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Lower body of cyclist pedaling a road bike on pavement

How to Clip Out Without Falling Over

Your bike cleats are made to keep your feet on the pedals. It’s an essential feature for any serious cyclist, but there’s one thing many don’t think of when they’re new to the sport: You still need to get your feet off the pedals sometimes.

Clip in. Clip out. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? 

Not exactly. When cycling, clipping out without falling over requires a bit of forethought and finesse. After a few falls of his own, longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has the technique down.

A note for clarity here: When we refer to “clipping out” or “unclipping,” we’re talking about modern “clipless” pedals. Unlike the old style of pedals that actually had a toe strap (called a toe clip) that went around the foot, modern clipless pedals attach to the bottom of your cleats. You click, or clip, your cleats into and out of the pedals.

The Humiliation of a Failed Unclipping

When you’re moving fast, having your cleats clipped into your pedals provides a sense of stability and security. But it becomes an issue when you need to stop. 

Coach Darryl learned this the hard way early in his cycling career when he first transitioned to clipless pedals. On one of his first rides, he was pulling to a stop in front of a group of high schoolers. He wasn’t prepared to unclip, and down he went, still attached to his bike.

“Nice bike, Mister,” one of the high-school boys quipped. “Do you fall much?”

Nearly 30 years later, Darryl laughs this off. But these humiliating experiences are common for new cyclists nowadays, who start riding without a thought about how they will clip out without falling over. 

A friend of his who was trying out the sport fell over at three stops on one ride. It ruined his confidence, and he decided cycling wasn’t for him. And that’s just one of many instances Darryl has heard of. Falling over when clipping out has humiliated many new cyclists right out of the sport.

How to Clip Out the Wrong Way

In reality, though, the problem is bigger than a sore ego.

“The majority of times when you fall over, it is a little bit of bruised feelings,” says Darryl. “But occasionally it can be dangerous.” He’s known of cyclists breaking bones or, worse, falling into traffic because they don’t know how to unclip properly.

Two mishaps commonly occur for new cyclists who aren’t prepared to unclip. More than half the time, they simply forget to unclip soon enough before they stop, so they’re not ready with a foot to plant on the ground.

That kind of fall is awkward and painful, but often not as bad as the other. In many cases, cyclists unclip on one side but have the body weight going toward the other side. They fall over the opposite way they expected, right onto the leg that’s still clipped in.

The 3 Rules of Clipping Out Without Falling

It’s not difficult to avoid these frustrating moments if you know how to clip and unclip your bike shoes correctly. Darryl has three simple rules to follow to clip out without falling over:

  1. Unclip before you stop. If you wait too long, the bike slows down too much and becomes unstable. You need to have your leg free before the bike falls, so plan to twist your ankle out from the pedal two or three seconds before you come to a stop.
  2. Never try to unclip your shoe at the top of a pedal stroke. If you want to land on your right foot, do not clip out when your right foot is at the top of the pedal stroke. Instead, clip out when it’s at the bottom. It’s much easier to rotate your ankle out from the pedal when your leg is extended, since you can rotate the leg all the way up to the hip, unlike at the top of the stroke where you can only rotate below the knee. You can then use your left foot to pedal another half stroke so you can land with your right foot on the ground and your left leg extended.
  3. Turn your wheel sharply in the opposite direction of where you want to land. When coming to a stop, your instinct will tell you to turn in the direction you want to lean. Your instinct is wrong. When you turn, your momentum will naturally continue straight ahead, causing you to lean away from the turn. Don’t fight against physics. Instead, slow down until you’re almost stopped and turn the opposite way. So, if you want to land on the right foot, turn sharply to the left just as it’s time to stop.

“If you do these things, it takes almost all of the risk out of unclipping when you’re stopping,” says Coach Darryl. Try it for yourself at low speeds in a parking lot before you attempt it on the road.

Be Sure Your Cleats Are Locked Into Your Shoes

There is one other thing you can do to make sure you can clip out from your bike successfully. This is something you have to do before your rides, though, not in the middle of them.

Every now and then, you should check your cleats to make sure they are screwed tightly into your shoes. If they become loose — and they often do over time — your cleat will slide on the bottom of your shoe when you try to unclip. Your shoe will twist away from the cleat, but the cleat won’t detach from the pedal. If that happens, you’re really stuck to your bike!

You can’t avoid every awkward fall when you’re cycling — some of them are just inevitable. But, if you practice these simple tips, you should be able to make sure you never fall when clipping out.


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

Image by falco from Pixabay