Clipping In, Clipping Out

Or, making decisions when expert advice is a mess of contradictions

Clive Thompson
11 min readAug 21


For most of my life I rode cheapo bikes. I didn’t pay much attention to bike technology — I just bought the second-cheapest bike at the bike shop and rode away with it.

I knew that hard-core cyclists had all sorts of special gear. One of the main things they wore were cycling shoes with clips, which “clip in” to special pedals. I was told this is a much more efficient way to ride: Each leg can, on the upstroke, pull upwards a little bit. No movement is wasted!

It didn’t affect me. I had no such special gear. I just rode whatever cheap bike I’d bought, which had “flat pedals”. You didn’t clip into those; you just jumped on with whatever shoes you were wearing, and rode off. The way I figured it, who cares what the hardcore lycra-wearing cyclists were doing? They’d blast past me on their featherweight $5,000 carbon-fiber bicycles, vanishing into the distance like the Millennium Falcon.

Eh. Let ’em blast past me. I was just riding to meet a friend for drinks. I didn’t need the Serious Cyclist tech. I wasn’t a long-distance cycling freak, right?

But then I became a long-distance cycling freak.

How did that happen? Well I’ve blogged about this before, so you read it here!

But the tl;dr is …

… I grew up a monitor-tanned nerd who loathed sports and athleticism. I bicycled a lot, but just to, y’know, get around town. Then early COVID bumped my cycling up a notch; I’d ride dozens of miles a week so I could get around NYC without using the subway or rideshare cars. What’s more, a few years before COVID, my oldest son (in grade 5 at the time) got interested in doing Big Rides, so we’d do one every year — gradually increasing from 20 miles to 40 miles to 100 miles in a day. Going on these voyages with him, I began to discover I loved doing super-long cycling trips, such that by last summer he and I mounted a 450-mile voyage from Brooklyn to Montreal. Basically I somehow transmogriphied into a full-on damn athlete.

As a journalist and an environmentalist, I’d also become obsessed with micromobility — the possibility that America could increase how often people use smaller…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.