Shimano clipless pedals overview and buying guide

They say the transition from the standard pedal to the clipless pedal is one of the easiest ways to reach a new level of riding efficiency. The fixed connection from the shoe to the pedal extends the force distribution of the pedal stroke – so the force is now applied not only by pressing against the pedals but also by pulling the pedals. In other words, the pedal stroke is extended by a pulling phase in addition to the pressure phase. Here we highlight the most popular Shimano clipless pedal (sometimes refered to as clip on)systems.
The cliché of the racing cyclist with clipless pedals and clumsy, impractical shoes is also long outdated – as far as clipless pedals are concerned, there is an abundance of different models, which also enjoy great popularity in the mountain bike and cyclocross sector and are suitable for use in the city.

Compatibility – be careful before you buy

Bicycle parts are rarely standardized, not every brake handle fits every handlebar. Not every handlebar fits every stem. Therefore our tips for clipless pedals – you have to pay attention to that:
  • All bicycle pedals are equipped with the same standard thread. So your clipless pedals will definitely fit your bike (unless it’s extremely old).
  • The matching cleats are usually included with the clipless pedals.
  • You need matching shoes to attach the cleats to them. Some shoes have a 2-thread, others have a 3-thread. Other cleats will fit on these shoes depending on the thread.

What clipless pedal systems are out there?

Overview Clipless Pedals

The clipless pedal has been around since 1984 and over the decades there have been many innovations to adapt the design from competitive sports for flexible use on the road and off-road. We distinguish between the three most popular clipless pedal systems, which are currently the most commonly used.
Matching the different systems there are also different cleats and cycling shoes. Cleats are the plates that are attached to the cycling shoes that anchor the shoes to the pedals. Bicycle shoes are divided into those with two threads and those with three threads. Two-thread cycling shoes fit clipless pedals compatible with the SPD system. Three-thread cycling shoes fit pedals that are compatible with the SPD-SL or Look system. Three-thread cycling shoes are designed for racing cyclists and are not suitable for long walks – an unflexible carbon composite sole is typical.

Shimano clipless SPD pedals

Shimano clipless pedals

The Shimano Pedaling Dynamics pedals are mainly seen on mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, and recumbents. If you get used to clipless pedals, you might want to use the SPD pedals on your city bike or trekking bike because of their many advantages and flexibility. The SPD pedals are regarded as entry-level clipless pedals because they are much easier to learn for beginners and you don’t sacrifice flexibility here. SPD pedals usually allow more room for the shoes to move, so you’re not so firmly anchored in the pedals. These pedals are therefore particularly suitable for those who suffer from knee pain or tend to have knee problems.
Thanks to the SPD system, the cleats are flat and even, which is why they can be installed in the cycling shoes in such a way that they do not protrude beyond the sole. So you can enjoy the biomechanical comfort of the clipless pedals without having any problems walking. That’s why the SPD system is not only suitable when driving off-road or touring, but also when traveling in the city or to work.
There are many different manufacturers whose pedals are compatible with the SPD system:

Combination pedals

Shimano clipless pedals

These special SPD pedals allow for even more flexibility – because there are two different systems on the pedals. One side of the pedal allows SPD cleats to snap into place, while the other side of the pedal is a standard flat pedal. This means that if you install these pedals on the bike, you can easily ride the bike without specific cycling shoes.
The disadvantage of this is that some cyclists find it harder to engage the pedals – after all, the correct side of the pedals must point upwards.

Shimano clipless pedals SPD-SL

Shimano clipless pedals

The SPD system is followed, of course, by Shimano’s system, which was designed for racing bikes: SPD-SL. These pedals are lighter and offer a wider footprint for greater power transmission. These system pedals are less like SPD pedals and more like the original look pedals. However, they are not compatible with any other system.
Road bike clipless pedals generally provide a rigid connection to the pedals, but can often be adjusted. This degree of freedom of movement is called float and is indicated by the maximum angle that the pedals allow. This means that you can move and turn your shoes up to this angle.


Look clipless pedals

The Look pedals are successors to the original design that made the clipless pedals on the bike successful for the first time. Just one year after Look launched its first pedals, Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France in 1985 with this innovation. Then clipless pedals conquered the racing bike scene.

If you are shot on time. Check the FAQ

How important are clipless pedals?

The majority of road cyclists ride with clipless. But of course, it is not mandatory. For the beginner, it might be suitable to ride the first tours with normal pedals. And it’s not completely unthinkable to install the more comfortable SPD system on the road bike if you ride the bike a lot in the city or get off on the tour more often and can’t get by with the road bike shoes. But it’s not without reason that road bike pedals have been the standard for road cyclists for many years – they allow the greatest possible efficiency in converting pedal energy into riding energy.


How to learn to ride with clipless pedals?

The clipless pedal system can be compared to ski boots, which are used to clip on skis – that’s where the idea of clipless pedals on a bicycle comes from. To clip it in, simply press the cleat tip on the pedal and then press the boot down until you hear it snap into place and feel it in your boot. Turn the heel outwards to release. The click-in and click-out movement can be practiced while standing by leaning the bike against a wall or fence until it becomes part of the muscle memory. We also wrote a whole article dedicated to learning to ride with clipless pedals.


What do I need?

To switch to clipless pedals, all you need, apart from the desired clipless pedals, are suitable cycling shoes. The matching cleats, which are screwed to the shoes and attached to the pedals, are usually included with the pedals. Then there is only the question if the shoes fit the cleats – which is also quite uncomplicated. One differentiates between bicycle shoes with two threads and those with three. Two-thread cycling shoes are designed more like sneakers and are suitable for city and tour use – but they only fit SPD pedals. Three-thread cycling shoes fit all clipless pedals but are usually unsuitable for running as they are designed for racing. Typically they have a hard rubber compound.


What do clipless pedals cost?

The costs for clipless pedals are divided into two categories – on the one hand, you have to get the pedals themselves, on the other hand, you also need suitable cycling shoes. It’s not too expensive anymore – with only around $40 you can get a pair of Shimano clipless pedals. Unfortunately, the shoes are a bit more expensive – they usually cost around $80. That’s about $120 to get you started.


What is the advantage of clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals increase riding efficiency by additionally pulling the pedals upwards. But if you switch to clipless, you’ll find it’s way more comfortable. Because the pedals benefit the natural biomechanics of humans. Once adjusted, the clipless pedals ensure that you are always in the optimal sitting position.