The Rise and Fall of the Clipless Pedal

The Rise and Fall of the Clipless Pedal

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The modern cyclist, as they enter the sport, will find themselves purchasing a set of shoes which contain a cleat that clips into the pedals on their bike. It should come as no surprise, then, that the term we use for the action of engaging shoe to pedal is “clip in”. Obviously, this style of pedals is thusly called the “clipless pedal”. Such a seemingly counter-intuitive name owes itself to the history of the pedals which preceded it.

The name “Clipless Pedal” comes from 1984, when ski binding manufacturer Look invented a style of pedal from which you could release your foot with a sideways twisting motion. Before the Look pedal, riders rode with metal toe clips which were secured to the pedal platform, and lashed their feet to the contraption using a leather strap, named the “toe clip strap”. (Apparently, the same guy who named the toe clip strap wasn’t available when Look was divining the name for the clipless pedal). Since the toe clips were screwed to the pedals, the rider was similarly screwed should they need to disengage from said pedal unexpectedly; Jesper Skibby might have a note or two relating to their safety in the event of a crash on, say, the Koppenberg with cars whipping by.

But somewhere in there lies the secret to the name of these pedals; when Look’s pedals appeared in the peloton on the bikes belonging to Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, they were missing the distinct metal toe clips – they were indeed clipless pedals.

Some rides were quick to adopt them. I’m guessing Skibby was among this group, but I’m not sure and finding out would require work. Others were more reluctant; Sean Kelly was the most stubborn of these riders, though I’m guessing that lashing your feet the pedals is more critical when you’re able to scare the cranks off your bike by dispatching an icy stare.

Nevertheless, it raises the question of when the tide turned and the new style of pedal became mainstream. Either the last Grand Tour or last World Championship to be won aboard the predecessor is as good a measure as any, so that brings us to 1987 when Stephen Roche dispatched both the Giro and the Tour – in addition to the World Championships – with the sunlight glinting off his toe clips as he crossed the finish line with arms aloft. In fact, he was also the last rider to take the treble of the Giro, the Tour, and the World Road Race all in one season. Coincidence? There are no coincidences. By 1988, the clipless pedal had risen.

You can get a fairly good gauge of how long a rider has been involved in the sport by their comfort – or, indeed understanding of – the term, which upon contemplation is quite conflicting. With the clipless pedal having fallen into ubiquity, riders who have begun cycling anywhere in the last 15 or so years could be forgiven for calling them “clip-ins” or “clip pedals”. But for those of us who lived through the change, there will always be some part of us which is ever aware of the lack of metal and leather lashing us to the bike. For us, the pedals we ride today will forever be the clipless pedal.

// Nostalgia // Technology

  1. @jimmy

    @frank That’s a younger Hero card picture of Rooks. Skinny he was, but “Little”? Maybe to you, but he’s 20cm taller than me! I’ll retract my assesment of the lead photo being Rooks as I failed to recall that in 87 he went to PDM. It may be De Rooij after all. However, we can be certain it is not Lucho Herrera. I can’t believe Oli hasn’t sorted this yet!

    I’ve got to start hitting “post” sooner. He was always skinny, and when I say “little” I don’t mean short, as you apparently are, but I just mean little as in that he’s not a big guy.

    Slideshow:

    Fullscreen:

  2. Just got back from seeing my beloved soccer team Leyton Orient, get beat by the team from where I now live! Oh the ridicule… but it’s all OK, I read the posts on here and my spirits are restored, thanks guys and fuck soccer.

  3. @frank

    @Nate

    Bugger! Cross posted! You beat me on the line, you filthy bugger.

    I am a complete sucker for these photo detective mysteries, although let’s not get too excited.  @Oli has yet to endorse van Vliet.

  4. Teun van Vliet. He wore a gold watch. And the unidentified Panasonic rider is wearing a gold watch. Definitive! Definitive!

    And he’s the closest match that I have seen all day — out of 9 Panasonic profiles looked up today.

  5. @frank

    @Oli

    @frank When I see that picture I think it may actually be Rooks after all! Definitely not a Planckaert at any rate…

    Nah, I really don’t think its Rooks. Rooks had a much thinner set of sticks and the hair just looks way off. But mostly I don’t think it was him because he rode for PDM in 1987. I’m putting my money on Teun van Vliet.

    This Panasonic rider really does look like a Frank with straw hair.

  6. Teun Van Vliet wins Gent-Wevelgem 1987

  7. @Nate

    @frank

    @Nate

    Bugger! Cross posted! You beat me on the line, you filthy bugger.

    I am a complete sucker for these photo detective mysteries, although let’s not get too excited.  @Oli has yet to endorse van Vliet.

    Its as good as solved. Even down to the choice of black cables versus the more traditional white ones.

    I should have just changed the time stamps on the posts so mine came up above yours. Damnit! I thought of it too late.

    (And no, I wouldn’t actually do that.)

  8. @jimmy Kudos! Eric Vanderaerden crawls back (solo) 1min 30sec in 1987 Paris Roubaix to take the sprint (no pedaling last few meters)

  9. @unversio VanVleit woulquail lift into Franks “short” category. Can’t be him.

  10. @jimmy

    @unversio VanVleit woulquail lift into Franks “short” category. Can’t be him.

    Qualify.

  11. @Nate Haha, should have checked that out! Ah well, at least I was right  when I first said it wasn’t him…

  12. @jimmy Plus his mouth is all wrong. I can’t find a Tour 87 start sheet anywhere, dammit.

  13. I am thinking that it is not (is not) Teun (as seen here).

  14. @unversio

    @jimmy Kudos! Eric Vanderaerden crawls back (solo) 1min 30sec in 1987 Paris Roubaix to take the sprint (no pedaling last few meters)

    Vanderaerden was a great rider and that Roubaix one of my favorites, but a climber he was not.

  15. One more… Guy Nulens

  16. Guy Nulens has the right Sidi shoes (right) ?

  17. The Sidi shoes!

  18. Hmmm, could be Nulens…

  19. Guy “Fucker” Nulens (1985)

  20. 1987 Tour de France complete final General Classification
    61. Guy Nulens 2hr 5min 46sec

  21. 1987 Tour stage 13 — dang! dang! dang!

  22. @sthilzy

    Some more for ‘Show and Tell’, or more like ‘Show Your Age’ to get back on topic, my collection of clips-n-straps dug up from the depths of my ‘Man Cave';

     
     

     

     
    6 / 7
     

     

     

     
     

    Slideshow:

     

    Fullscreen:

     

    Download:

     

    I had a pair of those Axo shoes – cost me nearly $200 (in 1989 dollars too) but were the most comfortable cycling shoes I had ever worn. I still own them but they no longer fit, my foot bones seem to have spread to accomodate my 15-years-from-peaking physique.
    More memories: when I started racing track I used double straps because thaat’s what everyone did, eventually I started using them on the road too just for the intimidation factor (at a racing weight of 58kg that was about all I could do!).

    @Marcus

    I always think that I “click in” to my pedal.  I also liked Alex the Seal.

    The saddest (if you are from here) clip/click out – with toe straps – was Shane Kelly at the Atlanta Olympics… Couldn’t find a clip of it (see what i did thtere?) on the net…

    That may have been the saddest, but surely the happiest (from a down under perspective) was when the American (Dave Grylls?) pulled his foot at the start of the Team Pursuit final at the LA games, leading to an Aussie gold. I found it ironic that the USA had spent so much on their wonderbikes and were still using the old-tech approach to foot retention – which is what let them down.

  23. @Oli

    Hmmm, could be Nulens…

    Not unless he bleached his hair for the ’87 race…….

  24. @DavidI

    @Oli

    Hmmm, could be Nulens…

    Not unless he bleached his hair for the ’87 race…….

    Sun bleached?

  25. Found a book focused on 1987 Tour de France — Wide-Eyed And Legless(Jeff Connor)

  26. @Oli

    @jimmy Plus his mouth is all wrong. I can’t find a Tour 87 start sheet anywhere, dammit.

    I found some results on the internets somewhere.  Plaenckart was not among the Panasonic finishers, so your hunch on him was likely correct.

    @unversio

    The guy in the photo looks nothing like Nulens.

  27. Well seeing as how none of us can positively identify him we might as well say that it is Nulens for now, and that his hair looks lighter than it does in some photos. All it takes is a bit of lemon juice…

  28. @Nate It wasn’t a hunch, I just know what the various Planckaerts look like.

  29. @DavidI the Yanks were also (legally) blooddoping in LAweren’t they?

    I was referring to the same thing happening in Atlanta to Shane Kelly in the kilo – when he was the shortest of favorites. He had clipless pedals and straps…

  30. Looked through 87 results and Panasonic riders finished;

    19. Robert Millar
    21. Erik Breukink
    27. Phil Anderson
    56. Eric Van Lancker
    61. Guy Nulens
    84. Teun Van Vliet
    91. Theo De Rooy
    95. Henk Lubberding

    Or match a face to a name game….Even though 1986 pictured, It was the Pansonic Isostar team on Merckx frames.


    Jules de Wever, Walter Planckaert, Danny Vanderaerden, Guy Nulens, Ludo de Keulenaer,
    Bert Oosterbosch, Robert Millar, Eddy Planckaert,Eric van Lancker, Allan Peiper en Teun van Vliet
    Jos Lammertink, Gert Jan Theunisse, Theo de Rooij, Erik Breukink, Peter Post, Phil Anderson,
    Eric Vanderaerden, Peter Winnen, Henk Lubberding, Johan van der Velde, Henk Baars en Peter Harings.

    These names appear in the ’87 finish list, so it maybe a DNF rider.

  31. 19. Robert Millar NO
    21. Erik Breukink POSSIBLE
    27. Phil Anderson NO
    56. Eric Van Lancker NO
    61. Guy Nulens POSSIBLE
    84. Teun Van Vliet POSSIBLE
    91. Theo De Rooy POSSIBLE
    95. Henk Lubberding NO


    Fuck, I don’t know!? Despite my previous positions I think that I think that it’s Van Vliet now…but then again maybe it is Breukink after all?? I CAN’T SLEEP

  32. Hang on, those are the finishers – where is NUMBER NINE? Just because he was in that shot doesn’t mean he made it to Paris. That’s why I wanted a start list…

  33. @ wiscot is the man. After intensive study I am now convinced it’s Theo de Rooij/Rooi/Rooy.

  34. Now I can sleep…zzzzzzzz…

  35. @Oli Been looking for start list of the 87 TdF Panasonic team. I dug up the finish list from the red 87 Inside Cycling mag, 6th mag counting from top, left to right….

    Yeah – trying to fing the 9th rider! Of that 87 Tour, there were 207 starters and 135 finishers.

  36. @sthilzy

    Looked in mag again and found the Team Roster page;

    PANASONIC-ISOSTAR
    151. Phil Anderson
    152. Erik Breukink
    153. Theo De Rooy
    154. Henk Lubberding
    155. Robert Millar
    156. Guy Nulens
    157. Allan Peiper
    158. Eric Van Lancker
    159. Teun Van Vliet

    Allan Peiper abandoned on stage 21 Bourg D’Oisans – La Plagne, where Laurent Fignon won on clipless pedals!

  37. Stage 21 was the one when Roche needed a oxygen mask to revive him after collapsing on the line.

    Or he couldn’t undo his straps quick enough??????

  38. @Oli You are correct sir! Theo!

  39. @frank

    @brianc

    Wanna get over a bad breakup? Buy yourself something nice. And thus I went clipless the summer of 1996 – albeit on my MTB. The guys at the shop said to screw the cleat in lightly, ride around until you got the thing where you wanted, and then tighten up.  Tooled around my neighborhood until I thought I got it right, wheeled into my garage, twisted my foot out and…nothing happened. With my speed approaching zero and any balance fading, I realized the awful truth – with the cleat barely screwed in, there was no torque being applied to clip out. And then I crashed directly onto my hip. Even had the fun of untying my shoes from my feet (whilst still attached to the pedals) to extricate myself. Learned the feel of unclipping and made the mistakes while on the MTB – thus never having to learn those same lessons on my road bike – say in front of a car full of people at a stoplight. My wife on the other hand…

    But the therapy did its trick, right? After laying in the oil puddle in the garage (oh, wait, what? You don’t own a land rover? Oh, no oil puddle then…) untying your shoes, your breakup was a ways off in your consciousness, n’est pas?

    oui

  40. @sthilzy

    Stage 21 was the one when Roche needed a oxygen mask to revive him after collapsing on the line.

    Or he couldn’t undo his straps quick enough??????

    And most famously when asked if he was ok replied “Oui, mais pas de femme toute de suite.”

  41. @Marcus

    @DavidI the Yanks were also (legally) blooddoping in LAweren’t they?

    I was referring to the same thing happening in Atlanta to Shane Kelly in the kilo – when he was the shortest of favorites. He had clipless pedals and straps…

    Blood doping, yes, they admitted it later (pretty much the whole team were doing it) but it wasn’t illegal at that time.

    I recall the Kelly incident, he was at unbackable odds before the event. And being a true sportsman he didn’t deliberately fall over to get a rerun, as he would have been entitled to……

    Shane Kelly Atlanta

    Picture appear to show regular toeclips and double straps – I believe next time around he bolted his shoes to the pedals instead (perfectly legal and also done by Vinnicombe and O’Bree, among others)

  42. @Nate I think that given the circumstances, that was possibly the best line in sports history…

     

     

  43. @Marcus right on!  Although if the woman option is on the table then I haven’t met many physical injuries that preclude me…from….well you get the idea…. nonetheless circumstantially awesome, awesome line

  44. @DavidI

    @Marcus

    @DavidI the Yanks were also (legally) blooddoping in LAweren’t they?

    I was referring to the same thing happening in Atlanta to Shane Kelly in the kilo – when he was the shortest of favorites. He had clipless pedals and straps…

    Blood doping, yes, they admitted it later (pretty much the whole team were doing it) but it wasn’t illegal at that time.

    I recall the Kelly incident, he was at unbackable odds before the event. And being a true sportsman he didn’t deliberately fall over to get a rerun, as he would have been entitled to……

    I don’t think the re-run rule was in place at that point, pretty sure this was the reason it was put in place, to make sure events like this didn’t happen again.

  45. @Marcus

    I always think that I “click in” to my pedal.  I also liked Alex the Seal.

    The saddest (if you are from here) clip/click out – with toe straps – was Shane Kelly at the Atlanta Olympics… Couldn’t find a clip of it (see what i did thtere?) on the net…

    better late than never, just found this footage:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAd5I4ixIZ0&feature=player_detailpage#t=412s

  46. Memorable research: (Death Cleats)

    The M71 was a clipless pedal designed by Cino Cinelli and produced by his company in 1971. It used a plastic shoe cleat which slid into grooves in the pedal and locked in place with a small lever located on the back side of the pedal body. To release the shoe a rider had to reach down and operate the lever, similar to the way a racing cyclist had to reach down and loosen the toestrap. The lever was placed on the outside edge of the pedal so that in the event of a fall the lever hitting the ground would release the foot. The pedal was designed for racing, in particular track racing, and because of the need to reach them to unclip they have been referred to as “death cleats”.

  47. @frank What is that on his head?

  48. @DavidI He won’t get far on that thing

  49.  

    Adolescence is a cruel time

  50. I rode with slotted cleats until I purchased my first clipless setup in 1998.

    That happened only because I finally wore out my last pair of old-school Duegis, and the only shoes available at my LBS were these crazy stiff plastic soled things with three threaded holes in the bottom.

    I was a bit bummed at first, but just as with my first ever dual control lever equipped bike (purchased later that same year), they won me over pretty quickly.

    It still drives me crazy to hear people refer to clipless pedals as “clips”, and to toe clips as, ugh, “stirrups”.  The parents of BMX racers from the southern and midwest states are the worst offenders.

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