Ok, we've talked about road pedals and the benefits to clipless in general here, so let's head on to the other half of the clipless pedal spectrum, mountain clipless!
When you're mountain biking, sometimes you have to hoof it up a technical section you weren't quite prepared for. We've never tried walking up a muddy trail in road cleats but would advise against it. The problem is, back when mountain biking was starting, rider's options were pretty much limited to road pedals with toe straps, or big hiking boots and so-called "bear trap" pedals, designed to bite into the sole of the shoe. Or your shin.
Mountain bikers were looking for similar advantages that road cyclists had gained from clipless pedals becoming the standard. So in 1990, Shimano found a way to get the benefits of clipless on a mountain bike while still making them practical for riding off road. The SPD pedal and cleat system was born.
The biggest part of this, and the reason they're still so popular today, was the fact that they designed a shoe specifically for the cleat. Rather than the smooth sole of a road shoe, the mountain shoes have a lugged surface and the cleat sits in a recessed area roughly under the ball of your foot. So, since the cleat itself was recessed into the shoe, you could pretty easily walk around in them, whether you were off road or not. And that's the key: mountain bike shoes and pedals are truly walkable, which makes them fantastic for a really wide range of cyclists.
The engagement system is very similar to road shoes, though scaled down to a much smaller scale. The small metal cleat still catches the front of the pedal and forces a retaining spring back to latch into the pedal, and you rotate your heel outward to unclip.
The small size of the pedal and cleat is another major advantage to the mountain style system. A popular pedal design is one with a clipless pedal on one side and a regular platform on the other, giving the rider the freedom to choose whether they need their cycling shoes for that particular ride or not.
These types of pedals are often seen at spin classes so students without their own shoes can ride the platform side. Buying the clipless shoes can help take spin to the next level.
Just like with road pedals, there is a wide range of price points and styles available. In addition to the standard SPD pedal from Shimano, other companies have designed more minimalist pedals as well as some higher tech varieties. We've got three major brands available and are glad to chat about the differences between them and their benefits.
As for the shoes, there are tons of styles available: lightweight racing shoes with carbon soles under the lugs or casual shoes that look like regular tennis shoes, and everything in between. Some even look like hiking shoes because maybe you've got to hike a bike for a little while in order to ride the downhill. We've got styles that will work for you, whether you're riding the Monon, Town Run Trail Park (or Brown County), or your weekly spin class. Come check them out!