Clipless pedals – can you ever go back?

It really wasn’t that long ago that I made the switch from platform pedals and pedals with toe clips to clipless pedals.  Once I did I never went back.  Even my daily commute was done with Shimano mountain bike shoes mated to my SPD clipless pedals.  I chose that setup for my commute because it was the best balance between clipless pedals and shoes that were reasonable to walk around in.  Non-commute rides are always done on Look pedals.

Now that I’ve taken a job closer to home, however, my cycling habits and opinions are being … well, reevaluated.  As part of that process, I actually swapped out my SPD pedals for a pair of – you guessed it – pedals with toe clips.

For one thing, my mountain bike shoes are just about to end their useful life.  I was also thinking that being able to ride in whatever shoes I happened to have on would make my life somehow easier.  Since I’m in town a hell of a lot more, I’m finding more and more opportunities to discover the great cycling culture that has grown up in Sacramento while I was busy pedaling around in the bay area.

So there I was, early morning sporting a pair of cargo shorts, my Cannondale R300 commuter and a pair of Pumas crammed into my toe clips.  “Let’s go to work!

As with any change, it felt a little weird right off the bat.  I pedaled away, mental adjusting to the “loose” feeling in the feet.  I came up to the first stoplight and instinctively did the foot twisting motion it normally takes to get out of my pedals.  Habit.

The light turned green and as is my usual I stood up in the pedals to get me through the intersection.  Almost as soon as I did my right foot pulled out of the toe clip and I damn near lost my balance.  “What the heck?

Apparently I’ve come to pull back and up on the pedals a whole lot more than I realized.  Makes sense – hours spent spinning along specifically thinking of spinning circles with my feet – not simply mashing down on only half of the stroke, but using the whole pedal stroke to generate power.  Clearly this wasn’t working any longer.

I may have been able to deal with this issue if I had opted to tighten up the straps on the toe clips.  But I didn’t.  I just tried to mentally adjust to the fact that I could only apply power to the pedals about half of the stroke, and that must be in a downward direction.

At the end of the second day of the “great toeclip experiment” I noticed another problem – I was getting an annoying pain starting under my kneecap.  I gave up, and the SPD pedals were back on the bike for the next morning’s commute.

So now I’m back to where I was, but can’t help but wonder: Will I ever be able to ride easily and comfortably in toe clips, or even simple platform pedals, now that I’ve gotten myself so addicted to clipless? Is there a possibility of my envisioned cruiser trips, or urban utility bike?  Of course there is.  I’ve just got to get over my “every ride is a race” mentality.

Addendum: In a somewhat timely coincidence, the VeloReviews podcast was just discussing clipless vs. toe clip/platform pedals in Podcast #18.