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Tech Tuesday - Install and Adjust Pedal Cleats

Nov 1, 2011
by Richard Cunningham  
Installing and adjusting your pedal cleats is best done well before your important ride or race. Although the process is quite simple, you should take the time to get it right. Each new pair of shoes and sometimes a new bike can alter the feel of the pedals when you are riding in earnest. Don't skip over the heel-to-crankarm measuring step - this is the reference you'll need to make minor changes later. Another good tip is to use your normal saddle height before you start the process, and when you are checking the fit, stand up and pedal for a spell to ensure that all bases are covered.

What You ll need SPD compatible cycling shoes a sharpie marking pen a ruler or accurate measuring device and a set of cleats we are using Shimano but the same method works for all types.
What You'll need: SPD compatible cycling shoes, a sharpie marking pen, a ruler or accurate measuring device, and a set of cleats. We are using Shimano, but the same method works for nearly all types.

The pen is pointing at the ball of the foot. You ll need to find this spot when the shoe is on.
Step One: The first step is finding the ball of your foot.The pedal axle needs to line up with this joint to promote effective pedaling. The pen is pointing at the ball of the foot. You'll need to find this spot when the shoe is on.

Put on your shoes and then squeeze around the inside of the foot to locate the center of the ball of each foot.
Step Two: Put on your shoes and then squeeze around the inside of the foot to locate the center of the ball of each foot.

After you locate the ball of the foot through the shoe mark the spot on the sole with a Sharpie pen.
Step Three: After you locate the ball of the foot through the shoe, mark the spot on the sole with a Sharpie pen.

Draw a level line across the pedal using your mark line up the cleat and screw it down snugly don t tighten it completely yet I drew in a second line below the original - if you ride technical sections or jump a lot some riders like to set the cleat back 5 millimeters to add stability to the foot.
Step Four: Draw a level line across the pedal using your mark. Center the cleat along the line you drew and screw it down snugly (don't tighten it completely yet), I drew in a second line below the original - if you ride technical sections, or jump a lot, some riders like to set the cleat back 5 millimeters to add stability to the foot.

Ride around for a bit and then stop at the 12 3 6 and 9-o clock posiitions of the crank rotation. Check each position for side to side play in the cleat. If your shoe is binding to one side make a note if it s to the right or left at each stop.
Step Five: Ride around for a bit and then stop at the 12, 3, 6, and 9-o'clock posiitions of the crank rotation. Check each position for side to side play in the cleat. If your shoe is binding to one side, make a note if it's being forced to the right or left at each stop of the clock.

Set the crank at the forward 9-o clock position and measure the distance from the center of the crank arm to somewhere on the heel. Use this as a reference when you adjust the angle of the cleat. Make 1 4 inch 5mm adjustments to achieve best results.
Step Six: Set the crank at the forward, 9-o'clock position, and then measure the distance from the center of the crank arm to somewhere on the heel. Use this as a reference when you adjust the angle of the cleat. Make 1/4 inch (5mm) adjustments to achieve best results.

After establishing the distance from the heel to the crank arm remove the shoe and make small angular adjustments to correct any binding in the crank circle.Ride and recheck at all four positions. If all is go tighten the cleats and ride. Remember you ll need to retighten the cleats after your first good ride.
Step Seven: After establishing the distance from the heel to the crank arm, remove the shoe and make small angular adjustments to correct any binding in the crank circle. Ride and recheck at all four positions. If all is go, tighten the cleats and ride. Remember, you'll need to retighten the cleats after your first long day in the saddle.

Past Tech Tuesdays:

Tech Tuesday #1 - How to change a tube.
Tech Tuesday #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
Tech Tuesday #3 - How to remove and install pedals
Tech Tuesday #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
Tech Tuesday #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
Tech Tuesday #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
Tech Tuesday #7 - Tubeless Conversion
Tech Tuesday #8 - Chain Wear
Tech Tuesday #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
Tech Tuesday #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
Tech Tuesday #11 - Chain Lube Explained
Tech Tuesday #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
Tech Tuesday #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
Tech Tuesday #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
Tech Tuesday #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
Tech Tuesday #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
Tech Tuesday #17 - Suspension Basics
Tech Tuesday #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
Tech Tuesday #19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
Tech Tuesday #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock
Tech Tuesday #21 - Wheel Truing Basics
Tech Tuesday #22 - Shimano Brake Pad Replacement
Tech Tuesday #23 - Shimano brake bleed
Tech Tuesday #24 - Fox Lower Leg Removal And Service
Tech Tuesday #25 - RockShox Motion Control Service
Tech Tuesday #26 - Avid BB7 Cable Disk Brake Setup
Tech Tuesday #27 - Manitou Dorado Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #28 - Manitou Circus Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #29 - MRP G2 SL Chain Guide Install
Tech Tuesday #30 - Cane Creek Angleset Installation
Tech Tuesday #31 - RockShox Maxle Lite DH
Tech Tuesday #32 - Find Your Tire Pressure Sweet Spot
Tech Tuesday #33 - Three Minute Bike Preflight Check
Tech Tuesday #34 - MRP XCG Install
Tech Tuesday #35 - Stem Choice and Cockpit Setup
Tech Tuesday #36 - Handlebars - How Wide Affects Your Ride
Tech Tuesday #37 - Repairing A Torn Tire
Tech Tuesday #38 - Coil spring swap
Tech Tuesday #39 - Trailside help: Broken Shift Cable
Tech Tuesday #40 - Installing a Fox Float Air-Volume Spacer
Tech Tuesday #41 - Replace the Seals on Your 2011 RockShox Boxxer World Cup Fork
Tech Tuesday #42 - Clean and Lubricate Your Fox F32 Dust Wiper Seals
Tech Tuesday #43 - Thread Locker Basics
Tech Tuesday #44 - Install a SRAM X.0 Two-By-Ten Crankset
Tech Tuesday #45 - VPP Suspension Bearing Service
Tech Tuesday #46 - Rotor Straightening
Tech Tuesday #47 - Finding and fixing that creak
Tech Tuesday #48 - Bleed and Service Magura Marta Disc Brakes
Tech Tuesday #49 - Cup and Cone Hub Basics

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Author Info:
RichardCunningham avatar

Member since Mar 23, 2011
974 articles

  • 9 0
 technically, you line cleats up with the third metatarsal (where your middle toe 'starts') not the center of the ball of your foot. They do differ.
Also, cleat angle in relation to natural foot angle wasn't addressed at all... and is very important in cleat setup. Clearly everyone's feet don't sit the same way. You can do real damage to your ankles by setting up the cleat at the wrong angle. It should mimic you natural foot position as closely as possible while taking into account crank position.
Also, cleat position should ultimately be based more on knee position than foot position.

Otherwise, awesome tutorial, and very useful!
  • 13 28
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 1, 2011 at 3:23) (Below Threshold)
 Good points dkidd.

As for overuse injuries I think: just ride flat pedals and you won't damage your ankles, further knees and hips. Even when riding in 5.10s your foot will naturally end up where it's best for it. I don't want to open can of worms so I will only say that our bodies have been evolving for hundreds of thousands of years to be better and better runners... push down and backwards, rolling foot. All muscles, all joints work, sharing load. Seated pedalling with immobilized foot, fixed to something, so it can just rotate sideways?

Racing yes - but for anything else, Barefoot pedalling FTW!!!
  • 5 0
 in regards to your knees, clipless gives you the advantage in that you can secure your feet in a position that will be beneficial to your knees, in relation to your pedal rotation AND whatever cleat/foot shims you may be using to get the proper foot/arch/ankle support. That changes depending on foot position, and when not clipped in, your foot position changes through the pedal stroke in most cases.
Shims/wedges/insoles were not addressed at all, so I didn't mention them.

Bottom line: if you have bad knees, see a professional fitter and clip in.
  • 3 6
 Your foot position does not change through the pedal stroke don't be ridiculous, unless your shoes have no grip and just slide around on the pedals.
  • 5 10
flag WAKIdesigns (Nov 1, 2011 at 7:53) (Below Threshold)
 Iam not saying flats are better than clip-ins, I'm just promoting them for XC/trail/AM use
  • 6 1
 With clipless pedals you constantly have the same foot position of every pedal stroke you take every single time you ride. Don't even try to tell me that that's possible with flats, because it simply isn't. Once you have your foot on the flat pedals they might not move through a given pedal stroke, but odds are they will throughout your ride, and you may not even be in the correct position at that point anyway.
  • 2 5
 I haven't said the foot will move during pedal stroke
  • 2 0
 @dkidd: great points. It's how I set mine and I've way more power while pedaling than using the "ball of the foot" old technic.
@Rednrook/swearmouth: Of course your foot position moves during your pedal stroke with clipless but it's pretty settled: no more 3mm on each side and 5° from the cleat area to the heel, if you didn't you would have the worst tendinitis ever in your knees (It's how the first Look road clipless pedals were designed in the 80's and then they all switched to Time). Lateral and angular floats are great in clipless pedals, you just need to find a brand that provides the correct one for your knees
  • 2 0
 You guys are forgetting that most SPD's pedals have quite a bit of float. You can still turn your feet in the pedal while clipped in!
  • 2 0
 @dkidd - Is there a professional fitter in Vic?

@Bayou - Time added a few seasons to my knees after SPDs, but now it's been flats for a bit, but I am interested in meeting a professional fitter and seeing what can be done as trail riding was always a little better clipped in.
  • 2 0
 Forget my comment....didnt read anything properly. Completely irelevant and already mention :/
  • 4 0
Yes there is a professional fitter in town... Me.
That's what I was referring to... Your foot has to move a bit when you pedal. Limiting and guiding this movement is super important though.
  • 1 0
 Does anyone know of a good way to tell what the proper cleat angle should be before taking it out for a real ride? I've heard it said that if you are a little duck footed or pigeon toed then you should angle them out or in respectively but no clear formula for how much. The only method i found that worked was riding a short loop then adjust and repeat until its right. Anyone have something that works better?
  • 2 2
 I'm with Waki on this one - flats = less knee pain. A few days ago I completed 165km randonnee on tarmac with 2300 metres of climbing - on flats. No pain (not in my joints, anyway Smile )

Even after spending inordinate amount of time replicating my comfortable flats position with my cleats and physiotherapy and muscle conditioning, I still get knee pain clipped in. So flats for me from now on - dirt, tarmac, sprint races, endurance. If I was racing elite, I might care, but I'd prefer to drop a few places than to have to pop ibuprofen in order to sleep.

Plus, as suggested in the post below, I can move my foot fore/aft depending on what sort of pedalling I am doing.
  • 3 0
 where on your knee, dude?
I can guarantee you that foot or cleat shims, arch support or simply raising your saddle can solve the problem.
Get properly fitted.
You spent all that money on a full carbon road bike, but you won't drop $100 to get professionally fitted? Think of it this way, you wouldn't drop 2 grand on a suit without getting it tailored, why do any different for a bike, which can actually hurt you physically (not just your reputation Wink ) if it's not right?

@ freestylAM: there is no surefire way to tell you what angle to set your cleats up at. It depends on natural foot position, toe position/shape, lateral instability in the knees and/or ankles, and shoe fit, as well as a couple of other factors (crank width, for example).
  • 1 0
 I think I need to get my shoes re-fitted. I recently had to move my cleats for a buddy to test and I figured I'd try and do it better than the first time. Good read...and D-Rock...SBCU had a toll on you I see.
  • 1 3
 dkidd - raising your saddle... what kind of terrain you ride actualy? saddle height is not dependent only on achieving perfect pedalling efficiency in mountain biking. If I would ride a fireroad race I might put my saddle to this perfect spot, but in technical terrain I run it at least an inch lower, to help me go over obstacles, make it easier to move around on the bike when negotiating, most of all to make smoother transitions between standing and seated pedalling - and I'm not speaking downhills.

Riding in flat pedals vs cleats in technical cross country means quality VS speed.

Soft shoes like minnaars used with wide platform pedal, well fitted together with spacers to provide stable base, are great. They give you possibility to use all tiny muscles in your foot to balance your body, almost as you would stand on the ground. They also don't lock your foot in the shoe like a ski boot ( i had lots of pain in the foot when riding downhill on SPDs or all day XC rides) But a racing ballerina on non-platform pedal, like eggbeater gives you level of balance comparable to standing with these shoes on the ground and walking in them. However soft shoes+wide platform give you less float than ballerinas and eggbeaters so anyways, you move your foot less freely than on flats.

On tech terrain, steep rocky uphills when speed is low, balance is everything. Flat pedals give you this small bit of movement more, a small bit that is vital when stalling, shifting weight. Just try doing a track stand on flats and in spds and you'll feel the difference. And according to James Wilson there's more and more research confirming that stomping on pedals is as effective as turning circles by activating hamstrings, we don't run faster by pulling our foot up. You are also less likely when pedalling standing in flats to have "lazy leg syndrome" (putting a bit of load on pedal coming up)
  • 1 0
 @dkidd. I don't have a road bike
  • 4 1
 @WAKI: For a 160km randonneur ride on road, I certainly hope buddy there used a road bike. Not a mountain bike. However, professional XC racers are encouraged to run bike setups very similar to that of their road bikes. Clearly this doesn't hold for you average dirt jumper though.
1. if you use the "spacers to provide a stable base" as you suggested, you'll notice that most of the foots tendons (not muscles as much as you'd think) don't actually activate to maintain balance. A fully supported foot doesn't require alterations to foot shape to balance.
2. Your shoes hurt because they don't fit right. Buy better shoes, you won't have pain.
The reason ski boots and bike shoe's "lock your foot in" is because your foot does not need to change shape while pedaling. When you walk or run your metatarsal arch collapses and springs back, to give you more power. This does not happen when riding, and so most (good) bike shoes are designed to prevent metatarsal collapse. (improved power transfer and better bloodflow) As your foot does not collapse and "spread out" you don't need a shoe with as much toe room as a typical skate shoe or runner.
3. on technical terrain, especially climbs, you are pedaling at a far lower cadence than usual. As such, the more torque you can apply to the pedals the better. Thus clipping in when climbing gives you the most advantage. However, if there's truth to your claim, I'm sure we'll see all the Olympic XC athletes switching to 5.10 Freeriders within the next few days.

As a final note, I can't help reading your posts in a Hollywood-Russian accent.

@iamamodel: ...and yet you wonder why you have knee pain on long road rides... I must be missing something.
  • 1 4
 fuor fuacks syake, I don't say they are fkng better, I say there are pros to running flats for amateurs in XC. XC doesn't mean racing right away, just as going downhill doesn't mean doing extreme sport. And please don't even mention roadies because 99% of those riding in tour de france have no fkng idea about bike handling. And my shoe had a right tight fit, I even had two different shoe sizes because I have different feet - that was before shoe fitting came along.

What you say about balancing is total bullocks. If you have a ballerina shoe on regular xc racing pedal your foot surely does not use any muscles for balancing because you balance with whole foot being nearly a part of whole shoe on a 1x1cm base lying 2cm under your shoe because pedal gives you rotation in all axes. When you stand on wide platform in a looser shoe you can use different areas of your foot to balance - is that why all top dhers ride in soft shoes on platforms?!

I'm sure if they had a roadie coach they would ride in ti-eggbeaters in balerinas who would tell them to spin circles. And they would strongly forbid Danny Hart to do whips because scrubbing is not aerodynamiQ!

And BTW Olympic XC - I wouldn't be suprised if someone showed up with a cyclocross bike - riding skills required to compete on these tracks are a laugh. Lots of XC racing is a fireroad challenge anyways. So I don't fkng talk about racing
  • 2 0
 You`re pretty much 100% right, except for the comment about ski boots. The reason they are so tight is to keep you from rotating or moving inside the boot, increasing power transfer from your body to your edges. Trivial really though given that this is a cycling website, and the rest of what you`ve said is excellent.
  • 2 0
 @wiki: logic clearly isn't gonna win this one, and I'm sick of Internet arguments. I'm just gonna say whatever you just said (didn't really understand what you were trying to get across) was right.
@swear: I know absolutely nothing about ski boots... I was extrapolating from my education on road shoes. Turns out they're different... Who knew (LOL)
  • 1 0
 @WAKI "research confirming that stomping on pedals is as effective as turning circles by activating hamstrings, we don't run faster by pulling our foot up"

umm maybe not faster but yes we most definitely run more efficiently by pulling our feet up. Any runner that cares about distance works on getting their heels up, allowing a longer range of motion from contracted to full extension at the knee using gravity to create a pendular transfer of energy and not having to "kick" their feet forward, instead letting gravity do the work and momentum pulls their foot forward.
  • 1 2
 ok I missed the important detail: we do generate power while pulling up the leg during running. Off course you pull the leg up, otherwise how would it end up in the position to push down? But what is being said with clipless is: they allow you to generate power through out all pedal stroke. When Gunn Rhita Dahle was tested and proclaimed to be the most efficient pedaller on earth, they found out (as one of thousand things) she was not generating any power on up stroke, she was only "lifting" the foot enough to not put any resistance to leg that pushes down.
  • 1 0
 Well regardless of whether or not any kinetic energy is transferred to the cranks during an upstroke, there is muscle involvement... hamstrings or hip flexors, either way.
  • 2 0
 WAKI, if you don't know what you're talking about, don't post. Even clipped in there are 'dead spots' in the pedalling arc. That's why elliptical chainrings/etc. were introduced. (not saying these are a good idea, necessarily). Saying "they allow you to generate power through out all pedal stroke" is, in a word, incorrect
  • 9 1
 I have set up 2 pairs of SPD shoes for myself, and I have never used a ruler to tell me what felt good, and what didn't.
  • 5 0

Somewhat of a personal preference I suppose, but there is convincing evidence that more control and measurable power can be had by having your cleat aft as much as comfortable, from the ball of the foot. It works, try it.

The ball of the foot postion is a throw-back to early days of clipless.
  • 3 0
 I've been drilling new holes in all my shoes for the last 10 years to get the cleat aft of the ball. I just don't understand why shoes don't have more rearward adjustment. I did it in the beginning to stop hyper extending my ankles on big impacts from botched landings, which had me limping for many days way too often. It cured that problem 100% permanently. The bonus is it's much easier to clip in as the cleat is closer to where you naturally stand on the pedal.
  • 1 0
 Great link ukr77, thanks! Kramster, good thinking, I've been running the cleats all the way back for years, for the same reason. I'm going to try drilling holes and moving them back a few more mm. thanks!
  • 1 0
 It's a bit of a pain to do, but well worth it. I basically drill a similar diameter hole about as far back as it takes to have that hole merge with the existing opening. The difficulty arises because the inside of the shoe needs to be modified as well. The metal back plate won't slide down far enough, so you have to cut out some plastic. I use a hammer and a sharp chisel. If you have a dremel I'm sure it would be a lot easier. You will also want a sharp trimmer knife to cut the rubber from the sole too. Totally worth the effort.
  • 3 0
 Great Tech Tuesday. A wrongly position cleat can really mess up a ride hardcore. I find that its very difficult for me to get my left cleat positioned correctly no matter what I do. But its so easy with the right, weird.
  • 1 0
 Agreed, I always have a horrible time setting up my left foot. I try to line up my cleats based on the shoes I previously took them off of.
  • 2 0
 Wow, lots of info here and opinion. I clipped in maybe 16/17 years ago. I could never ride flats again, although they are better to do jumps and whips/etc. But I've never had a knee/ankle problem. I enjoy the control they provide banging through tech and the speed they offer. I DH in them as well, and I believe the tend is going back to clip ins for DH.
  • 2 0
 Whilst this guide focusses on the cleat position relative to the ball of the foot for efficient pedalling, it doesnt touch on the benefits of moving the cleat back towards the instep, which gives greater control whilst riding technical stuff or descending. I did this recently after a coaching session with Neil Donoghue and it really improved my ability to get 'behind' the bike whilst descending or riding through rock gardens or multiple roots. It also helps when dropping your heel in cornering, allowing the COG to drop lower... It doesn't detract too much from pedalling efficiency either, but the increase in control is huge. Give it a try!
  • 1 0
 I keep my tension on theSPD pedasl really, really loose to give me the up-stroke power still, but also leaves a super easy side-ways pop-out... I fit the cleat as central and as sensible as possible but it does render where the cleat position on the shoe sits kind of useless then... Nicely done tutorial though...
  • 1 0
 I recently bought clipless pedals and had then adjusted at the bike shop just like that, had two problems, first it was that I could never find the clip but that was maybe me not being used to it, and the fact that they where crank bros Mallets and after a long ride standing up it was very uncomfortable.
Finally I got fed up and adjust them so my foot position would be the same as with normal platforms, problem solved.
Now I´m really enjoying then, it feels so nice knowing my feet wont slip from the pedals (I ride a hard tail)
Still it´s a little tricky getting off the bike, but it´s OK. Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Hey I learned something new, didn't think people rode on a mountain with those sidi shoes. I would wear those to the disco tonight if I were you.
  • 1 0
 Yeah about the multi-release cleats, the ones he's using here, is there any reason to use them more than the single release ?
  • 2 1
 Seems like by the time i've messed about doin all that i can just put my five tens on and just get on with riding.
  • 1 0
 Because under the rare circumstances more people agreed with him.
  • 2 1
 Fiveten w/stealth rubber soles > all clipless systems
  • 1 0
 The war is on!
  • 7 0
 that guy mostly rides roads bikes. road bikers shave their legs so it would be easier to treat road rash in the event of a crash.
  • 4 1
 ..and also massages. Massages with hairy legs hurt!
  • 2 0
 how do we know it's a guy?
  • 4 0
 @mtnbker395 if you happen to get a chick naked and she has a foot like the person in the pic, then just run away Big Grin
  • 1 0
 It's also not too likely to be a girl when it's by somebody called Richard...
  • 2 0
 the world is full of possibilities my children.
  • 1 0
 Is it just me or is ironic that they are puting multi release cleats on such amazing shoes?
  • 1 0
 those are not the multi release ones. if you look at them closely they don't have the extra metal piece that those would have on them.
  • 1 0
 just noticed that! good eye!
  • 1 0
 the 'M' stands for multi-release (I've been led to believe) also, silver usually denotes the multirelease.
  • 1 0
 the above was supposed to be under rumblefishes comment. Evidently I'm retarded.
  • 1 0
 sm-sh 56 : multi-release cleats
sm-sh 51 : single-release cleats
51 are often black, 56 used to be gold or silver.
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