How to Install Cycling Shoe Cleats? A Step by Step Guide with Pro Tips

Installing cycling shoe cleats might seem simple but reality is often disappointing. Knee health, back pain, initiating force, acceleration, speed, balance all depends on how you install and adjust your cycling shoe cleats.

There is a reason behind why users are often recommended to go to an expert for installation of cycling shoe cleats. I wrote this article specifically for those who are completely new to this and don’t want to go to an expert at the same time. In this guide you will get enough information to install and adjust everything perfectly.

Why and How Cycling Shoe Cleats Are Used?

Cycling requires a huge amount of energy. The force acting on the pedal is the key to acceleration. The better the efficiency of acting force on the pedal the less amount of energy is required. Thus enabling a confident and enduring ride for the bikers. Cycling shoes are designed in a way to maximize stability and efficiency.

Moving on to how it works, first, cleats are attached to the sole of the shoe then they are used to lock onto the pedal. This enables better stability as your feet are adjusted to the pedal in such a way which should provide you the best position to exert force on. Cycling shoes also prevent the foot from slipping off the pedals thus increasing safety.

Are Cycling Shoe Cleats Universally Compatible?

No, they are not! Compatibility depends on the type of pedal and shoe you bought. You need to have similar kinds of shoes, cleats and pedals. There are few variations in cycling shoe cleats. They are:

  • Spd
  • Spd-sl
  • Look
  • And speedplay

These are the 4 most popular cleat types used by bikers. But SPD is the most popular among them. The reason is simple, it has better usability and both beginners and advanced bikers prefer them.

Even though all of these cleats are specialized for different user levels and different terrain biking, the installation process is almost the same. The major difference in installing them is the number of bolts that they have.

What Are the Required Tools and Components to Install Bike Shoe Cleats?

You’re going to need a few things to set up your new cleats to your new cycling shoes.

  • Bio-Grease: For easier removal of cleat afterwards
  • Allen keys: For screwing in the bolts
  • A marker pen: To mark the balls of the foot on the shoe
  • Tape: For avoiding marks on the shoe

Step by step installation procedure of cycling SPD, SPD-SL, Look and Speedplay shoe cleats:

We have prepared an 8 step DIY for you to simplify everything on a beginner level.

Step-1: Put some tape on your shoes in the approximate position of the balls of your both outer and inner feet. This is to avoid any damages or permanent markings to your new shoes.

Step-2: Wear your shoe and try to locate your 1st and 5th mtp joints (metatarsophalangeal joints). Mark both of the balls over the tape that you previously stuck onto the shoes.

Step-3: Draw a straight line joining the two marks (usually diagonal).

Step-4: Find the notch, or marker line on the cleats which indicates the center of the pedal axle.

Step-5: Now time to put some grease on so that you can easily get the cleats out when they are worned out.

Step-6: Align the diagonal straight line you drew with the indicated center on the cleats for optimal power transfer.

Step-7: Make some adjustments to the cleat position according to your feet geometry. This is the trickiest part so don’t skip the later discussion on this in this tutorial.

Step-8: Screw the bolts in and you are done!

How to Adjust Biking Shoe Cleats Properly?

There are no fixed measurements for adjusting the shoe cleats. You have to adjust them according to whatever your body dictates. Obviously, the dynamics of feet vary from person to person. Still we can guide you through a few basics through which you can adjust spd, spdsl, look and speedplay cleats easily.

Pedal Selection

I would say you should consider a few things even before buying cycling shoe cleats. Since different pedals are designed for biking on different terrains, you should not just go and buy some without any research.

If you own a mountain bike, and usually use your bike to climb those rough hilly roads, you can go for SPD pedals thus spd compatible shoes then cleats.
If you’re a road biker, tend to go on long road trips, SPD-SL, Look and Speedplay all three of them work on different levels of use. Even some of the triathlon bikers prefer spd as well. It comes down to personal preference and comfort.

Identifying Natural Feet Position

There are two ways you need to identify what your natural feet position is and how it moves.

Stand on a flat surface and do some marching, staying at the same place. Now see how your feet are positioned after you stop. See if they are rotating in or out. How wide are you standing?

Another way is to sit on a higher surface and let your feet fall free. Again, see if they are rotating in or out or staying straight.

In most of the cases our feet go a little bit outwards. Very rarely they are positioned straight or inwards.

Where Should You Place Your Cleat?

Depending on the natural position of your feet, natural motion while cycling, make fore and aft as well as angular adjustment.

You want to position the balls of your foot on the center of the spindle. That will ensure the maximum efficiency of the force exerted.

Adjust your angular positioning by pedaling on a trainer.

You can also adjust them from left to right. But that is on the pro side of adjustments.

How Much Foot Float Should My Cleats Allow?

It is the flexibility of the cleat sidewise. In a still position the foot might stay outwards 1.5 degrees but when in pedaling motion it might come inwards decreasing the angle to 1 degree. So identifying the foot float is important before buying your pedals or shoes. Here’s a table of floating angles varied by color.

LookFixed4.5 Degree9 Degree
SpeedplayMicro-adjustable Micro-adjustable Micro-adjustable Micro-adjustable Micro-adjustable
SPD-SLFixed2 Degree6 Degree

Can you walk in Your Cycling Shoes?

SPD shoes are the most walkable. So, if you’re a city commuter and require a lot of walking, SPD is the one to go with.

5 Very Useful Pro Tips

  1. While adjusting the angle, make sure to stay clear of hitting the crank arm or frame of the bike.

2. Replace the cleats timely. If they wear out and you still keep them on, dangerous accidents might occur. So, check 3 things

  • Thickness of the plastic
  • Check for cracks
  • Check for firmness of the bolts and washers.

If they require to be replaced and you love the current adjustments then maybe you’re asking: How to keep the current adjustments to the new cleats?

Well, I have the answer and it is quite easy! Just take a non-permanent marker or a pencil, draw a line bordering the old one and take it off. Now you have the exact position of the previous one on which you can easily install the new one.

After you put in the new ones, don’t tighten them completely. While it’s a bit loose, take a hammer and position it accordingly. Now tighten the bolt and you’re done!

3. Do not position your phalanges centered on the spindle. This happens when you position your cleats too far back. Having pain on the toes is the symptom of cleats too far back.

4. Do not position your mtp joint centered on the spindle.

5. It is common to have a difference in foot length, or don’t be alarmed if only one of your feet is twisted in or out.

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