How to Install Cleats on Bike Shoes

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Cleats are metal or plastic attachments that fit on the sole of your shoes and clip into your pedals. They allow you to transfer more power to the pedals, improve your pedaling efficiency, and enhance your stability and control.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of how to install cleats on bike shoes. We’ll cover everything from choosing the right cleats and pedals to installing them using a simple toolkit and step-by-step instructions. We’ll also provide some tips and tricks to make the process easier and more comfortable.

Types of Cleats and Pedals and How to Choose

There are three main types of cleats and pedals: two-bolt, three-bolt, and four-bolt

1. Two-Bolt Cleats and Pedals (SPD)

Let’s start with the most common and versatile type of cleats and pedals: two-bolt, also known as SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics). These cleats and pedals are popular among beginners, commuters, mountain bikers, and casual riders.

SPD cleats are small and recessed into the sole of the shoe, which makes them easy to walk in and suitable for different terrains and disciplines. They are also compatible with most types of bike shoes, so you have a wide range of options to choose from. The spring-loaded mechanism on SPD pedals allows you to clip in and out easily, giving you a sense of security while riding.

Pros of SPD Cleats and Pedals:

  • Versatile and suitable for different terrains and disciplines
  • Easy to walk in due to the recessed design
  • Compatible with most bike shoes
  • Easy to clip in and out

Cons of SPD Cleats and Pedals:

  • Less power transfer and efficiency compared to other types
  • May not be suitable for advanced or performance-oriented riding

2. Three-Bolt Cleats and Pedals (Look or SPD-SL)

Next up, we have three-bolt cleats and pedals, also known as Look or SPD-SL. These are the most popular type of cleats for road cycling and are favored by advanced, competitive, and performance-oriented riders.

Look cleats are larger and protrude from the sole of the shoe, which makes them less suitable for walking and off-road riding. However, this design provides a larger and more stable contact area between the shoe and the pedal, resulting in increased power transfer and efficiency.

Pros of Look Cleats and Pedals:

  • More power transfer and efficiency compared to SPD cleats and pedals
  • Ideal for advanced and competitive riders
  • Wide range of options and compatibility with road cycling shoes

Cons of Look Cleats and Pedals:

  • Difficult to walk in due to the protruding design
  • Less suitable for off-road riding

3. Four-Bolt Cleats and Pedals (Speedplay)

Lastly, we have four-bolt cleats and pedals, also known as Speedplay. While less common than the other types, Speedplay cleats and pedals offer unique advantages for road cyclists who value flexibility and customization.

Speedplay cleats are circular and have a dual-sided entry, which means you can clip in from either side of the pedal. This feature, combined with their low profile and light weight, reduces the weight and drag of the bike, allowing for a smoother and more efficient ride.

Pros of Speedplay Cleats and Pedals:

  • More flexibility and customization in cleat position and angle
  • Dual-sided entry for easy clipping in from either side
  • Lightweight and low profile design

Cons of Speedplay Cleats and Pedals:

  • Less common and may be harder to find
  • Higher cost compared to other types

Choosing the Right Cleats and Pedals

Now that you know the main types of cleats and pedals, how do you choose the right ones for your bike and shoes? Here are a few factors to consider:

1. Compatibility: Check the number and pattern of holes on the sole of your bike shoes. Most shoes have either two or three holes, but some have both or even four holes. Make sure your shoes match the type of cleats and pedals you want to use, or have the right adapters or converters to make them compatible.

2. Riding Style and Goals: Consider your riding style and goals. If you’re a beginner, commuter, mountain biker, or casual rider, SPD cleats and pedals are a versatile and user-friendly option. If you’re an advanced, competitive, or performance-oriented rider, Look or Speedplay cleats and pedals offer more power, efficiency, and adjustability.

3. Personal Preferences and Comfort: Think about your personal preferences and comfort. Do you have a preference for a certain brand, color, design, or material? Consider how easy or hard it is to clip in and out, the amount of float or rotation the cleats allow, and the tension or resistance of the pedals. Try different types of cleats and pedals before making a decision.

4. Budget: Set a realistic budget for your cleats and pedals. Prices vary depending on the type, brand, quality, and features. Look for the best value and quality within your range, and consider the maintenance and replacement costs of your cleats and pedals over time.

How to Install Cleats on Bike Shoes

Tools You’ll Need:

Before we dive into the installation process, let’s gather the tools you’ll need:

  1. Pair of bike shoes
  2. Pair of cleats
  3. Pair of pedals
  4. Hex wrench or allen key
  5. Screwdriver
  6. Marker
  7. Grease or anti-seize compound

General Steps for Installing Cleats on Bike Shoes

Now that you have your tools ready, here are the general steps for installing cleats on your bike shoes:

1. Remove the old cleats (if any) from your shoes. Clean the sole of your shoes to ensure a smooth surface for the new cleats.

2. Align the new cleats on the sole of your shoes. Use a marker to mark the position and angle of the cleats. This will help you maintain consistency when attaching them.

3. Apply a small amount of grease or anti-seize compound to the cleat bolts. This will prevent them from seizing up or getting stuck over time.

4. Using a hex wrench or allen key, screw the cleat bolts into the cleat plate. Tighten them securely, but be careful not to overtighten, as you may need to adjust them later.

5. Attach the new pedals to your bike. Apply some grease or anti-seize compound to the pedal threads to ensure smooth installation.

6. Using a hex wrench or allen key, screw the pedals into the crank arms. Make sure they are tight and properly aligned.

7. Clip your shoes into the pedals and check if they feel comfortable and stable. Adjust the cleat position and angle if necessary.

Specific Steps for Different Cleat Types

Now, let’s explore the specific steps and tips for installing different types of cleats on your bike shoes:

1. SPD Cleats and Pedals:

  1. Remove the rubber cover from the sole of your shoes, if applicable, to expose the two holes for the cleat plate.
  2. Align the cleat plate on the sole of your shoes and insert the cleat bolts through the holes.
  3. Place the cleat on top of the cleat plate, aligning it with the cleat bolts.
  4. Using a 4mm hex wrench or allen key, screw the cleat bolts into the cleat plate until they are snug.
  5. Adjust the cleat position and angle to your preference and tighten the cleat bolts firmly.
  6. Apply grease or anti-seize compound to the pedal threads and screw them into the crank arms using a 15mm hex wrench or allen key.
  7. Clip your shoes into the pedals by sliding your shoe forward and pressing down until you hear a click. To release, twist your heel outward.

2. Look Cleats and Pedals:

  1. Remove the rubber cover from the sole of your shoes, if applicable, to expose the three holes for the cleat.
  2. Align the cleat on the sole of your shoes and insert the cleat bolts through the holes.
  3. Using a 4mm hex wrench or allen key, screw the cleat bolts into the cleat until they are snug.
  4. Adjust the cleat position and angle to your preference and tighten the cleat bolts firmly.
  5. Apply grease or anti-seize compound to the pedal threads and screw them into the crank arms using a 15mm hex wrench or allen key.
  6. Clip your shoes into the pedals by aligning your shoe with the pedal and pressing down firmly until you hear a click. To release, twist your heel outward.

3. Speedplay Cleats and Pedals:

  1. Remove the rubber cover from the sole of your shoes, if applicable, to expose the four holes for the cleat.
  2. Align the cleat on the sole of your shoes and insert the cleat bolts through the holes.
  3. Using a 2.5mm hex wrench or allen key, screw the cleat bolts into the cleat until they are snug.
  4. Adjust the cleat position and angle to your preference and tighten the cleat bolts firmly.
  5. Apply grease or anti-seize compound to the pedal threads and screw them into the crank arms using a 15mm hex wrench or allen key.
  6. Clip your shoes into the pedals by placing your shoe on either side of the pedal and pressing down until you feel a click. To release, twist your heel outward.

Remember, the tension of the pedal mechanism can be adjusted using a hex wrench or allen key, depending on your preference for clipping in and out.

How to Adjust the Cleat Position and Angle

The cleat position determines where your foot is placed on the pedal, while the angle determines how much your foot can rotate or move on the pedal. Getting the optimal cleat position and angle is essential because it affects your comfort, power transfer, and overall riding experience.

But first  you need to know that there are several factors that influence the ideal cleat position and angle for each rider. These include foot size, shape, and anatomy, leg length and alignment, riding style and goals, and personal preference and comfort. While the general rule of thumb is to position the cleat so that the ball of your foot is directly over the pedal axle and angle the cleat so that your foot is parallel to the crank arm, this may not apply to everyone. It’s crucial to make adjustments based on your own unique needs.

Now, let’s explore different methods and tools you can use to adjust your cleat position and angle.

1. Trial and Error Method

The simplest and most accessible method is the trial and error approach. Start by marking the original position and angle of your cleat with a marker. Loosen the cleat bolts and make small adjustments based on your feedback and feeling. Clip your shoes into the pedals and ride your bike for a short distance or on a trainer. Pay attention to how it feels and make further adjustments until you find the most comfortable and efficient position and angle for your cleat. 

2. Cleat Alignment Tools

For a more accurate adjustment, you can use cleat alignment tools like the Ergon TP1 or Shimano SM-PCE1. These tools attach to your shoe and help you measure and adjust the cleat position and angle precisely. Cleat alignment tools have scales and pointers that indicate the distance and angle of the cleat relative to the shoe and pedal. With these tools, you can align the cleat with the ball of your foot and set the cleat angle to match your natural foot position and rotation. Additionally, you can compare the cleat position and angle between your left and right shoes to ensure symmetry and balance.

3. Professional Bike Fit or Cleat Fitting Service

For the most comprehensive and personalized adjustment, consider getting a bike fit or a cleat fitting service from a qualified bike fitter or podiatrist. These professionals will assess your biomechanics, anatomy, and goals to optimize your bike and shoe setup. They use advanced tools and techniques like video analysis, pressure mapping, motion capture, and custom insoles to measure and optimize your cleat position and angle. A professional fitting service also takes into account other aspects of your setup, such as saddle height and position, handlebar height and reach, shoe size and width, and arch support and footbed. This ensures you get the most comfortable and efficient cleat position and angle tailored to your specific needs.

How to Maintain Your Cleats and Shoes

Maintaining your cleats and shoes regularly is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, it ensures your safety on the bike. Worn-out or damaged cleats can lead to instability, making it difficult to clip in and out of your pedals. This can be dangerous, especially when riding in traffic or on challenging terrain.

Regular maintenance also enhances your performance. Clean and well-maintained cleats and shoes provide a smoother and more efficient pedal stroke. They allow you to transfer power to the pedals more effectively, resulting in improved speed and endurance.

Additionally, proper maintenance extends the lifespan of your cleats and shoes. By keeping them clean, smooth, and functional, you prevent them from wearing out, breaking down, or malfunctioning prematurely. This not only saves you money in the long run but also eliminates the hassle of having to replace them frequently.

Now that you understand the importance of regular maintenance, let’s dive into the practical steps you can take to keep your cleats and shoes in top shape.

1. Cleaning and Inspection

After every ride, take the time to clean and inspect your cleats and shoes. Start by wiping off any dirt, mud, or debris with a damp cloth. For stubborn or hard-to-reach dirt, use a toothpick, needle, or small screwdriver to gently remove it.

Once your cleats and shoes are clean, use a dry cloth or a hairdryer to thoroughly dry them. Moisture can lead to rust, corrosion, and even mold, so it’s crucial to ensure they are completely dry before storing them.

While cleaning, inspect your cleats and shoes for signs of wear, tear, or damage. Look for cracks, chips, scratches, or loose bolts. If you notice any issues, it’s best to replace your cleats or shoes to prevent further damage and potential accidents.

2. Replacing Worn-out Cleats and Shoes

The lifespan of cleats and shoes varies depending on factors such as the type, quality, and frequency of use. On average, cleats and shoes should be replaced between 3,000 and 10,000 kilometers. However, if you notice any significant wear or damage, it’s best to replace them earlier.

When choosing new cleats and shoes, consider factors such as compatibility with your pedals, the type of riding you do, and your personal preferences. It’s worth investing in high-quality gear that provides durability, comfort, and performance.

3. Lubrication and Adjustment

To further enhance the performance and lifespan of your cleats and shoes, periodic lubrication and adjustment are beneficial. Use grease, oil, or a spray specifically designed for bike components to lubricate your cleat bolts, pedal threads, and pedal mechanism. This prevents rust, corrosion, and seizing, ensuring smooth and reliable operation.

Additionally, use a hex wrench or allen key to adjust the tension, float, or angle of your cleats and pedals. Fine-tuning these settings to your preference and comfort can make a significant difference in your pedal stroke and overall riding experience.

4. Protecting and Enhancing Your Cleats and Shoes

There are also accessories available that can protect and enhance your cleats and shoes. Cleat covers, for example, are rubber or plastic caps that fit over your cleats. They provide protection against wear and tear when walking or carrying your bike, extending the lifespan of your cleats.

Shoe covers, on the other hand, are fabric or plastic covers that fit over your shoes. They offer protection from water, wind, and cold, making them ideal for riding in wet or cold weather conditions.

Toe caps are another accessory that can protect your shoes. They are rubber or plastic caps that fit over the front of your shoes, providing impact and abrasion resistance when riding on rough or rocky terrain.

Lastly, cleat wedges are plastic or metal shims placed between your cleats and shoes. They help correct foot alignment or leg length discrepancies, improving comfort and pedaling efficiency.

How to Troubleshoot Some Common Issues and Problems

1. Loose, Squeaky, or Stuck Cleats and Shoes

One of the most frustrating issues you might face with your cleats and shoes is when they become loose, squeaky, or stuck. Here’s how you can troubleshoot these problems:

1. Loose Cleats or Shoes: If your cleats or shoes feel loose, it’s essential to tighten the cleat bolts or the pedal threads. Use a hex wrench or allen key to secure them properly. Ensure that the cleats are aligned correctly for optimal power transfer and comfort.

2. Squeaky Cleats or Shoes: Squeaking sounds can be annoying, but they’re often easy to fix. Lubricate the cleat bolts, the pedal mechanism, or the contact area between the cleat and the pedal with grease, oil, or spray. Make sure to clean off any dirt or debris that might be causing the squeaking.

3. Stuck Cleats or Shoes: If your cleats or shoes feel stuck, try loosening the tension of the pedal mechanism with a hex wrench or allen key. Check for any rust, corrosion, or jamming that might be preventing a smooth release. Clean and maintain your cleats and pedals regularly to prevent this issue.

2. Sore, Numb, or Injured Feet, Ankles, Knees, or Hips

Cycling should be a comfortable and enjoyable experience. However, if you’re experiencing soreness, numbness, or injuries in your feet, ankles, knees, or hips, it’s crucial to address the problem. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

1. Adjust Cleat Position or Angle: Incorrect cleat position or angle can lead to discomfort and pain. Use a hex wrench or allen key to adjust the cleat position and angle to suit your biomechanics. Consider consulting a bike fitter or podiatrist for professional advice.

2. Check Shoe Size, Width, and Arch Support: Ill-fitting shoes can cause a myriad of problems. Ensure that your shoes are the right size, width, and provide adequate arch support. Everyone’s feet are different, so finding the right shoe can make a world of difference.

3. Optimize Saddle Height, Position, and Tilt: Incorrect saddle setup can contribute to discomfort and pain in your lower body. Adjust your saddle height, position, and tilt to find the optimal position for your legs and hips. Experiment with small adjustments to find what works best for you.

4. Seek Professional Advice: If you’re experiencing persistent pain or discomfort, it’s essential to consult a doctor, physiotherapist, or trainer. They can assess your condition, provide guidance on recovery, and help you avoid further injury.

3. Worn Out, Broken, or Outdated Cleats and Shoes

Over time, cleats and shoes can wear out, break, or become outdated. It’s essential to keep them in good condition for a safe and enjoyable ride. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

1. Replace Worn Out or Broken Cleats and Shoes: If your cleats or shoes are worn out or broken, it’s time for a replacement. Invest in high-quality replacements that are compatible with your pedals and provide the necessary support and functionality.

2. Consider Upgrading to Newer or Better Cleats and Shoes: Technology and design advancements in cycling shoes and cleats are continually evolving. If you’re still using outdated models, it might be worth considering an upgrade. Research different options and price points to find the best fit for your needs and budget.

3. Compare Options and Prices: When shopping for new cleats and shoes, compare different options and prices. Look for value and quality that align with your specific riding style and goals. Reading reviews and seeking advice from fellow cyclists can also help inform your decision.

Conclusion

Installing cleats on your bike shoes can greatly improve your cycling experience by increasing power transfer, efficiency, and control. By choosing the right cleats and pedals, following the installation steps, and maintaining your cleats and shoes, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the benefits of this simple yet effective upgrade. So, get out there, clip in, and enjoy the ride! 

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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