A cleat connects the pedal to the shoe, and it determines the fore-and-aft, lateral, and rotational position of the foot. If a cleat isn’t properly oriented, the misalignment between the pedal and the leg’s physiology could eventually cause hip, knee, or ankle problems. Follow these steps to ensure you get the proper cleat adjustment on road or mountain bike shoe and pedal systems.
1. Put the shoe on and mark the position of the ball of the foot (the bump behind the big toe) on the outside of the shoe. Take the shoe off and continue the line straight across the shoe sole. If you are replacing existing cleats of the same type, simply trace around the old cleat with a pen, set your new cleat there, and tighten it down. Voila! You can skip the rest of this.
2. Grease the threads of the cleat screws and screw the cleat onto the shoe. This usually requires a 4mm hex key. If the cleats come with adhesive-backed sandpaper cut to the shape of the cleat, adhere it to the bottom of the cleat.
Point the front of the cleat forward. It may be obvious, or an arrow may indicate forward; otherwise, the cleat instructions will specify orientation, and in some cases, on which shoe each cleat should be mounted.
3. Position the cleat. With the cleat in the middle of its lateral- and rotational-adjustment range, set its fore-and-aft position so that the pedal spindle will be under or just behind the ball of the foot. Cleats may have a mark on the side indicating the spindle position or may be symmetrical about the center of the pedal. Line up the mark or the center of the cleat 0–1cm behind the line you drew in step 1 across the shoe sole.
When the shoe is level, the ball of the foot should be between zero and 1cm forward of the pedal spindle. A further-forward foot may help develop power, while high-cadence spinning is usually enhanced with the foot farther back. A gear-masher will like the cleat farther back than will a spinner. Very small feet sometimes do better with the cleat farther forward on the shoe. Riders with large feet (size 46 or greater) often prefer the cleat all the way back to reduce the calf’s work in controlling that long lever. And pedaling force from a large rider, concentrated on the same-size cleat as for a small rider, is better distributed over the shoe if the cleat is located behind the ball of the foot, which reduces pressure under the metatarsals. Mountain-bike shoes and cleats offer more rearward positioning than road pedals other than Speedplay, which offers a cleat extender base plate kit to offset the cleats 14mm further rearward than the standard plastic base plates.
4. Snug the screws down.
5. Put the shoes on, sit on the bike, and clip into the pedals. Ride around, noticing the position of your feet.
6. Set the lateral cleat position. Generally, the closer your feet are to the plane of the bike, the more efficient your pedaling will be, but if your ankles bump the cranks or if your knees are wider than your feet, you will need to re-adjust. Take the shoes off and adjust the cleats laterally, if necessary.
7. Set the rotational cleat position. You may feel pressure on one side of your heel from the shoe. If so, remove your shoes and rotate the cleat slightly in the direction that relieves that pressure.
Most pedals offer free-float, allowing the foot to rotate freely for a few degrees before releasing, making precise rotational cleat adjustment less critical. Start with the greatest amount of free-float the system allows. You can reduce the float later if you desire, either by an adjustment on the cleat or pedal, interchanging the left and right cleats, or by getting different cleats with reduced float range.
8. Once your cleat position feels right, trace the cleats with a pen or a scribe. That way, you can tell if the cleat stays put over time.
9. While holding the cleat in place, tighten the bolts down firmly. If you have a small torque wrench, tighten the cleat screws to 35–43 in-lbs (4–5 Nm). Otherwise, hold the hex key close to the bend to minimize your leverage so that you do not over-torque and strip the bolts. While there is little danger of over-tightening with a screwdriver, take care that the blade (or Phillips tip) fits well in the screw slot (or Phillips cross) and push down firmly while tightening.
10. Check the screw length. Remove the insole and feel around inside to ensure that the screws are not pushing up into the sole. Get shorter screws if necessary.
11. Carry cleat-tightening tools the first few rides. You may want to fine-tune the cleat adjustment over the course of a few rides.
12. Retighten the cleat bolts after every ride for the first few rides. After that, the cleat will have pushed itself into the shoe sole as far as it can go. This is particularly important with a mountain bike shoe, where the metal cleat is hard and the outsole is soft. This is the key to keeping the cleat bolts from falling out as well as preventing the cleats from slipping. Threadlock compound on the bolts also can help. Once the bolts stop turning at the same torque setting, you can stop doing this daily.
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