There’s lots of talk out there about the benefits of clipless pedals, the different cleat styles, shoe options, dialing in your fit, etc… but if you’ve spent any time in a shop, on the support phones, or hanging out with a 5-year old, you know there’s one question that comes up every time they’re mentioned; “why are they called clipless pedals when you clip into them?” In today’s post, we’ll look back at the history of pedals, and how we ended up calling those clicky-grippers clipless after all.
In the beginning… ok, maybe we don’t need to go that far back. It’s enough to know that some time after the creation of the universe, matter, and everything, someone made a bike and it was awesome. Once they got around to putting pedals on it, the bike got even better! Those early bikes were simple machines. Fixed gears, wooden-wheels, and platform pedals. The point was to make it work – and they did, beautifully.
So well in fact, that some people decided to race them! Others began refining bikes into transportation work-horses, hauling people and cargo wherever they needed to be. And with those new demands came new expectations of engineering. Focus was put on efficiency, maximizing output to save riders’ energy and increase performance. It was that drive for improvement that lead us to toe clips.
Toe-clips mount to the front of the pedal and work with straps to lock-in the rider’s foot so they can generate power on the “upstroke” by pulling up as the pedals go around. The straps really do more of the securing than the toe-clips, but the clips keep the straps open so you can easily slide a foot in and, because they grab your foot and the pedal in that binder-clip-y way of theirs, the name toe-clips stuck.
So what do you call pedals that do away with the need for a metal toe-clip dangling off the front of your pedal? That’s right, clipless. The first clipless pedals were actually manufactured by ski-binding maker Look, and they’re still cranking 'em out today. Given the popularity of toe-clips at the time, they needed some way to differentiate and so the term clipless was born.
And that make sense. You don’t really clip into clipless pedals anyway. Maybe you click into them, maybe you lock in, but it’s not a clip. The toe-clip is gone from the pedal and all that remains is a small catch to receive the cleat on your shoe. And the rest is history.