment isn’t covered by insurance, that is a travesty of the system. Being part of helping David get the treatment he needs is such a full and overwhelming feeling. The opportunity to “be the change I want to see” as Ghandi said leaves me believing in humanity again. It leaves me feeling full. Full of hope, blessings, gratitude and thankfulness. This feeling of hope is what brought me to the Fat Cyclist Blog and thankfully to my dearest friends, YOU, Lisa and all the Friends of Fatty.

    If you can come join us, please do and fly your Fatty colors proudly. If you can’t, no worries just remember to pay if forward some how. Whether that is with a donation or if it’s holding open a door, helping your eldery neighbor with their yard or paying for the toll for the person in the car behind you.
    We are the keepers of our hapiness. Thank you all for being such wonderful and fabulous people.
    Thank you again Fatty for helping with this. Hugs to you and the Hammer!!

  3. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.4.2015 | 1:56 pm

    This is way more relevant & entertaining than the vee jayjay monologues.

  4. Comment by Mike McMahan | 03.4.2015 | 2:39 pm

    The first time I fell over was in front of everyone lining up for a group photo before a big fondo charity ride. I had only been riding a few months, and always alone, so I didn’t know anyone that I fell in front of. The worst part was that I didn’t have anyone to laugh with about it for the next 63 miles.

  5. Comment by Geoffrey | 03.4.2015 | 2:44 pm

    I once fell over in clips and straps on a track bike. But it was due to toe overlap combined with doing a track stand. I lurched forward and ended up one hand on the ground, one hand in the air, and both feet still comfortable strapped in. Awesome.

    As for my mountain bike, I ride flats now.

  6. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 03.4.2015 | 3:01 pm

    Oh yeah…

    In time trials and criteriums, I used to place a small piece of tape to hold the un-clipped pedal in the right position so I could clip in quickly and GO! The tape would just come loose and eventually fall off, or not, but no matter.

    It worked about 25% of the time.

    However, I even see the pros searching for the pedal, so no worries.

  7. Comment by Frank | 03.4.2015 | 3:06 pm

    After flying down a steep hill on a NYC Gran Fondo training ride a few years ago I was turning left on the bottom and saw a fellow grand fondoer(?) on the opposite side. Naturally, I stop and unclip on the left as usual. Gravity has other plans though and down I go in front of a long line of cars. The scars still remind me of this physics lesson to this day…

  8. Comment by Jeff Bike | 03.4.2015 | 3:10 pm

    “Ufffff!” attack of the upended turtle.
    I used to feel so stupid until I realized that everyone falls over sometimes. I think I do it real well, I have lots of practice.

  9. Comment by Steven Soto | 03.4.2015 | 3:29 pm

    The variety of reasons to fall also amazes me. I accidentally put a new set of ATAC cleats on the wrong shoe (pretty easy mistake to make, but still boneheaded). Although it was more difficult to unclip, I didn’t check the cleats until I fell over in my driveway as I got home from work, nearly a week after riding with the left clip in the right shoe and vice versa.

  10. Comment by MattC | 03.4.2015 | 4:41 pm

    I didn’t actually fall over, but not too long after going “clipless” on my mtb I was riding w/ my little bro on a pretty cool (and new to me) singletrack…at one point there are giant Yucca’s along the trail. Anybody who’s seen those knows that the end point of each “leaf” is like a spear…QUITE sharp, and VERY sturdy. At one point the Yucca was so large it was sticking out into the trail just enough that if you had GREAT skill you could lean your body out (over the abyss/downhill to doom) as you keep your bike on the narrow singletrack and not get skewered in the shoulder. I panicked and stopped just before the yucca…my left foot came unclipped w/out thinking, only there’s nothing there to touch down on…that’s the downhill side…my right foot was exactly what you said…UP UP UP PLEASE COME OUT..and in those microseconds as I’m starting to tip towards falling down to the left to certain doom, my right FINALLY came unclipped and I JAMMED it down to the trail.

    Sadly, I had new XTR cranks put on just days before./ them. Turns out those new rings are kind’a sharp. I wickedly gashed my right calf wide open as I jammed my foot down. Cut wide open or not, I was quite happy to NOT have fallen down the mountain.

  11. Comment by wharton_crew | 03.4.2015 | 5:09 pm

    Fatty, this made me laugh so hard, because you capture EXACTLY the thoughts all clipless riders have. For me, my best intersection-clip-out-crash came right next to a car full of college girls. They all had a great laugh, and my buddies joined with them in the pointing & laughing.

    My most ironic clip-out-crash came when I was showing my older sister how easy it is to unclip so you don’t crash. I unclipped on the right, and tipped left……oh the irony!

    If this happens in the wrong place, it can have disastrous consequences. – FC

  12. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 03.4.2015 | 6:44 pm

    I WILL NOT let Wife#1 or #1Daughter see Kellene’s story. You’re a ‘bad man’ Elden


  13. Comment by MattC | 03.4.2015 | 8:57 pm

    Holy smokes….I don’t recall ever reading that post before Fatty (about Kellene’s crash…er, I mean CRASH!) OMG…that’s about as bad a CRASH as I’ve ever heard of. Can’t even imagine the pucker-factor in riding that section clean…even for experienced riders.

    It’s amazing how difficult something actually fairly easy can become if there’s a SERIOUS penalty for failure. The mind gets in the way and you start thinking “don’t crash” which can be a recipe to crash. Sure glad she’s recovered! (must be, what w/all her “jump” pics and all). And way to go Rocky! You ARE da MAN! (Didn’t rocky come to you rescue in your Leadville crash that year Fatty? I seem to have some recollection of Rocky being there. Or maybe that was after…it’s all kind of a blur…stupid pathetic memory.

  14. Comment by Liz M. | 03.4.2015 | 9:11 pm

    OH my! Nothing to compare to that, although the one and only time I clipped out on one side while leaning to the other was in my own driveway. I somehow recovered at the last possible moment, but the next door neighbors were hosting extended family and all 10 of them got to watch. My neighbor’s brother yelled over, “I thought ye were goin’ down!” in his Scottish accent. It’s always great when you can be the entertainment for the neighborhood.

  15. Comment by Nic Grillo | 03.5.2015 | 12:22 am

    Don’t try a wheelie on day 2. It may not go well.

  16. Comment by Greg | 03.5.2015 | 1:03 am

    I have a thing where sometimes (even after years of wearing these things) I’m daydreaming a bit while riding and then I stop at a stoplight without thinking and before I’ve completely woken up I’ve tried to put my foot down and I start to topple over. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re falling asleep and you think you are falling. It snaps me right out of my daydream and sometimes I even manage to get my foot out before I hit the floor. Cue sheepish glances around to see if anyone noticed (they always do).

  17. Comment by Papa Bear | 03.5.2015 | 7:27 am

    On our first trail ride together with my wife in clipless, she did great… until we got back to the car. We stopped, she unclipped the wrong foot and managed to kick me in the head on her way down. I’m sure glad I still had my helmet on!

  18. Comment by wharton_crew | 03.5.2015 | 8:58 am

    Ha, I just remembered when I’ve had the opposite of a clip-out crash happen. I was stopped at an intersection and when the light went green, I stepped onto my pedal (in what I THOUGHT was the right spot) and mashed the pedals hard to get some speed. Sadly, my cleat wasn’t in the right spot, and I slipped right off that pedal as I was putting weight on that foot – my foot hit the ground, my crotch hit the top bar, and I ended up face-first in the middle of the intersection.

    The people in cars were just staring in shock as I quickly picked up my bike, water bottle, and cycling computer and scurried to the sidewalk.

    I had single-handedly caused a traffic jam in that intersection.

  19. Comment by blair | 03.5.2015 | 12:34 pm

    Story 1: New to clipless pedals. Used to riding up the short rise of my driveway right to the garage door then slipping my foot out of clips. But the new pedals were a little too tight and a bit dodgy anyway. So the inevitable happened, and I realized I was going to have to recover, because I’m no track-standing expert. I was only a few inches from the door. I saw myself pedalling into the door, loading my weight forward, then shoving back and controlling a backwards roll to where I could get some space, then pedal forward while turning and get back out of the driveway to where I could work on the pedal or unstrap my shoe. By the time I got to thinking about the shoe, my wheel was scraping the door and twisting, and the plan was shot. So I lowered my CG to the falling side and managed to lay my hip relatively gently on the concrete then roll over my side, wheels in the air. Laughter and adjustments ensued.

    Story 2: Same pedals and cleats, fairly contemporaneous. Pulling up to a red light, can’t clip out. Fall slightly harder but still without injury. Physical. There is only one car within sight. A police car, a few meters behind me, rolling slowly up. He asks if I’m okay, but I can hear him smiling about it.

    Now I just keep my pedals set to the lightest tension, because my pedaling even on hills is aligned well enough I never come close to clipping out accidentally, and the clips and pedals are better made so they release smoothly.

  20. Comment by blair | 03.5.2015 | 12:42 pm

    Edit: If you want to make your upstroke automatic, pedal with one foot clipped out. Circularizes your stroke pretty quickly and spectacularly exposes the dead spot at the top.

  21. Comment by Ryan | 03.5.2015 | 1:44 pm

    The clipless story made me laugh so hard. Ahh, memories. I remember when I actually biked in my life, some 20+ years ago, going the clipless route for the first time.

    First question was, “Why are these called clipless?”

  22. Comment by SteveB | 03.5.2015 | 2:26 pm

    maybe you have to be a certain age to understand this,
    but they’re clipless because there are no toe clips.
    As I recall, snugging the strap on those puppies down really
    tight led to some really spectacular falls.

  23. Comment by Doug | 03.5.2015 | 2:28 pm

    There is something in the mechanics of clipless petals that only puts you at risk of falling over when there is a crowd to watch. My three times: in front of a bus stop with about 7 sweet ladies looking on, at a rest stop on a century ride; in front of about 200 riders; pulling up to an outdoor coffee table to talk to 2 police officer friends. I stopped my complete fall by grabbing on to the table. and spilling their coffees into their laps. they were armed.

  24. Comment by Mark | 03.5.2015 | 2:33 pm

    I’ve given up on the clipless pedals. I never remember to pull up, and I have fallen many times. I have the most trouble when I have to start on a good size hill. When I start, I’m going to slow to keep myself upright.

  25. Comment by MikeL | 03.5.2015 | 4:41 pm

    This hits to close to home. At least once per year something will make me fall. It is usually a gust of wind when I have not payed attention and unclipped on the upwind side first.

  26. Comment by Skye | 03.5.2015 | 5:27 pm

    And this post justifies why I took the clipless dealies off of my shoes, and traded my fancy pedals for some plain old flat ones. And although I sometimes wonder why I wouldn’t jump on the clipless-while-clipped-in bandwagon, I am now reminded why I will for at least one more season stick with my outdated and really easy way, upstroke be darned!

  27. Comment by PNP | 03.6.2015 | 11:47 am

    My one and only fall attributed to clipless pedals was at a busy intersection leading out of a shopping center. I was already clipped out, waiting for the light to change, and my friend said, let’s go this way instead, so I tried to wheel over to her with one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal, and over I went. I landed hard on my knee in front off a couple of hundred people. Fortunately, I just bruised my knee, and two nice ladies in the car behind me stopped to ask if I was okay. It seems that I never fall until I have an audience.

  28. Comment by GJMAlcyon | 03.6.2015 | 4:00 pm

    Swapped out my Looks for Ultegras the NIGHT BEFORE the MS150 City to Shore ride.

    In the cattle chute with several hundred of my closest friends, we move a little then come to a stop.


    Over I go, to muted applause and, “At least you got THAT out of the way early.”


  29. Comment by Amy Thompson | 03.6.2015 | 8:58 pm

    At last year’s Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa I fell over leaving a rest stop. A kind volunteer came over and said, “I didn’t know whether to come over and help or pretend I didn’t see you fall.”

  30. Comment by Ratadog | 03.7.2015 | 4:31 pm

    As I embarked on my career as a newly minted mid life crisis mountain biker, I spent one morning read all the guff about how wonderful clipless pedals were and how they would make me speedier, more beautiful, slimmer, more intelligent etc. and the fact that I would regularly fall over whenever I stopped and water would leak up through the soles of my boots everytime it rained, which it does a lot in the UK, was, I was informed, a small price to pay for all these advantages as opposed to the large price I should be glad to pay for a decent set of clipless pedals and spare cleats when compared to the cost of flats.
    Thankfully, I looked at the date, realised it was the first day of April and have happily used flats ever since.

  31. Comment by centurion | 03.9.2015 | 12:45 pm

    The only time I have to look down to clip in is when I’m in the middle of a busy intersection and the cars are waiting for mr to get TF out of the way. Any other time, I’ll clip in easy, even when I don’t want to.

  32. Comment by Libby | 03.11.2015 | 1:31 pm

    oh my this is hilarious! When I got mine I found a “how to” on a cycling magazine site (Women’s cycling?) and it said it wasn’t “if” you fall but “when” you fall & suggest strongly to practice on soft ground.

    Usually I fall and just miss impaling myself on stumps. My first time was in the parking lot of my work…just as I arrived. Fell between the only two mud puddles in the parking lot.

    After I crossed the finish line (for day 1) of the Ride to Conquer Cancer, it had drizzled and slightly rained all 125km of the route, my husband greeted me with “unclip! unclip! unclip!” because I was so wiped out I was just going to stop moving. I would’ve fallen into a mudfest. I did unclip just in time.

    I have often had the same questions about these non-clips, but I like the traction it gives me…I need all the help I can get to go faster.

  33. Comment by Deaner | 03.16.2015 | 9:58 am

    This guy has some interesting thoughts on clipless pedals vs flats…

  34. Pingback by Bike Commuting Wisdom Learned: Part VIII (Problems or It’s All About The Been-jammed and 143 cheaper ways to bike-commute | cheapcyclist | 03.31.2015 | 9:32 am

    [...] you’ll be doing yourself a favor. 4. wear a helmet unless you enjoy having a cracked skull 5. use flat pedals-For commuting, there WILL be plenty of stop-and-go. Using a racy pair of shoes and being clipped in [...]


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