What we mean when we say foot retention

Group ride FAQs, ours included, often recommend or require foot retention.
What is foot retention?
Foot retention means the rider is in some way attached to the pedals, whether with toe clips, straps, or clipless pedals (named so because they lack a toe clip. Although we clip in to these pedals, we still call them clipless. Go figure.).

Why is it useful?
With a flat pedal, the only power transfer comes from the foot pushing down on the pedal. When the rider is attached to her pedals, she gets the benefit of more of the pedal stroke, creating a more consistent circle. This helps with acceleration, increasing and maintaining speed, and climbing. On longer or hillier group rides, foot retention makes it easier to stay with the group and conserve energy.

Clips, straps, or clipless?
Toe clips and straps will help with power transfer, and many riders prefer them to clipless pedals because they don’t have to wear bike-specific shoes. (The more I bike, the less I care about clip clopping around the supermarket in bike shoes or showing up to social events in lycra, but do I understand that some people want to arrive wherever they’re going in street shoes.) Toe clips/straps give extra power to your pedaling. But clipless pedals give you even more of an advantage.

Fit benefits: You can position and angle the cleat exactly where it needs to be to create optimal power and comfort. Because you always wear the same shoes with the same cleat position, your feet always land in the same spot on the pedals, guaranteeing the same knee angle. If you’ve never tried clipless and you’ve never had a bike fit, I highly recommend getting them together. That way you get to spend some time in the stationary trainer clipping in and out without fear of traffic or falling. The rest of the fit (from seat height to reach/drop) can be adjusted with your new cleat position in mind. Since you wear the same shoes every time you bike, there’s no variation in sole height (ever notice how biking in very flat slip-ons feels different than biking in chunkier running shoes?). (Side note: Regardless what kind of pedals you choose to ride with, anyone can benefit from a stiff-soled shoe. Your foot, whether to attached to the pedal or not, is a lever, and the less the lever bends, the more effective it can transfer power from your strong leg muscles.)

Power benefits: Rather than strapping your shoe to the pedal, you’re integrating it, which gives you even more, and even more consistent, power. That awkward lifting feeling that comes on the upstroke with toe clips/straps goes away.

It’s easy to get started!
Clipless pedals are spring-loaded. And the motions required to get in and out aren’t very nuanced: you stomp in and fling your foot out from the heel. The looser the tension, the easier it is to get in and out. Some beginners like their pedals very loose so they’re more confident about getting out of them. If it hurts your foot to pull it out of the pedal, and if it takes long enough that you start to doubt you’ll ever detach, reduce that tension!

It takes practice.
There are many opportunities to practice clipping in. If you’re not ready to take your clipless pedals out into the real world, try them on a stationary bike or trainer! If you don’t have a trainer at home, try an indoor class at a studio like T2 (where you can bring your own bike or use one of theirs), or, if you have spd pedals, try a spin class. Muscle memory plays a big role, so the more you can practice, the more your body remembers, and the faster clipping in/out becomes second nature.

Will I fall?
Some people say everyone falls at least once when they go clipless. Will you fall? I don’t know. Maybe not! Maybe not everyone has to fall! Take it easy, loosen your springs if you have to, ride with buddies who can give you tips on how to get in and out easier, and have fun with it! For the first week or so, definitely be conscious that you’re attached to your bike, though. When you see a stop sign, remember that you have to take your foot out before you put your foot down.

There are a lot of things I haven’t covered, like different pedals systems and the choice between road and mountain. Just remember that like anything on your bike, the choice is yours. Part of the fun of riding bikes is that our bikes are uniquely ours, from the color scheme to the components to the rides we choose to do.

If after reading this, you’re certain that you’ll feel more comfortable on Women’s Ride Day with your trusty old _____s, then stick with them! Women’s Ride Day is about coming together, making friends, and encouraging each other to ride in a comfortable and friendly environment, and we want everyone who attends to feel challenged but supported. If, though, you’re thinking about switching to clipless and aren’t sure how to, I guarantee I can help ease you into it, and that the added power and connection will enhance your training – no matter what kind of riding you do.

One Comment

  1. I love clipless. I have the dual pedal on my hybrid bike. There are times i am not riding for fitness and have my everyday shoes. So, having the option of using either is good for me.

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