It’s one of those topics. Hotly debated across the internet and splitting mountain bikers right down the middle. Flat pedals or SPD clipless pedals – which is best? So being as you’re asking I’m going to conclusively not answer that question!
Nope, not even going to be drawn in on that one at all. Not right now anyway! What I intend this post to do though is to log and relay my experiences as a long-term flats rider, making the switch to SPD.
Slight lie in that last sentence, I won’t be switching to SPD completely, I intend to swap between the two pedal types depending on what I deem to be most suitable at the time. One of the advantages of getting all hands-on with your bike is the ease at which you can swap bits depending on your next ride or as the mood takes you. To me, swapping my wheels over or my chainring from my 34T to my 38T is a small job and not any hassle at all; equally swapping over a pair of pedals is much the same!
So I guess my first thoughts should cover what I bought and why; I always put plenty of thought into my purchasing whatever I buy. I looked into pedals and shoes as a combination because with clipless pedals that is something that you really have to do. You can’t have SPD pedals and flat soled running shoes after all, they are a combination and should be considered as such. My main consideration though was that I wanted something cheap-ish and comfortable. No need for super light weight or too many bells and whistles but dependable. This is what drew me to the Shimano M520 pedals and the Shimano M088 shoes. The pedals were inexpensive but should be of dependable quality, dual sided clip mechanisms and with adjustable spring strength. The shoes, available in a wide fitting with several adjustment options, have a sole that you can walk on (recessed cleat) and look the part too.
Why try SPDs at all? For mountain bikers this is a discussion point and is widely debated. For road cyclists it’s not even considered. Road cyclists ride clipped in full stop. OK, so as with all rules there are exceptions but in road cycling they are in the minority, and I’m not talking about commuters or leisure riders here! So why do road cyclists ride clipped in? It’s all about power transfer and pedalling in a smooth more efficient rotational motion rather than just stomping down. Add to this the benefit for the mountain biker of being able to control the bike better through the feet and removing the chance of having your feet bounced off your pedals by the terrain and you’ll see that there are plenty of theoretical reasons to clip in. So I thought I’d better test the theory in practise.
I have only 1 bike. It is my road bike, my mountain bike, my commuter and my leisure tourer. Oh and a pub hack too, if I ever get the chance to go! So I have a variety of options for my bike instead – alternative wheels, alternative size chainring and now alternative pedals. When I go proper mountain biking I intend to still use my flat pedals, as they allow for easier falling off. But for commuting and for faster local loops on bridleways, cycle paths and roads, I’ll be switching to the SPDs for that extra efficiency and power transfer.
So onward, finally, to my experiences so far. I’m very pleased with my choices. The shoes fit perfectly, I’m a size 7 or 8 shoe size depending on type and make of shoe and I ordered the size 8. I know that my feet are quite wide and that some shoes styles are too narrow for me so I ordered the wide fitting version. As for the pedals, they screwed into my crank arms easily (I used the 8 mm hex key option on the end of the shaft but they also have flat sections for a standard pedal spanner) and I can clip in and out of them well enough. I adjusted the spring tension to the lightest setting and then back one click.
As for the experience of SPDs, so far the jury is still out. My opinion at the moment is a definite ‘meh’. I like the fact that they stick out less when loading my bike into the car. I certainly like being able to return my right pedal to top just by lifting my foot, when waiting at traffic lights, junctions and road crossings – with just my left unclipped. But improved power transfer? Not that I can tell, yet.
On the downsides, surprisingly not the action of clipping in and unclipping, this I’ve adapted to with little effort and no falling over mishaps. The main downside from my first week is trying to get a successfully comfortable cleat position, forward and back I seem to have sorted but the toe-in/toe-out angle adjustment I can’t seem to get as comfortable as I’d like. It’s an important issue too as badly positioned cleats can cause knee pain and potentially knee damage longer term.
So I will continue to try them, continue with my tiny adjustments and see where my SPDs lead!