Gear

Technical FAQ: Cleat positioning, riding tubulars when flat

I’ll bet lots of people have looked at the marks on shoe soles and wondered what they mean. I passed this question along to Shimano, Bont, Giro, and Scott.

Dear Lennard,
In my 30 years of racing and working on bikes, I feel like I have a good understanding of most things bike-related. But one thing continues to mystify me: road shoe cleat grids. Some, like the Shimano RC901, look like they were inspired by the weapons system of a nuclear submarine, but I’ve never seen any documentation for what all those angles and lines are supposed to mean, and I can’t make heads or tails out of it when I try to set up cleats. Others, like Giro shoes, get completely occluded by my cleat, so are no help at all. A pair of Scott shoes that I own have numbers so far behind the most rearward cleat position that I have no idea how you’d use them. This leads to a few questions: first, what do shoe manufacturers’ grid markings mean? In particular, are some markings meant to indicate anything about foot anatomy? For example, what does the zero line on Bont shoes indicate, if anything? Why isn’t there typically any documentation provided with shoes regarding their cleat grids? Finally, since every shoe is made from an anatomical last, wouldn’t it be helpful if the industry standardized their grid markings and centered their grids on a hypothetical default cleat placement like the midway point between a hypothetical first and fifth metatarsal? Since cleats come with a center of axle mark, this seems like it would simplify cleat setup by offering at least a starting place for fore-aft placement. I suspect that some grids do this, but lack of documentation makes this just a guess.
— Steven

Dear Steven,
This is a great question, and one that I have never gotten before, despite that I’ll bet lots of people have looked at those marks on shoe soles and wondered what they mean. I passed on your questions to Shimano, Bont, and Giro’s marketing agency, and to Scott USA, and I received answers from Shimano and Bont.
― Lennard

From Shimano:
“Simply stated, any visible grids or lines on the sole of a cycling shoe are a reference for cleat placement for that specific shoe. Due to the complexity of manufacturing and the myriad of lasts used in cycling shoes, there is no standardized placement for these reference lines among manufacturers.

The accepted standard for modern cleat setup is to align the center of the cleat between the first and fifth metatarsal heads, adjusting rotational alignment to allow free movement in both internal (toe toward the bike) and external (heels toward the bike) rotation. When cleats need to be adjusted to meet these goals, the grid on the base of the shoes is a reference for a rider or fitter to make incremental adjustments.

In the case of the S-Phyre RC901, the shoe is system engineered with the SPD-SL cleat for ideal setup and function. The outsole markings are the result of studies revealing the ideal cleat placement for an average rider in each shoe size. Mounting the SPD SL pedal cleat in line with the X and Y axis lines of the shoe results in an ideal position for the majority of the population, both aligning with first and fifth metatarsals and accommodating the five degrees of external rotation found in more than 80 percent of riders. The RC901 provides a total of 22mm of fore-aft adjustment when used with an SPD SL cleat, and gives the rider, and their fitter, reference markings for medial/lateral, fore/aft, and rotational cleat placement.

Chris Jacobson
Product Manager, Pro Bike Gear, Shimano, Pearl Izumi

Shimano SPD SL cleat placement grid
Shimano SPD SL cleat placement grid. Image: Shimano

From Bont:
“I’ve pulled out a couple of the questions and provided some insight into how we do things at Bont Cycling.

What do shoe manufacturers’ grid markings mean?

You’ll notice differences in the style of our grid markings across the range and the primary reason for any grid marking is to provide a reference point for cleat installation, adjustment, and replacement.

What does the zero line on Bont shoes indicate, if anything?

The central marking on our grid patterns is simply a central reference point between the two lower cleat drill holes. For reference, all our shoes are hand made, and this also means the grid markings are applied by the shoemaker during the production process. The central marking is as much a reference point during manufacturing as it is for aesthetics.

Anatomical lasts and industry-standard grid markings:

There are very few, if any, cycling shoe manufacturers who use a pure anatomical last for their shoe design and construction. Bont Cycling uses the data from over 20,000 foot-scans to create a last designed to specifically meet the demands of cycling and is built around the shape of the human foot. It’s one of the reasons our shoes look a little different from others, and you’ll see this most apparent in the forefoot section of the shoe.

As the largest manufacturer of custom cycling shoes, we can tell you that every foot is different and this is why the creation of an industry standard for cleat marking using, for example the first and fifth metatarsal, isn’t possible. We place our cleat holes in what we believe to be a neutral position for the majority of feet and on some models, we provide a slotted cleat hole arrangement for additional adjustment.
Steven Nemeth
CEO, Bont Cycling

More questions: tubulars vs tubeless tires

Dear Lennard,
Please tell Vito that if he is concerned about being stranded on the side of the road because he’s riding tubulars, have him look at the many, many pictures of Fausto Coppi.

There is also the concern of availability, I have not seen a tubular tire or rim in a bike store in years.

Also, I believe one or more of your books covers patching tubular tires.
— John

Dear Lennard,
What I really was happy to hear was that you have been using tape and ditched the glue and how quick and fast it can be done. I was also surprised when you mentioned that in the event of a puncture or blow out that a well-adhered tire wouldn’t roll off the rim. It almost makes me want to invest in a tubular setup if even if it is only Sunday-riding sort of speak.

What I’m curious though would you be able to ride the bike? I say this because at the beginning of last season I suffered two punctures simultaneously and was fortunate that I was able to get a ride back home because the bike wasn’t ridable it seemed that the tires want to come off.
— Vito

Dear Vito,
You can ride short distances with a flat tubular, but it’s not something you want to do very far. I’ve ridden a few miles on flat tubulars to get home, as well as for perhaps five minutes on dirt trails to get back to the pit after a flat in a cyclocross race. It’s dangerous to go fast on them; you can’t corner at anything more than a mile or two an hour, and it bumps every time the valve stem comes around. And while it is not as hard on a tubular rim as riding on a flat on a clincher rim, it is still hard on the rim.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
One issue you did not address in your article on tubulars is: replacement on the road after a puncture. Is the deflated tubular easily peeled from the taped rim, and will the old tape hold a spare tubular well enough to immediately ride off on it, or do you need to carry new tape on a ride for use in replacement? Is any preparation of the spare suggested before packing it?
— Rodger

Dear Rodger,
You need to bring more tape. In peeling the tire off, the tape can in some places stay attached to the rim and in other places attached to the tire. So, it all needs to be peeled off. You can apply tubular gluing tape on the side of the road.
― Lennard


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” “DVD, as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn