How to Clip in and Out of SPD Pedals

Being able to clip into and out of clipless bike pedals such as SPDs is a learned skill. And it’s an important skill. There are many riding situations where knowing how to clip in and out of SPD pedals helps a lot.

A good example is when you want to bail or ditch your bike to avoid a crash, for example. Or when you’re riding a berm at speed and need to stick out a leg to regain your balance. Or at a stoplight. Or when coming to a stop for whatever reason.

In this post, you’ll learn how to use clipless bike pedals. The process is the same whether you’re a mountain biker, a road biker, or are riding a spin bike.

How to Use SPD Pedals: Summary and Video

To clip into SPD pedals, slide the front portion of your cleat-equipped cycling shoe. When you sense the cleat catching in the pedal, shift your weight toward the heel until the back of the cleat catches. At that point, the cleat should click securely into place.

And to unclip, twist your heel outward, away from your bike.

Start Practicing on a Stationary Bike

Admittedly, it’s hard getting used to riding your bike on clipless pedals. Somewhere at the back of your mind, there’s always the knowing that you’ll fall if and when unclipping fails. I’ll be honest with you and say that you’ll fall. If anyone ever tells you they mastered riding clipless after the first trial and they’ve never eaten crap afterward, tell I said they’re a liar.

So, set your bike up in a trainer to practice. Or do it in a place with walls, like your garage. Your kitchen near the countertop should also do. You could even practice beside your pickup truck or a tree. What you need is something solid to lean against as you learn to clip in and out of your SPD pedals.

How to Clip into Your SPD Pedals

Set up your bike in a trainer if you have one to hold it steady as you practice. I think this is the best way to learn, but don’t worry if you don’t have a trainer. Alternatively, practice beside a wall so you can use it for support as you learn.

There are 3 steps involved when learning how to clip in and unclip:

1. Set up your bike in a trainer or stand beside a supporting surface such as a wall. 

2. Slide your toe forward until the front of your cycling shoe’s cleat catches in the pedal. 

3. Shift your weight toward the heel while applying downward pressure until the back of the cleat catches. 

Get on Your Bike

Now, get on your bike and hold against the wall or whatever it is you’re using to steady yourself. Ready to clip in? Next, slide your toe toward the front portion of the pedal.

Keep sliding your foot toward the front lip of your SPD pedal until the cleat catches. You’ll certainly notice when the cleat catches, no explanation needed here.

Note: start with your dominant foot, the one you use for kicking a ball. Why? Because using your stronger leg first gives you the momentum and stability you need as you clip in with the weaker foot.

Transfer Your Weight Toward the Heel 

The next step is to transfer some of your weight towards the heel. As you shift your weight, press down the pedal with your body weight until you hear a distinct clicking sound. Once the back of the cleat catches in the pedal, you’re done. It’s that simple, really.

But don’t fret if your foot keeps sliding too far forward. They say practice makes perfect, and that’s true when it comes to learning how to clip into SPD clipless pedals. I struggled quite a bit at first before I finally got a sense of where my cleat caught in the pedal and became fully engaged.

Once you’ve clipped in successfully with one foot, you’ll want to repeat this action with the other foot.

Clip-in With the Non-dominant Foot

Congrats! You clipped in nice and solid. Now it’s time to clip out.

You’re now pushing off against the ground with the dominant leg. And as that pedal makes its revolution in the clockwise direction, the other pedal starts rising back around.

As the unclipped pedal reaches the 12 o’clock position, step on it with the other foot. Clipping in with the non-dominant foot is done somewhat differently than how you did it with the stronger one.

So, slide your toe forward until the front of the shoe’s cleat hooks into the pedal. Once that happens, push the pedal down. That downward movement should automatically get your cleat engaged, and that’s basically it.

Now, learn…

How to Clip Out of SPD Pedals

Clipping out is much easier than clipping in. To clip out of SPD pedals, all you have to do is quickly twist one of your heels outward, away from your bike.

But you can also twist your heel inward, toward your bike. The whole idea is to get the loaded spring or the clipping mechanism in the pedal to release your clipped-in foot.

Note: It easier to clip out when your pedals are in the 12 o’clock position.

At this point, start clipping in and out fast until it starts to feel effortless. Once you’re comfortable clipping in and out without problems, try doing it without support. Just get on the bike, clip in with your dominant foot, and repeat this action with the other foot.

Adjust the tension in the pedals if Necessary

Most SPD pedals and other pedals feature some mechanism that lets you adjust the tension in the pedal.

If the tension is too high, you’ll struggle to clip and out. So, work the two screws on each pedal to lower the tension. But you don’t want the tension too high, or your feet will keep slipping off the pedals.

If you’re not sure how to handle SPD pedal tension adjustment, let a cyclogist at your LBS (Local Bike Shop) help you out.

What Are SPD Bike Pedals?

By the way, using SPD pedals is pretty much like using other kinds of clipless pedals. SPD pedals are designed to work with 2-bolt cleat systems. Shimano, Crank Brothers, and Time ATAC all make 2-bolt/hole cleats and pedals that work perfectly with these cleat systems.

To use SPD pedals, you need special cycling shoes that have at least two holes sitting parallel to each other. Usually, such a shoe offers a set of parallel holes, a design that lets you set up your cleat just right. When setting up the cleats, you’re to attach them to the front of the bike shoe by screwing in a bolt.

SPD pedals are pretty much what mountain bikers use. That’s mostly because these pedals tend to be reasonably priced, and they’re designed to work with easy-to-walk-in cycling shoes.

These shoes have lugs to increase traction, and the cleat stays in the outsole rather than on it. The cleats don’t jut out, and that’s why these shoes are so comfortable for walking and even hiking.

Related post: How to Choose Mountain Bike Pedals. 

Why Ride Your Bike Clipped in?

Using clipless SPD pedals or really any clipless pedals isn’t easy for beginners. And even after you learn how to clip in and out of these pedals, it’s still possible to fall over. So, why use difficult-to-use pedals when you could just use flat-platform pedals?

6 Reasons to Use Clipless Pedals Such as SPDs

I know at least three reasons everyone should switch from platform pedals to clipless pedals.

1. Riding Clipless Helps Maintain Cadence

The main reason cyclists of all riding abilities use clipless pedals is that it increases one’s pedaling efficiency. Being clipped in gives you a more balanced pedal stroke that delivers more efficiency.

But no, you’re not going to have more powerful pedal strokes than you would have with flat pedals. However, each pedal stroke you make will be smooth. And you won’t lose energy or momentum because you won’t slip off the pedals.

If you want pedals that help you maintain a good cadence throughout your rides, use clipless pedals. I love the I-and-my-bike-are-one kind of feeling I get when I’m JRA (Cycling speak for just riding around).

Related Post: Road Cycling Lingo

Mountain Biking Slang

2. Riding Clipped in Feels Safer and Secure

Another important reason to use clipless pedals is that they make every ride somewhat safer. You’re probably mumbling, “Safer? I fell over the last time I tried to get off my bike at a red light because I couldn’t unclip fast enough. So, how can you say riding clipped in is safer?”

But riding clipless gives you a sense of safety when you’re bombing descents. Your foot stays solidly at the same place — on the pedals. In my experience, a cyclist loses a bit of their balance whenever their foot slips off the pedal’s platform. And less balance on a bike can’t be a good thing, and it’s not always safe.

Have you ridden a bike when it’s all wet and muddy outside? I bet you have, and if you didn’t fall when your feet slipped off the pedals, you were lucky.

I love riding around snowy surfaces on my fattie when the winter rolls in. And that’s because with clipless pedals my feet stay where I want them the entire time — on the pedals.

Flat Pedal Users Have Horror Stories to Tell and Shin Scars 

It’s rare for a cyclist that uses flat pedals exclusively to not have a few horror stories. Because their feet slipped off and they crashed and got permanent shin scars.

But some sport-related research notes that not having a proper bike setup can lead to injuries. One study found that using cleats when cycling can cause severe musculoskeletal injuries. The study is published in the International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine.

And if you read around the web, you’ll probably come across cyclists saying that clipless pedals cause knee pain. Chances are that person has their cleats and saddle height set up incorrectly. But for the most part, nothing is wrong with their clipless pedals. They just need to ask a bike fitting expert to adjust the setup they have.

3. Cycling Clipless Delivers a Better Workout Than Platform Pedals

There’s one more benefit, a huge one, when it comes to riding clipless. Using clipless pedals gives you a greater workout than biking on flat pedals.

How so? Because more efficient pedaling works your hamstrings, calves, and quads more efficiently than do flat pedals. And that’s why pretty much all racing cyclists favor clipless pedals over platform pedals.

4. Clipless Pedals Make it Easy to Perform Certain Cycling Tricks

Well, your ability to perform mountain bike tricks has more to do with technique and less to do with equipment. That said, it’s a fact that some tricks and maneuvers do feel somewhat easier when using clipless pedals.

Any trick that requires you to scoop the rear wheel feels less challenging when riding clipless. Rear-wheel slides, rear wheel lifts, and cutties don’t feel as hard as they do when using flat pedals.

5. Being Clipped in Helps A Lot When Riding Rough Terrain       

When weaving your way through baby heads and other technical terrains, you want to be clipped in.

6. You’ll Look Like a Pro Cyclist

Want to look like a serious cyclist the very first day you hit the road or trail? Learn how to use clipless pedals. Do I really need to say more here?

How to Use Clipless Shimano SPD Pedals: Final Word

Clipless pedals aren’t easy to use for beginner riders. But there are at least six good reasons to stop using flat pedals and start using clipless pedals.

Get on your bike and stay close to a wall or countertop, a tree, or set up your bike in a trainer. Then learn how to clip in and out of your pedals.

You’ll struggle a little at first. But after a couple of rides, you’ll love how compact and power-packed your pedal strokes feel.

And remember to wear a certified bike helmet because…crashes.