How to Put Cleats on Cycling Shoes

foot of traveler

Although they may seem a tad bit scary at first, clipless pedals allow you to ride more efficiently than platform pedals. With clipless pedals, a cleat on the bottom of your shoe attaches to the pedal. Thanks to this attachment, you not only push down on the pedal on the down stroke, but you also pull up on the upstroke to provide more power to each pedal stroke. Because cleats come with the pedals, not the shoes, you'll need to attach the cleats to your cycling shoes. Attaching them properly is essential for your safety and comfort when riding.

Sizing Up Your Cleats

Your cleats' style will vary depending on whether you have road bike pedals or mountain bike pedals. To shed mud and debris while still allowing you to walk over terrain, mountain bike cleats are small pieces of metal that are recessed into the shoe. Because you can walk short distances in them, these cleats are also good for commuters. Road bike cleats are designed to have plenty of surface area to lend extra force to each pedal stroke. These cleats tend to be much larger than mountain bike cleats, protrude from the bottom of the shoe, made of hard plastic or similar material. Due to the differences in the cleats, you must use mountain bike shoes with mountain bike cleats and road bike shoes with road bike cleats.

Attaching Mountain Bike Cleats

Mountain bike cleats -- also found on Spinning cleats -- have two holes that match up with a pair of holes in the bottom of your shoe. To attach them, place the cleat on the bottom of the shoe and line it up to the holes in the shoe. Quality pairs of cycling shoes will have two pairs of holes. Start with the pair nearest the toes. Some cleats are symmetrical and have no toe end or heel end. If your cleats aren't symmetrical, the pointed end should point toward the toe of the shoe. Using a 4 millimeter hex wrench, screw the bolts that came with your cleats into the holes. Tighten the bolt until it is quite snug. In general, cleats can be placed on either left or right shoe, but always check with your cleats' instruction sheet for full details.

Attaching Road Bike Cleats

Road bike cleats have three holes that match up to three holes in the bottom of your cycling shoe. To attach the cleat, line it up with the holes, fit the cleat washers over the holes in the cleats and tighten the bolts with the 4 millimeter hex wrench that came with your cleats. Tighten the bolts until they are very snug. For most brands, there will be no difference between cleats and they can be attached to either the left shoe or the right, but you should always verify this with the instruction sheet that came with your cleats.

Adjusting Your Cleats

When you pedal you want to use the ball of your foot, not the toes and not the arch. This foot position gives you the most power and prevents injuries to the ankle and knees. To ensure your cleats are in the right position, your first step will be to set the bike up in a trainer and engage and release the pedals several times. The motion should feel comfortable and not require you to change your body position on the bike. Next, pedal in the trainer to feel where most of the pressure is on the bottom of your foot. It should be focused at the center of the ball of your foot. If you have a friend nearby, have him look at your foot on the pedal. The ball of your foot should be slightly in front of the pedal's axle. As you ride, if you notice any knee or ankle pain, begin by adjusting your cleats' position. Adjust your cleats by repositioning them on the bottom of the shoe either forward, backward, left or right. Because you'll be making small changes, this process can take a couple of weeks before your cleats feel right.