The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

Newbie question!

Hi! I’m a RAGBRAI virgin. I have the bike shoes that clip into the pedal—I won’t wear them because I’m a klutz! Im wondering if I should just wear the shoes for the support and stability or if gym shoes are ok to wear. Thank you for your help!

15 Replies

Bonnie Simmons, May 17, 2018 at 9:44 am

Hi RAGBRI Virgin – You have plenty of time to get used to the clips. They make a HUGE difference, especially when it’s time to go uphill. Being clipped in allows you to pull up with your feet as well as push down with each stroke. Don’t worry about forgetting to unclip – we have all done it and looked foolish.
Make sure you go to a good bike shop and have them adjust the clips to the pedals. A good fit as well as the correct tension will make you much more comfortable riding.
See ‘ya out there.

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hnschipper, May 17, 2018 at 9:52 am

Do you have access to a bike trainer you can put your bike on? That’s how I got comfortable clipping in and unclipping – I practiced over and over with my bike on the trainer and there was no chance I could fall.

This reply was modified 5 days ago by  hnschipper.

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Barry Schnoor, May 17, 2018 at 10:04 am

Carol, use the clips! You have 65 days to get used to them…and you may fall. I still do, and I’ve been riding with them for 2 years.

But the upside is that you save lots of efficiency in your pedaling, because you can both push AND pull. For road riding, I’ll never go back to flats.

I still like my platform pedals when mountain biking. I’m a little less sure of myself.

But ride what makes you happy. We won’t judge!

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Kraig Pyer, May 17, 2018 at 10:20 am

Carole – Listen to what the others have said, get used to them and use them. They will ultimately make your ride much more enjoyable. Practice one at a time while standing with your bike, practice in your driveway, practice in your cul-de sac, etc……in no time at all, it will be second nature, seriously. You can thank me later 🙂 By the way, welcome to the fun adventure of a lifetime, really, you are going to love it. Take your time, don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere and enjoy the ride.

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rlseaborn505, May 17, 2018 at 11:59 am

Hi Carole,
Cycling with a clipless system is more comfortable and efficient than using sport shoes, but you should get used to engaging/disengaging shoes from cleats prior to this event, and see that the cleats are properly placed on the shoe so as not to promote any knee pain issues on the ride. There are circumstances on the road that require quick thought or reaction so as to disengage safely as you come to a stop, such as rolling into town, or the accordion effect when groups slow down climbing a hill. Be prepared and watch/anticipate potentially hazardous situations. Our first RAGBRAI was 2016 on a tandem, and while fun, was also a little nerve racking at times. You may find that you are more comfortable disengaging one leg vs the other coming to a stop, and that’s ok. Practice, be safe, and we’ll see you out there! Rick

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jwsknk, May 17, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Wear the bike shoes, gym shoes will be too flexible and the soft soles will probably end up giving you a “hot” spot on the bottom of your foot. the cycle shoes spread out that pressure and give your feet more support. The first few times with the clips will probably be so careful you won’t forget to unclip. That time will come 3-4 weeks later after you thought it was just second nature. I always unclip the left coming up to corners where I might need to stop and where it gets busy in towns. You can ride with 1 clipped in and one unclipped.

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LawnchairMan, May 17, 2018 at 12:43 pm

HI Carole,

As the others have said use your clipless pedals. I too hesitated to start using them years ago. I tipped over four times before I finally got used to them. Occasionally I use the push/pull option when a fast acceleration is needed. The best advantage, in my opinion, is that your feet are kept in the best position on the pedal for maximum efficiency. You don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the pedals even if you don’t push straight down.
I had one experience I later thought was funny. My cleats are fastened to my shoes with four screws, but on a ride three of them came out. I couldn’t clip out, because the shoe would twist, not the cleat. I thought I would crash. Then it was like a bolt from the blue I thought “I’ve got another foot!”. Duhh! I clipped out with my left foot to save the day. I never think about it: I always unclip my right foot first.
So, you probably won’t find yourself in that spot, but keep it in mind. All in all, clipless pedals are the best way to go.

This reply was modified 4 days, 21 hours ago by  LawnchairMan.

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Nico ZZZ, May 17, 2018 at 2:08 pm

If you are wearing mountain bike shoes, then you have a couple of different SPD clip models to choose from. There is the SPD-SH51 and the SPD-SH56. The SH56 unclips so much easier, as it is multi-directional release. They are perfect for RAGBRAI, when you need to quickly unclip as you frantically pull over for Beekmans or a Bloody Mary!
Also, whatever clips you use, start out with the loosest tension on the pedals and tighten later if you desire.
Have a friend hold your bike in the lawn to practice clipping and unclipping. A few minutes and you will ride off and practice as you are riding.
You are in for a great adventure. Besides riding the bike itself, RAGBRAI is so much more: stop and buy lemonade at a farmhouse, relax in those pass through towns, eat great food, maybe an Iowa Craft beer (or two), start a new Bloody Mary morning tradition at the local bar in the first town, pie pie pie, nap under an oak tree, and meet fantastic locals and other riders!
Ride On!

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Amanda, May 18, 2018 at 6:37 am

I suggest bike sandals instead of bike shoes. They are cooler for the Iowa in July and if caught in a rain shower, they dry off quickly. Plus you get the awesome sandal tan! All the cool kids wear sandals! LOL

I always unclip my left foot when I slow down and stop. I broke my left ankle last RAGBRAI and was worried I would lose the ability to unclip. The first thing I told my physical therapist was I HAVE TO be able to move my foot left and right. I worked on the motion the most. Now I am back to normal motion. Yippee!

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KenH, May 18, 2018 at 10:11 am

I switched to Nashbar Verge platform pedals and Five Ten Freerider shoes last year and could not be happier! Pinned platform pedals grip the Freerider soles very well, you can ride for miles and feel just as attached to your bike as you do with SPDs but your feet come off instantly when you want them to. If your feet start to get hot spots or other issues from pushing down at the same point for too long you can move them around just like you move your hands on your handlebars to eliminate hand discomfort. The Freeriders are as easy to walk in as gym shoes. In some road and MTB racing situations clipless pedals really are more efficient but most of the time for racing and for touring there is no significant difference between platforms and SPDs. My feet are happy at the end of the day with platforms. They were never in pain with the SPDs but boy where they glad to get out of those shoes! This year I am going whole hog and have bought some Catalyst platforms which are longer and give you more foot positioning options to use. They are intended to promote a mid foot over pedal spindle position which the manufacturer famously and endlessly promotes at every opportunity. In my experience so far he might just be right. Obviously there are several brands and models of platform pedals and shoes made to play well with them so take your pick. To be honest the Nike walking shoes I wear in my normal life also had a tread that happened to work well with pinned platforms.

So Carole, ignore these other voices, come to the dark side. Be a cycling iconoclast like me!!

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Barry Schnoor, May 18, 2018 at 3:05 pm

You crack me up, KenH. I look forward to riding with you in July. Thanks for being a part of this conversation, and part of this great Iowa tradition.

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Don Raatz, May 18, 2018 at 5:45 pm

A good compromise is a Shimano A530 SPD Sport pedal (you can order them from REI or get them through a bike store). They have the clipping mechanism on one side and are a flat platform on the other. I had the same reservations about clipping in at first, but they do make a difference; you just need to practice and anticipate your stops.

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Brian Wallenburg, May 18, 2018 at 6:42 pm

The simple answer is that you can produce more consistent power by clipping in. Unless you put cages on platform pedals it is impossible to pull your feet up on the up-stroke, helping you propel yourself forward in the same way as pushing down on the pedal. If you don’t care about that, by all means wear what is most comfortable and safe for you and everyone around you.

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montestaples, May 19, 2018 at 4:59 pm

I would definitely use the clip-in pedals and bike shoes. You will get used to them and it will be way more efficient and safer. My first time trying clip-in pedals, I clipped in my right foot, leaned over to look, and lifted my left foot off the garage floor. I do not recommend doing that. Luckily no-body saw me. A couple things to watch out for that no-one has mentioned. If your shoes get way loose, after riding a long time, your normal unclip motion will not work so keep your shoes snug. If you step in mud then clip-in and ride a long ways, the mud (especially clay) can cement you to you pedals. If it happens you may be lucky and find a street sign or pole to grab as you stop but its way better not to let that happen. If you step in mud check your cleats.

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montestaples, May 19, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Regarding safety of clip-in pedals over platform pedals. It did not happen on RAGBRAI but my son once slipped off a platform pedal when riding. He had a hole in his upper shin where the pedal hit him. It was similar in size to the end of a 2-by-4. The Dr lost count of the number of stitches somewhere past 30. That does not happen when clipped in.

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