Are SPDs deadly?

by Marc Basiliere 15

Fallen cyclist’s father thinks so…

road.image.-groupTextImage-Single-image.dashMost of us who use them have the scars (both mental and physical) from our time learning to ride clipless pedals.  While the clip-in shoes and mating pedals are arguably more predictable than the flats-with-toeclips that they displaced, their twist-to-release action can require some practice before becoming reflexive.  Sadly, one of our number never made it beyond the learning phase.

The 42-year-old… lost his balance and was unable to release himself from the cleated pedals before he fell to the side and under the passing van.

As reported by The Stoke Sentinel and shared by forum member jekkyl, Neil Blood of Endon was on holiday in Jersey this past July when he lost his balance and was unable to unclip before being run over by a passing van.  New to clipless pedals, Blood had only purchased his bicycle a week prior to the trip.  While he was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, his death is said to be the result of chest rather than head injuries.  Neither drugs nor alcohol are thought to be factors.

Beyond the obvious loss of a cyclist, husband, and father, the unfortunate part of The Sentinel’s coverage is their reliance on statements from his own father, who had warned his son against using the pedals before their trip.  As presented, the senior Blood places blame squarely on the Shimano pedals- and little to the rider’s inexperience with those pedals.

“What happens with those cleats is you can’t pull your foot in and out… Your brain becomes a bit scrambled and to get your foot out of cleats you have got to think clearly.”

A sad story, this should serve as a reminder that cycling can be a dangerous activity, but then so is getting out of bed.  Whenever familiarising oneself with new equipment, that should be done in a relatively low-risk environment.  While the twenty year-old memory of the sensation of being unable to unclip is easy to summon, my own scars are faint thanks to fellow riders’ recommendation that I learn the technique in a nearby grassy park.

The resulting inquest cleared the van driver of responsibility, as s/he “could not have done anything to prevent the accident.”

Comments (15)

  1. My first time on SPDs nearly ended the same way. Spent an hour or so practising clipping/unclipping outside the house, then went on a ride on the road, got to the first roundabout and instinctively went to pull my foot backwards out of the toe clips I’d been using for the previous 10 years. Needless to say, I fell sideways, into the road. Looked around while on the floor, still attached to the bike, to see a bin lorry screeching to a halt just a few feet from me. I still count myself as very lucky. Sad to hear another was less fortunate.

  2. Has Mr Blood Snr actually ridden with clipless pedals or is his grief just finding a vent?

  3. How many people have died as a direct consequence of wearing clipless pedals?

    I’d hope not many, which would mean the report is tragic, but a freak accident that we shouldn’t be worrying about.

    I’d still be more concerned with driver behavior, than pedals.

  4. With new pedals I always back off the tension. They probably screw them in too far as a result of using powered tools and to stop them getting shaken out in transit. I do up the tension after the parts have bedded in.
    I find that I am more likely to do myself an injury using flats when my feet slip off the pedals.

  5. I think most of us who first tried spd’s fell off a couple of times. For me it was into the gutter, not the path of a vehicle. I think the father raises a valid point. If I was advising someone I would say learn to use them in a park or off road – so why not give that advice in the manufacturer’s instructions.

  6. That is sad news.

    Back In The Day™ I suffered a few falls and near misses from toeclips and straps either holding me in or catching on the floor.

    With SPDs I also came a cropper on a few early rides. Just mistiming unclipping at the lights? Easily done.

    With more practice being unable to unclip becomes less likely. And of course an early thing you learn is slacken them off the factory setting until you’re used to them.

    A good reason to listen to the experienced folks in a proper bike shop about how to use new equipment.

  7. I have scars from SPDs. Changed to Time ATACs over 10 years ago and not had a problem since.

  8. I know of Neil Blood and his company so a very sad tale but not the fault of Shimano.

  9. I’m sorry to hear of this family’s loss, particularly when we all know how the transition to cleats is tricky, and like this father probably warm any new users to practice where it is safe to do so. Like many I learnt the hard way, as the concealer on my scarred for head in my wedding snaps attest.

    I guess the father feels strongly that if son had followed his advice then he might still be alive. He may be right, but it’s no more the fault of the pedals than three rest of the bike.

  10. SPDs do take a little practice but I thought motorists were supposed to be driving in such a way that if a cyclist or other vulnerable road user fell over they would not hit them.

    I am of course sorry for Neil’s death and the loss Mr Blood snr has suffered but this does sound a little like James Cracknell being hit by a lorry mirror and then calling for helmet compulsion rather than driver education. A little misguided.

  11. Having just got a new bike and gone back (been a few years) to full on SPD’s on it. I can quite honestly say that the instructions do say, start off with them loose until you get used to them. It also depends what cleats you use with them as Shimano has 2 different types, the twist to unclip and also the more generous pull up to release ones. However not being able to unclip may not have helped this tragic incident, but there again is this not the reason why the Highway Code states that vehicles should leave plenty of room when overtaking, vulnerable road users. As I was taught by my driving instructor years ago, always expect the unexpected.

  12. Have people been killed by SPDs. Now, apparently Yes.
    Do people get killed crossing the road? Daily.
    I can imagine my Dad “telling” me that SPDs are not safe, being a person who never ever rides a bike, let along with clips. I think its a dad thing more than anything else. I bet he told him to wear a helmet, a high vis vest, a neck brace and some gardening gloves too.

  13. I had a comedy clipped in fall at Gisburn a couple of years ago – I still don’t really know how it happened. I lost balance and fell upside down of an 8 ft drop as I didn’t have time to unclip it happened so fast. I toppled head first of the edge towards some rocks, bike still attached but fortunately I landed in a small tree that cushioned my fall. It could have been very different but for that tree. As it was I was able to carry on with my ride but was black and blue. I think a broken neck/back would have been the result otherwise.

    Since then I only ride clipped on the road and easy trails and flats everywhere else. Using flats more has actually really helped my riding.

  14. Poor guy, I can understand his fathers opinion but it sounds like inexperience with the pedals and maybe new to cycling. I’ve had a few stupid falls with them, especially when new to them, but I always aim to unclip before reaching the lights and coast with one foot uncliped for thhe last few meters.

  15. I used to ride with Time Atac pedals and having come back recently after a break bought the latest Time Atac pedals and cleats. On my first ride out with them, off road, I fell over, trying to turn round too sharply. Fell over on my side still clipped in. But I was not on the road. I haven’t failed to unclip since, and as I see a problem ahead be it a gate or dogs or whatever I unclip one foot ready to stop if I need. I like riding clipped but it is easy to make a mistake early on, or even coming back it seems! So the learning needs to be done off road somewhere. Commiserations to the family concerned.

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