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Bike Shorts: Don’t Let Loose Bike Cleats Stuck in Pedals Take You Down

It’s not a pleasant surprise when you find that you can’t get your foot off your bike pedal. While the situation doesn’t happen often, there’s nothing quite like the sense of panic you’ll feel when it does arise.

As you pull to a stop, you may find yourself twisting your foot to no avail. Your cleat is stuck in the pedal, and if you don’t know what to do, you’re going down.

Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has a simple solution. No need to panic — but you do need to be prepared. Read on to learn what to do about loose bike cleats stuck in your pedals.

Why Your Cleat Gets Stuck (And Why It’s a Problem)

Once upon a time, cyclists getting their cleats stuck in pedals was a far more common occurrence. The old “clip-in” pedals had a toe strap that could be challenging to get out of in a pinch. Since then, the newer “clipless” or “click-in” pedals have made it much easier to get your foot in and out—but they’re not perfect. (We have a whole post on those clipless pedals if you want more background.)

“Click-in pedals were supposed to fix the falling problem,” says Coach Darryl. “But if the cleats are not tight enough, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.” 

Although several versions of modern clipless pedals are on the market, they basically all function the same way. Your shoe attaches to the pedal with a cleat, and you detach from the pedal by twisting your shoe away from the bike. That cleat is attached to your shoe by screws, though, and if those screws are loose, you’ll twist and twist but never get your cleat to detach. Loose cleats will only slide under your foot.

Unfortunately, the only time you’re trying to click out of the pedal is when you’re coming to a stop. If you can’t get your foot free, you won’t be able to land at the stop without toppling over. One of Darryl’s cycling friends had to get a hip replacement from this exact kind of fall.

What To Do When a Loose Cleat Gets Stuck 

Never fear — your own story doesn’t have to end that way. Even if this situation does happen to you, there’s a simple solution to the problem. So simple, in fact, you won’t believe you didn’t think of it.

Because getting bike cleats stuck in pedals is so rare these days, most cyclists don’t consider it. So, when the dilemma does occur, they’re unprepared. And what happens when you’re unprepared? You panic.

That panic makes it harder to think straight, so we’ll forgive you for not thinking of the obvious: Simply click out on the other side. 

Okay, we might be exaggerating the simplicity a bit. If you don’t practice clicking out on both sides, you’ll be surprised at how awkward you feel when you suddenly try to switch. To stop without falling the wrong way, you have to coordinate your whole body and turn your handlebars in the opposite direction of what you’re used to. So essentially, your homework is to practice.

“On every ride, try to remember to click out on the opposite side at least once,” says Darryl.

If necessary, you can enlist a fellow cyclist to help you get out of your shoe once you click out from the opposite side. That way, you can click out from the bike and tighten the loose cleat back down. Just make sure you always have the right tool with you on your rides. Cleats can require a hex head, Phillips head, or a flat head, so double-check which one you need.

How To Avoid a Loose Cleat in the First Place

Although you should always be prepared for loose cleats, the best thing you can do is ensure it never happens. Right after you buy a new pair of cycling shoes, tighten down your new cleats, as that’s the most likely time they’ll come loose. Don’t rely on the salesperson to do it — always make sure they’re secure.

Cleats that are properly snug from the beginning will rarely, if ever, come loose. But it doesn’t hurt to check now and then to make sure you’re ready for the next ride. And don’t forget to practice clicking out on both sides. 

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels