The Islabikes guide to clipless pedals

One vital ingredient that helps to enhance many adults’ cycling experiences is the use of clipless pedals. These clever components create a strong and secure connection between a rider’s feet and the pedals, significantly improving pedaling efficiency. Clipless pedals aren’t just for adults, they can be used by younger riders too. Here is our complete guide to clipless pedals for child cyclists.

What are ‘clipless pedals’?

Ironically, considering their name, clipless pedals feature a sprung-loaded mechanism that requires a rider to ‘clip’ into it. To do this the rider needs to use dedicated cycling shoes fitted with a shoeplate or cleat. (The reason clipless pedals are called ‘clipless’ is because they don’t feature traditional toe clips and straps). When a compatible clipless pedal cleat engages with the pedal, it forms a secure link. This enables the rider to push down on the pedal without fear of feet slipping and pull up on the pedal, making a far more efficient pedaling experience.

Ironically, considering their name, clipless pedals feature a sprung-loaded mechanism that requires a rider to ‘clip’ into it.

To disengage from the pedal, the rider simply needs to twist their foot and the cleat is released. This twisting action may put some strain on growing joints, particularly the knees and hips, therefore we wouldn’t recommend clipless pedals for riders aged less than 8 years old. However, for over-8s and particularly for children who race or ride longer touring distances, some method of securing their feet to the pedals may be beneficial.

Easy introductions

Before stepping all the way up to dedicated clipless pedals, there are a number of options riders can use to become accustomed to having their feet attached more securely to the pedals. ‘Mini-clips’ that fit onto our Luath pedals are a sensible introduction and help keep the feet in a good position on the pedals, while allowing the foot to find its natural angle. They are also very easy to disengage from should the rider need to get their foot down in a hurry. One thing to note, if you go for this make sure you get a small enough size as most of them are very big.

Another option is traditional toe clips and straps. Again, these fit onto our Luath pedals and help keep the feet in a correct position on the pedals while allowing the foot to find its natural angle. They are harder to get in and out of than mini-clips and may cause a distraction when cycling. There may also be the occasional tumble when stopping unexpectedly. Toe clips and straps are a vital ingredient for track racing, so if a young rider has any plans to take to the velodrome they will quickly get used to them. However, if a young rider is racing cyclocross, mountain bike or road, they will almost certainly want clipless pedals and not ‘old-fashioned’ toe clips and straps.

The Islabikes guide to clipless pedals

Going clipless

Although there are many designs of clipless pedal systems, there are essentially only two general sorts: those designed for road riding, and those designed for off-road riding. Road clipless systems such as Shimano SPD-SL or Look Keo have a larger shoeplate or cleat for better power transfer and are fixed using three bolts. Off-road clipless systems such as Shimano SPD and Crank Brothers use a smaller cleat with only two-bolt fixing as shown below.

The Islabikes guide to clipless pedals

In the case of young riders, even those who take part in road racing, we recommend using the two-bolt off-road clipless pedal systems. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Off-road clipless pedal systems have weaker release springs and a smaller release angle, which put less strain on growing knees and hips.  Remember children’s legs are shorter, which increases the amount of twist in the leg needed to achieve release on a clipless pedal.
  • Off-road clipless systems are easier to engage with.
  • Off-road systems can also be used for on-road, so only one pair of shoes and pedals is needed to do both criterium racing in the summer and cyclo-cross racing in winter. Road shoes cannot be used off-road
  • Off-road cycling shoes can be easily walked in, so better for family cycling days out.
  • Some off-road pedals have ‘width adjustable cleats’ that allow the feet to be positioned closer together. This helps provide a smaller ‘Q factor’, which gives a more ergonomic and efficient pedalling position for shorter legs (see more on this below).

Perfect set-up

If you decide to go for clipless pedals it is absolutely vital the cleats are set up correctly. Failure to do so could result in permanent damage to growing knees and hips. Cleat angle is the most important factor.

  • First of all, grease the threads of the cleat bolts. omit this at your peril as shoes will be ruined if you can’t remove a worn out cleat at a later date.
  • The next thing to do is set the forward/backward position of the cleat so the pedal axle is under the ball of the foot.
  • Now for foot angle. You are aiming to set the cleat angle so the foot is held in its natural position. This is usually with the heels positioned slightly inward.
  • Be super fussy about this and take time to make several minor adjustments when fitting in order to get it right. You will have to get accurate feedback from your child while doing this. (Meanwhile, all they will want to do is get on and ride!).
  • If the rider looks ‘knock kneed’ after fitting clipless pedals it is likely the cleat angle needs adjusting so that the rider’s heels are closer to the cranks.

The Islabikes guide to clipless pedals

  • If the cleat has side-to-side or width adjustment, set it so the cleat is pushed to the outside edge of the shoe. This significantly reduces ‘Q-factor’ which is the distance between a rider’s feet on the pedals. At Islabikes we have invested heavily in reducing the Q-factor through our holistic design approach as it is just so important to smaller riders, don’t spoil it by fitting the cleats so they push the feet apart!
  • Fine adjustments to the cleat angle are difficult after the cleat has been tightly fitted because pimples dent the sole, making the cleat want to return to its original position. While fine-tuning the position of the cleats, do up the bolts so they hold the cleat in place, but not too tightly.
  • When you’re eventually ready to set the cleat position, take care to hold the Allen key square and push it well into the bolt head to avoid slipping. Allen key bolts have shallow heads and are easy to round off.

Final considerations

Remember, if a young rider does decide to use clipless pedals, they need to budget for shoes as well as pedals. These shoes are also going to be grown out of and will need replacing at some point. This is where it is useful to be in a cycling club with other children so shoes can be passed between families to reduce the cost. Most good cycling shoes are pretty sturdy and last for years, so they should serve several children.

 

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