If clipless pedals are adjusted correctly and you know how to use them, you'll love them. The reason you hear they're dangerous is because a lot of people start using clipless pedals before they've had enough practice with them. And often, the pedals aren't adjusted correctly for the user. These mistakes increase the chances of not being able to get your feet out and falling over at stops, which is definitely dangerous.
When we sell pedals, if you tell us that it's your first time on clipless, we'll explain how to set-up these pedals correctly (bring your shoes in and we can help with this) and the best ways to practice clicking in and out before you head out on a ride with them. That's very important because it takes a few attempts for your muscles to learn the entry and exit motions.
Ironically, the first clipless pedals were designed for increased safety. Before clipless, cyclists used only toe clips and straps to keep their feet in place on the pedals. These are still available and they work. But, you might find that straps can cause numb toes if you tighten them for optimum pedaling efficiency. And, strapped clips can be a little tricky to enter and exit. Also, when you're riding on the bottoms of the pedals, the clips hang down and can scrape or snag on things, which can be dangerous riding off road.
Clipless pedals are modeled after ski bindings that release and free your feet in an emergency. There are two parts to a clipless pedal system, the pedal and the cleat. The cleat is attached to the shoe sole and when you step on the pedal, jaws in the pedal grab the cleat and hold your foot in place. To enter the pedal, you simply step down until you feel and hear the click. To exit, you swing your heel laterally and the pedal releases, allowing you to quickly step off the bike. It does take some practice to get used to, but once you've got it down, you can get in and out instantly, so you are indeed safer.
An additional benefit of clipless systems is being fully connected to the pedal. This provides optimum pedaling efficiency and makes it easier to perform maneuvers such as lifting the wheels to clear potholes. Because no strap is encircling your foot, you won't suffer pain or numbness. Most clipless pedals also provide a great feature called float, which is a slight bit of lateral foot movement designed to protect the knees from the strain of being forced to remain in a fixed position. What's more, the pedals can be adjusted to modify the effort required to get your feet out, which is a crucial step in setting up the clipless system.
Before purchasing clipless pedals, it helps to think about how you'll use them. Different models are designed for specific purposes and some work better than others under certain conditions. For example, some excel in muddy conditions while others are only so-so. We'll be happy to show you different models, discuss your needs and help set up a system for you.