The Ins and Outs of Installing Cycling Cleats

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Ins and Outs of Installing Cycling Cleats

While worn tires and brake pads might be on your list of routine maintenance, old cycling cleats can often get overlooked. Not replacing your cleats at regular intervals can affect your pedaling efficiency, power and overall comfort on the bike — and in some cases, even lead to injury.

To keep your clipless pedal system functioning correctly and you spinning smoothly, you’ll need to maintain and replace your cycling cleats as needed. Use this guide to learn when and how to correctly replace your cycling cleats.

WHEN DO CLEATS NEED TO BE REPLACED?

Like running shoes, there isn’t an exact amount of time cleats last. Factors such as the type of cleat, how many miles you’ve ridden, how much you walk in your cycling shoes and your style of riding all influence how often your cleats need to be replaced.

There are, however, a few warning signs you can be on the lookout for to determine when it’s time to buy a new pair. These include:

  • Too much side-to-side movement: As the edges of the cleat wear down, it won’t fit as tightly into the pedal as it used to. While even a new cleat allows some side-to-side movement, excessive movement is a sign your cleats need to be replaced.
  • Worn wear indicators: Some cleats come with a wear indicator. Keep an eye on this if you have it, as it can provide a warning sign your cleats aren’t functioning as they should. You can also visibly inspect your cleats to see if the edges have worn away significantly or any pieces of the cleat have chipped away.
  • Easy/difficult entry: Cleats that are worn often make it either too easy or too difficult to clip in and out of the pedal. If you’re suddenly having problems, this could be the issue.

CLEAT OPTIONS

Once you’ve determined it’s time to replace your cleats, you’ll need to figure out which cleat to purchase. This largely depends on what type of pedal you have, as all cleats won’t work with all pedal types. The three most common pedal/cleat options are:

  • SPD-SL: These three-bolt cleats are commonly used by Shimano pedal systems. The SPD-SL cleats have wear indicators that are a different color from the rest of the cleat. When these become visible, your cleat needs to be replaced.
  • Speedplay: This rectangular-shaped cleat fits over a circular Speedplay pedal, and works differently than Shimano or Look-style pedal systems. These cleats usually last much longer than other cleats because of the more expensive hardware. In general, Speedplay says its cleats should last between 3,000–5,000 miles. When these cleats become worn, it becomes harder to clip in and out of the pedal system.
  • Look: One of the most popular options, Look cleats are made of plastic and have a three-bolt pattern. The cleats are a triangular shape and have wear indicators that become visible once the cleat needs to be replaced. Look cleats are only to be used with Look pedal systems.

HOW TO INSTALL NEW CLEATS PROPERLY

If your current cleats are positioned correctly, switching them out is easy. Simply trace a line with a piece of chalk or marker around your old cleat before removing it, then install your new cleat in the same position. If you are either having problems with your positioning or are installing cycling cleats on a new shoe for the first time, you’ll want to visit a certified bike fitter or follow these basic instructions:

  • Equipment: To install new cleats, in most cases you’ll need a 4mm hex key or Allen wrench. In addition, a marker and grease are also helpful.
  • Locate the ball of your foot: With your cycling shoes on, place a small dot on the inside portion of the shoe where the bony prominence of your foot is located (below the big toe). Wherever your dot is located, place a corresponding dot in the same location on the opposite side of the shoe (outside of the foot).
  • Locate the raised line on your cleat: Most cleat manufacturers include raised lines on the inside and outer edge of the cleat. These indicate where the pedal axle will be when the cleat is clipped into the pedal. Line up the dots you’ve made on your shoe with these two lines. If done properly, the bony part of your foot should be lined up with the pedal axle when you clip into the pedals.
  • Install: Once you’ve got the cleat lined up, lube the bolts to ensure you’re able to remove them when they become worn. Place the washer over the cleat and screw in the bolts with your hex or Allen key.

Keep in mind this is a basic starting position. Slight fore/aft adjustments can be made based on your riding style and comfort. If you begin having knee pain after installing new cleats, this can be an indicator your fore/aft position needs to be adjusted. You can either experiment with slight adjustments to see if your comfort improves or visit a bike fit specialist to dial in your position.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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