Are Clipless Pedal Dangerous?
How We Got Started
Have you crashed because you failed to unclip on time? If so, you are not alone: Four out of five cyclists have crashed because of clipless pedals.
We started the Bythlon Safety Component Project out of frustration that there were no alternatives to clipless pedal that would deliver a similar or better performance. The only choice was either to use clipless pedals or regular pedals, also called platform pedals.
Platform pedals introduced different risks. You cannot utilize a bike shoe's rigid sole that protects you from stress-related injuries. Your feet are not positioned in one defined position but instead, roams the pedal, and often slips off. On top of everything, they simply don't deliver the same performance.
It's hard to find a cyclist who uses clipless pedals and doesn't have a story about how they've been let down. Every cyclist will have heard about clipless pedals and their risk. The fact is, everyone who starts using them will fall sooner or later.
Let's be clear:
Today's clipless pedal systems are manufactured to an incredibly high standard, and accidents are usually not caused by a malfunction or defect. The common cause of such incidents is a failure to perform the disengagement maneuver and get out of their pedal. The cyclist has to twist their foot sideways to get out, and that is opposite to our instinct to pull out vertically.
Most stumbles leave cyclists with bumps and bruises but without serious injuries.
The answer to the question if clipless, or clip-in pedals, are dangerous isn't straight forward. What we do know is that there's certainly risk involved. What we should probably be asking is:
Are They Worth The Risk?
Statistics are not helpful since there are none. We could not find any cycling accident statistics that would track if cleats are involved, or if cleats are the cause of an accident.
In researching cycling injury-related publications, we found several case studies describing the risk of cleat pedal systems in the context of far more severe injuries than just scratches and bruises:
Academic papers on pedal-caused cycling injuries
The first report from UK clinic doctors was looking into hip fractures and concluded: "cyclists who are attached to their pedals by straps or clips are likely to tumble with their bicycle and fall directly onto one or other hip, thus sustaining this kind of injury to the pelvis."
A similar report reviews the fractures of five patients who all were unable to dismount and consequently fell. They observed: "If a cleat fails to release on falling, the rider loses all control of the fall, where the entire body may rotate around the clipped foot putting huge torsional forces through the lower limb."
A Dutch case study of four cyclists' femoral neck (hip) fractures found that clipless pedal 'played an important part' in the cause of the injuries.
We could add to this list, but it becomes clear that these are individual case studies of severe injuries caused by clipless pedals. If you ask the individuals involved, they'd probably say that clipless pedals aren't worth the risk.
But are they statistically relevant? Sport in general and cycling culture, in particular, seems to glorify risk and pain.
That's probably the reason that we seemingly accept risks related to cycling that would be unacceptable in other areas of transport, even tolerated by organizations that supposed to prevent them.
Would aviation technology that injures 2.3% of all passengers be widely acceptable? Or a car component hurting 2.3% of all drivers? Certainly not.
Yet, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has no issue with this number when it comes to cycling. A fun fact, and probably an indication of their general association, the Cycling Cleat Factsheet refers to an online shopping website's cleats buying guide as evidence for their efficiency. Next, it concludes the survey of 130 cyclists where "only three respondents reported that they had received an injury directly attributed to the use of their cleats". To us, this brag sounds a little disappointing...
Where does this leave us?
We believe everybody will have to answer the question if their cleats are worth the risk.
Our answer is no, and beyond the risk factors, we found no definitive proof in Cycling Science that it is in any way useful to chain yourself to your bike. The idea that you can "pull with your hamstring" is simply a fairytale that we've coined: The Myth of the Upstroke.
Based on our findings, we developed the Bythlon Safety Performance Technology that offers traditional clipless pedals efficiency without the risk.