The Clipless Pedal Myth?

This article opens with a caveat:

This is written for non-racers, and for riders who don’t ride race-like. In other words, for recreational riders, tourists, commuters, general fitness riders…but not for racers or racer-likes.

Which, of course, meant I probably should have stopped reading (I do most of my commuting on foot and consider “race-like” riding “recreational”). I’m not sure if I agree with any of what is said and I’d like to see some of the data from the muscle activity measuring “machines,” but I do agree that clipless pedals and toe straps are not for all riders.

When elite pedalers and lousy rookie pedalers have been hooked up to machines that measure muscle activity during pedaling, the machines tell us this:

during normal pedaling at normal cadences, nobody pulls UP on the backstroke

the elite/efficient pedalers push down less on the upward moving pedal than the rookies do.

Think about that until it sinks in and you’re bored. The good pedalers—-the guys in the logo costumes and the white sunglasses and shaved legs—-minimize the downward force on the upward-moving pedal more. They don’t pull up on it or even unweight it. They just minimize the downward pressure on it, so one leg isn’t fighting the other as much.

That is a far cry from the 360-degrees of power the clickers and media and experts promise you.

The thing is, if all you can hope to do is minimize the downward force on the upward-moving pedal, how does it help to be clicked or strapped in?

It doesn’t and can’t.

All that said, I couldn’t imagine attacking Beatty without clipless pedals.

  1. #1 by Sam on November 22, 2010 - 6:55 pm

    While upstroke linkage is a supposed benefit of clipless pedals, I still think the main advantage is that your shoes remain anchored to one spot and don’t slip around or – horror! – slip off at speed when you put the pressure on, causing massive shin trauma.

    Incidentally, why do they call them “clipless” when they obviously have clips?

  2. #2 by equinoxranch on January 5, 2012 - 10:37 am

    The notion that it is possible to pull up (recovery phase) simultaneously to pushing down (power phase) is absolute hallucinatory, new age nonsense. Sure, it can be done at very low rpm, typically below 20 rpm which is a cadence zone where no cumulative speed is realized, be it in the flats or climbing.
    If a cyclist attempts to “push/pull” at cadence beyond 20 or so rpm the net result is static, not rolling with a massive dead phase both on top and bottom. I would welcome any doubter to try to “push/pull” at a mere 80 rpm (or beyond) to experience what I am addressing.

    Over the past ten to fifteen years there has been so much insanity coming down the proverbial pike as it were regarding established and proven methodologies in cycling. We’ve sadly seen the fanaticism of spinning, the absurdity of reducing a given bike’s weight to the point of instability and structural failure, increasing improper sizing and a way-too-forward position on the saddle. When will the stupidity end?

    • #3 by Michael on January 5, 2012 - 11:50 am

      Is your contention that clipless pedals are not more efficient than platforms? Or are you simply stating that “push/pull” is a myth. In my experience the “push/pull” effect is a misnomer and, as the study cited above indicates, most of the time the net effect of clipless pedals is a reduction of counter force from the resting leg.

      That said, I’d add, anecdotally that, just a few weeks ago, I rode my bike in street shoes and found that effort required to turn the gears I turn on my daily commute was much greater.

      But, you’re right, there is a certain level of insanity when it comes to recreational cyclists and bike weight. I’d argue that those kinds of things make a bigger difference at a pro level and, frankly, if some advantage didn’t come from this hallucinatory, new age nonsense, then pros, who get paid to win, wouldn’t be using any of it.

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