Monday, September 20, 2010

Decoding Clipless

G.E.: "So, why are they called 'clipless' pedals?"
Sam: "What?"
G.E.: "Clipless pedals. Why are they called 'clipless' if you have to actually clip into them? It doesn't make any sense. Why not call them clip pedals?"
Sam: "Well, there are clip pedals."
G.E.: "Okay. So, what is the difference between the two?"
Sam: (After a long story that I honestly can't recall in detail, which also didn't answer the question) "I don't know."

This is the (summarized) conversation that took place regarding clipless pedals in our household a few weeks ago. Since Sam's been a mountain biker for so many years, and uses pedals that he clips into, I thought he'd be the perfect source to get a definitive answer to my questions. Unfortunately, he just confused me more, so I took it upon myself to do some research to find out why the term 'clipless' is used for pedals that are in fact not even remotely clip-less. After all, if someone who has used them for so many years doesn't know, who could I turn to for a clear answer?

The whole issue was bothering me, and I couldn't put it to rest until I was able to get an answer. This is what I discovered. Apparently, in bicycling days of yore, bicycle pedals were either platform style (with no straps or clips used), or they had toe clips and straps to hold your foot in place.  The clip was almost always made from steel and formed a space at the front side of the pedal that the cyclist would slide his/her foot into. The foot stayed in place by utilizing a leather or nylon strap that the rider could pull tighter to keep the foot in place (similar devices are still found on some bicycles today, generally, though not exclusively, in less expensive price ranges).
Side by side difference between two different pedal types
When clipless pedals came into existence, marketers of the product needed a way to set apart these new pedals from what was more commonly known. To distinguish these new pedals from the toe-clip pedals described above, they decided to call them clipless pedals. Clipless was meant to refer to pedals that were non toe-clipped. Today, we hear these pedals referred to both as clipless and clipped pedals, but they are the same pedal type. The name has just stuck, and even though the former toe-clip pedals aren't as commonly seen, it seems that the more modern version of clip pedals may forever be known as "clipless".

While there are innumerable different pedals out in the world of bicycles, the general information is the same for the two basic types that allow one's foot to be secured to the pedal. And, after a bit of time investigating, I was able to put the issue to rest. Even though it still seems silly to me to call something 'clipless' that is by no means clip-less, I can at least now know why the term exists, and put that section of questions in my head to rest.

*Information obtained from Bike 101; photo from The Future Place


  1. Names, names, pedals, i can name pop culture stuff, but bicycle nomenclature eludes me most of the time. "clip thingies"... or something like that!

  2. I know. You are always the source for pop culture answers. I am always amused at your memory for names, dates and 80s-90s trivia. :o)


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