The idea of fixing your feet to the pedals of your bike may strike you as insane. But there is a very good reason cyclists wear funny shoes and that is efficiency. Clipless pedals are far more efficient than the old platform pedal. Clipless pedals work by snapping a cleat on your shoe onto your pedal. There are numerous different types of clipless pedals each with a proprietary cleat.
The advantages of clipless pedals are numerous, and every serious cyclist eventually turns to them. However, the question you need to ask yourself if you are contemplating them for your first triathlon and you are not already riding clipless, is: “Do I need them?”
Do you need Clipless Pedals?
The short answer is: no. As a beginner triathlete starting your first or second triathlon, adding another level of complexity to an already complex business is not a great idea. Clipless pedals take time to adjust to, they take proper fitting to ensure that you do not injure your knees and they take skill to execute safely. As a beginner triathlete doing relatively short distances, the savings you would make on the bike through increased efficiency of clipless pedals is overshadowed by the very real possibility that you will crash because you fail to get clipped in at the start or fail to unclip at the end. Additionally, in shorter races where transition times are very important, cycling in your running shoes means only putting on shoes once, saving time in T2.
Once you have done a first triathlon or two, and once you are confident of your cycling skills, clipless shoes and pedals are almost mandatory. Clipless shoes offer so many advantages that going through the inevitably painful learning curve is necessary. Clipless pedals allow cyclists to exert pressure all the way through the pedal stroke. This delays fatigue and increases power.
Learning to ride clipless is not easy. Both clipping in and out take very specific motions and these motions are not safe until they seem natural. A good place to learn how to use clipless pedals is on a trainer where mistakes unclipping won’t cause you to fall off. Additionally, you will need to learn to clip in without looking down. Again, this is due to safety, and is best done on a trainer. Clips, because they tie your feet to the pedals must be properly adjusted or you can seriously hurt your knees. A professional fitting is recommended.
But they are worth it
Another important advantage of clipless pedals are the clipless shoes. Cycling shoes are much stiffer than running shoes, meaning that your power transfer to the pedals is much more direct. Additionally, cycling shoes are vented top and bottom for cooling. When you look for cycling shoes, buy triathlon specific cycling shoes which come with design features for fast transitions.
Clipless shoes can actually save a great deal of time in triathlons, both through their heightened efficiencies, and through the ability to get into and out of them while pedaling. This takes a great deal of time to master, and certainly should not be attempted at a triathlon until you have mastered it in a parking lot.
You can also speed through transition by not wearing socks with your cycling shoes. This gives you several advantages, foremost is that if you can run without socks you are not putting on and taking off socks in transition. Even if you need to run in socks, they will not be sweaty when you start your run, lowering the chance of blisters on longer runs. Additionally you will not be trying to drag your socks onto soaking wet feet after your swim. Again, do not attempt to do this in a race until you have done the milage without socks before. Race day is not the day to experiment with footwear.
Anyone who does any amount of cycling will eventually embrace clipless pedals. There is a learning curve to wearing them, and therefore their use should only occur once you are confident of your cycling skills.