The first thing every cyclist does when they move to a clipless pedal system is to set up the cleats. With the feet locked into the pedal, you must set up the cleats correctly to prevent any pain or injury to enjoy cycling.
In this article, I’ll be using the Shimano SPD-SL cleats as an example, as it’s the most common and popular system used by the majority. The same principle applies to Look, Speedplay, or Time pedal systems.
- Hex key (4mm)
- Electrical tape, masking tape, or something similar
- Marker pen
- Blue Loctite
- Torque wrench
Estimated time : 10 to 15 minutes
Step 1. Assess your foot’s natural position
Sit upright on a table or tall bench with your feet hanging and your knees at a 90º angle. Slightly roll forward at the hip to mimic your position on the bike.
Do your feet rotate in, out, or stay straight?
Observe both feet independently. Depending on your observation, you want to set the cleat angle to mirror your feet’ position so that you don’t force them into an unnatural position.
Step 2. Prepare your shoe
Cut four pieces of masking tape around 2” long. Stick them on the sides of each shoe.
Get the marker pen ready.
Step 3. Find your first and fifth metatarsal joints
Put on your shoes with your favorite cycling socks. Ensure the straps and/or BOA dials are tightened to a point where you feel comfortable and your feet are not moving around inside the shoe.
Using your thumb and middle finger, try to locate your first and fifth metatarsal joints. Move the fingers along the sides of your feet, and you’ll feel the bony protrusion of your big (first metatarsal) and little toe (fifth metatarsal).
Use the marker pen to mark the metatarsal joints on the tape.
Step 4. Connect the imaginary center line
Imagine a diagonal line between the two marks you made on the show in the previous step. The goal is to have the center of the pedal axle fall on this imaginary line.
Take a closer look at the Shimano SPD-SL cleats, and you will notice a small notch on both sides indicating the cleats’ (and pedal axle) center.
Install the cleats, aligning the center to the imaginary line. Use a bit of blue Loctite of grease on the bolts.
You don’t need to fully tighten the bolts yet, as you’ll be fine-tuning the cleat angle in the next step.
Step 5. Dial in the cleat angle
Place the shoe on a table edge and observe the shoe angle.
Are both cleats in a similar fore-aft position?
Is it heel in or heel out?
If you need to adjust the angle, keep these in mind (this may sound counterintuitive),
- More heel out – adjust the cleat inwards
- More heel in – adjust the cleat outwards
Step 6. Get on the bike
Ideally, you want to do this with your bike on an indoor trainer to minimize other external factors.
Put your feet in the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. Check that the ball of your foot is at the center of the pedal. It’s easier if you can get someone to check this for you.
If you’re using a cleat with float (Blue – 2º or Yellow – 6º on each side), you should be able to wiggle your foot on both sides equally.
Start pedaling with a gradual increase in power. Do you feel any tension in your hips or knee?
Slightly adjust the cleat angles accordingly. You want your feet to be in their natural position when pedaling, and the pressure should feel even on both feet.
Step 7. Tighten the cleat bolts
Once you’ve fine-tuned the cleat angle and are comfortable on the bike, use a torque wrench to tighten all the bolts with 4Nm of force.
This will prevent the cleats from moving as you unclip often.