My Latest Purchase

The other day, I went over to the LBS to drop some coin on an accessory I’ve been putting off getting for far too long. I finally got some replacement cleats for my cycling shoes.

I have a bad habit with cleats — I keep them on much longer than I should. The pair I just got rid of had been worn down to nubs. They’re Shimano SPD-SLs, and the yellow band around the clip had completely worn away. On both cleats.

Oddly, it didn’t seem to affect their usefulness. Either that, or I’d just gotten used to them. In fact, they were still on my shoes last month when I did the epic century ride.

But it being the beginning of the month, we had a little extra in the bank account, so I figured it was a good time to get the much-needed replacements.

It’s been so long since I’ve had new cleats on my shoes, I’d forgotten the difference. All of a sudden, clicking into the pedals became much easier. I could do it by feel again — nudging the pedal forward with my toe, and dropping the cleat right on top of it with a satisfying click! With the old worn ones, I was often moving my foot around, trying to find just the right interface between cleat nub and pedal.

And maybe it’s just the placebo effect, but I think I’ve got a little more power to the pedals now. On a ride the other evening, I easily cranked along in the big ring in a higher gear than normal. (Maybe it’s just that I’d had two days off the bike, so was fully recovered from the weekend rides.)

To make sure these new cleats are around for awhile, and function as well a year from now as they do today, I also sprang for a pair of cleat covers. Sticker shock — these things are now up to $17 a pair! The tab for cleats and covers came to over $51. That’s a good argument for keeping the covers in place whenever my feet are not in the pedals.

Not a big deal, but it’s a bit like washing your car. Suddenly, it seems to run better. Suddenly, I seem to pedal better.

Tighten Your Cleats!

On a recent ride, I turned into the parking lot of one of those stand-alone Walgreen’s drug stores that seem to have cropped up on every other corner, when something didn’t feel right.  My right foot was looser than it usually is.

I stopped at the edge of the lot, used the opportunity to drink from my water bottle, and then I sat on the curb to take a look at my shoes.

The cleat on the right shoe had come loose.  Not catastrophically – I could move it a little with my hand – but the constant pressure in the pedal had loosened it up.  A few quick turns of the screws with my 4 mm Allen wrench, and it was solidly back in place.

I hadn’t been experiencing the same feeling on the left shoe, but decided to take a look anyway.  Sure enough, I could tighten those screws about a half-turn each as well.

I do periodic checks of the bike between rides, making sure the tires are in good shape, that everything moves smoothly.  I guess I’ll have to add a non-bike equipment check, too, and look at those cleats every couple of months.  It could save some headaches down the road.

Cover Those Cleats!

A couple of years ago, I posted about the sorry state of my cleats.  Shortly after that, I noticed a member of my club pull up to the Starbucks where we all meet at the end of our rides.  The first thing he did was pull a pair of cleat covers from his jersey pocket, and fasten them on before walking on the sidewalk up to the shop’s patio.

It wasn’t long after that that my own cleats were due for replacement.  In the LBS, cleat covers hung on the pegs right next to the cleats.  I picked up a pair, figuring they were worth a try.

I’ve had them for about a year now, and I’m pleased with the results.  Here are some pictures to compare before and after.

These are the cleats as they looked in a brand new state.  Of course, the shoes were brand new, too.  In normal wear and tear, it doesn’t take long to completely ruin them.

Here’s what they look like after six months use – without cleat covers.  My pedals are Shimano SPD-SLs, so the cleats are made for those.  The back edge of the cleat is worn in such an irregular manner that it was hard to click into the pedals.

These are the cleats I’m currently running.  They’ve been on my shoes for about a year, but I’ve been using cleat covers with them for about that long, too.  As you can see, they’re in better shape after a year than the ones without covers were after six months.

If you get some, be sure they’re the ones made to fit your particular cleats.  The design of the covers is quite different from cleat to cleat.  This picture shows my cleat covers (right), and my wife Pat’s.

Pat hasn’t been as diligent about putting on her covers, and the other day she complained that she couldn’t get her covers to stay on the cleats.  They kept falling off.  The problem was that the back edge of her cleats had become worn from walking on them without covers.  The cleats are still in reasonably good shape, so she’ll probably keep using them for a while longer, but they’ll still have to be replaced soon.

Cleats aren’t cheap.  Looks are $20, SPD-SLs are $30, and Speedplays are about $40 (Prices from Performance web site).  So if I have to spend between $9-13 to get an extra six months wear out of the cleats, it’s a purchase I’m happy to make.

When Should Cleats Be Replaced?

When riding earlier this week, I had a heckuva time trying to engage my cleats. Usually, I can click in without looking, but on this particular ride I missed the pedal every time. That’s especially bothersome when trying to cross a busy intersection, even when the cross traffic is stopped by a red light. When I got home, I took a look at my cleats:

Yipes! The right one, especially, the one I use to click in almost exclusively, seems to be beyond worn. No wonder I couldn’t get the cleat to engage the pedal. It’s a far cry from what they looked like when they were new:

Then, I joined our regular Sunday morning club ride today. About halfway through the ride, I realized I was having no trouble getting the cleat to click into the pedal. I was — still am — baffled. Why did it give me such trouble four days ago, but not today?

And just when should cleats be replaced?

I know from experience that they should be. The cleat I had in my previous shoes wore this badly, and once it came right out of the pedal at a bad time — when I was applying power to climb a hill. In fact, that happened more than once, and the second time I crashed because I lost control of the bike.

So I’m going to get a new set of cleats ASAP. As I said, they’re obviously way past replacement time. But just when are cleats worn badly enough to merit replacement? Are there things to look for that serve as replacement clues?

Random (Noob) Tips

Jeff Hemmel diverts us from talk of stop lights and tickets with a sampling of tips for noob riders.


As noobs, we have a lot to learn. I originally found this blog when I was trying to find out how to align my cleats. Chances are, many of you have also stumbled across it because you were searching for useful information. On today’s ride I started thinking about whether I had anything worthwhile to share. Not the basic stuff you see on bike sites everywhere, but random little tidbits people often overlook. Here’s a few items that made the list…

Helmet Pads – I don’t know about you, but mine get soaked in sweat. That gets nasty after a while. The best suggestion I’ve heard as to how to wash them is simply take your helmet in the shower. Gently lather the pads up with shampoo, rinse thoroughly, and allow to dry. Simple.

HelmetPad Inevitably, however, those pads will start to peel apart if you ride enough. I’ve found that by talking very nicely with the people at the helmet companies, they’ll send you a new pair free of charge. The rep that helped me most recently mentioned it’s supposed to be a one-time courtesy, but I’m pretty impressed that Bell has replaced the pads on my old Ukon twice, and just took care of my current Furio. That’s good business…just don’t tell them I sent you.

Silver Sharpie ­– Noobs are still dialing everything in, and as such should be encouraged to experiment with the position of handlebars, seat height, even the cleats on their shoes. Problem is, a lot of us are probably hesitant to try anything for fear we’ll never get things back where they were should we not like the result.

SharpieEnter the silver Sharpie marker. It shows up on things like black handlebars, seat posts, and shoe bottoms. As a result, you can mark anything you decide to change and, if it doesn’t work, find your way home again. My handlebars have a nice little dot that shows just where they should line up with the seam on my stem, my seat post shows my current preferred height, and my cleats are traced perfectly against the soles of my shoes, so when the current cleats wear out, the new ones can go in the exact same position.


Thanks silver Sharpie.

Cleat Markings – And speaking of cleats, most noobs probably know they should be roughly centered under the ball of your foot, at least as a starting point. But did you know that most cleat manufacturers mark that spot so you don’t have to estimate? Look closely and you’ll notice a small hash mark that designates the center for fore-and-aft adjustments. Thanks, uh, cleat-middle-marker-designer dudes.

Trim the Front Derailleur – Here’s a biggie. The chain on my road bike had the annoying tendency to rub against the front derailleur cage when I ventured into the highest gears. I mentioned this at the shop where I bought it; they originally told me it was just a simple cable adjustment. After the fix, friends mentioned it to me; they could still hear it chattering when drafting behind me. I even mentioned it at a different shop during a ride; they told me the crank wasn’t true, and that to fix the problem it would have to literally be pounded into submission with a mallet. Yikes. Thankfully the original shop owner finally revealed I just didn’t know how to “trim.”

Important noob point: I don’t ever recall that lesson when I bought the bike, and never saw anything about it in the owner’s manual, but many front derailleurs can be micro-adjusted on the fly to allow the chain to clear the inner and outer plates — those parallel metal bars that push it left to right — when the chain starts to rub. With my Shimano components, if the chain is on the big chainring and one of the smaller sprockets, a slight inward press of the larger (brake) lever on the left shift (listen or feel for a slight click) will push the front derailleur slightly outward, creating enough space to silence the noise. Conversely, when on the small charinring and largest sprockets (the “easiest” gears), a slight inward push of the small, inner lever will slide the derailleur to the inside to silence the chatter.

Amazing insider information that will make you ride faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap up tall hills in a single bound? Nah…just the random thoughts of a fellow noob.

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.

Latest numb toe remedy — new shoes!

After my experiences with numb toes on rides this year, I finally came to the conclusion that the only way to deal with the problem was to get new shoes. I must have dropped some well-placed hints, because under the Christmas tree this year, there they were!

shoesThey’re the Road Comp model by Specialized. Mrs. Noob has worn Specialized shoes for two years, and loves them. I’ve also heard good things about the brand from other bikers. Yes, I know everyone lusts after Sidis, but they’re a little too pricey. And these weren’t cheap.

Santa must have thought you wear the same size for biking as for your everyday street shoes, because he brought size 42.5 (9 1/2 US). They were a tight fit. My feet tend to swell during exercise, and I always buy sport shoes a size larger than my street shoes. My LBS happily made the exchange for size 44, and while I was in there, they even mounted the new cleats.

One of the main features I was looking for in a new shoe was a carbon sole. I figured the stiffness of carbon would help control the numb toe problem. These soles are as hard as rock.

I’ve worn them on two rides since Christmas. The leather tongue is a little long, and hits my instep right where it curves up into the shin. I think that will work itself out with a little more riding. They’re snug without being tight, because of that ratcheting fastener for the top strap. I like Specialized’s Body Geometry line of equipment anyway — they seem to pay attention to our anatomical needs.

While we’re talking about bike things for Christmas, I also got that seat post-mounted dual water bottle cage I posted about last week, a pair of yellow biking socks (“Because you don’t have any socks that match your yellow jersey.”), and a new long sleeve jersey. So it was a good biking Christmas for me.

The title of this post might be a bit misleading. Whether these shoes will fix the numb toe thing is still undetermined. Both my rides in the new shoes were fairly short — 15 and 17 miles — and I really didn’t get a sense of how the toe is behaving. I’ll have to report back on that in a future post.