In praise of ... toe clips

Published by Andrew on 13 November 2020

What type of pedals do you prefer? Bob Zeller sings the praises of his tried and tested toe clips.

Classic toe clips

Bob's MKS toe clips (size small)

These days, cyclists have lots of choice when it comes to types of footwear. Many are happy to wear nothing more than trainers or even sandals. Comfort, and perhaps convenience are most often their primary concerns. 

Others at the opposite end of the technology scale wear shoes with cleats that attach directly to the pedals with two or three bolts. These shoes are often made of super light man-made materials and the engineering can be impressive. So can their cost. Designed to hold the shoe rigid on top of the pedal, they can be instantly released with just a bit of sideways foot thrust, or on other models by lifting the heel.

Racing and randonneur cyclists usually choose bolt on cleats to ensure their shoes are positioned at the precise spot on the pedals to maximise energy transfer. They don’t mind that cleats make you walk like a duck. It’s all about pedal efficiency. 

On the other hand, for touring cyclists, walking comfort is at least as important as power. Tourers reason that even though they might spend six or more hours on their bike each day, they could easily put in another two or three off the bike exploring.

One system tries to provide both comfort and power. SPD cleats (the term ‘SPD’ properly used refers to a specific cleat made by Shimano but, confusingly, it is often used generically as well) are usually mounted within the sole, not on the surface. Walking is easier, although often still not completely comfortable: to accommodate the clip, the sole has to be much thicker and without any flex. Nevertheless, for many they are an ideal solution.

But there are other cyclists, and I am one of them, who prefer to use toe clips instead of cleats. It’s the system that was used by everyone before cleats came along in the eighties. But it’s not just us oldies who like toe clips. These days, newcomers to touring who buy their bikes from touring specialists are often also encouraged to use them.

Toe clips are small metal baskets mounted on the front of the pedals and into which the cyclist slide their shoes before lightly tightening a strap to keep the shoe from lifting. They don’t hold the shoe quite as tight as cleats do, but then not having cleats means you can walk comfortably. Then, when the shoe needs to be removed from the pedal, it is just a matter of sliding it backwards. There’s no mechanism that needs to be released. And no mechanism that needs to be adjusted or, even worse, that risks failing.

You can read about Bob's favourite cycling shoes here.

About Bob Zeller
Bob is a retired UK-based Canadian journalist who spent much of his professional life covering major European and North American professional cycle racing for the (Toronto) Globe & Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Winning Magazine and others. His beat included the the spring and autumn Classics, the Tour de France and the world championships. While he has enjoyed just about all types of cycling – sportives, audax and just riding his bike to the shops – it's touring that he has always loved the most. And it's touring in France that he enjoys the most.

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