Cleat position

Some things, I just can’t stop experimenting with. Like ways to make my feet feel fine after a long bike ride. Yes, this is sort of another post about my ongoing numb toe problem — but I think I’ve come to grips with that.

This time, I want to tell you about something I’ve tried with the cleats on my biking shoes. When I first complained about numb toes last summer, I got a suggestion to move the cleats back about one-quarter inch. I did, but didn’t see much difference, and with those older shoes, it didn’t help my numb toe any.

When I got the new bike shoes for Christmas, the bike shop installed the cleats, and put them right over the ball of the foot. That was okay, but the toes pointed just a little bit to the inside, and I could feel strain on my knees when I rode.

My feet naturally splay out a bit when I walk, and something I read somewhere (I gotta do a better job of citing my sources — in my real life I do academic research, after all) said your cleats should place your feet in a way that matches your walking gait. So I fiddled with the cleats a bit, and now my toes point ever so slightly outward. But then I remembered something else I read somewhere else (this would never get through peer review) that said just go ahead and move the cleats all the way back. So I did.

shoe1If you look closely, you’ll see the little ruler markings right behind the cleat. The photo was shot from slightly behind the cleat; if you looked straight down at it, you wouldn’t be able to see the marks at all.

I’ve been on several rides since doing this, and I can hardly tell the difference. Some riders seem to think you get more power to accelerate and climb with the cleats this way. Maybe — I can’t vouch for that. I can vouch for there being no negative effects from the cleats back this far.

And there are some who say that even all the way back in the slots isn’t back far enough. Endurance cycling coach Joe Friel takes what I might would call a radical view. In a post on his blog from two years ago, he said you should mount the cleats as far back toward the heel as you can. He’s mounted cleats below the arch of his foot, and thinks you’re likely to get even more power if you mount them back farther still.

That’s not me. I was uneasy doing the cleats back in the slots thing, and even though it seems to have worked out fine for me, I’m not going to drill holes in the soles of my shoes and play around with cleat placement. I’m still unsophisticated when it comes to training — I just ride — and for now, my cleat position suits me just fine.


  1. says

    I’m not a Look pedal expert, but I think the black cleats are zero float. Red cleats have a little float (5 degrees?), and you may want to change to those since they let your feet and knees line up a little better if your cleats aren’t precisely positioned biometrically. Then again, I may have my colors and / or technologies mixed up!

  2. says

    I’ve ridden with my cleats all the way back for years. I’ll even take a Dremel and alter them slightly to go back farther. I’ve never tried taking the more extreme approach of not using the factory bolt positions. In theory you can’t sprint as well with the cleats back but I do long distance events so I don’t generally need to sprint.

    Getting the angle of the cleats is very important. I walk with my toes out quite a bit. I had a guy at a bike shop try “fixing” the way I pedal. It didn’t take long to get knee problems. You really do want to be in your natural foot position. I have to slid the cleat all the way to the inside to move my foot out. Still on my road bike, I have to use a couple pedal washers to keep my heel from hitting the crank.

    I’ve had my cleats set up using the RAD system from Fit Kit. It seems though it’s getting hard to find a shop that has one. It uses 2 sticks and a special pedal to get your foot into your neutral position.

  3. says

    I remember the first ride I did with mountain biking SPDs, a 50 mile ride with me stopping every five miles to adjust my cleats. As one foot got better the other would feel uncomfortable. Eventually I gave into the fact that both of my feet were not going to feel exactly the same because I pedal more toes down with my right foot.

    On the other hand, my speedplay zeros worked from the get go. The non centering float, no springs, lets my feet adjust as they need to as I ride.

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