Clipless pedals are one of the most mysterious things in the world of cycling – everyone knows that the pros use them and that there are some performance benefits in some situations but no one really knows how they work. While the bio-mechanical model of pushing and pulling has been disproven the cycling media keeps using it to explain the benefits of clipless pedals and convince riders that they need to use them.

In this video I show you what is really going on with clipless pedals, the problem they are solving and why they are not the best way to solve that problem. Based on real science, movement principles and engineering you’ll never look at pedaling your bike the same way again.

12 thoughts on “How Clipless Pedals REALLY Work…And Why They Aren’t The Best Answer To The Real Problem.

  1. David Frame says:

    I just watched “…clipless pedals, the problem they are solving.” I ride flat pedals. I started with them because at 70+ years of age I didn’t need another technical thing (unclipping) to learn. I think one thing that also should be considered in your diagramming the arch and the pedal is the ankle and tibia. If you look at your first diagram of the clipless pedal with the arch hanging off the back of the pedal and then add the tibia and ankle joint you see the downward force of the leg is applied behind the center of the arch. The ankle is the joint or pivot point for the downward force of the tibia that then has to be directed or levered forward to produce the downward force on the ball of the foot. I would think that this requires more use of stabilizing muscles of the leg, ankle and foot. With the flat pedal, and in particular your Catalyst pedals, the legs downward force can more directly be applied to the full length of the pedal. I enjoy your info and insights.

    • bikejames says:

      Thanks, glad you liked the video and I appreciate the insights into the other advantages that are gained when lining in the leg properly to apply force down into the pedal.

  2. David says:

    I have not used clipless pedals for over 20 years and 1000’s of fast, fun miles. Why do you keep defending them? What are the situations where clipless pedals are superior to flat pedals? My friend swears he needs to be attached while standing and climbing steep hills, he thinks he is pulling on the pedals. I would like to hear why you think there is any reason for clipless pedals?

    • bikejames says:

      I’m a bit confused, I am not defending clipless pedals. I’m explaining how they work and why they are kind of a stupid solution to the real problem, which is the unstable arch and energy going into the pedal. Fix those problems and you don’t need clipless pedals. Viva la Flat Pedal Revolution…

      • David says:

        28 seconds into your video you say in regard to clipless pedals:
        “They know that they can get a slight performance advantage from them.”
        What is this slight performance advantage? Are you saying that with the right flat pedals and technique one can equal or exceed the performance of clipless pedals in all situations for both road and mountain biking? Or, is there a proper role for clipless pedals in certain situations? Thank you

        • bikejames says:

          Their advantage is that small pedals that only allow for one pressure point into the pedals creates an unstable energy system with the platform rolling forward and the arch of the foot collapsing. If you attach you foot to the pedals it helps to stabilize some of the energy going into the pedals and a stiff soled shoe will minimize the collapse of the arch.

          But this isn’t really fixing the problem, it is trying to make the best of a bad system. If you create a platform that allows for both the arch and the heel to apply pressure your stabilize the energy going into the pedal and you stabilize the arch of the foot. This actually fixes the problem.

          If you are going to stick with the small platform/ single pressure point system then clipless pedals will have an advantage but that advantage doesn’t come from pushing and pulling or using more muscles – which is what we are told. It comes from it being a band-aid on a crappy system. Fix the system and you don’t need the band-aid.

          So no, I don’t think that clipless pedals really have any place once you fix the real problem.

  3. Tristano says:

    Hi James, what about stiff carbon sole shoes with modified cleat positions. Drilling holes exactly in the mid foot position. I use this system for XC racing situations where you just need to munch down on the pedals. Heart rate is maximum, and you can’t see properly. You can’t afford to slip a pedal through the technical climbs. Otherwise you’ll loose the wheel in front. (only for racing applications)

    • bikejames says:

      Once you fix the problem of the unstable energy going into the pedal then your foot doesn’t try to roll off. There isn’t the need for the foot to be attached and it is much easier to apply good pressure into the pedal when the foot is stable. It is what the foot is made to do, even under high fatigue. The problem is that once you start to apply pressure into the pedal body itself – which clipless pedals do not since the cleat has some float in it – then you run into problems trying to unpressure the foot to unclip as well.

      The thing is that sometimes clipless pedals unclip on accident as well so it isn’t like either system is 100% foolproof against anything happening. There is always a chance for some freak event to occur but I don’t think that clipless pedals can exist in a proper energy delivery system since they make use of the bad foot position and support.

  4. Vossey says:

    Yep -agree with the stability issue. I have a bunch of road cycling buddies who all have massive calf muscles – and some with knee and calf pain from trying to keep the foot flat when riding with (mostly MTB) clipless pedals on road bikes.

  5. Rafael Medina says:

    Clipless prevents pedal strikes during high speed descending on Rocky trails,pedal strikes occur when one foot comes off the.pedal ,other pedal dip’s down to 6 o’clock position!

    • bikejames says:

      You foot wants to come off the pedals on high speed rocky descents because of the unstable forces going into the pedal and rotating your foot forward. Once you stabilize the energy like I describe in the video then your foot doesn’t want to roll off the pedal. So yes, clipless pedals help keep your foot on a small platform but they don’t fix the problem and are only one way to solve it, the other is to stabilize the foot and energy going into the platform under the foot.

  6. Aaron says:

    I completely agree with you James. I don’t ride flats yet but intend on getting some for my commuter so I can eventually ween myself off of clipless. I think the real issue for most people commenting on here whether they realize it or not is style. Historically flats are associated with the baggy shirt/short and skate shoe look. Why I’m not sure. But anyone who is on the roadie or XC side of the spectrum and understands and agrees with the principles you’re presenting may opt to stick with clipless just so they can keep up the style that is inherently part of cycling. Which isn’t good or bad it just is what it is. So until the shoe style is addressed I feel that the pedals won’t reach as many riders as it should/could. That’s just my 2 cents. If anyone out there wants to collaborate on shoe design lemme know.


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