How to Clip in and Out of SPD Pedals

Being able to clip into and out of clipless bike pedals such as SPD pedals and Look pedals is a learned skill. And it’s an important skill. Because there are riding situations where knowing how to clip in and out of SPD pedals fast and safely helps a bunch.

A good example is when you want to bail or ditch your bike to avoid a crash. 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.

Today, we’ll learn how to get in and out of SPD and Look pedals like a pro. The process is the same whether you’re a mountain biker, a road biker, or mostly ride a spin bike.

How to Use SPD Pedals: Summary and Video

To clip into an SPD pedal or a LOOK pedal (road bike pedal), hop on the bike and move the crank on the side where your lead foot/dominant foot is to the 2 o’clock position. Then, slide the foot forward until the cleat on the bike shoe engages with the clip on the pedal. Finally, find the other pedal, clip in, and ride off. And to unclip, twist your heel outward, away from your bike.

Tip: It’s Best to Practice on a Stationary Bike

Riding on clipless pedals takes some getting-used-to for some. Somewhere at the back of your mind, there’s always the knowing that you’ll fall if and when unclipping fails.

And truth be told: you’ll fall. If anyone ever tells you they mastered riding clipless after the first trial and they’ve never eaten crap afterward, 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

#1. Find the Right Learning Environment.

  • The best way to learn clipping in and out is to learn with your bike stationary. So, set your bike up in a trainer. Alternatively, use a wall or a tree for support if you’re not confident enough.
  • And if you’re confident, find a low-traffic road/street and practice.
  • A useful Tip: To make the pedal go slower, put the bike in a slightly bigger gear. 

#2. Get on Your Bike.

Start with your dominant foot, the one you mostly use for kicking a ball. Using your stronger leg first gives you momentum and stability as you clip in with the other foot.

  • Get on your bike and put your hand against the wall or tree or whatever to steady yourself. Using some support is optional for confident riders.
  • Next, move the crank located on the side of your leading foot to the 2 o’clock position.
  • Then, slide your toe toward the front of the SPD pedal or Look pedal until the cleat catches.

Unlike SPD pedals, Look pedals are one-sided. However, they come in a weighted-at-the-back design which makes clipping in easier. BTW, Look Pedals were created in 1984 by a French company, and they’re mostly used by road bikers and some MTBers. They’re rarely used on spin bikes.

#2. Transfer Your Weight Toward the Heel.

  • Transfer some weight toward the heel. As you shift your weight, press down on the pedal until you hear a distinct clicking sound. Once the back of the cleat catches in the pedal, you’re done.

Don’t fret if your foot keeps sliding too far forward. Practice makes perfect, especially when learning how to clip into SPD clipless bike pedals. Once you’ve clipped in successfully with one foot, repeat this action with the other foot. Learn how to do this in the next section.

I struggled quite a bit initially, but I eventually got a sense of where my cleat caught in the pedal and became fully engaged.

#3. Clip in With the Other Foot.

You’re now pushing the pedal forward with the dominant leg. And the pedal starts revolving, causing the other one to start revolving as well. Once you gain some moment (usually happens when the other pedal reaches the 12 o’clock position), step on it with the other foot and that’s it.

Note: Clipping in with the non-dominant foot is done somewhat differently. You slide your toe forward until the front of the cleat hooks into the pedal. As you push the pedal down, the downward movement effortlessly gets the cleat on that side engaged.

How to Clip Out of SPD Pedals

Clipping out is much easier than clipping in.

To clip out of SPD pedals, quickly twist one of your heels outward, away from your bike. You may also twist your heel inward, toward your bike. When you make the twisty movement, the loaded spring or clipping mechanism in the pedal releases your clipped-in foot. And it is easier to clip out when your pedals are in the 12 o’clock position.

Learning tip: Practice 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 a mechanism that enables you to adjust the tension in the pedal.

But why is pedal tension adjustment important? If the tension is too high, you’ll struggle to clip in and out. So, work the two screws on each pedal to lower the tension. But if the tension is too high, your feet will slip off the pedals frequently, which is annoying.

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

What Are SPD Bike Pedals?

SPD stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, a bike pedal/cleat design that Shimano developed for the MTB community in 1990. The company afterward started making SPD-SL (SL means SuperLight) bike pedals for on-road riders to give them an efficient foot position. Strictly speaking, SPD refers to pedals and cleats made by this particular brand. But the SPD pedal style has become so popular that many bicyclists use the abbreviation to refer to all clipless pedals. It’s similar to how skaters call inline skates rollerblades when Rollerblade is actually a brand name. 

SPD pedals are lightweight, two-sided pedals. Being two-sided makes for really quick clip-ins, an advantage that riders value greatly, especially at the start of a race. Learn more about SPD vs. SPD-SL pedals here.

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 attach them to the front of the bike shoe by screwing in a bolt.

Many mountain bikers love SPD pedals because the cleat doesn’t stick out the way it does on road shoes. It’s, therefore, easier to walk in/hike in mountain bike shoes. Also, these pedals are often reasonably priced.

MTB shoes have rubber lugs on the sole to increase traction. And the cleat stays in the outsole rather than on it.

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 people new to road cycling and mountain biking. 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

Below are six good reasons you should switch from platform pedals to clipless pedals. I’m not saying you should ditch flat pedal use for good though. There are times you just want to wear your sneakers, hop on your bike, and just pedal away.

1. Riding Clipless Helps Maintain Cadence

May cyclists who like clipless pedals claim that they increase pedaling efficiency. And that riding clipped-in gives you a more balanced pedal stroke that delivers greater efficiency.

But is this true? No, you won’t have more powerful pedal strokes.

However, each pedal stroke you make will be nice and smooth. Also, you won’t lose momentum because you won’t slide off the pedals.

Put another way, clipless pedals help you maintain a good cadence throughout the riding session. I love the I-and-my-bike-are-one feeling I get when I’m JRA (Cycling lingo for just riding around).

Related Post: Road Cycling Lingo

Also Read: Mountain Biking Slang

2. Riding Clipped in Feels Safer and More Secure

So you fell over the last time you tried to get off your bike at a red light because you couldn’t unclip fast enough. I get it, but that doesn’t negate that riding clipped is somewhat safer.

That sense of increased safety is often experienced when bombing descents. Your foot stays solidly in the same place — on the pedals. No slipping off the pedal. When your foot slips off the pedal platform, you lose some balance.

And have you ridden a bike when it’s all wet and muddy outdoors? If you didn’t fall when your feet slipped off the pedals, you’re either an amazing rider or just lucky.

I love riding around snowy surfaces on my fattie when the winter rolls in. And that’s because my clipless pedals connect my feet to the pedals in a way that promotes safe riding.

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

Using clipless pedals gives you a greater workout than biking on flat pedals. It translates to more efficient pedaling that engages your hamstrings, calves, and quads better than flat pedals. Small wonder most racing cyclists prefer clipless pedals over platform pedals.

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

Your ability to perform mountain bike tricks has more to do with technique and less to do with equipment. But some tricks and maneuvers feel somewhat easier when using clipless pedals.

Any trick that requires you to scoop the rear wheel feels less challenging when riding clipless. And 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, riding clipped-in helps.

6. You’ll Look Like a Serious Cyclist

Want to look like a serious cyclist the very first day you hit the road or trail? Learn how to use clipless pedals.

How to Use SPD Pedals and Look Pedals: Conclusion

Clipless pedals, whether SPD or Look, aren’t easy to use for beginners. But with commitment and practice, you can learn this useful skill in no time. You’ll probably struggle at first, but after a couple of rides, you’ll love how compact and power-packed your pedal strokes feel. Remember to wear a certified bike helmet because…crashes.