Click, Click, AAAAH - Riding Clipless

To preface this. Clipless unicycling is dangerous, stupid and anyone doing it is resposible for every broken bone they get… If you are stupid enough to try it, wear a helmet and every piece of padding you have.

Given this topic seems to not be around at the moment I’ve decided to share what I have learned from the first 2 months of my foray into clipless unicycling.

1) Pedals and Cleats.

My experience so far is only with Shimano SPD pedals and cleats and given that I know they work, I will deal with them exclusively. From what I understand speedplay would be suicidal and I am unsure whether crank brothers can release upwards.

The biggest, most important thing for safer clipless unicycling is using the right cleats. SH56 multi release cleats are a must as they can unclip with a sharp upward tug (such as in a UPD). The single release SH51 are less likely to disengage locking you to the pedal while you go flat on your face. Positioning the cleat and shoe choice is your decision and there is a lot of relevant information available.

Pedal wise, you want a double sided pedal with a cage such as an M530 or M785 (if you want to commit) which makes clipping in far easier. There are also dual purpose pedals with flat sides and single sided pedals but they do not hang consistently meaning more messing about, usually with one foot already attached. The cage is very useful during mounting. The tension screw on each side should be set to minimum to start off with.

2) Mounting.

Is almost the same as any other freemount with a couple of minor differences. To clip in, I aim my foot behind where it needs to be and slide it forwards. The cage helps push the cleat retainer into the right position. As my foot slides forwards, the front of the cleat catches the lip, a natural downward push and a satisfying click tells me that I am in. It you don’t get your top foot first time, you can use the pedal cage as a pedal until you get a chance to try again.

The first time you mount, use a wall for support, then practice clipping in and unclipping each foot repeatedly until you are comfortable (having a brake helps here).

3) Dismounting.

Getting off is terrifying until you have done it. I dismount to the rear, only twisting my feet to the side when I come off the pedals. This might start with some rather silly sideways kicking but will get more controlled with practice.

4) Riding.

The first ride will be underwhelming. I felt like nothing had changed apart from the fact that the pedals felt wrong and my wallet was £100 lighter. This is because I was still treating the pedal like a flat. Lighten up on the downward pressure and power your feet through the entire stroke and you will start to notice a difference. Unfortunately this is that your calves and thighs hurt more. Naturally, it is a good sign that you are starting to use the upstroke. With time you will find that you are going faster, more in control, using less energy and flats feel weird.

5) Float

It is disconcerting when your feet suddenly gain the ability to rotate quite extensively. It helps find a comfortable position during rides but, compared to the locked in feeling of flats, it takes some getting used to.

6) Idling

The lack of pins and the addition of float makes idling harder. Throw in multi release cleats to top it off. When you idle with clipless pedals, your top foot will float about making it harder to apply force where you want to. Too much force to drag a misbehaving wheel back in line will result in an unclip and thus a UPD. The solution of course is more practice and to make smaller, more controlled motions and adjustments. I find this more of a problem as I am often boxed in while idling by cars and cyclists on uneven road surfaces.

7) Falling

So far I have not had a single UPD where I have remained clipped in. That is not to say that there haven’t been several UPDs where the pedals have made the UPD worse. To even it out, the clipless pedals help reduce UPDs by allowing you to deliver more power when needed to prevent falls.

Is anyone else riding clipless at the moment and do they have any tips?

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Scott Wilton, marathon world champion, rides clipless too. And I wonder if I should try it myself…

Someone on Ryan Leech’s podcast was railing about how clipless pedals are a scam and don’t do anything for you. Have you found it helped in any of your riding?

Not that I’m going to try… I have enough problems with my feet not coming off my mtb pinned flats when I want them too :wink:

I suppose in the context of bike trials or really technical mountain biking it could be considered less useful but to go and say its all a scam smells more like sour grapes. It offers a huge advantage to a road cyclist.

Personally i’ve found once my legs have strengthened to take it, the unicycle seems much more responsive and pedalling is lighter and more comfortable (no pins to push down on). The improvement of control could be defined as going from 125s to 150s without losing the ease and speed of pedalling and this is still early days. I am also finding that I accelerate faster and wobble less at top speeds.

Interesting… the guy in the podcast (really wish I could remember which one it was) was talking about clipless vs flats in a mountain bike setting.

Though I think I’m even more scared about clipless on a road uni :expressionless: :wink:

Why’s that?

From what I understand, once the pedal has engaged, a specific sideways movement is needed to disengage the pedal, yes it can be dialled in but it is a learned action to unclip.

Even with single release SPDs, foot rotation in a UPD should eventually unclip the pedal. This seems unlikely to happen with speedplays (either normal or frog). Its not that its a bad pedal design, for cycling in fact its a very good one.

If you have ever seen a rider go down after one of their shoe laces gets caught in the crank you have idea of the ensuing UPD, only with both feet trapped.

I guess its time for an update.

Idling - becomes a lot easier again once you have got used to float and a lack of pins. I think my idling now uses slower, smaller ‘rocks’ with minimal dry steering. My right (lower leg) knee almost glues itself to the frame and most of the idle comes from the ankle (with both 100 and 125mm cranks).

Mounting - I’m currently working on mounting while toe flipping an inverted single sided pedal. It is doable but hard work with fine precise motions needed. When I started the bearings on my pedals were stiff enough to hold a position in order to mount. Now that they are silky smooth, the pedal is constantly inverted. If I wasn’t being a weight weenie with this uni, I would have gone for double sided.

UPDs - Clipless definitely makes for worse UPDs. I still have not had anything catastrophic but a UPD is more likely to leave me sprawled out on the ground. This may also be to do with the so called ‘tread’ of my shimano shoes vs 5.10 rubber.

Shoe ratchets - while nice and easy will get scraped and scuffed with each fall. I think laced shoes/boots would be a wiser investment.

You might find this of interest…

Unicycle - Clipless SPD Mounting a Coker


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Are you still riding clipless?


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Oh yes i am still riding clipless…

I am now using cleats on all three of my large unicycles.

Touch wood, I have not come off a unicycle at speed for over a year (approx 2000 miles). I have had a couple of situations where the cleats have in fact saved me from coming off when trying to accelerate a G29 too hard. Sadly I have not had time for decent muni and my riding is mostly commuting which definitely factors into my lack of UPDs.

After a while, riding clipped in requires very little thought Clipping in and unclipping become muscle memory and the sideways play becomes normal. I have found the sideways play is actually useful when changing gear on a schlumpf.

While flat and pinned pedals are great for smaller unicycles, i do not think I will be going back to them any time soon on large ones.

So tips for new clipless riders:

  • Don’t buy the expensive shoes and pedals until you are absolutely sure you want to keep riding clipless. You can buy the whole setup needed for less than some pedals cost.

  • Don’t be a weight weenie and buy single sided or centre only pedals like this. Personally I would recommend these to start with.

  • To start with, use laced touring SPD shoes and SH56 cleats. You will not want to move away from this type of cleat. The laced shoes will prevent you damaging your shiny new ratcheting shoes while you are still making lots of mistakes.

  • Wear gloves and a helmet.

  • Turn the release tension to the minimum possible if using Shimano pedals, otherwise to the minimum that will safely hold your foot.

  • Read the cyclist reviews. If people are complaining about something being loose or fragile, it will definitely be unsuitable for a unicyclist.

I should preface this with saying that I don’t ride muni, and don’t ride unicycles clipless.

It seems like Crankbros Eggbeaters would be better, because you really don’t have to line up the pedal, you just stomp on them and you are in. Also, I don’t know of Shimano pedals are the same, but on Eggbeaters and Look pedals, I can just yank my foot out of them, without having to twist sideways, it just takes more motivation, as in, I’m about to go otb, but yank my feat out in an attempt to save my face.

Eggbeaters would definitely be interesting to try.

With the right cleats (SH56), Shimano pedals can be unclipped vertically. I tend not to do this as it requires a lot of force versus twisting out and is something that happens in a UPD rather than general riding. Still it is good to know when a unicycle turns into a catapult, that you are not going to stay clipped in.

I think this one of the main reasons why I prefer the caged Shimano pedals. The action to clip in is not a stomp, but an upwards scrape. With pedal cages, the scrape aligns both the pedal and your shoe properly, and completes clipping in.

It is possible to stomp and go with Shimano however this requires the pedal to be near level and for you to have much greater foot control. I think eggbeaters have the advantage on this method.

I really think you guys are onto something with clipless unicycling - I’ve tried it a fair bit and, while I decided fairly quickly it’s not for me, the benefits are absolutely there. I’ve spoken to people on these forums a fair bit about my (and their, or their lack of) experience with it, and while most people would simply shy away and say it’s FAR too dangerous, I think for the right type of rider they can work well.

I used PD-M424 pedals (They’re just your bog-standard Shimano SPD but with a plastic cage round them) - I mostly used the cage to mount unclipped, then slip my feet into the mech once I’m upright. After a few dumb UPD’s (Mostly with dismounting backwards, rather than the often-touted faceplant of doom) I quit, but I do sort of wish I’d soldiered on. My problems with them are more mental than physical - I can unclip without even thinking about it, but while riding my mind always sits there and says ‘you’re attached to the pedals, BE CAREFUL!’ causing me to ride a bit wimpishly.

I reckon if I had more road-riding around me without having to stop at traffic lights every 5 minutes, I’d be far more inclined to go back to SPD’s.

Speaking of which, what is your general ‘stop at lights’ method when clipped in? I mostly stuck to ‘dismount and stand there’, though I’ve seen a couple of videos of people hopping on the spot (My preferred unclipped light-stopping method). This seems terrifying - one wrong move and I doubt you could unclip from that position quickly!

Clipless definitely does work for some riders. While I would not say there is no risk involved, the risks can be reduced by practice, protection and choosing the right set of equipment to learn with.

While a 700c was fun for me to learn with, I really should have started with a muni as lack of wheel momentum makes unclipping much harder and muni wheels are more forgiving.

My commute (my main riding at the moment) is about 4 miles long and split half between cycle path and lower usage roads. There are only 2 major road crossings, one of which I do at a pedestrian crossing and can support myself on a post and a nasty crossing of a main road with inclined side roads and no lights.

How I stop at lights depends on what I am riding and the lights involved.

On a 36er I always dismount as I still need to work on idling 114mm cranks

On a 29er or 700c, I try to idle as much as possible but there are some lights in Cambridge where the road surface is so awful or the wait time is insanely long and I have to dismount.

Stopping at so many lights must be an utter pain, I have always tried to minimise the number of lights and major crossings I go through but in some places this is impossible.

I wonder if your pedals might factor into the UPDs you have had. While I have had some interesting situations with dismounting, none have thrown me down fully. Am I right in thinking that the plastic cage free rotates as well as the mech as this might grip your shoe when you do not want it to be gripped?

As for the fear factor, I am currently dealing with that due to pushing myself to learn to use a schlumpf properly. I am definitely not driving as much power into the wheel as I am capable of but it is improving. It may just be a matter of practice to mentally get used to it.

The plastic cage is fixed, it doesn’t rotate around the SPD mechanism at all. My UPD’s are purely related to me not being able to unclip quick enough! :smiley: It tends to go a couple of different ways:

Try going through a cycle path barrier -> not commit hard enough -> body flops backwards, wheel goes forward, brain doesn’t think to unclip -> arse hits floor.

Riding up a road, decide to stop, turn off at the nearest sideroad -> lean back to dismount -> foot doesn’t disengage first time -> panic -> arse hits floor.

Riding anywhere, decide to stop -> lean back to dismount -> first foot unclips successfully -> wheel turns forward a bit, causing other foot to be raised uncomfortably high off the ground -> i twist, one foot still in the pedal, causing me to unbalance -> hands/face hits floor.

I sort of went for a different method once, of trying to unclip BEFORE I come to a stop, however the sudden movement of yanking my feet out caused even worse UPD’s because it’d cause me to be 1-footed for a second or so.

Hopping at intersections and stop lights

I just hop while waiting for the light to change both on 36 and smaller. With guni it is not that hard to hop waiting for the light to change or traffic to clear remaining in high gear the entire time. I never idle anymore.

But then I hop onto and ride skinnies clipless.

If you need to think your way through unclipping I recommend you don’t uni clipless. Still stands and hopping are the easiest positions to dismount clipless. And if you still think you need to ride out a UPD all the way to the ground you shouldn’t think clipless will help save every UPD.

After a dozen years of riding clipless uni, this year on January 1st I finally had my first UPD still clipped in when hitting the trail/ground/pavement. It happened with a pedal strike to a low stump. I was on a black diamond trail in a very narrow spot between two low stumps on a steep descent on snow and mud. I don’t normally fear pedal strikes if my foot will clear the object and the pedal and foot just ‘step on’ and ‘over’ the obstacle. This time I misjudged the obstacle clearance and pedal position and the foot stopped dead against the short stump. Seemed funny to be dragging the geared 26 along behind me. Still no injury. Proceeded on to complete the ride and continue to ride clipless.

One trick you may not have thought of is to turn your feet in the pedals (disengage the cleat from the back of the pedal) but not lift the foot off of the pedal. It will be like standing on a pedal and not being clipped in. As long as you maintain sufficient downward pressure you foot/feet will remain on the pedal unless you slide your foot backward.

This might also happen at times when you force a turn really hard and your foot unintentionally twists on the pedal.


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The thing is, I tend to hop ‘backwards’ to my preferred dismounting way :smiley: IE. I dismount right foot forward, but hop left foot forward. I should probably practice both, both ways! I’m fairly comfortable hopping on the spot at lights as you suggested though, and so I don’t in reality see any reason I won’t be able to do it clipped in, but again, that mental barrier! :smiley:

I keep going back to SPD’s every now and then and am getting more comfortable with them (Helps that I use them primarily on my CX bike too) so maybe by now I will be at the point of being able to unclip without thinking about it that you suggest (I definitely am on the bike).

That ‘trick’ you mention sounds handy, and is how I originally tried doing the ‘unclip while riding’ thing. I couldn’t quite get it, but I think I’ll practice it a bit more on my bike too (Where it is a bit too easy because I can freewheel!)

Reading this thread (and watching a few of bungeejoe’s videos of clipless muni) inspired me to try this. I think clipless could be more efficient, lighter, and cheaper (no wearing out expensive 510 shoes every 8-12 months).

So having ridden MTB clipless for years I thought I’d give clipless uni a shot today. I had no issue mounting or dismounting. I rode around the block and all was well so I took my now clipless-equipped 29er out on an easy trail with some sandy spots that can cause minor UPDs (good for testing). I was using the Shimano SH-51 cleats with lace-type shoes 'cause thats what I had and was used to on the bike.

The ride felt fine - not much difference from platforms for me - there was some float, but I’m used to that on the bike. I hit a patch of sand and UPD’d. I got one foot free but not the other. Due to the angle and my wid-ish t-bar I bruised my quadricep pretty badly on the leg that was clipped in still.

Despite being used to clipless on a bike, it seemed like the speed at which UPDs happen is currently faster than my heel-twist unclip instinct.

So I have a few thoughts for myself and anyone else interested in clipless that maybe havent ben mentioned yet:

  • Try it first on a uni with no handlebar to avoid injury.

  • It might be good to practice a bunch on a soft surface (duh). The sand I tried it in was soft. I also recommend getting very comfortable with it on a bike 1st

Any of you clipless riders have UPD-specific techniques for quick bail?

This hopping on the spot thing doesn’t work for me wearing a backpack. Am I the only one with that problem or am I the only one with a backpack?