The Biggest Gimmick in Cycling? Clipless Pedals.

Warning: Do not listen to this podcast if your identity as a rider is tied up in your clipless pedals because you won’t like what you hear and I’d hate to ruin your day.

In this podcast I dig into the claims used to sell clipless pedals and expose why they are nothing but gimmicks.

Which makes clipless pedals a gimmick, sold to unsuspecting riders who trust that those they rely on for information have actually looked into it for themselves.

But enough of that right now, check out the podcast and let me know what you think…

Download this episode (right click and save)

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Show Notes:

  • The definition of the word Gimmick: A trick or device used to attract business or attention.
  • This includes things that are untrue and have no basis in science or facts.
  • Clipless pedals are sold based on two things that based on this definition are, in fact, gimmicks.
  • The first is the Round Pedal Stroke and the Need to Pull Up on the Backstroke.
  • There are countless graphics illustrating a “perfect” pedal stroke that have never been seen or re-created using an actual EMG.
  • Real EMG readings look nothing like those charts.
  • That makes these charts untrue and, by definition, a gimmick since they only exist to help attract attention and business for clipless pedals.
  • The second gimmick is being on the ball of the foot and the need for a repeatable foot position.
  • Again, there is no science to back up either claim.
  • What studies do exist are either unclear or actually point towards a more mid-foot position.
  • The body is also not designed to be locked into the same movement over and over again, which leads to overuse injuries from not enough “noise” in the movement pattern.
  • This is why machine training is bad for your joints compared to free weights… now imagine doing thousands of reps locked into a machine.
  • Both of these things have no basis in science or functional movement principles, making them “a trick used to attract business or attention”. In other words, a gimmick.
  • In my mind this makes clipless pedals the biggest gimmick in mountain biking since they are sold to most people based on these untruths.
  • They also have some very real drawbacks that no one wants to discuss.
  • First, they force a very unnatural movement onto the legs.
  • Your legs are not designed to apply force in a straight line but instead uses a spiral or screwing motion as it applies force into the ground.
  • If you do this motion on a clipless pedal you either move within the free motion known as float – which is like applying force into ice and wastes energy – or you end up unclipping.
  • This forces you to either let your knees bow in to create some of that spiral – which is bad for your knees – and/ or you end up learning how to minimize that spiral and move in a straight line up and down.
  • Second, when cornering you need to be able to apply pressure in a spiral motion into the pedals to “set the edge” and drive the movement. If you do this on clipless pedals you float/ and or unclip which, again, forces an unnatural movement on the bike.
  • Last, your foot wants to apply pressure into “the ground”, or something that is supporting it from the bottom. A stiff soled shoe is not supporting your foot, only making it stiff. You need something underneath that it can apply pressure into for it to be supported.
  • If you have the foot supported by the pedal then you can’t twist your foot, which is good for the foot because it allows the spiraling motion since your foot can’t twist but it is bad for getting unclipped since you can’t turn your foot.
  • This means that a properly supported foot literally can’t turn like you would need it to in order to unclip, making it very hard if not impossible to clip in and allow natural foot movement through a proper platform.
  • They are also more dangerous, especially for beginners, and the consequences of not getting unclipped are much worse than slipping a flat pedal (head, shoulder or arm injuries vs. cut up shins).
  • These very real drawbacks are never brought up or discussed in the cycling world and we only hear about the gimmicks used to prop up their “superiority”.
  • I’ve also had conversations with people in the cycling industry who admit that they are overhyped and sold to people who don’t need them but because they companies that sell them pay for advertising and sponsorships it isn’t worth saying anything, giving me insights behind the curtain that most riders simply don’t have.
  • So what would you call a product that is sold based on a gimmick and has very real drawbacks that are never discussed or simply downplayed? I call it a problem for our sport but we’ll be nice and just call it a wonderfully successful gimmick.
  • If you think I’m wrong then I challenge you to simply look into for yourself. I’m willing to bet that less than 1 in 1000 riders out there who ride clipless pedals have ever done this and that if more did then we’d be having a very different conversation as a sport.
  • I’ve put together the Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto to help riders learn the truth and break free of the gimmicks that we’ve been sold in the past and it’s a great place to start if you are really curious about the truth about foot position and pedal stroke.


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