What Are Clipless Pedals?

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What Are Clipless Pedals?

By David Alyea, QBike Editor
September 24, 2009

Clipless pedals are bike pedals for which there is a "click-in" system, an interface between a cleat on the bike shoe and the pedal itself. One of the most popular clipless bike pedals systems of all time is the Shimano SPD series, pictured below. You can see that the cleat is very small and triangular in shape, and it attaches to the bottom of custom made bike shoes. To engage, a biker pushes the tip of the bike shoe cleat into place, then snaps the remainder of the cleat into place. To disengage, a rider just needs to twist his foot, leading with the heel, away from the bike frame - and voila, easy out!

Shimano SPD Pedal   Shimano SPD Cleats   Shimano SPD Shoe Mount

Shimano SPD Pedal
The three pictures above show the old-style Shimano SPD pedal and cleat system, which is characterized by that small triangle shaped cleat and the matching pedal interface. The current generation of Shimano pedals could be called a platform style pedal, and they actually resemble more the Look style of pedals. The latest Shimano Dura-Ace pedal shape is pictured at right.

But back to the original question now! If these are clipless pedals, then what are pedals with clips? Clips refer to the leather (or other material) toe straps which have been used for bike pedal design dating back to the early 1900's. When using toe straps, one is "clipped in" to the pedal. So the new generation of pedal designs that started in the 1970's and did require toe straps were known as the opposite of being clipped in - hence the name clipless pedals.

If you're like me, you probably find the term clipless confusing in this context. When I ride my Speedplay pedals or Look pedals, I distinctly feel like I'm clipping into the pedals! So why are all the modern pedal systems called clipless? It's just a carryover term from the pedal design which featured plastic or metal "cages" attached to the front of pedals, and a rider fastened his feet to the pedals with straps. These are called toe clip pedals. At least for me, I reckon the term clipping to be the action of attaching shoes to pedals, so I should say that I "click" into pedals, not clip into them. In any case, the term "clipless" - as referring to all the current pedal systems which involve a cleat that interfaces with the pedal - is still kind of confusing to me! Since, after all, one clips into the pedals. Here are examples of toe clip style pedals:

Toe Strap Pedal   Clip and Strap Pedals   Toe Clip Pedals

So if you want to describe the opposite of clipless pedals, it would be clip pedals, but more accurately you would say, pedals with toe clips. (And straps.)

Some of the most popular modern pedal designs, all of which are clipless, are:

I won't go into the differences between these pedal systems or describe which are better for which application, pricing, etc. Suffice to say, they are all what can be called clipless pedals. Clipless means a pedal system which involves a pedal with a proprietary set interface with a specific cleat, and all of these popular bike pedals are clipless pedal systems.

For more information on clipless pedals, see:
Clipless pedals

Shimano Pedals on QBike:

Look KEO Pedals on QBike:

Toe Clips on QBike:

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