How Do Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals Work?

The decision to switch to clipless pedals may bring with it certain doubts like any new experience, but once you use them, you won’t want to go back. If you’re one of those enthusiasts who want to get the most out of each pedal stroke, switching to clipless pedals will be your best decision. But how do mountain bike clipless pedals work? You’ll find the answer here!

Whether you are a passionate off-road rider who loves mountain bike riding or you’re a professional cyclist who rides in competitions, you can benefit from clipless pedals. But first, you need to know how to use them and practice until you master them.

MZYRH MTB Mountain Bike Pedals 3 Bearing Flat Platform Compatible with SPD Dual Function Sealed Clipless Aluminum 9/16" Pedals with Cleats for Road

Here’s our explanation of how clipless pedals work in mountain bikes, their different adjustments according to the mountain bikes, and your skill level as a rider.

How do Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals Work?

Clipless pedals have a mechanism that keeps the foot on the pedal with a cleat fixed under the shoe. The device automatically releases the foot if it rotates on itself or makes too much effort (a fall, for example).

This type of pedal exerts tension on the crankset in thrust and traction and increases power transmission. Some models have a caged platform, which protects the mechanism and allows you to pedal unhooked while maintaining a good grip.

A clipless pedal works the same way as a ski and its boot. The cycling shoe, equipped with a cleat, will fit into a metal location fixed to the pedal. To put on, simply press lightly with the tip of your foot on the pedal. Your foot will then be attached to your crankset.

To take off, you must make a movement, for example, outwards, so that the shoe separates from the pedal. If you are a beginner, you are advised to adjust the spring of the binding to the minimum so that a simple movement of the ankle allows you to take off your shoes quickly.

Mountain bike pedals require sneaker-type shoes adapted to clip onto the pedal. They are easier to take off since mountain biking involves putting your foot down more often, and you can walk with them without worry.

They are more minimalist than clipless pedals designed for road bikes that require shoes with a harder sole—the reason for this: the mud. Indeed, a clipless mountain bike pedal must quickly evacuate the mud to unclog.

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How to Engage and Disenge the Clipless Pedals

Schwinn High Timber ALX Youth/Adult Mountain Bike, Aluminum Frame and Disc Brakes, 29-Inch Wheels, 21-Speed, Black/Green

With the pedals perfectly installed on the bike, with the cleats on the shoes and correctly adjusted, it’s time to get on your mount to practice on something that some beginner cyclists are afraid of: clipping on and off the pedals automatically.

Any device that allows you to pedal without moving from the site is valid, and that allows you to perform the coupling and uncoupling maneuver without fear of falling.

For this, we can use any stationary bike or a spinning bike as long as they have the pedals compatible with the cleats of your shoes. You can also use your bike leaning on a wall or using rollers.

If you do it with the bike leaning on the wall, you can pedal backward to make the maneuver more similar to how it would be done in reality. It is also possible to carry out this exercise within a limited area or free of traffic without danger or obstacles. To do this:

  • Hook one of the feet by lowering the tip of the shoe and applying pressure until you hook to the pedal. Then, do the same with the opposite pedal.
  • Engage your dominant foot before pedaling to have sufficient inertia on the first pedal stroke to maintain stability when you engage the second foot.
  • It is easier to put your second foot on and off when your pedal is at the top (12 o’clock position).
  • Keeping looking straight ahead (without looking at the pedals/feet), hook and alternately unhook each of the pedals
  • Carry out this exercise many times until you can carry out the maneuver without difficulty and intuitively

You may need a few minutes or several long sessions. In any case, you must invest time in practicing.

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How to Adjust Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals?

Shimano PD-M520L Clipless Bike Pedals 9/16in

The use of clipless pedals requires specific shoes on which you will have to install mountain bike cleats which will serve as an interface between the shoe and the pedal. Here are the steps to adjust the cleats in your mountain bike shoes:

Reminder: for the right pedal (“R”), the direction of screwing is classic, therefore clockwise; while on the left pedal (“L”), it is reversed, so counterclockwise.

  • The cleats of the two shoes must be placed symmetrically. Otherwise, your foot will not keep equal angles and distances, which could produce unequal and unbalanced pedaling, as well as incorrect biomechanical work and possible injuries or conditions in the hip, knee and ankle joints. For your cleat’s longitudinal adjustment (forward / backward), place it so that it is centered on the axis formed by the crease between your foot and your toes.
  • If your cleat/shoe has a lateral adjustment (left/right), you need to position it to center with your foot.
  • Grease and tighten to the torque indicated by the manufacturer.
  • Generally, it should not exceed 35 Nm. Otherwise, it will be difficult to dismantle them in the future.

Your wedges are now mounted. After a first outing, it is advisable to check the tightness. This is a basic setting that does not consider possible pathological problems. It is important to test it on short outings to validate it or edit it according to your feelings.

For the mountain bike shoes, there are metal cleats with two screws inserted into the shoe’s sole through two grooves. Put the screws with a little grease.

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Refining Adjustments of Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals According to Mountain Bikes

  • If you move the cleats back, you will feel less stress on your calves and be more comfortable downhill. This setting can be useful for beginners equipped with a leisure mountain bike or an All-Mountain mountain bike practice with a full-suspension mountain bike.
  • Moving the wedges forward will be easier to force, but your calves will be more stressed. This setting is recommended for competition-oriented riding such as Cross-Country with a hardtail mountain bike.
  • If you feel pain in the joints because of the clipless pedals, it is best to consult a sports doctor. You can also conduct a postural study to identify whether a particular adjustment is necessary.
  • Some clipless pedals allow the spring tension to be adjusted, which determines the effort required to release the pedal. If you are a beginner, opt for a low tension to avoid falls while getting used to this system. Then, once familiar, you can modify it to suit your riding style.

Some further recommendations about different adjustments and the functioning of the clipless pedals:

  • Choose pedals that allow you to regulate the hardness of the spring. This will help you take them softly in your beginnings and thus take your foot off the pedal quickly and easily. The vast majority of the pedals have a screw to graduate the force with which it hooks the shoe’s cleat.
  • At the beginning of the use of clipless pedals, it is recommended that a specialist places the cleat correctly since only then can you avoid injuries or possible pain. Also, a good position of the cleats will make you get maximum efficiency in pedaling.
  • We recommend that you practice that mechanism of hooking and unhooking the cleat before using them.
  • Integrating the movement is simple, but you know how to engage and disengage correctly.
  • It is very important to consider the anticipation when taking your feet out. The most typical falls suffered at the beginning of using clipless pedals happen when the rider is uncertain when to take the foot out.
  • With your mountain bike, take the opportunity to do your first bike rides with a simple complexity, allowing yourself to gain skill and confidence.

After a few days with the clipless pedals, you will feel that you already have this gesture assumed automatically, and you will not be able to imagine a bike ride without your new pedals.

Still skeptical about switching to clipless pedals? The presumed danger associated with the use of clipless pedals on a mountain bike stops many riders from trying them on, and they often ask why they should switch to them when they master the conventional pedals.

Below we try to answer some of the frequently asked questions by mountain bikers who do not use clipless pedals and have some of the most common fears of being attached to the bike during a fall or afraid of falling when getting hooked!

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Why Switch to Clipless Pedals?

After so many years with clipless pedals on the market, they continue to cause controversy among beginner and not-so-beginner cyclists.

Clipless pedals indeed imply a certain commitment for those who decide to improve their pedaling since, to start, you have to buy specific pedals and shoes.

SHIMANO PD-M530 Mountain Pedals

But here we leave you five reasons why you should use clipless pedals:

1. You will Become More Efficient

Clipless pedals make your bike an extension of your legs. By attaching your feet to the pedals, your pedaling becomes more efficient, and you forget about all those movements you used to make with your foot on the pedal.

These movements are sometimes caused by fatigue, and the only thing they cause is greater energy expenditure, so clipless pedals are a very efficient solution.

2. You will Gain Power

Those who have not tried them may be surprised, but you can gain power with clipless pedals. During the pedal stroke, in addition to pushing the pedal towards the ground, you can pull it up when it is at the rear of the pedal stroke. With this, you get more power with almost the same effort.

3. You Ride Your Mountain Bike with Confidence

This point is difficult to understand for those who have never tried them. But once you master the mechanism of clipless pedals, they offer you a plus of confidence.

When you internalize that it will take time to detach yourself from your clipless pedals as if you were not wearing them, you begin to feel more confident on the bike.

For example, you won’t have to worry about your foot slipping off the pedal on rainy and muddy days.

4. You Get Greater Control

Clipless pedals allow you to experience skills you may have previously thought impossible. For example, try now with your clipless pedals if you ever tried to perform a bunnyhop jump with your mountain bike and you couldn’t lift the rear wheel.

Being glued to your feet will make it much easier for you to lift the bike on jumps and complicated steps with stones, for example.

5. They Offer Complete Freedom

With clipless pedals, you have the freedom to decide how much you want your foot to move and how fast you want to take it off the pedal.

They have several screws that allow you to adjust the degree of movement you want to allow the foot once it is on the pedal, freeing the knee movement and allowing you to adjust the force you want to exert to remove the foot from the pedal.

This adjustment can be so light that even the foot comes off the pedal inadvertently, so it will take time to adjust.

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When to Switch to Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals?

How Do Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals Work
How Do Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals Work

Regardless of age, everyone who tries clipless pedals will never do without them again; they become something fundamental and essential in your mountain bike rides.

You might have heard that the initial feeling of being hooked to the pedals makes you feel dizzy, but the reality is quite the contrary. Clipless pedals offer you greater safety as your foot no more slips off the pedal.

Together with the security, you’ll also get efficiency. Clipless pedals optimize the pedaling to the maximum during its four phases: advance, push, traction, and elevation (this is impossible with conventional pedals).

Therefore, there is no age to start with them, but it is recommended that any regular user of the bike use clipless pedals once they get past that initial phase of balancing and handling the bike.

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We hope the above information about mountain bike clipless pedals has swept away all your doubts and reassured you not to hesitate any longer about switching to clipless pedals. Do not forget to share this information with your friends, and let us know when and how you switched to clipless pedals.