It's a new year and right off my friend Tim asked the great question, "How do I position the cleats on my new shoes, Jim?"
That subject is perfect for anyone just getting into cycling in 2022 or someone who has upgraded to clipless pedals or who just needs to install cleats on shoes, like Tim. To help, I wrote this article and made the video below in this blog post.
Please note that if you're reading this blog post in your email, you will not see the video. You'll need to go to my blog to see it or click this link to go to my YouTube channel to view it.
My video - How to Install Clipless Cleats
Clipless pedals - one of the most important cycling inventions
I can't help but reminisce when thinking about clipless pedals and setting cleats. Before clipless we used toe clips and straps. In case it's not obvious, the "clip" in "clipless" comes from toe clips.
Toe clips and straps worked but had issues. The straps could cut off the circulation to your feet. Your toes could hit the toe clips. The straps and clips would chafe and wear your cycling shoes. New riders could crash using toe clips and straps because to get out required a double motion involving lifting and pulling back the feet. When you were not riding in the toe clips and straps the pedals would hang upside-down and the toe clips and straps could rub and scrape on the pavement; or worse they might snag on something, even stopping the bike and causing a crash. This was more a problem off road than on.
All these issues had many cyclists including me! looking for alternatives. Cinelli had made their M 71 pedals in the 1970s introducing the concept of clipless. But while they were indeed clipless, they actually locked the feet on the pedals with removable pins. So most of us felt they were risky for use on the open road.
A company named AeroLite (still in business today) came out in the 1980s with a clipless pedal that solved the problem of locked-in feet. The AeroLite pedal was a round spindle. The cleat was a plastic piece with the perfect cutout to snap onto the round cylindrical pedals. To get in you stepped down and to exit, you rolled your ankle to the side which extracted the cleat from the pedals.
A couple of us at the Bicycle Center used these pedals for several years. They were superlight, gave ultra direct power transfer and we all loved them for riding. However, there was no float in the system at all so if you did not get the cleats attached in the perfect spot you could hurt your knees. The only other issue was if you tried riding on the pedals in sneakers like to make a coffee run at work, your feet would slip right off - pretty funny the first time it happened, but dangerous, too.
Then in 1985 the first two stages of the Coors Classic came to San Francisco along with 5-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault and teammate Greg LeMond who would go on to win 3 Tour de Frances. On the right is my signed poster from Greg.
Besides competing, Hinault was also there to introduce Look's new clipless pedals to bicycle dealers attending the race and the owner of the Bicycle Center, Roger Sands received a pair.
Here's a great page on the Look website about the history of their products including clipless pedals and information on Hinault and LeMond, too.
When Roger came back from the race he gave that first set of Look clipless pedals to me. I immediately put them on my bike.
Right away I knew Look had developed the perfect clipless pedal. They were SO easy to get in and out off and boosted your pedal power like the AeroLites. I was so excited about them that for my Technicalities column in California Bicyclist magazine back then I wrote the first review of clipless pedals covering the AeroLites and the new Look pedals. That ran in the September, 1985 issue shown below.
I wish I had waited to write that review because I had a chance to really test the new pedals in the 1985 World's Toughest Triathlon a little later. I was the biker on a coed relay team out of Santa Cruz sponsored by Reebok.
Amazingly, when our swimmer Judy Scovel came out of Lake Tahoe, she was just seconds behind the first place swimmer (sorry I forgot his name - I do remember he was an Olympian from a famous swimming family). And as Judy gave me the tag to get on my bike and take off, the other swimmer did the same to his biker, who was none other than Greg LeMond!
I remember thinking, 'wow, I'm actually racing Greg LeMond,' which was stupid because within 30 seconds he was out of sight.
It's impossible to find much about that race online but I am pretty sure Greg did the 120 mile extremely hilly bike leg in under 5 hours. I came in in about 7. We still got 3rd place thanks to Judy's great swim and Marty Kruger's epic marathon. The incredible Scott Molina won the race overall. He went by me on the bike like I was standing still. Which I almost was because the air was so thin on Monitor Pass that I literally could not breathe.
Back to the Look pedals, the thing that I noticed using them in that brutal triathlon bike leg was how they let you find and hold different foot angles to relieve any knee pain. It really was a game-changer because it meant that even if you didn't get your cleats perfectly aligned you could still ride comfortably on the pedals. I wish I had been able to explain that in my review. It was a great innovation and it wasn't too long before another French company, Time, introduced clipless pedals that had actual free float in them to protect the knees even more.
Still riding clipless and Look
Wrapping up, I've loved riding in Look pedals ever since those early days. I have tried lots of others from Campagnolo to Speedplay to a bunch of brands no longer around. But, I'm mostly on Look Keos now except for off road where I run Shimano SPD pedals and cleats. And I put clipless pedals right up there with the great cycling inventions for how they improved comfort and safety.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your bicycle in the new year!