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Friday, November 19, 2010

San Francycle: To Clipless or Not to Clipless?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 2:14 PM

I've only fallen off my bike once, and it was totally my fault: I was approaching an intersection standing up, then suddenly realized that red means stop and clenched the brakes as fast and hard as I could. Tumble, tumble, tumble.

In other words, I don't need any help falling off a bicycle, thank you very much. I'm perfectly capable of doing it without any help from fancy equipment.

And yet. I couldn't stop thinking about the DZR shoes I'd seen a week ago at the SF Bike Expo. Not only were they so very, very pretty, but the nerdy engineer in me loved the idea of shoes that could attach themselves to the pedals and double your efficiency.

DZR, currently headquarted in Palo Alto, has been eyeing a move to Ninth Street in San Francisco, which would be pretty sweet. They held a launch party last week for their newest model, currently only available in the city at Mission Workshop.

In order to take advantage of the type of shoe that DZR makes, you need some gear called "clipless pedals," which is a little confusing since they don't seem clipless at all: your foot clips in to them. "Clipless" just means that they're not toe-clips, the grabby cage for your feet.

With clipless pedals, not only are you pedaling on the downstroke, but you're also pulling up with the opposite foot. Efficient!

But are they a good idea for commuters? Clipless seem suited to racers and mountain bikers and bike-lifestylers, but what about if you're just riding to work, or down to the package store, or to your eyebrow-plucking appointment? Isn't it just a recipe for falling over?

I stopped by a few bike shops to see if they recommend going clipless for casual commuters.

"I was skeptical at first, but it's one of the most popular upgrades to a bike," Heather Bixler of San Francisco Cyclery said. If you're traveling more than a mile and facing steep hills, you'll get plenty of bang for your buck.

That buck, incidentally, is in the neighborhood of $150 for high-quality pedals and high-quality shoes. Heather recommended a "flippable" variety of pedal: one side has the groove for clipping in, while the other side is just a plain platform for using non-clippy shoes.

"It takes some practice," said Andrew Yao at Avenue Cyclery. "It's not a hard thing." He pointed out that some pedals have adjustable tension to make it easier to clip in and out.

Installing a new pedal isn't difficult either, he said: just get a fifteen-dollar pedal wrench, and you'll have 'em switched out in no time.

"Yes you do have to fall once," wrote Jefferson McCarley, manager of Mission Bikes, in an email to me. "Just once. It's usually at a red light when there is somebody really cute walking by in the crosswalk in front of you. You're trying to look cool and then you just kind of fall over in slow motion. You get that out of your system and you're golden."

The efficiency is what hooked Jefferson on clipless -- you're making a full circle with your foot, rather than alternating left-right-left-right. That makes hills a breeze (relatively speaking).

So there you have it: opinion from the pros seems to come down pretty unanimously in favor of going clipless. Of course, it's also worth pointing out that most of these pros work for shops that sell pedals, so take that as you will.

And if you're still paranoid about falling off a bike, consider trekking out to the forest for some practice. That way, when you fall, only the squirrels will know.

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Matt Baume


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