The Fear of Going Clipless

Posted on Categories Vulpine Features

In the next instalment of Jools’ journey into road cycling she takes on one of her biggest fears: going clipless… and did it on Box Hill.

I’ve had my bike fit and got the shoes and pedals to prove it… but admiring how awesomely co-ordinated with BaadGyal they are wasn’t going to make the next stage happen: going clipless.

I’d had lots of great advice from friends, and the one obvious gem that stuck with me was “practice makes perfect” – so that’s what I did. I propped her up against the kitchen counter (I don’t have a Turbo yet, so this was the next best thing), stepped on the pedals, got ‘that clicking thing’ going on and practiced clipping in and out until it started to feel more natural. Remembering the euphoria of getting the hang of it during my fitting and doing it in the kitchen started to put my mind at ease… but this wasn’t quite the same as rolling the bike out of the house, hopping on it and actually riding. Although travelling without moving was making me smile, it still wasn’t the real thing… and on this journey I couldn’t avoid that forever.

The idea of riding clipless solo for the first time was a total no-no for me. Other than the fear of it bugging me out, I wanted the experience to be fun and with someone who could put up with me having inevitable “moments” on the bike… and laugh with me should I tumble and fall. Luckily enough I can call the amazing Adele Mitchell a friend and she was more than happy to take me for a weekend ride. Now here’s the thing – Adele lives somewhere I’d call a Sunday morning cycling mecca… Surrey. When Box Hill became the destination I was in two states of mind:

  1. Excited because I’d never cycled around there before
  2. Worried because I’d never cycled around there before… and clipped-in?!

Adele put my mind at ease about the whole thing in the lead up to our Sunday spin: she knew how nervous I was about finally riding clipped in and I knew that she wasn’t going to make us do anything crazy. I kept on telling myself the one thing I didn’t want to lose sight of… “It’s a bike ride Jools – just with a slightly different twist”.

Jools and her Aprire en route to Dorking – sporting the HOY Vulpine Sprint Sock

Sunday arrived and the weather gods were on my side: the skies were blue, the air crisp and there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight. Adele had sent me a tweet-pic of the Surrey Hills looking glorious that morning and I couldn’t wait to get cycling with her. Of course I needed to get to Dorking… from East London. Ah. I’m not embarrassed to say I train hopped with my Aprire for most of that journey, and for the little bits of cycling I needed to do in between? I didn’t clip in – I balanced my feet on my Look Keos, as I just wasn’t ready… but I was still moving. As Chris Garrison said in an ace piece she wrote about going clipless “physics doesn’t stop just because your feet are sitting on top of the pedals, rather than being locked into place”.

It was great to get into Dorking and see Adele waiting for me outside of the station… but it also dawned on me that this is where going clipless would really begin. We set off towards Box Hill, and again I balanced on the pedals as we cycled the route. With encouragement from Adele and gaining confidence along the cycle path, I attempted to clip in my left foot, which seems to be my natural one to start off with… ‘snap-click’ and it was in. So far so good. Then it was time for the right one. The balancing act on that side started to turn into my toe fumbling to flip the pedal over and the cleat slipping off it with each attempt – ARGH! Frustration started to rise just a little and then came the doubts in my mind: “This isn’t me… I’m never going to get the hang of this… this system doesn’t work for me and I’ll be stuck on Box Hill forever!” … And then eventually it clicked. BOTH my feet were clipped-in and I was indeed still moving.

Jools takes on the ascent of Box Hill – keeping warm in her HOY Vulpine Softshell Randa and Trackside Cap


I felt pretty good: the nerves were starting to settle down a lot more, and thinking ahead, I was fully aware of what would naturally come next… stopping. We’d talked about this beforehand, but I’d kept in mind what Adele was saying about taking a foot out with enough time to anticipate coming to a halt. She pointed out a crossing ahead we’d be coming to on the route, which became my marker for the first attempt at stopping. That fumbling right foot of mine suddenly became my natural un-clipping side and with a good twist of my heel and enough time, I got that foot out, balanced again on the pedal and made it to the crossing without falling… foot down – mini fist-bump moment!

The rhythm of the ride was coming together – we were climbing, I was clipless and Adele was doing an amazing job reminding me of this and keeping me going. The ascent of Box Hill, something I never imagined myself doing was suddenly under the wheels of my road bike. There I was, pedalling amongst other Sunday morning Surry hill climbers, saying ‘hello’ and all heading for the top. I’ve done hill climbs before, but as we got higher and I kept on pushing, I started to realise something felt very different – I had more control over what I was doing on the pedals with my feet being locked into place.

Top of the Box! Jools and Adele Mitchell arrive at the top of Box Hill

160207_BoxHill_Feb2016-03“Just one more corner Jools and you’re there… and remember to start un-clipping!” shouted Adele as she rode ahead of me… and there it was, after that last corner the top of Box Hill appeared. At that point I went from feeling pretty good to near on fantastic. Mind you, that feeling was probably further aided by the sheer amount of cake that was also on offer at the top…

To the victors, the cake!

Suitably sugared, caffeinated, and buoyed up by bumping into some familiar faces at the café, it was time to roll on… and what goes up must come down: it was time to take on the descent. Now if you know me, you know I love a good bit of downhill riding, and doing it this way was certainly something else. When I’ve done it before (and at speed like at L’Eroica) it always felt like I had to ‘push’ myself into the pedals to remain steady and on the bike. Doing it clipless? That feeling went and again it felt like I had so much more control of the bike, and myself. I loved this feeling a hell of a lot more than I expected.

Jools and Adele descending down Box Hill – Softshell Gloves keeping the cold wind at bay!

As the route came to an end and Dorking station was back in sight, it all seemed way too good to be true: I’d managed to climb up and down Box Hill, was un-clipping my right foot in time to stop and having a blast. Of Couse it had to happen… we’d joked that “it” hadn’t so naturally tempting fate meant my rite of passage was complete: a slo-mo clipless fall! I’d slowed down for the final crossing: yards from the station my right foot just wasn’t coming away from the pedal. I’d already slowed down and was coming to a halt and slowly my entire being fell to the right… and BOOM, she was down! I’m glad to report I was laughing as I was going and Adele had my back… and my arms as she got off her bike and hoiked me out of the road, still attached to my bike.

It may have ended with a drop, but it hasn’t taken away from what was a brilliant day of riding and yet another cycling learning curve for me. Going clipless was probably one of my biggest fears about getting into road cycling. Even though I’d never done it and just watched others around me riding that way, I’d always thought that I’d never be able to do it, as I’d somehow not be in control of the bike. I’ve learned that’s not the case, and I’m now itching to keep on riding clipless and build my confidence on this journey… one clip at a time.

Huge thanks to Adele Mitchell for riding with me (and pulling me off the floor!) and to Ian James for the photography.

For more information on the clothing worn by Jools on her ride, please visit our HOY Vulpine Women’s range page.

19 thoughts on “The Fear of Going Clipless”

    1. Jools what an inspiring post. I have been contemplating going clipless for a while (at least my head has) but I haven’t been able to pluck up the courage. Now that I have read your post I am definitely going to give it a go, don’t know when but it is certainly on my to do list for 2016

      1. Oh Cynthia – that’s really touching to read that! Do it whenever it feels right for you… I totally understand where you are coming from and I’m still really surprised at how ace it felt – both doing it and overcoming the fear of it. Keep me posted on how you get on :)

    2. Thank you Chris! It honestly felt like going clipless was something I’d never do – feeling rather chuffed that I have and want to keep going. I still haven’t had the champers though :)

  1. Get in there Jules! It’s all about your sub conscious. The bit of the brain that allows you to do something without thinking….Practice at least clipping in and out 10 times for each foot. Another tip, when clipping in exaggerate you foot angle. Almost as if your trying to point to the floor with your toes. The ‘ front step ” of your cleat “sees” more of arch at the front of your pedal.

  2. Hi,

    Interesting post. I had similar fears. I tried it for a few years and then read “The Shoes Ruse” and never looked back.

    In my mind, riding clipless in London traffic with lots of stops and starts is madness; and being in a position where you can’t unclip and fall over at some lights, with your feet still locked in is not only embarrassing but highly dangerous too.

    Finally, please.. if you’re going to wear a helmet, please wear it properly – it shouldn’t be tilted back on your head with your forehead showing!


  3. Great work Jools! When I first went clipless just over a year ago I sellotaped a post stick note to my handlebars which said “UNCLIP!!” (much to the amusement of my husband). It worked though and now I cannot imagine cycling without cleats. As your are discovering, it makes such a difference to the feel and control of the bike.

    1. Beverley, that post-it note story just made me laugh – and it’s excellent it worked for you! I think that whatever helps you get the hang of it is fantastic (which for me was saying “unclip!” under my breath over and over… lol) Really was quite a different experience using cleats for control.

  4. Why is it called clipless? To my little brain that is ‘not with clips’. I still get nervous about it, especially at the tired flaky end of a ride. Or coming into transition at a triathlon, where fear of shame is high. But the good points are good.

    1. You’re not alone Nicky – the terms “clipless” & “clipped in” being the same thing confused me too! I think it comes from the difference between pedals with toe clips (which I always referred to as cages) and pedals without them (clipless pedals like the Look Keo’s on my bike). The fear of shame is also something that registered on my mind and I TOTALLY understand what you mean. I’m sure I’ll still have those moments on the bike, but it was ace to start taking it on. let me know if you go for it too :)

  5. Well done Jules!
    Remember to slacken the tension on the clips/cleats if you can (I don’t know about Look system, but you can on spd mtb). My biggest fear was unclipping on an uphill (no free-wheeling to a halt!) – so kudos for your first attempt being on Box Hill!

  6. Well done Jools! It took me a long time to move from cages to proper pedals. I would recommend that anyone wanting to make the move tries out the different pedal systems first before committing to find which one suits best. Borrow your friend’s pedals and shoes and give them a go. I jumped straight for Shimano and just did not get on with them at all. I really put me off and I went back to the cages. Eventually I tried the Look Keo and found them brilliant. I would not use anything else now.

  7. Well done Jools. I have the shoes and the pedals and they were on my bike, until I did the slow-mo fall right outside my house on my first outing with them. My foot slipped off the pedal as I couldn’t clip in…with hindsight, it would have been better if I’d gone the other way as that is downhill and the momentum from that would have kept the bike going and given me more time. I’ve since gone back to regular pedals for now until I’m feeling a little braver and feel ready to try them again.

  8. The power you can lay down when climbing on the pedals is the biggest advantage when you go clipless.
    I was more excited than nervous about riding clipless, I’ve only ever ridden clipless on my road bike, I was on them straight away, get it over with early!
    Easiest way to practice is to just go up and down the street clipping in and out, it becomes second nature after a short time.

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