To cleat, or not to cleat? That is the question for most beginner cyclists. For me, I highly recommend using a cleat and clipping in your shoes into the pedal. I think most seasoned cyclists would agree that clipping in your shoes will make your pedaling more efficient and will also keep the foot from slipping off during your most intense trainings.
That being said, properly attaching your cleats on your shoes is imperative or else you are bound to suffer from ankle and joint pains.
How to install cleats on indoor cycling shoes? For the best cycling experience, you must position your cleats under the ball of your foot. Aside from that, you must also consider how your feet naturally aligns with the pedal when your ride on your bike. Correctly placing your cleats will not only enhance your pedaling but will also prevent injuries or strains on your feet, knees, and legs.
Before we get down to the basics of properly installing cleats on your indoor cycling shoes, we need to clarify some things about the benefits of clipping in, and the different types of pedal and cleats.
Why use cleats?
Clipping in may not matter much if you are just taking it slow in your indoor bike. However, when you are pushing 100 rpm in your indoor bike, then clipping in will give you an advantage.
When you are not clipped in, you are mostly just pushing down on the pedals to spin them. With your feet locked into the pedals, you can now use the pulling action to pedal faster. Consequently, you engage more muscles than when you were just pushing the pedals.
More spins and more muscles? That sounds like good reasons for clipping into the pedals for indoor biking for me.
For outdoor biking, aside from more efficient pedaling, you will also avoid potentially hurting your shin with the pedal because your feet will not slip off the pedal.
A word of caution, however. Clipping in and out of your pedals takes some practice. It really will not be a problem when you are stable in your indoor bike or trainer. But, when you are outside biking in a medium to heavy traffic road and need to stop every once in a while, then you must know how to clip in and out fast. You don’t want to fall off your bike in the middle of the road. I suggest practicing in low traffic areas first for your safety.
What you need to know about pedals and cleats
So now, we will talk about the types of pedals and the kind of cleats that goes with them.
Keep in mind that when we talk about pedals in this article, we are referring to clipless, or sometimes called clip in pedals. The two most popular types of clipless pedals are the SPD and the Look Delta Pedals.
These pedal systems work basically in the same way. A cleat which is mounted on a shoe is clipped into the pedal by pressing down the shoe on the spring-loaded mechanism in the pedal and locks it in place. To disengage the shoe from the pedal, you must twist your foot sideways.
The SPD System
SPDs, which stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, are common in outdoor cycling but have become popular for indoor cycling as well. If you have a Spin Bike at home or you attend Spin Classes, you will be familiar with this type of pedal which is usually on the opposite side of a toe cage/clips. Many mountain bikers also prefer this type of pedal system.
If your bike’s pedals are SPD, then you must use SPD cleats which are mounted on SPD-compatible cycling shoes.
SPD cleats are small and somewhat looks like a spade (as in the playing cards) with a slightly more rounded tip. They have two bolts that attach to the two-bolt pattern in the recessed part of the sole of an SPD-compatible shoe.
The recessed cleat is actually the unique selling point of the SPD system. It allows you to easily walk around without the cleats protruding from your shoes.
It was actually designed for mountain biking so that when bikers need to walk on the trail, they will not be bothered by the cleats. That feature also became useful in indoor cycling classes since the recessed cleats will not likely scratch studio floors.
Take note however, that Shimano also carries an SPD-SL system which has three-bolts just like the Look Pedal System which I will discuss next.
The Look Pedal System
The pedals from this system are much wider than the Shimano.
In contrast to the SPD Cleats, the Look Cleats are triangular shaped and have a three-bolt system. They are also much bigger compared to the former.
Road bike shoes which have three-bolt patterns on the sole are compatible with this type of cleats. This type of shoe doesn’t have a recessed sole, unlike the SPD-compatible mountain bike shoes.
One downside of this road bike and Look Delta Cleat combo is that it makes walking cumbersome since the cleats are not recessed into the sole.
This pedal system is most often used with road bikes. Also, Peloton’s indoor bikes are equipped with Look Delta Clip-in Pedals.
SPD SL Pedal system is based on the three-bolts of the Look System. But they are not exactly the same. SPD SL Pedals are broader than the Look Pedals.
How to install the cleats on your shoes
Now that you have determined what type of cleats to use for your pair of shoes, it is time to walk you through the process of installing cleats.
The basic concepts in mounting SPD and Look Delta are practically the same.
The pair of cleats that you purchased, whether SPDs or Look will come with bolts and washers. Place the cleat on top of the sole aligned to the hole pattern.
Next, put the washer/s on top of the hole. You may notice that the washers do not fit snuggly. This is to allow you to adjust the position of the cleat later.
Put a little grease into the bolt. Then use an Allen wrench to thread the bolt into the pre-drilled hole pattern of your shoes but don’t tighten it up just yet because you need to find out the best position for your cleats first.
There are three main things to consider in getting your cleats in the right position: the fore-aft, the rotation or angle, and the lateral position of the cleat.
For the fore-aft position, ideally the cleats must be placed approximately under the balls of your foot. This way the balls of your foot sit squarely on the pedal. This will give more power when pushing the pedals. Also, putting your cleat too forward might cause you to grip your toes as you pedal and might lead to cramping.
To determine where the ball of your foot sits, look for the base of your big toe.
Some people like to be meticulous so they use ruler or tape measure to measure where exactly the base of the big toe sits and transfer the same measurement on their shoes. While some just like to eyeball and adjust the fore-aft position accordingly. Do what works for you.
Next, determine the natural alignment of your feet when you are standing or sitting down to help you determine the proper angle of the cleat.
One way to do this is to sit on the edge of a bed or a couch with your feet dangling down. Then see if your toes are pointing inwards or outwards or just straight up.
If your feet are toeing out more, then rotate your cleat a little bit inwards. On the other hand, if your feet are toeing in, then rotate your cleats a bit outward.
The next step is to determine the lateral position of your cleat. This can be done by sitting on your trainer in front of the mirror. Then look at how your hip, knees, and ankles align.
If your knees are going inward and your ankles are in outward position the cleats a little bit outward of the shoe. If the opposite is true, then put the cleats a little bit inward.
You can try clipping in first, and find the most comfortable fit for you. Adjust your cleats accordingly then tighten the bolts into the shoe.
Are SPD SL Cleats compatible with the LOOK Pedal? No. Although SPD and Look both have the three bolts system, they are not compatible with each other. Always make sure that your are buying a pedal-specific cleat for your shoes.
Are there cycling shoes that are compatible with both SPD and Look Cleats? Most cycling shoes are compatible with either one of SPD or Look Cleats. But there are some shoes that have a universal outsole that is compatible with both the two-bolt and three-bolt systems like this Giro Techne Cycling Shoes. However, unlike purely SPD-compatible shoes, the cleats will stick out a little bit sole since the midsole is not recessed.