At the ride leader clinic in late May, I noticed how many Divas are still reluctant to adopt clipless pedals on their mountain bikes. Why? The most common reason is: I'm afraid I won't be able to get out and will fall over. Some people have tried them only to return to flat pedals or clips & straps. Some have witnessed others fall or heard their tales. I'm not going to tell you that you won't fall. You will fall! But you're outdoors women and I know fear of falling has not prevented you from taking up skiing or other active sports. Well...
There are so many benefits to using clipless pedals instead of a flat pedal or toeclips. I'd like to share a few:
You will climb better. Really. Because you're clipped into the pedal, you're not just pushing down on your pedals; you're also pulling up. You can put power to the pedals for the entire rotation of the cranks so you'll have a smoother spin up the hills. This is in contrast to the pulsing action of the pedals when you're just using the downstroke to pedal. Think about it: more even power.
You'll have more control. When riding over rougher trails that have exposed rocks and roots, your feet will stay firmly in place on the pedals instead of sliding around or bouncing off. This will make it easier for you to ride over the rougher trails and descend faster. You will be one with the bike which gives you more control, and in turn, more confidence.
You'll ride farther. When you only pedal using the downstroke, only one muscle group is working. When you add the upstroke and spin more, you bring more muscles in to share the work. Sharing the work lets you ride longer before the muscles get tired.
Just a few thoughts on toe clips (the plastic cups that are attached to the pedals to keep your foot in place): If you snug down the straps, they're harder to get out of than the clipless pedals, but that's the only way to get the most efficiency out of the pedal. For mountain biking, you want ease of entry & exit. I've occasionally seen people ride with the toeclip hanging down below the pedal. This is a good way to catch the pedal on a trail obstacle, such as a root or rock. Don't do it!
Finally, I'd like to share my own experience with clipless pedals. There's a very steep hill on the Horseshoe Loop at Kincaid Park. When I first began mountain biking I didn't have clipless pedals. I would try, but could never make it up that hill. Finally, I rode with the pedals I'd just gotten a week or so earlier. Sure enough, I was able to power my way up that hill. I hadn't suddenly transformed into a stronger rider, I'd just adopted the tool that would make it easier to climb the hill. I've been a convert ever since.
I'm happy to offer advice on which pedals might work best for you. If people would like a pedal clinic, we can do that. I can even schedule an after-hours equipment talk at Paramount Cycles. It's your club; what would you like to do?