Facing my fears: clipless vs toe clips

I’m pretty sure I’m the only mountain biker I’ve seen in years who still uses baskets (otherwise known as toe clips).  You’d think that this observation alone would have been enough to get me to switch to clipless pedals.  Nope.  There was NO WAY I was going to hook myself to my pedals.  What if I couldn’t get my foot out?  I’ve seen it happen to others; it’s not pretty.  I really didn’t want to be the girl lying sideways in the trail, still straddling her bike, still hooked by her feet to those tiny metal clips, still wishing she hadn’t entrusted her life to them.  It just seemed so… dangerous.

Oh, and I’m stubborn, resistant to change, a tight wad, and possibly a little overly sentimental.  I’d already traded my cutoffs for bike shorts.  My tevas for shoes (albeit New Balance sneakers).  My bandana for a helmet.  My Gary Fisher for my Cannondale.  My baskets were the last piece of the 90’s I had left!

Still.  When a rep from Pearl Izumi contacted me about reviewing some gear on my blog I knew in an instant what I had to do.  The time had come.  It was time to join the legions of mountain bikers around the world and go clipless.  It was time to face my fears.

I got my Elite II’s in the mail a few months ago. I was immediately intimidated.  They sat on the living room floor where I could see them every day.  I’d vacuum around them, tell myself that tomorrow was the day… I biked all summer with my baskets, assuring myself that each ride was the last.  “I’ll try them on the next ride” I’d tell Joe.  Pretty soon I started wondering if I should just send them back.

Then one day, for no reason other than that it was Tuesday, I went for it.

Feeling a little like my son about a year ago, I started in the backyard.  Joe held up my bike while I practiced clipping my shoes in and out of the “new” $5 pedals we scored at the used bike shop.  Joe would make some adjustments.  Then in.  Out.  In.  Out.  Next I moved to the driveway.  Back and forth, in and out.  Then on to the street.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  Slam on my brakes.  Out.  Up a hill.  In.  Off the curb.  Out.  Bunny hop.  In.  I was ready to hit the dirt.

I actually got comfortable with the new set-up quicker than I thought!  Dare I say I even liked them that very first ride?  Yes.  I dare.  And I did.  I was so focused on how hard it was going to be to get my feet off the pedals, I never thought about how EASY it would be to get my feet back on.  It’s much more natural than trying to aim your feet back into baskets.  And that fear of not getting my feet un-clipped in time?  It’s not so bad if you adjust your tension accordingly.  I can’t say I’m 100% comfortable yet, but give me a few more rides and possibly a Good Humbling (as I hear it’s inevitable) and I’ll be set.

One thing I both like and don’t like is the stiffness of the shoes.  While the stiffness definitely makes it so you can get more power on the uphill, it just seems like having the top be so stiff is overkill.  I think the X-Alp (also by Pearl Izumi) at least looks like it would be more comfortable in that regard.  But, having never tried this model, perhaps there is a reason they’re 1/2 the price?

Overall I’m glad I finally broke down and joined the crowd.  Besides, I did something that made me totally nervous… and the shoes are no longer sitting on the living room floor.

Thanks Pearl Izumi.

Anyone else been through this? Any additional advice?

12 Comments so far

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  1. Brian

    I’m shocked at what I just read! You in clip-less?! Welcome to the way a bike should be ridden. I distinctly remember the first time I rode clip-less pedals (back in ’95!). The only trouble I had was on the way down the trail I pulled to the side of the trail, to let a couple girls pass. I didn’t have the muscle memory yet and couldn’t get my foot out…into the bushes I went, taking a handle bar to the ego.

    I’m glad to hear your first experience was a positive one! I know you’ll never go back. The shoes you do have look like there isn’t much mesh which might be why they seem so stiff. I have loved the two pairs of Sidis I’ve had. Maybe you should contact them for a “review” pair. It’s only fair, if you’re going to review gear to try a few different brands out…especially since this is your first time riding clip-less.

    Happy riding!

    • Brian- Hahaa. Ya, I thought of you for sure, you and Claud really should have been there for the first ride. I’m still a little nervous to try a really technical (ie fun trail). Your story did not help! ;)

      Cant wait to to ride with you guys again! Oh wait, or are you still on your climbing only kick…

      • Brian

        Actually on a peak bagging/trail running kick lately ;) But I still now the fun that can be had on a bike. We would love to meet up for some riding sometime soon!

  2. Sus

    I switched to clip-less a couple years back when I got my first road bike. It was scary enough to have to get in and out at stop signs and stop lights. I’m glad I didn’t jump right into mountain biking with them! But I think I might be ready… I also have Sidi’s, which I love.

    • Suz- hummm 2 sidis suggestions in a row… I think it’s a sign. One has to wonder, why do they even make the hard plastic shoes? There has to be a point. Right?

  3. Rest assured the age of the toe cage will not be lost with your conversion – I must admit that I still use toe cages – for pretty much all of the reasons you mentioned – resistant to change, scared to fall out of clipless, etc. Hubby swears by them and has been trying to get me to switch for years. So far no luck…I keep saying one of these days… :)

    • Oh Erica we must chat.

    • Erica – Ya, I found it much easier to try a free pair as the financial commitment was just too hard to suck up! Perhaps you need to find a rep… But, if you choose to stay with your cages, I will understand completely. Jen on the other hand may not! Hahaha. I loved her reply.

  4. At the bike shop I refuse to sell people the cages. Ok I don’t refuse but I try hard to talk them out of it. They are so dangerous. Much more dangerous than a clipless pedal system that is adjusted to your level (as you describe). I like the PD-M324 Shimano SPD pedal for new riders. One side is SPD and the other is a platform. When you are on the road or trail you are comfortable with you can clip in, when you are in tech section you can use the platform. As for the stiffness in the shoe it does come down to the type of riding you will do and I find the longevity of the shoe is higher with these types than the cheaper sneaker types. I prefer Sidis and I just replaced my road shoes after 15 years! A shoe like the X-Alp is great for rec riding but tends to be bulky and not as efficient for longer singletrack rides. I’m sure the Elite’s are similar to most Sidis. I have also found with my Sidis that as you break them in the tops are not as stiff. Good luck and very happy to see you off those cages!

    • Jen – When my brother-in-law sold me my new bike he found it pretty painful to hook me up with the cages too! I really like the idea of the pedal you mentioned. I’m going to look into that, I think that would help me dare to use the clipless on technical stuff as I’m not that comfortable with them yet. And thanks for the info/advise on the shoes!!

  5. Stephanie Viselli

    I still call my clipless pedals “timbers”, because when you are truely pumping up a hill but can’t quite make it, hello!-timber! I will never forget pumping up a singltrack in Oregan with 4 y/o Sage on a tag-a -long, when I realized the turn was too sharp and I wasn’t going to make it. “Get off the bike!” I yelled as I unded up upside down in a berry patch-trapped like a turtle to my pedals. It was fun talking my child into freeing my feet so I could actaull move.

    • Stephanie – Pretty sure I will be adopting the term “timbers” it’s perfect! I love the story, although it isn’t making me feel anymore comfortable! Hahaa. I can picture you in the berry patch now…


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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