Question: I got a pair of clipless pedals for Christmas and I'm having a terrible time learning to use them. When I stop, I still try to pull up to release like I did with toe clips. That doesn't work, and I end up flopped on my side. Any pointers? -- Mary M.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: You'll really like clipless pedals once you learn the "twist out" style of release. It will become a reflex. Then you'll be able to get out quickly and cleanly, even in emergencies.

When I switched to clipless many years ago, I got the hang of them right away on my road bike but I was fearful of using them off-road. I hated the thought of riding on narrow trails with a 300-foot drop to one side, and being stuck in the pedals.

Here are five tricks to flatten your learning curve:

  • Lighten the release tension. Your feet should be able to twist out easily but not suffer unintentional releases.
    Think twist, not lift. The release motion is in a flat plane. Keep your heel level and pivot it smartly away from your bike.
  • Practice on an indoor trainer. Clip in, pedal for 30 seconds, and clip out. Practice clipping out while the pedal is any place in its 360-degree rotation. Do this for a few minutes on several days to ingrain the movement.
  • Move to the real world. Go to a quiet street or parking lot. Repeat the pattern of clipping in and out. A couple of short practice rides should do it.
  • Stay away from heavy traffic. Take your first rides on lightly traveled roads without busy intersections, but make sure there are a few stop signs or lights that make you clip out and in.
  • Don't wait till the last second. Anticipate stop signs, traffic lights or pulling up to the coffee shop. Twist one foot out but keep it on the pedal about 10 seconds before coasting to a stop. In this position, you can put your foot down to stop or, in the case of a light changing to green, snap back in and pedal away.

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