Condensed Answer: Toe clips can be effectively used without straps. Removing the straps makes it easier for the rider to slide in and out of the clips at the expense of reduced foot retention.
The Advantages of Using Toe Clips Without Straps
- Ease Of Use
Toe clips and straps were originally designed as a foot retention system for racers.
The purpose of foot retention is to keep the feet of the rider in an optimal position on the pedals (the ball of the foot should be the part in contact with the pedal) so that the rider can pedal optimally and with minimal joint stress.
Foot retention systems eliminate the possibility of pedal slippage when exerting a lot of effort (usually uphill). If the foot slips and loses contact with the pedal, the rider can be thrown off balance and may also get hit in the shins by the pedal.
This is a dangerous situation that can easily result in a crash, especially when riding in a group.
Having said that, toe clips and straps are a lot less convenient in urban settings when frequent stops are expected. Constantly tightening and untightening the strap can become annoying and hurts one’s balance and awareness.
By removing the straps, the user is simplifying the process tremendously and making toe clips practical even for urban riding.
The tightening and untightening of the straps can only be done by hand. Thus, the rider has to remove one hand from the handlebars for every side. This makes the process cumbersome, especially when riding in a dynamic environment.
In different, the rider can keep both hands on the handlebars when riding only with toe clips.
Once accustomed to the setup, it’s not even necessary to look at the pedals.
A tightened strap makes it very difficult to get out of the clips. In some cases, this can backfire because the rider may remain attached to the bike even during a fall.
It’s also possible to end up in a situation when it would be beneficial to quickly put one or both feet on the ground but fail to do so due to the tight straps.
- Lower Restriction
Straps restrict the movement of the foot. While this is beneficial for optimal pedaling, the constant position results in trigger spots and joint stress.
- Clean Look
Another bonus of ditching the straps is the streamlined look and reduced cleaning duties.
The straps are usually made of leather or nylon. Both materials get easily soaked and contaminated.
By removing the straps, the user eliminates the need to regularly clean them.
- Compatible with more shoes
In some cases, the straps may get caught in the laces/tightening system of a shoe. Without them, it’s much easier to use a greater variety of footwear.
The Downsides of Using Toe Clips Without Straps
- Reduced Foot Security
The straps tighten the rider’s feet to the pedals maximally. The additional retention ensures a non-breakable connection with the pedals. Without the strap, the same level of retention cannot be reached.
- Pulling the Pedals
The straps make it easier to pull the pedal up during the upstroke.
Personal Experience and Tips For Riding Without Straps
I’ve been riding my road bike with toe clips without straps for over a year now and have nothing negative to say about this system.
The toe clips provide a surprising amount of foot retention (you can still pull the pedal) and keep the feet at the same overall location at all times. It’s also very easy to get in and out of the clips.
Below are some tips that you may find helpful:
- Cut the hook end
If you don’t plan on adding straps to the clips, there is no need to use full clips. The extra hook through which the strap is supposed to pass can interfere with the process.
If you have steel toe clips, you cut them with a great number of tools (hacksaw, angle grinder, rotary tool…etc.) You can also break it off with a set of pliers.
Note: There are also “half clips” sold separately which have the same idea in mind. That said, for many people, it may be cheaper to get a set of old-school clips and just cut the hook.
- Stick to steel toe clips
I prefer steel toe clips because they keep their shape very well. The plastic ones always bend more than needed and make it more difficult to get in and out of them.
The flexier the toe clips, the more frequently they change their shape. This result in non-consistent feedback and inefficiency.
- Get Cage Pedals With a Flip Lever
Cage pedals have a little “spike”/lever on one end. The lever makes it easier to bring the pedal and consequently the cage to a horizontal position.
If the pedal and the footwear work well together, the rider can just rest the sole of the shoe on the spike/lever and then flip the pedal to horizontal in a split second. Once the pedal is horizontal to the ground, it’s a lot easier to slide in the clip.
If your particular pedals do not have that part, it’s much more difficult to rotate the pedals as needed.
Luckily, you can easily make your own.
In the image below, you see my current pedals. When I first got them, I wasn’t even planning on using toe clips. Hence why I didn’t care that they had neither holes for the cages nor a flip lever.
The pedals were quite comfortable on their own, but I wanted the reference that toe clips offer.
To fix the issue, I drilled 2 holes at the front so that I can install the cage as well as 2 holes at the back.
I slid a spoke through the second set of holes and made my own flip lever. The final pedal isn’t the most attractive, primarily because I am not the most artistic person and didn’t produce a nice shape out of the spoke, but functionally, the pedals work very well.
I used plastic toe clips because my steel ones failed due to fatigue. That said, I plan on switching to steel ones once I can find a good pair.
- Stay Away From Pure Racing Pedals
Unfortunately, many cage pedals, especially those designed for racing, are quite uncomfortable when combined with regular shoes. The problem comes from the absence of a wide platform. The walls of the pedals are the only element in contact with the foot. Consequently, trigger spots occur quickly.
Those types of pedals were designed specifically for old-school cycling shoes which had a very thick sole.
Also, some cage pedals have a metal lip meant to attach to a metal bracket on the sole. That metal lip will dig into your feet when used with ordinary footwear.
(Note: The lip can, of course, be ground down.)
This is one of the reasons why I switch to the pedals described earlier. I also have two pairs of racing cage pedals, but they simply didn’t pair well with the sneakers that I use for cycling.
Summary: What You Need To Know
Toe clips can be used without straps. The practice has a great number of benefits, namely:
- User-friendly experience
- Speed (sliding in and out of the cages is much faster)
- Compatibility with many shoes
- Clean look + less maintenance
- Less movement restriction
- No need to take your hands off the handlebars
The only downside of riding without the straps is the reduced foot retention. That said, this property would matter only when one is seeking higher racing performance. But if that’s the case, it will be wiser to switch to clipless pedals and shoes since they outperform toe clips in races anyway.
For casual riding and commuting, toe clips without straps work just fine.