If you are feeling a little unsure of your cleats or your current ride isn’t as confident or comfortable as you would like, here are some ways you can adjust and look after your cleats at home for a better, safer ride.
In our last article we covered clip-in pedals and cleats and the options you have for types and usage. If you missed that article, check out ‘Know your way around clip-in pedals and cleats’ as it will help you with the tips in this article.
A cleat positions your foot on the pedal and locks it in place. The slide on the cleat bolt means you can adjust your foot position on the bike forward and backward as well as angling it side to side. The aim with cleat positioning is to give you the most efficient pedal stroke without tiring your muscles or causing fatigue. Typically around the ball of your foot hits the sweet spot.
The exact position will depend on you, your calf muscle strength and preferred cadence as well as your pedalling style. It’s worth adjusting you cleats slightly and playing with the setup until you find the most efficient outcome. Adjusting your cleats is especially important if you have issues with calf soreness or pain in the Achilles’ tendon.
Cleats positioned too far forward, with the toe over the pedal, puts more pressure on the calf muscles. This can cause your muscles to fatigue more quickly on a long ride and can cause your calf to cramp. It also increases your risk of injury due to muscle soreness and tearing.
Cleats positioned too far back, towards the arch of your foot, reduces the load on your calf muscles, which makes pedalling feel easier but significantly reduces energy and power outage as well as a giving you a less fluid pedal stroke.
Setting your cleats up correctly can help improve your ride performance, bike handling and prevent injury.
Not all cleats are flexible. When you are starting out, especially if your bike hasn’t been fitted, you are best you go with cleats that provide some flexibility. Professional cyclists typically know their ideal set up well enough to have fixed cleats.
Look brand can offer flexible cleats in grey (4.5 degrees flexibility) and red (9 degrees flexibility) while Shimano can offer yellow cleats with 6 degrees flexibility.
The angle and location is the first thing you’ll want to adjust when you bolt your cleats in. You want to be sure the ball of your foot takes the most of the pressure.
It’s okay to have slightly different cleat angles from foot to foot. Not all pairs of feet are the same size and, sometimes, one leg is more powerful than the other which may mean you need a slightly different set up on the left compared to the right. If you are suffering from knee pain and your bike is set up properly it could be that the angle of your cleats is off.
Once you have the right location you can position your cleats to point in or out, twisting the ankle one way or the other, depending on what works best for you, although this isn’t as crucial to your performance or bike health as the angle and location.
While wearing your cycling socks put your riding shoes on without the cleats, and tighten them comfortably. Use a non-permanent texta (or stick some masking tape to your shoe sides and sole) to make guiding marks.
Start by marking the inside edge of each shoe where the ball of your foot is. The best way to find it is to press along the edge of the shoe until you feel the hard part sticking out, under your big toe. You want to make your mark half way between the bottom of that bone and the start of your big toe. This should be the middle of the ball of your foot.
Do the same on the outside edge to find and mark the hard part that sticks out under your little toe (usually the widest part of your foot).
Next, take you shoes off and draw a line straight across the sole of your shoe from marked edge to marked edge, big toe to small toe. You may need a spirit level, ruler or laser light to help get this exactly in line.
Now, find the middle point of this line and mark it.
Align your middle point mark with the centre pedal axle on each cleat, (this is the centre point of the cleat, it’s usually marked for you). When you are lined up loosely bolt them in.
Now it’s time to do a test ride, preferably on a stationary indoor trainer.
Move the cleat side to side to adjust how close your foot rests on that centre line. You can have your foot outward by moving the cleat position inwards (useful if you like to ride with your knees wide), or have your foot inwards by moving the cleats out, which is more comfortable if you ride with a narrow knee position.
Your whole foot should be clear of the crankshaft. If you are touching at the ball or at the ankle you will need to keep adjusting.
Once you are happy with the feel and power of your pedal stroke tighten up the bolts.
Getting comfortable on the bike means you can ride longer with more enjoyment, and stay injury free. Take the time to know your cleats and feel confident with making your own adjustments.
Being able to adjust your cleats for comfort and performance in your own home? That’s feedom!