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My Clipless Experience (spoiler: back to flats for me)

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My Clipless Experience (spoiler: back to flats for me)

Old 07-19-14, 06:29 AM
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Walpurgisnacht
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My Clipless Experience (spoiler: back to flats for me)

It seems a lot of us on the hybrid section of the forum are people who are starting to get more serious about cycling, or who have been out of cycling for a while and are now getting back into it. If you're like me, you hungrily read about bicycling techniques and technologies, thinking about if and how they can be applied to your own cycling. I don't start this thread with the intention of stirring up a "clipless vs. platforms" discussion (there are plenty of those around the internet), but rather to share my experience for those who might be curious.

To start with, my pedal choice was the dual-sided Shimano PD-M324, which has a clip-in side and a mountain-style platform side. Having only one usable side takes some getting used to, but these pedals are great for someone who doesn't want to jump fully into clipless since you can use them comfortably with regular shoes on the platform side. An alternative is the Shimano A-530, which uses a flatter, smoother platform side. Both of these pedals are compatible with Shimano's "beginner," multi-directional release cleats. I went with mountain-style cycling shoes for the added comfort and ability to walk without damaging the cleat, but found that the soles were still incredibly stiff, which made walking feel awkward. The shoes also have barely any heel, which also feels weird. I later discovered that the mountain-style shoes and PD-M324 had another benefit together: I could use the platform side of the pedals even with a cleat installed in the shoes. This allowed me to ride crowded areas or areas with many stops with the platforms, switching sides and clipping in when I reached the bicycle trail. It seemed to be a good combination for easing into things.

After spending some time practicing clipping in and out while stationary at home, I set off on my ~40 mile circuit with the idea of some oft-quoted benefits and common sayings in my mind, and was excited to see how they stacked up to real-world usage. I came away largely disappointed:

Increased power transfer/efficiency - it felt as if I were pedaling similarly to how I usually would with platforms and regular shoes. I asked my wife if she was having a harder time keeping up or if her cadence or gearing needed adjusting compared to how we usually ride, but there was no change. I actually felt more fatigued mid-way through the ride, which is likely due to reasons I'll get to below.

Ability to pedal during upstroke - one of the benefits I was most looking forward to, as I could theoretically get an even better workout and experience increased endurance by utilizing more muscles. To my delight, yes, I could pedal on upstrokes with ease. However, it was impractical for most situations. If I tried to pedal on upstrokes, it seemed as if I was only pedaling on upstrokes. I was seemingly only able to perform both upstrokes and downstrokes together on climbs. Perhaps there's some muscle learning to be done here, but afterward I read some opinions stating that this is normal: you only utilize both when climbing or sprinting, and doing so burns your legs out faster than if you only directed force during one of the two. I didn't have issues with climbs previously, so it's possible that I can't fully appreciate this benefit.

Feet are in the perfect position all the time - true, but with some interesting caveats. I liked the idea of not having to think about where my feet were on the pedals, but discovered that I lost some other abilities with it. I realized that I occasionally shift around while riding, slightly angling my feet inward or outward, or moving them forward or backward on the pedal (this is accompanied by shifting my butt on the seat and hands on the bars). I was still shifting the rest of my body around, but my feet were firmly planted... and by the end of the ride, I really wanted to shift their position even slightly. It was one of those "you don't appreciate it until it's gone" sort of things, I suppose. I also discovered that my toes felt a lot more pressure than normal (my shoes might be slightly too small, and I probably had them on too tight); this pressure sensation dissipated when I switched back over to the platform side of my pedals during the last 5-10 miles of my ride.

To be fair, it's possible that I need a fit adjustment on my bike with clipless (the frame size is technically at the upper end of what fits), and that my shoes aren't a perfect fit for my feet. It seems I have a tendency to wiggle around my bike to adjust for road conditions and fatigue, though; while perfecting the fit might cut down on my wiggling, I doubt it would eliminate it entirely, and being clipped in removes some of my wiggle ability.

The first fall - yep, I experienced it. Two pedestrians on a sidewalk with headphones and apparently very loud music blocked my way, forcing slow speeds and a loss of balance. It's not terribly difficult to clip in or out, and I practiced a fair bit at home... but when you're actually on the bike and are struggling to maintain balance, it's very difficult to disengage. Even the motion of twisting your ankle out to release feels as if it would throw you off balance. Thankfully, there was no damage to the bike. Oh, me? Just a little scrape on my knee and a slightly sore hip; I'm still a young guy, it wasn't bad. I checked my cleat positioning in the shoes to ensure that they hadn't shifted and then continued riding clipped-in afterward. Some people say that it's a matter of muscle memory, which I agree with; yet I've also read opinions from people who claim to have ridden clipless for years, and who state that they still react by pulling their feet upward (instead of unclipping properly) when in a panic situation.

Final thoughts - I don't doubt that there are benefits to riding clipped-in and clipless, but I just didn't see them. Maybe it had to do with size and fit, with the type of cycling I do, or maybe I'm still too limited in other areas of my cycling to experience the benefit from riding clipless. Maybe my expectations were unrealistically high. What ever the reason, essentially all I did was to add an additional layer of complexity, an extra step or two to starting and stopping. I'm not afraid of falling again, but the increased discomfort and fatigue were very unpleasant - and all for pedaling in a manner and foot position that doesn't really differ from how I was pedaling before (just without the ability to make minor adjustments as I ride).

I may revisit riding clipless in the future, when I am a fitter cyclist and with a different frame. Until then, I'll be looking into other platform pedal options, including those types with the pins (like the Shimano PD-MX80 "Saint").

An Updated Thought - user Talldog posted in this thread that many of the benefits I mentioned in this post are actually myths about clipping in (whether with clips or cliplessly). If you Google for "clipless myths" or similar terminology, there is a fair amount of evidence and chatter to debunk the supposed benefits. About the only "benefit" of riding clipped-in that isn't debated is that your feet are planted to the bicycle, and I put benefit in quotes because it's not a benefit to everyone. Very interesting, and makes me feel even better about turning my back on clipping in.

Last edited by Walpurgisnacht; 07-22-14 at 03:46 PM. Reason: Additional information about clipless myths
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Old 07-19-14, 06:39 AM
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I had heard of all the same benefits of clipless pedals and have avoided them so far mostly because I like adjusting my feet from time to time. My feet took a beating from 20 + years of skateboarding. Thanks for the post, I'm sticking with platforms!
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Old 07-19-14, 06:51 AM
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FIRST FALL: Don't clip in while riding on a sidewalk.

FINAL THOUGHT: Continue using the dual sided pedal, shoes and cleats, but don't clip in so often... use the platform side most of the time.

I actually like the Toe-clips and metal nail-on cleats of the 70's better than these new clip-less systems.
With the older cleats you could have them in the toeclips, but not tighten the leather straps too much and you could pull your feet out easier.
But they are not fashionable anymore.
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Old 07-19-14, 08:44 AM
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Thanks for this information. I'm still shopping for my bike but have been trying to decide what pedal option I wanted to go with. I was contemplating a clip less but now I think I'll stick with clips or the dual function pedals. I'm too old to withstand many hard falls, lol.
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Old 07-19-14, 08:47 AM
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Good for you to try the clipless. I've used toe clips/straps for years so I was comfortable slipping in an out. I also have a pair of bike shoes designed for toe clips and they make a very big difference. I tried riding once without my shoes (in sneakers) and hated it. Two years ago I tried clipless. I bought used stuff but it was pretty good. I hated it and took a couple of falls. Swore i would never used them again. Just this past week I decided to give them another try. It felt lot more natural to me. I think it improved my performance somewhat but it's hard to say for sure. I can say that I'm becoming more conscious of maintaining a smooth and steady cadence and mash the pedals less frequently. I'm going to stick with them for now. Lesson: Give them another shot when you want to. Don't expect instant results and allow your legs to learn to use them.
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Old 07-19-14, 08:47 AM
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I turned the tension all the way down on mine to prevent falls... Knock on wood, but the few times I have come close to falling, I have popped out and caught myself before I did.
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Old 07-19-14, 09:21 AM
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Thanks for your well written report. Your experience was consistent with my clipless trial period except I didn't fall until several months into the experiment. My fall was more serious than yours, too, in terms of the damage to my hip.

For me, the clipless vs. platform decision is like most other choices involving risk/reward considerations. Since I'm a fitness and recreational cyclist, performance enhancement with clipless is less important than being able to reposition my feet whenever I want and not worrying about falling.

I think clipless is great for anyone who tries and likes the concept. Platforms simply work best for me.
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Old 07-19-14, 09:44 AM
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A few tips, some mentioned earlier :

1) make sure your cleats are well placed
2) turn down the tension to get you started
3) unclip before you need to and clip in once youre rolling
4) improve your slow speed handling, stopping / starting, and mounting / dismounting routines
5) maybe a dual sided + platform design would be easier to start with. A dual sided pedal sounds cool but all I see is the hassle of flipping the pedal

As a counterpoint to your experience, I have been using clipless nonstop since 1995. Never fell once due to being unable to unclip. I would suggest beginners just going for it.
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Old 07-19-14, 09:48 AM
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I have dual platform pedals on my hybrid and basically have never used the flat side, and doubt I ever will. Never even contemplated dual sided for my road bike. Clipless for me always going forward. I've fallen once - completely my fault - and no bfd. Zero mph falls are embarrassing, but not the least bit scary. Selecting cleats that unclip easily (or are adjustable) really helps for the newbie.

Cleats that allow for a degree of 'float' will allow some lateral repositioning of your foot. But if you want to play footsie with your pedals and slide your feet around all over the place, then clipless pedals are most definitely not for you. I can't imagine wanting to tapdance on my pedals, personally, but choice is good, and flat pedals aren't going to disappear anytime soon.

There is no question in my mind that being clipped in leads to a more efficient pedal stroke. Not a big deal if you are riding around the block or to the corner store, but a noticeable benefit on longer rides and if carrying greater speed over greater distance is something that matters to you at all. If you're riding for fitness, that might matter a little.
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Old 07-19-14, 10:21 AM
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This is great! i have been looking for a good discussion on clipless pedals. Most people will say go with clipless and don't look back. I just installed the PD-M324 pedals. I picked up Shimano MTB shoes which recess the clips more. Still weighing the pros/cons. Previously had DB platforms with little pegs which were pretty decent. Keep the discussion going!!
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Old 07-19-14, 10:49 AM
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Might as well chime in with my experience in the clipless world. When I started about three or four years ago I went to a shop in Florida while on winter vacation. I purchased some Giro MTB shoes and Shimano SPD A-530 pedals which came with the cleat (black,single release-heel outward) for the shoes. I put the pedals on my travel folder and practiced until I felt confident. When things got dicey I had to concentrate on getting out, not good! When I returned home, I was chatting with my wifes son and he suggested buying the Multi-release cleat (silver, heel in or out or up).
What a difference, foot releases easily and naturally. The low heeled stiff too tight shoes were replaced with a reasonable$89 pair of Exustars from MEC which are stiff but level and nice rubber soles with lots of toe room.
Feet do tend to swell as you ride longer distances. I now have the SPD pedals on my hybrid and on my Salsa Vaya. In traffic I sometimes ride on the platform side for safety and to prevent possible falls. The silliest time was when I released only the right side and fell over to the left (still clipped) at an intersection. Won't do that again!

My wife rides with Shimano shoes but without the cleats because it feels best to her.
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Old 07-19-14, 10:52 AM
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I'm someone who went clipless 4 years ago and I haven't looked back. But there was an adjustment period, and I did fall (more than once, I might add).

My falls were all of the zero km variety and I never hurt myself or my bike. But once I got better at anticipating (clipping one shoe out when approaching intersections, crosswalks, etc) and became more comfortable clipping in/out I no longer had any problems.

It actually didn't take very long for it to become automatic. Now when I ride a flat pedal I can't help but instinctively try to clip out when approaching intersections!

I will also add that riding clipless did improve my efficiency, but it also seemed to give me a greater workout: the first few days I found riding more tiring than with a flat pedal. I think I was working some additional muscles, but once those became conditioned it seemed to me my power and efficiency increased.

The big downside to clipless is that you've got to wear riding shoes. Sometimes it's a pain if you are going somewhere where they will be inappropriate/uncomfortable, and that means carrying an extra pair of shoes.
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Old 07-19-14, 10:55 AM
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I use the clipless because I'd rather fall while standing still then rupture my achilles tendon by slipping off the pedals.
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Old 07-19-14, 11:03 AM
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[QUOTE=Walpurgisnacht;16953516]It seems a lot of us on the hybrid section of the forum are people who are starting to get more serious about cycling, or who have been out of cycling for a while and are now getting back into it. If you're like me, you hungrily read about bicycling techniques and technologies, thinking about if and how they can be applied to your own cycling. I don't start this thread with the intention of stirring up a "clipless vs. platforms" discussion (there are plenty of those around the internet), but rather to share my experience for those who might be curious.

Thank you for starting this again. I am like you, interested in technique and technologies.
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Old 07-19-14, 11:49 AM
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This goes to the OP and anyone else wondering, questioning or considering going back to flats for their pedals......

SHIMANO CLICK'R PEDALS!!!!!!!

You *WILL* get out......EVERY TIME!!!

I've tried to scream this over & over here in this forum & I hope people hear but I don't think Shimano has done as good a job marketing them as they could.

I'm still using them on my $3K carbon road bike (I actually have 2 sets) & can hang with the best & NEVER get stuck! (In fact, because of easy entry/exit, I'm often in my pedals & off to the races while other guys are fidgeting with their lollipops & egg beaters!)

Seriously............

SHIMANO CLICK'R PEDALS!!!!!!

I have the regular 400's but they even have them in the single-sided (platform opposite) if you still must have a platform......You can buy wherever, but these folks are great & have great prices.....

Shimano PD-T420 ClickR SPD Pedals at WesternBikeworks
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Old 07-19-14, 12:06 PM
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I find the biggest advantage for clipless is more that I can more easily get through the dead spots at the top and bottom in the crank cycle rather than pulling up on the crank. I can do it on my BMX style pedals too with sticky skate shoes but it takes a bit more effort to keep my foot glued especially if it's wet outside.
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Old 07-19-14, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by loimpact View Post
This goes to the OP and anyone else wondering, questioning or considering going back to flats for their pedals......

SHIMANO CLICK'R PEDALS!!!!!!!

You *WILL* get out......EVERY TIME!!!
Wow, these look terrific! I'm used to SPD's now, but if I had known about these back when I made the switch I would have jumped in that direction. Thanks for the post and the link!
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Old 07-19-14, 12:23 PM
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That is a good price! Shoot!! Oh well, I turned the tension way down on mine. Here's to hoping I never fall.
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Old 07-19-14, 02:54 PM
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I just put a pair of Shimano A-530s on my 7.3FX, paired with Bontrager Evoke MTB shoes. I've only ridden with regular shoes once since, but it does make it easier to ride without being clipped in when around traffic. It's nice to have options, but I can also see how pedals you can clip in on either side could be better in 90% of situations. I find being clipped in especially helpful on standing climbs. There's a bit of a learning curve figuring out how to push and pull at the same time. I used to take spinning classes a lot, and you definitely get more efficient once you learn the technique.
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Old 07-19-14, 02:54 PM
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No way in hell will I ever ride with anything but flat pedals in NYC.

Last edited by peskypesky; 07-19-14 at 03:06 PM.
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Old 07-19-14, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Walpurgisnacht View Post
After spending some time practicing clipping in and out while stationary at home, I set off on my ~40 mile circuit with the idea of some oft-quoted benefits and common sayings in my mind, and was excited to see how they stacked up to real-world usage. I came away largely disappointed:

I may revisit riding clipless in the future, when I am a fitter cyclist and with a different frame. Until then, I'll be looking into other platform pedal options, including those types with the pins (like the Shimano PD-MX80 "Saint").
You are giving up after only one ride?
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Old 07-19-14, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by raqball View Post
You are giving up after only one ride?
One 40-mile ride, but yes, it still sounds a bit like I'm being a poor quitter by only giving it a chance during one ride. It will only be one ride because it was too painful (my feet, not the fall). If I were to continue trying to go clipless then I would change my shoes and go a size or two up, but I don't see the point in continuing to try. I went into it expecting that it would make cycling even more fun, that it would allow for a more versatile workout by working more muscle groups, and if I gained some increased power and endurance, then that would be wonderful (don't we all wish we could buy those, instead of working for them? ). In practice, the increased complexity of getting into and out of the pedals - while minor - took some of the fun out of things, I felt more fatigued than usual, and I discovered that the ability to utilize more muscles was actually somewhat limited. These things might be unique to me, but I wasn't expecting them at all.

I'm not trying to trash clip-in clipless pedals with this thread. As I wrote in my opening post, I will probably try them again some day (particularly if I get into road bikes). Maybe it's the way my body matches my current bicycle frame, or the way I cycle, but I just can't see myself gaining any of the oft-stated benefits even if I were to switch to better-fitted cycling shoes at this point in time. I also recognize now that it's not an upgrade that results in immediate results; it probably takes time to build up new muscle memory (and previously unused muscles). Yet for me - as I am now, and for what I want out of cycling - clipless just isn't a good fit, although I had to try it for myself to discover that.

Previously, the only negative things I had heard about clipless dealt with safety issues of clipping out. Increases to performance were a given. I hadn't heard anything similar to what I experienced, so I figured I'd share.
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Old 07-19-14, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Walpurgisnacht View Post
In practice, the increased complexity of getting into and out of the pedals - while minor - took some of the fun out of things, I felt more fatigued than usual, and I discovered that the ability to utilize more muscles was actually somewhat limited. These things might be unique to me, but I wasn't expecting them at all.
No, I'd say your experience was pretty similar to mine minus the foot pain. I did find myself more fatigued and had issues clipping out when I started with clipless, but after a few rides I found everything much better. Once I got used to things and developed the right muscles I found it awkward riding with flat pedals!

But I'd never say that clipless are for everyone. If something diminishes the fun of your ride, then by all means avoid it!
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Old 07-19-14, 05:40 PM
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The only take-away from this is that different stuff suits different folk. Pretty simple. I switched to clipless in 2003 -- my second full season after resuming cycling -- and have never ridden w/o since. I'm now 62. I do use mtb/touring shoes with mtb (Shimano XT) mtb pedals, but clipless it is for me. I suffered the mandatory comedy falls (three, in my case) the first couple of months, but no issues of that kind since.

So, why? In my case, simple: I like the sense of being connected to the bike; I feel I have more control in all situations (and I mean all). That's all that matters (for me). As for power transfer etc.etc. I could care less.
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Old 07-19-14, 08:22 PM
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Walpurgisnacht
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I think the replies that "clipless isn't for everyone" are totally right. Part of the problem is that the way things are set up, it seems as if clipless is a natural progression of sorts. If you want to upgrade and/or perform better, clip-in clipless pedals are the upgrade path for pedals.

The pros use clipless pedals, hardcore and seasoned cyclists in your area are probably using clipless, and if you look at Shimano's website the number of clipless offerings vastly outnumbers the number of pedals without a clip-in option (not that Shimano is the de-facto pedal supplier). The problem persists even at the local level: I brought my wife's bike to a bike shop for some free maintenance and inquired about their pedals, to which I was shown a number of clipless offerings; when I asked about standard platform pedals, they rummaged around and were able to produce a pair of those black plastic pedals that seem to come pre-installed on every bike. With a bit more rummaging, they found some metal BMX-style pedals that had come from another customer's bicycle (the other customer switched to clipless pedals).

It's as if the entire cycling world has designed performance pedals around clip-in clipless pedals, and you're either using them or you're using those black plastic starter pedals. Not that there's anything wrong with those black plastic pedals, of course. If they hold your shoe in place and move the crank arms as you expect then they're getting the job done. But I still feel that drive to upgrade beyond stock and starter components, and so I find myself looking up other pedal options instead of putting the black plastic pedals back on my bicycle...
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