Well, it seems as if the clipless pedal advocates have decided to call it a draw – no one seems to be able to present me with any info that proves me wrong. However, since I also lacked some “science” then we could just chalk it up to preference – despite my assertion that they contribute to overuse injuries you could just say that since there is no evidence that one is better than the other we’ll call it even. Not so fast, my friend!
I got finally an email on Friday from a USA Cycling Expert Level Coach…telling me I’m not crazy! He forwarded me the slides from a presentation that highlighted a lot of research that has been done in the last few years calling the whole clipless pedal efficiency idea into question and showing that what we thought was good pedaling technique is actually less powerful and efficient than just letting people “mash” away. And this is coming from a road coach so this isn’t another dirty mountain biker who just has it in for the roadies.
I need to get permission to post the slides however the specific studies referenced on the slides or listed below. I’ve highlighted a couple slides in the presentation and explain what they’re saying.
Slide #19 (Mornieux et al. Int J Sports Med 2008; 29:817-822)
- Note how both untrained and trained cyclists pattern of force application are practically the same.
- Note how the level of force being applied and the pattern of force application stays the exact same for flats and clipless pedals.
- Note what happened when people where given feedback on how to use clipless pedals (I’m assuming the usual pedal in a circle instructions) their force application pattern changed and their peak force dropped off.
To me this study strongly suggests that not only do clipless pedals literally offer no help in pedaling but that giving them to a new rider and trying to tell them how to pedal “correctly” will decrease pedaling force and screw up their pedaling patterns. This tells me that we already know how to pedal correctly and we confuse ourselves with clipless pedals and “pedal technique”.
Slide #23 (Korff et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:991-995)
- Note how the preferred pedaling technique (letting people pedal how they wanted) and the pushing technique (telling someone to purposefully push down harder) look very similar.
- Note how pedaling in a circle decreased torque.
- Note how pulling through the top resulted in a large decrease in peak torque.
Slide #24 (Korff et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:991-995)
- Note how the preferred and pushing pedaling technique are the most efficient.
These 2 slides suggest to me that we naturally want to pedal in the strongest, most efficient way which is to push hard into the down stroke with no consideration as to what the trail leg is doing. When we start trying to outsmart instinct (you want to spin in circles and/ or pull through the top) we literally decrease pedaling power and efficiency.
Taken together this is scientific evidence of what I have been saying – clipless pedals offer no advantage and in fact allow you to get away with a less powerful, less efficient pedaling technique. This ultimately holds you back from being as fast as you could be. So when you were told not to mash the pedals but to “spin circles” you got the wrong advice.
This is why I’m so zealous about this matter – clipless pedals have gained their prominence through the false assumption that they helped you pedal with more power and efficiency. If you were never told that they would make you better would you really have gone through the learning curve and the anxiety that comes with trail riding on those things? If you knew that they would actually allow you to use a less powerful, less efficient pedaling technique (which you literally can not get away with on flats) would you have bought into them?
I just want to give people to info that will give them confidence to opt out. For years we’ve been told that riding flats will make it impossible to climb steep hills or to pedal with as much power and efficiency and that is simply not the case. Opting out of the clipless mindset is not a trade-off, it is a move up. As more studies are done that take both quality and quantity into account we’ll learn more about how we’ve screwed up yet again by trying to improve on Mother Nature.