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I've found a number of articles saying there is no advantage in having the cleat under the ball of your foot as opposed to further back towards the arch. The reasoning is that the calf muscle is not suited for endurance efforts and shouldn't be overused while cycling.

Most of a cyclist's power comes from the quads, glutes and hamstrings - the lower leg only connecting to the pedal and stabilising what happens above. It doesn't contribute enough to justify its energy expenditure. The idea is there will be more oxygen/fuel left for the bigger muscle groups. Side benefits include a reduction in the overall height on the bike for better aerodynamics and hopefully the elimination of my recurring Achilles tendinitis.

This really resonates with me, as I often get sore calves, even when I have positioned the cleat as far back as possible on my shoes.

Is anyone aware of any research or information supporting a more forward location for the cleat?

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There is the practical consideration that your toe will tend to collide with the front wheel if your foot is too far forward on the pedal. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 28 '11 at 6:11
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Interesting. My calf muscles are the only ones I can't seem to wear out no matter what I do. I can have every other muscle in my leg destroyed and the calves still don't complain a bit. I always figured that they were the most friendly to extended periods of high level output. –  Brian Knoblauch Dec 30 '11 at 12:50
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Try running bare foot, running on the balls of your feet. Even just a half mile or mile. Now wait a day and get on your bike. You will notice just how much you use your calves when biking because they will be screaming in pain. - trust me, i have done it a few times flipping back and forth from running to cycling in a week. –  Matt Adams Dec 30 '11 at 17:23

5 Answers 5

First off, i question why anyone thinks the calf muscle is not suited for endurance. Its a very active component of running, biking, jumping and so on.

The ball of your foot can take hours of running, biking and other activity with high pressure. The arch of your foot is soft, and where tendons stretch across. A cleat in your arch would cause massive pain over time.

Additionally, the clipped in pedal motion for ideal power is a triangle. Push down, scrape back. This backward pull would be difficult from the arch, and not very fluid feeling. Also likely causing other injuries.

I am not a doctor, medical professional or trained in physical therapies. Just an avid cyclist that pushes 4500 miles a year, 2 - 3 centuries on a road bike and several other mountain bike events annually.

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I would have thought with stiff cycling shoes the position of the cleat wouldn't increase the pressure in a spot. The pressure should still be spread evenly along the foot. –  Mac Dec 30 '11 at 2:57
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I think it depends on the shoe. Higher end shoes are indeed stiffer the full length. Pressure on the bottle would cause a lot of stress on the arch of the shoe, as all the power being pressed down will still be toward the ball and heel, causing stress and flex in the arch. Stand on a ladder rung with the ball of your foot, and then the arch. Feel the difference and the flex of your shoe. The ball of your foot will provide the best power transfer and comfort. –  Matt Adams Dec 30 '11 at 17:20

Toe overlap due to feet being further forward is only an issue at low speeds - you don't corner by turning the bars, you lean.

It's not that the calf muscle is not suited to endurance, the issue is that it is contributing very little actual power during the pedal stroke (it's just stabilising) and yet it is using up energy that would be better saved for the 'worker' muscles.

Properly-fitted stiff-soled cycling shoes basically negate the ball/arch pain comparison.

Midfoot is not suited to sprint events or crits where rapid changes of pace occur - it's suited to steady state events - TT, Triathlon, Audax, etc. Something like 6 out of top 10 Kona Ironman finishers were using midfoot. The winner and second place of RAAM both use midfoot.

Anyway, I'm shortly going to be testing midfoot for long distance time trials, you can read about any progress (good/bad) here.

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There is a school of thought that advocates the mid-foot position. A longtime friend of mine (and doctor) who does a lot of singlespeed, high-torque endurance riding brought the Biomac website to my attention back in 2009. Their developer Götz Heine is an ex pro, and chiropractor. Joe Friel has also favourably reviewed the Biomac shoes.

Personally I started migrating my cleats backwards from the ball of the foot in 2005 and it took four years to move them as far back as they will go in off-the-peg shoes. It hasn't made a difference to my feet; the cleat nearer the arch causes no pain when used with a stiff (carbon-soled) shoe. Subjectively it does however ease the stretch in my calves and I now get less cramp during 12 and 24-hour solo race efforts.

I realise that's hardly scientific evidence, but the cleat range on off-the-peg cycling shoes won't allow you to move the cleats far enough back to harm yourself, so trying it for yourself is perfectly feasible. Be aware that it does take time for your muscles to adapt to the new position and your feet to learn where the pedals are, so just going out for a couple of hours isn't the basis for making the decision.

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How do you cope with the increased toe overlap? –  John Zwinck Jan 2 '12 at 14:52
    
@John - I haven't had any issues with toe overlap. The only issue I did have was having to move my saddle forwards by an equivalent amount that I had moved the cleats backwards. –  nick3216 Jan 3 '12 at 15:00

I tried it. I moved the cleat to the furthest rear position.

It seems ok for seated pedalling. However, when standing up, it just seems wrong and I can't get any power out of it. Basically, the balance on the bike just isn't working for me.

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+1 for the "working for me" Everyone is different....... –  mattnz Apr 23 '12 at 4:29

Try sprinting with foot back at the pedal. Is it possible? I hardly think so.

I think this depends on type of ride, and what's the riders style. For racers, mountain bikers, who have to shift their riding position depending on the approaching terrain, there cannot rely on hard and fast rule to where to position, unless its clipped. The position can(and should) vary.

For a road cyclists who is sprinting, it will be a worst nightmare if he thinks he can sprint with foot far back at cleat. I tried it once, sprained my ankle, out for weeks :(

For a downhill, placing your feet at the back will help you shift you weight towards back, may be helpful at some slopes.

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