Cycling shoes with cleats and clipless pedals for kids is a subject that often comes up. When should kids be in clip-in pedals? Our response is always the same – as soon as they can!
Experience with our own kids left us in no doubt, cycling becomes much safer once they are securely clipped to their pedals. We found the biggest cause of mishaps on a bike, is wet shoe soles and/or wet pedals. The feet slide off on the pressure stroke and the child loses balance.
Is it difficult for kids to learn? No! An hour on a playing field, getting to grips with the habit of simultaneously braking, whilst unclipping one foot and they are away.
Once clipped in, this problem is gone. You can argue they are then susceptible to falling off when stationary (as some adults do!?!) if they forget to unclip. Well two things…if they do its at very low speed, secondly kids learn much faster to remember to unclip as they slow down, unlike many adults!
Its not uncommon to see kids as young as 6 or 7 on clipless pedals, the majority who Road race on cleats by age 9.
From a competition perspective, the advantages of being clipped in are well known and apply to kids cycling just as they do to adults. Power transfer from leg to road is much higher, as is endurance – using a more equal spread of muscle groups on the legs with the push-pull pedal stroke, made possible with clips. Kids tend to allow their feet position to move around on the pedal, once clipped in, they stay in the correct position – which helps climbing in particular.
There is a bewildering array of cleat systems, but a couple of types prove popular with kids. A few key points to consider;
- Dual-sided pedals make sense with young kids, they are the easiest! Single-sided are lighter, more rigid/Road specific, but only suitable for older kids.
- What sort of riding will they be doing? Road, MTB, CX, Triathlon? Road focused pedals (3/4-bolt) will clog with mud when used off-road.
- Before deciding on pedals, you need to be sure the Shoes you will use are compatible. Particularly in the smaller sizes, choice for kids cleat shoes is limited.
The most popular system for younger kids and our recommendation is the 2-bolt Shimano SPD setup, which uses a dual-sided pedal of simple construction that can work for both on and off-road cycling.
When used in conjunction with the SH-56 (multi-release direction cleats) and the release spring adjusters fully unwound – they are as easy as clips pedals get and perfect for kids. A superb, all-round setup for any cycling. For reference, the photo below shows the release spring pressure being unwound on a Shimano M520 SPD pedal, making it easier for a child to twist and release.
Another very popular system is the Look 3-bolt Road system, offering lighter cleats and pedals being a single-sided entry design. Older kids, focusing on Road/Track events will commonly use this type of system, or similar 3-bolt systems from Time or the Shimano SPD-SL.
There is also the 4-bolt Speedplay system, but compatible shoes for kids are difficult to find. Our advice, keep it simple!
Whatever you choose, don’t forget to either adjust the clip release pressure to its minimum setting (or buy pedals with a low spring release pressure) as for younger kids, they won’t have ‘adult leg strength’ to release the clip.