It is one of the many details which can quickly make the cycling experience particularly unpleasant: cleats. But these plates on the bottom of your shoes have a significant influence on your cycling performance—perhaps even more that you think. They determine the angle from which your legs exert pressure on the pedals, how much ‘float’ or sideways rotation you have for your foot, and even how quickly you can click out of the pedal (which can be crucial during a fall, for example). Correctly mounting your cleats in an important task. But how do you go about it?
Shoe cleats and your body position
There are various methods to determine your best position while cycling, such as a professional bike fitting. But if you don’t have the time, money or inclination for that, then there are a number of other rules of thumb that can help you determine the correct position for your cleats. The first stage is to take time to look carefully at your own feet. There are a couple of important details: where is the ball of your foot in relation to your shoe? And what is the position of your feet if they are standing on the ground normally?
The ball of your foot
It is generally accepted that the best place for your shoe cleat is right under the ball of your foot. Why? It’s all about leverage. The closer the cleat is to nose of the shoe, the more leverage your foot has. This enables you to apply more power to your pedal stroke, which begins in your leg muscles. But this costs a huge amount of energy, particularly in the lower legs.
The opposite is the case when the shoe cleat is located as far back on the shoe as possible. Each pedal stroke costs much less energy. But you cannot exert much force into the pedal. So therefore the ball of the foot is seen as kind of perfect compromise. And it’s up to you to experiment with which position relative to the ball of your foot (give or take a few mm) suits you best.
Your foot position
It’s also worth taking some time to study the normal stance of your feet. Few people actually stand with their feet straight. This is not a crime. But it’s good to know whether you normally stand with your toes pointing slightly outwards or inwards. The best way to check this is to stand up straight as you always do, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Look down at your feet and see whether or not your toes naturally point in or out. (Take note, as it is helpful to replicate that difference when mounting your shoe cleats.) If you don’t do this, you will be exerting an ‘unnatural’ pressure on your pedals. This can, among other things, be the start of knee problems—as that is the joint which your body will use to correct this.
Knees pointing out or in?
We’re almost there. The final adjustment can best be made while you’re on the bike. Once you have made all the above-mentioned adjustments, pedalling your bike should feel like second nature. Excellent! But it is also important to check whether your feet are positioned directly below your knees when you apply pressure. Your knees may point naturally outwards when you pedal. If so, it’s a good idea to slide your shoe cleats more towards the instep of the shoe, effectively pushing the shoe outwards relative to the pedal. This positions your foot slightly away from the frame. If your knees naturally point inwards, towards the frame, it’s a good idea to slide the cleats towards the outside of the shoe to compensate.
It’s important to fit your shoe cleats correctly not only to ensure your pedal stroke is as efficient as possible, but also to avoid injury. Check your foot position each time you get a new pair of shoes. And don’t forget that each foot is different—you may have to adjust the position for each foot individually.