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I have just started using the SPD system.

Having ridden without for years, it's proving to be a challenge and sometimes uncomfortable. A challenge, because the stop/start through traffic is a hassle clicking in and out. Uncomfortable, because my left shoe seems to be angled strangely. Will I get used to the system? Many thanks

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There are three main settings on your cleat:

  1. Fore-aft position, which should let you pedal with the metatarsal heads over the pedal axle, more or less;
  2. Lateral position, which should let a few free milimeters between the inner part of the shoe sole and the crank arm;
  3. The most important for you, which is the ANGLE between the longitudinal line of the cleat and the longitudinal line of the shoe.

For the third setting, you have to consider that SPD allows for some lateral play of the foot over the pedal. The position you pedal naturally MUST be the "midway" between each lateral-limiting position. Mind that human feet are not naturally parallel, the heel is a bit inwards and longitudinal lines of both feet describe an angle, which varies from person to person.

Pedalling with your cleat "locked" against some of the limiting positions induces a terrible stress on the knee and the ankle. You should take a tool with you for a setup ride (usually 4mm allen), and keep setting up as many times you need until you feel comfortable. Olny tighten it fully after having found the right position, since the cleat bites the shoe sole permanently then.

As for unease to clip and unclip, you'll get used to it, but you should start using the lowest spring preload that is enough to keep you cliped even when pulling the pedal up with the shoe. A minimal amount of oil on working surfaces might ease things in the beginning, but SPD pedals don't typically require constant lubrication.

Hope this helps!

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    2x on the above. Dialing the preload back so that it is easier to unclip is key. It will make you much more comfortable and confident. You can increase the preload once you feel more comfortable, but unless you are regularly popping out of the clip when you pull up against your shoe there is little reason to do so. Better to be able to get unclipped quickly. – Wadelp Mar 12 '13 at 20:27
  • I knackered a knee with badly angled cleats. Don't do it! – alex Mar 13 '13 at 2:55
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    Personally, I unclip by twisting my heel inward, making my knee to away from the frame. I find that I have much more movement in this direction which makes it easier to unclip. The only disadvantage I've found is that the side of the heel on my shoe has become worn because it sometimes comes in contact with the tire. It hasn't hurt the integrity of the shoe at all, but it doesn't look very nice. – Kibbee Mar 13 '13 at 18:57
  • @Kibbee I use to do this while stopped. When one foot is already on the ground and the other knee is bent, making the movement like you described is way more "ergonomic" both for the knee and the ankle. – heltonbiker Mar 13 '13 at 19:47
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    I gave up on SPD when they broke my right ankle, the metal plate, 10 screws and the inability to ever wear high top shoes or boots again is the price I will pay for them. I've since discovered riding my touring bike with flat pedals has made me a happier and safer cyclist. In the 450 miles I've ridden since rehab, I've yet to miss them. – Joe Mar 14 '13 at 5:30
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I highly recommend going to your local bike shop for some help adjusting your cleats to make you more comfortable. Many good shops have professional bike fitters who can really help you dial the position of your cleats. Proper cleat position will not only help you ride more efficiently and comfortably, but also more safely. A cleat fitting is generally quite a bit less expensive than a complete bike fitting, but I highly recommend both even for casual riders. After all, if you have a big deductible on your insurance, then a good pro-fit session will pay for itself if it saves you just one visit to the doctor.

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Using (or switching back to) flat pedals may also be an option. Then you have the freedom to move your foot about while you are cycling, and this may alleviate the comfort problems you are having. And you will not have to worry about unclipping when stopping.

I take it that you are a commuter or recreational rider who have been convinced to try clipless pedals, but if you do not feel that you gain any advantage from them for your type of riding, you should not hesitate to switch back to a pedal interface that you feel more comfortable with.

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All answers are spot on, I just want to add a couple of tiny details.

You set your pedal tension to low (something like max tight minus 8 clicks). You ride for a week clipping and unclipping often. It becomes intuitive already ... but never quite as easy as flats. Now what?

Well, now do never forget that you can ride SPDs unclipped! When starting at a busy intersection you could pedal with the arch of the foot. There's no cleat there and you are effectively using the pedal like a slightly uncomfortable flat pedal. Then clip in after you have cleared the stressful intersection. Same applies for sections of MTB track where you think you might need to dab.

Now about unclipping technique. You need to twist your foot to unclip, move it to the side to clear the pedal and then step down, right? That's 3 movements, compared to only one for flats.

Wrong! Do move your foot diagonally! Initially leading with the heel chose a point on the ground to the side of the pedal and just step there, unclipping will happen as part of just stepping to the side of the bike. After a week of experience you will be able to unclip and step in a single swift movement! Still some miliseconds slower then flats (or arch-of-the-foot) and higher cognitive load but very close.

Happy riding!

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  • That unclipping technique sounds great, but it doesn't work at all for me. I might be able to adjust my cleats to allow it; I'll give it a try next time I readjust or move to different shoes. – jeffB Sep 17 at 15:56
  • @jeffB it has worked for me over various pedals and cleats. I use max minus 5 clicks tightness on the pedals and standard double side release cleats. I could cite the part numbers, but it's really many pedals and several cleats all working well together. -- Just optimise your foot path to be as short as possible - same as when trying to punch someone you don't do extra movements - you just move your fist to their face. Straight(est possible) line. – Vorac Oct 13 at 7:46
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It sounds like you just need to refine your setup. I would check the placement of the cleat on your left shoe. It may be out of alignment. Sometimes the plates that the cleats screw in move and aren't lined up straight when you tighten them down.

As far as clicking in and out. If you keep with it you'll get better at it. I struggle for a while when I started out, but now I am really fast. You'll learn what it feels like when your cleat is in the right spot.

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