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I bought some SPD clipless pedals and shoes at the beginning of the season, and I want to make sure I'm getting the most out of them. There is quite a bit of distance I can move the cleat forwards and backwards on the shoe.

  • Is there an optimal position for the cleat?
  • Are there certain positions better suited towards hill climbing or riding mostly on flat land?
  • Should I just try a bunch of different positions and see which is most comfortable for me?

A lot of questions I guess, just looking for general recommendations on placement. The cleat is currently in the middle, and I don't have any real "problems" with them, like pain or fatigue, I'm just wondering if my setup is optimal.

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It should be noted that two different pedals may not position the cleat at the same location relative to the pedal axle. In my experience there's perhaps a 2cm difference between the fore/aft positions of the most "extreme" pedals. So an adjustment that works for one pedal may not be suited for another. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 18 at 18:15
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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You pedal with the ball of your foot and this should placed directly above the pedal axle. However, because you move your foot in a ~170mm radius circle altering the angle of your foot, 'directly above' moves back and fore through the pedal stroke. Getting the ball of the foot behind the axle is not desirable as you are then using the toes rather than the ball (or arch) of the foot to pedal with. Therefore, in practice, you need to have the ball of your foot approximately 10mm forward of the axle.

Placing the ball of the foot 10mm forward of the axle helps during the bottom of the power stroke. You can push the pedal backwards through the dead spot. It also helps at the top of the stroke. IMHO if the toes are having to do all the work (and the cleats are too far forward) then you can tell on a climb - the toes want to give up on you, almost dangerously so...

Alignment is also important. Ideally you want the cleats to be pointing forward with the left/right bolts in the same positions in their little slots on each shoe. This can feel 'pigeon toed' when you get on the bike and it does no harm to angle in the heels so long as there is clearance between them and the cranks. We all have variations in gait and this needs to be accommodated with a little bit of adjustment.

On the subject of natural variations, we all have one foot larger than the other, sometimes this can be some margin, in many cases this can be a whole E.U. shoe size. In practical terms, if placing the cleat so that the ball of the foot to be 10mm forward of the axle, there should be no need to adjust relative cleat positions.

As for determining exactly where the ball of the foot is, with an already worn shoe you can take the insole out and line it up with the sole. Otherwise you have to take an educated 'feel' from looking at your feet on the pedals.

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The "neutral" position places the ball of your foot over the pedal spindle, which I assume is where you're at.

Conventional wisdom has it that sprinters and high-cadence riders will want the cleat positioned a little forward of that, LSD riders a little aft of that. But as with most positioning questions, the right answer is "whatever works for you."

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Yep, "whatever works" is the ultimate best answer. The other "rules" are just suggestions for a starting point. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 24 '11 at 15:24
    
What does LSD stand for? –  amcnabb Jul 3 '12 at 19:12
    
"long steady distance." –  Adam Rice Jul 13 '12 at 16:47
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Here is a very good article about fitting cleats. It contains advice about:

  • Locating the correct initial position
  • Adjustments from that position, including angle of the foot
  • Maintenance/lubrication

I am impressed by the level of detail and would definitely recommend having a look.

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Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. –  freiheit Aug 27 '11 at 21:18
    
@freiheit I agree, but I looked carefully at the article and tried to figure out how to summarise it and couldn't come up with much. It's a pretty concise article. I'd have to reproduce it almost in it's entirety. –  Mac Aug 28 '11 at 9:09
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Just adding one more tool as it were... if possible a final option is to put your bike on a stationary trainer (and grab a friend and a pencil.)

  • Leave the cleat bolts a titch loose (snug, but not fully tight.)
  • Pedal for a few minutes.
  • Then have the friend mark out the cleat position while your still locked in.
  • Dismount, line up the cleats with the pencil marks and tighten fully.

At least that was the old fashioned way from way back when.

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