Over the years in countless bike shops, I’ve heard the following disturbing phrases uttered to cyclists:
“Get these cleats. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
“These cleats have float you won’t need a bike fit.”
“Get these cleats with float and they’ll take care of everything.”
Unfortunately, phrases and versions of these sometimes false reassuring comments are shared in not only bike shops but in forums, local rides and social media groups. Consequently, it’s time to set the record straight and dive deep into the cleat adjustment handbook.
Today we’re going to tackle the following:
Define cleat rotation and float
Review popular cleat float types and limits
Overview why both are needed and some suggestions
SPOILER ALERT: Below is the 5-minute version of the entire article! If you’re more the visual type, this is your jam.
What is Cleat Rotation?
Cleat rotation is the physical movement of the cleat either clockwise or counter-clockwise to allow the foot to rotate in alignment with its natural orientation. Basically, allow the foot to point in the direction it would like to point. Generally speaking, the rotation of the cleat is similar on and off the bike. For many professional bike fitters, an off-the-bike assessment can provide an indication of the rotation required. For example, if you naturally walk with your toes out, you’ll likely require a similar setup on the bike.
For 3-hole cleat users of Look or Shimano road, if you have a “toe-out” natural gait, your setup will look similar to this photo below (bottom-right).
Photo left: cleat setup without rotation. Photo Right: cleats rotated for toe-out setup.
On the other hand, you may walk with your toes out but your cleats are set up what we refer to as “pigeon-toed” with your toes facing inward toward the bike. This can potentially cause significant discomfort or even pain, especially after thousands of pedal strokes.
Toe-in or “pigeon-toed”
To the original point in the article and to keep you on your toes, the logical question is, “Doesn’t cleat float solve this issue of toe-in or toe-out without requiring cleat adjustment?” The short answer is not always. Like any other bike adjustment, some people contain the innate and amazing trait of adjustability whereby the individual adapts to position changes. In most cases, the float is impacted by the rotation. If a cleat is not rotated properly, the foot may not be able to achieve the required, rider-dependent, foot position resulting in pain, discomfort, or injury.
What is Cleat Float?
Cleat float or pedal float is when the cleat rotates freely inward or outward while clipped into the pedal. The movement is categorized in different cleats by a number of degrees. For some companies like Shimano and Look, you can purchase cleats with varying levels of float or “fixed” cleats which meaning they are devoid of float. Float allows a person who toes in or out move the foot to a more natural position during the pedal stroke. Yet, float doesn’t necessarily solve all issues or allow enough range to meet the specific needs of an individual. More on that to come!
Shimano Cleat Float: 6 Degree, 2 Degree, and 0 Degree
Sam expresses some significant warnings about less float requiring a bike fitting. While more float is safer because it allows increased space for the foot to function in a natural position and also may forgive cleat placement of a slightly less accurate rotation adjustment, float does replace a full bike fit (using the 5 main adjustments of the foot/pedal interface). An interesting note is the amount of float may be somewhat deceiving. Below is a diagram noting the specifics of Shimano float.
Contrary to some cycling lore, 6 degrees of float does not mean 6 on either side but 6 degrees total (3 in and 3 out). In addition, as you can see from Chad’s drawings the amount of movement affects the forefoot more on the 6-degree than the 2-degree. This is due to the change in the pivot point between both and also due to the amount of float provided. Shimano discusses this at length on their site as well. This prooves how increased float can provide a larger margin for error in natural foot movement.
Look Cleat Float
Look cleats provide an increased range with their 9 and 4.5-degree model but still sells a 0-degree. This again means for example in the 9-degree model that the foot can move up to 4.5 degrees on each side–not 9.
Speedplay provides the most amount of float (7.5 degrees in each direction for a total of 15 degrees) and it’s also adjustable. This higher level of float is imperative for Speedplay pedals since they do not allow for cleat rotation. Therefore when adjusting Speedplay cleats, it’s important to be aware of both the “heel-in” and “heel-out” settings as you can adjust both via the limit screws. Depending on the orientation of your feet, you may not be to utilize the full 15 degrees in each direction. Much like the drawings shown earlier in rotation, if the float is left open (maximum in both directions), the foot will travel where it wants to go but there’s a limit depending on the individual.
MTB, SPD and 2-hole Cleat Float
2-hole cleats like SPD (Shimano Precision Dynamics), Crank Brothers or Time Atac contain an area of float prior to disengagement. Each type provides different levels of float but again be cognizant of the total amount of float advertised is split between heel-in and heel-out. For example, the Crank Brothers cleats below show the range of their 6-degree float cleats.
Why is Cleat Rotation Important if Cleat Float exists?
Yes, I’ve been alluding to this throughout the article so here’s the point. As I pointed out in the video, just because there’s lateral float, does not mean a person won’t still experience pain or issues. If a cleat is not properly rotated, then it’s possible that the float will not allow enough foot rotation to achieve optimal foot position. For example, if you are a natural toe-out walker and your cleats are rotated inward, float alone is unlikely to solve the issue (especially with 3-hole and 2-hole cleats).
If this is the case, you’ll likely experience knee pain while riding most likely on the inside of the knee but more toward the back (see image). In order to avoid this pain, BikeFit Professionals are trained in the process of examining the cleat from a rear position and testing rotation to find the best rotational position. While this process is outlined more specifically in our BikeFit manual and courses, it’s imperative to recognize that float and rotation both need to be taken into account during proper cleat setup and alignment.
If you’re curious about the process that trained foot/pedal professionals use to assess proper cleat rotation, here are a few pictures of fitters performing the task.
I’ve love to give you the easy answer to purchase a cleat with float and be done with it, but unfortunately, I’ve seen too many uncomfortable cyclists over the years with float who require proper rotation as well.
Enjoy your ride!
-Paul and Damon
These 5 categories of hand position and handlebar adjustments used by the best professional bike fitters on the planet.
Many people experience discomfort in cycling specifically focuses on one of the three contact points: the hands. While the most popular change is likely stem length or height, today we’ll talk about the changes every bike fitter should examine.
Hand positioning on a bicycle is a mix of the bar’s height, depth and width, bar rotation, length and rise/decline of the stem, and brake type/hood and position (including the lever’s reach). The position can be augmented by changing any of these variables. Finding the right one for you is a level of trial and error and most likely a visit to a professional who examines all of these factors and how they contribute to your overall position. Each contact point change on the bicycle may impact another contact point but for this specific article, we’ll examine hand position in isolation.
General Hand Position
Generally, your hands should be placed in whatever position you most frequently ride. The most comfortable position for the majority of road and gravel bike cyclists is where the angle between the torso and the upper arm is around 90 degrees (see illustration right). You should have a slight bend in the elbows to maximize comfort and control. This bend can increase if you want to become more aerodynamic such as when time-trialing, racing, or riding into a significant headwind.
Once you’ve found your sweet spot you can begin adjusting the position. Don’t forget to move your hands around on the bars to try different positions. We also recommend testing standing on the pedals to accommodate climbing or sprinting out of the saddle.
If you ride more upright, the angle at the shoulder may be less than 90 degrees. This less than 90-degree angle applies to road bikes, touring bikes, and indoor bikes.
Comfort should be your guide when adjusting the height of the handlebars. The road bike racer typically has the top of the handlebars below the seat height. For non-racers of many disciplines, the top of the bars may be even with the saddle or even higher.
Stem Height / Handlebar Height
The height is impacted by 2 factors:
# of spacers under the stem
When you purchase a new bike, the fork is uncut which means you’ll have the option to choose to cut the fork height lower, which would accommodate fewer headset spacers. From a bike fitting standpoint, it’s unhelpful to do this from purely aesthetic motivation until you’ve discovered proper position. The only exception to this would be a custom bike where your measurements from a previously fit bike were used to create a custom geometry for you minus the spacers. A small side note here is that fit changes with fitness, age, injury, and other factors. As a result, having the ability to make adjustments with your bike is extremely helpful unless you want to continue buying bikes regularly. If financially feasible, this is not the worst problem on the planet. For reference, most bikes will offer about 40-60mm in spacer height.
An adjustable stem or sizing stem is the best way to find your ideal stem height. A BikeFit Pro with this tool can help you test from -30 degrees to +30 degrees while also easily examining your stem length as well.
Without the use of this tool through a professional fitter or bike shop, some companies offer adjustable stems. We define an adjustable stem as having more than one axis of adjustment. There are many one-axis adjustable stems that don’t allow for adjusting the stem’s length. From our standpoint, if you are going to invest the money into an adjustable stem (not many left on the market), you’re likely better off visiting a fitter where they’ll aid you in finding the right stem and then you’re afforded with the opportunity to purchase one (with the proper specifications) that matches your bike and style. Comfort first; style second.
Speaking of style, many cyclists see professional bikes and want to emulate their stem length and drop. While many of those parts may be available including some sexy looking one-piece bar and stem combos, how do you know before purchasing if the reach, drop, and length are right for your riding style, goals, distance…etc? We are not saying that these products are not great or don’t offer advantages but style without fit is worthless. For example, if someone purchases a -17 degree stem and “slams” their bike (removes all the spacers) but can barely survive a ride for more than an hour without dismounting to stretch negates the potential “aero” benefits of that position. They also will potentially be forced to book an appointment with a reputable spine surgeon in a few years. That’s not to say that no one should ride in an aggressive position. There are some flexible, solid-core individuals who can sustain that position while remaining comfortable for hours. Most of them are professional or aspiring racers but just because they do it, doesn’t mean you must to experience true cycling enjoyment. In the end, we like the advice from “Big Jonny” posted on the Drunk Cyclist Blog, “Forget slamming. Ride what your body requires.”
Although this may seem like a shameless self-promotion, it’s the truth. A sizing stem is again the best possible way to efficiently test different stem lengths. If you visit a bike shop or fitter and they are forced to remove and install a stem each time you want to try a new angle or length, how long would this take? Removing a stem isn’t difficult per se but it is tedious. There are multiple points to examine on a bicycle and spending half an hour trying 6 different stems may not be the best use of time. If we can stress anything in your bike fitting journey, it’s to test positions until you find the one that’s the most comfortable for you (hopefully in the most efficient manner).
To verify this point, we asked several bike fitters to give their expert opinion on the proper stem a couple of years ago. We began by showing them a number of different cyclists. Of the 8 fitters, we questioned, 6 of 8 failed to recommend the proper stem length the rider ultimately chose after utilizing a sizing stem. Not once did more than 2 fitters guess the desired stem for the rider. This test was only for length—we didn’t ask about the stem’s height or angle. Finding the right stem is challenging (and sometimes expensive) to do by yourself and is definitely an area where a BikeFit Pro can help you. If a bicycle fitting expert recommends a stem without testing or trying a few lengths, we strongly advise you gently recommend they use a sizing stem or find another fitter.
Handlebar Reach and Drop
Handlebar reach is the distance from the center of the stem connection to the bar and the furthest point in the “drops.” The “drop” is the distance from the highest point of the bar to the lowest point.
The implications on fit are how the bar affects your position and comfort on the bike. If you see a handlebar at your local bike shop with some appeal to you, it’s important to find out where it stacks up in both of these variables before you purchase. For some, the bar upgrade is focused on the material (aluminum vs. carbon), weight or personal choice in a different shape. The reach, drop, and shape should be comfortable and appropriate for your riding style.
Historically the most frequently used method of determining the handlebar’s rotation was putting the bottom of the drop parallel to the ground or level like the photo on the left. If you walk into most bike shops today, this is what you’ll most likely observe. This position, while aesthetically pleasing, is usually not comfortable for most riders. The rotation of your bars is determined solely by what is comfortable, not the bar’s alignment with the earth’s surface. Rotate your bars upward until you achieve a more neutral wrist position (this can also be achieved through hood placement). Let comfort be your guide to fine tune as your body will guide you to the best position. This simple adjustment helps improve hand comfort and reduces numbness.
Lever or Brake Placement
Much like the rotation, the goal is a neutral wrist position. The brake levers on both road, gravel and mountain bikes are mobile and can be adjusted to impact not only wrist position but also reach. Mountain bikes, like any other type of bike, brake lever position is imperative when establishing a neutral wrist position.
This seemingly minuscule change significantly impacts riding comfort. Like the myth that all handlebar drops should be parallel with the ground, levers do not need to follow the contour of the drop; they can be shifted inward or outward based on comfort. As much as manufacturers have worked on the ergonomic designs of hoods for comfort, placement on the bar and tilt provides the most natural hand position for the individual preferences and bodies. Over the years of fitting thousands of riders, here’s what we’ve found that seems to help most riders.
When hoods are set up in line with the handlebar, the hands are in an unnatural position. Tilting the brake levers inward provides pain relief and increased control.
Below the unnatural position, we are forced into when conforming to untilted hoods shown without the handlebars.
Here the hands hang and move naturally. The brake lever placement should mimic the natural inclinations of the body.
For most people, that natural position is achieved by rotating the levers/hoods inward on a road or gravel bike.
Final Hand Position Info
Hopefully, this article provides you with some ideas on the different adjustments and hand position changes on the bike. We should mention that these are not the only factors and implications in handlebar fitting. Handlebar shape and width are two variables in hand position and overall comfort that should be part of your fitting process as well. Consequently, the best possible advice from BikeFit is to not be afraid to try some out-of-the-box changes suggested in this article. Secondly, and most importantly, setting up an appointment with a qualified BikeFit professional provides crucial advice, the ability to test many of these methods (including products), and an outside set of eyes to observe your riding with the ability to offer vital insight into the best changes for you. In the end, fitting is a personal experience and although humans have trends, everyone is asymmetrical and unique. If you are concerned about the expectations of a bike fit or want to learn more about bike fitting, we provide more information on our blog.
If you’ve dabbled in a few disciplines of cycling, you’ve inevitably noticed that different cleat types utilize multiple screws: hex, flathead, and Phillips. Although these are technically interchangeable (threading and length could be equal), there is a reason behind using specific screw heads for certain cleats.
In today’s example, we’ll focus on SPD cleats. Unlike other cleats (Look 3-screw and Speedplay 4-screw), there are only 2 fasteners and a minimal contact surface. This means that the screws used in an SPD application must have the highest torque level possible to prevent slippage, bolt loosening, and potential crashes.
During the development of the original Cleat Wedges, I knew that a secure connection was imperative, considering the addition of a wedge would impact the cleat-to-shoe connection. Initially, I tested numerous screw types, including Philips head screws.
Although Philips head screws are ubiquitous and inexpensive, they were designed for a screwdriver to cam out or slip out of the head when torque reaches a certain amount. We tested Phillips head screws for one day and found it impossible to get an SPD compatible cleat fastened tight enough.
Consequently, BikeFit chose to invest in hex screws like most 2-hole cleat manufacturers (Shimano, Look, Time, Crank Brothers…etc.). Hex screws provide the torque necessary for a secure connection with 2-hole cleat applications.
Considering that SPDs or 2-hole cleats are used rigorously by mountain bikers, road riders, and commuters throughout the world, you would think that any cleat or wedge manufacturer would likely arrive at the same conclusion through ample testing.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers chose an inexpensive, unreliable alternative, even at the cost of rider safety. When you purchase cleats or cleat wedges, investigate the type of screws included and choose wisely.
Wheelset that costs more than my monthly food bill–check.
Leave it to us at BikeFit to focus on the small things but sometimes, those are the ones that have the most significant impact. If you’ve ever managed to unclip at top speed and lived to tell the tale, then you understand the imperative nature of simple cleat maintenance or you’re Robert Forestermann and you literally double strap your clipless cleats to absorb your massive, cleat-disengaging watts. Now that you’ve returned from watching Quadzilla crush it, here are some simple tips to help you care for your cleats.
So Fresh and So Clean Cleats
Although changing your cleats every 6 months would provide you with a fool-proof method of riding with well-functioning cleats, you can easily extend their life through some simple maintenance.
We recommend periodically checking your cleats for debris, especially if you walk often on your rides. Dirt and dust quickly build up from road and trail debris. These impediments can interfere with the ability to click-in and release from your pedals.
The BikeFit Cleat Screw Pick is an ideal solution. Some people have used a knife or a small screwdriver but the specifically designed screw pick will help you dig out miles of caked on dirt and grime without the risk of lacerating your fingers.
Fasten your Cleats
Cleat screw fasteners and the screws themselves can potentially loosen over time. There may or may not be a story of a BikeFit employee that did not check his screws often and found himself pulling out of a criterium race due to his epically loose, rattling cleat almost falling off. Be sure to check that they are tight. If you are riding Speedplay pedals, check the base screws as well as the cleat screws.
Secondly, screw heads attract some of the worst immovable debris and get worn down to the point where you may be unable to remove them without some serious hacksaw interventions (see described hacksaw interventions to thy right).
If the cleat wear impacts your ability to clip in, release, or you feel wobbles or an unsteady connection with the pedal, it’s time to replace the cleats. If not, you may only need to replace the screw heads themselves. While we carry a Screw Kit (contains the aforementioned Screw Pick) and a Walkable Screw Kit (Speedplay), you may not need bulk screws. Therefore we suggest visiting your local BikeFit Pro or dealer, with your favorite sharable adult beverage, and they’ll be able to sell you some replacements.
It Takes Two
Cleats materials have a limited lifespan depending on the usage. They will eventually wear out and when you replace them, pick up a spare set as well. Heck, you could go out tomorrow and pick up a second set even if your cleats are impeccable. You’ll need to replace them eventually and again, your local shop loves when you visit with liquid hops-o-plenty and a need for new cleats!
Having a second pair of cleats allows you to inspect the excessive wear and tear from riding all those grand tours. Use these spares as subjects to compare against the used ones. Do they look like the cleats to the right? Too much wear (1mm or more) and it’s probably time to consider replacing cleats.
For Cleat’s Sake, Cover Up!
Depending on your cleats, some handle the grit and grime better than others. Regardless, if you want to extend cleat life, consider cleat covers. Speedplay recognized that numerous riders were shredding their cleats and now they offer some incredibly functional and aero Walkable Cleats. Kool Kovers provide riders with multiple options of protective cleat covers for Shimano, Look Keo, Look Delta and Speedplay. Yes, it may take you all of 8 seconds to remove them and reinstall after each of your 4 coffee stops, but extending the life of your cleats not only saves you money but also could prevent a potentially painful and skin-removing crash.
You’ve decided to upgrade to some shiny, new, potentially bike-matched pedals, and you would like to tackle the intricate installation yourself. Now you’re likely asking yourself something you may not admit to your cycling friends, “How do I loosen or tighten bike pedals?” We can assure you that this will be easier than building Swedish furniture or attempting to install a new bottom bracket. Prepare yourself for a few minutes of grease-filled fun and those new pedals will be ready to tackle the Alps (or the local 3-minute climb)!
Tools and Supplies
Pedal Wrench (15mm)
6mm Allan wrench (some pedal models)
8mm Allan wrench (some pedal models)
Grease for threads
Pedal threads are different on the left and right sides. The right drive side pedal has a right-hand thread (removes counterclockwise, installs clockwise). The left, non-drive side pedal, has a left-hand thread (removes clockwise, installs counterclockwise). Many pedals are stamped “L” and “R” for left and right.
Popular mythology dictates that the Wright Brothers (arguably the inventors of the airplane. Unless you are un-American and believe that clearly, Richard Pearce was the first in flight) originated left-handed pedal threads to keep pedals from unscrewing while riding. It is a good practice to screw pedals in tightly after final fit adjustments. Pedal threads, like most component threads on a bicycle, should be lubricated lightly with grease.
Tighten: Turn towards (over the top) the front wheel.Loosen: Turn towards (over the top) the back wheel.
Tighten: Turn towards (over the top) the front wheel.Loosen: Turn towards (over the top) the back wheel.
Tips and hints during installation or removal
Shift the chain to largest chainring to protect your knuckles against greasy abrasions, if the wrench were to accidentally slip. This accident may or may not have happened to employees at BikeFit.
Try different wrench positions to gain a quality mechanical advantage between the wrench and crank arm. Pedals are often fastened very securely and can require some extra effort to remove. If possible, hold the opposite crank arm as another point of leverage.
Pour yourself an adult beverage of choice after completing the installation and removal. Pre-pedal installation imbibing can result in potential injury, increased frustration, or futile questioning of the stalwart “lefty loosey, righty tighty.”
Have you ever felt pain or numbness near the ball of your foot or under your toes? Sometimes people describe it as feeling a pebble or a rock underneath their toes. Others may feel a burning sensation, sharp pain, or numbness.
Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the tissue around the nerves leading to your toes. The pain most commonly travels between the 3rd and 4th toe but others experience pain near the ball of their foot or between the 2nd and 3rd toe. Although the word “neuroma” conjures negative thoughts connecting to cancer, Morton’s neuroma is benign.
Tight shoes: high-heeled shoes specifically are a risk factor. In cycling, shoes are commonly lower volume, which could pinch the toes together for prolonged periods depending on your ride duration. Considering the number of pedal strokes in a long ride, and the potential amount of massive watts you expend on your local group ride of death, cyclists could be at a higher risk.
Foot abnormalities: people with bunions, hammer toes, high foot arches, or flat feet have a higher level of risk to develop Morton’s neuroma than others.
Impact: The repeated trauma of your feet pounding the pavement via running also places you at risk.
Foot Tilt: An often overlooked aspect in connection to Morton’s neuroma is the tilt of the foot as it relates to the connection with the pedal. When the foot tilts up to the inside (forefoot varus) in a natural position, more pressure exists on the outer rays of the foot during the pedaling cycle. This situation occurs in approximately 90 percent of the population.
Physical therapy: BikeFit trains numerous bike fitters who are also physical therapists. These extremely knowledgeable fitters specialize in both cycling and neuromuscular injuries.
Find better fitting cycling shoes: Examine the toe-box and fit of your current shoes. Many people have wide feet and some shoes are extremely narrow. Although aesthetics in cycling may have led you to your most recent shoe purchase, comfort translates to increased power. Many companies like Lake, Sidi, Bont and Northwave, produce wider shoes. Lake produces “normal width” shoes that are already wider than many other companies, and they offer a separate wide sizing selection as well. Some local bike shops offer specific shoe and cleat fittings. If you visit your LBS (local bike shop) and request a foot fitting, they must examine the width and tilt of your foot to remedy pain sources.
Wedging: Wedging is the solution to the foot tilt issue that causes excessive pressure on the outside of the foot.
A Wedge helps brings pressure under the first two toes, or as you can see from the illustration on the right, wedges spread out the pressure. This often relieves pain and discomfort. We strongly suggest that anyone who displays symptoms of Morton’s neuroma should examine the tilt of their feet.
I’ve noticed that my bike saddle is worn only on one side. I found some information on web talking about a leg length issue or how I sit on the saddle being the source of the problem. What do you think?
We’ve received this question from numerous riders and would be happy to shed some light on the situation. In regards to what you found on the web, finding a saddle is extremely important and a difficult part of achieving cycling comfort, but we’ve seen uneven wear on a variety of saddle types. It’s possible for a rider to favor one side over the other and unfortunately they’ve potentially acclimated to an off-center position. This is where we strongly recommend that you visit with a professional bike fitter or BikeFit Pro in order to analyze your riding style and get a full bike fitting.
Are your legs different lengths?
Regarding the potential leg length discrepancy, this could also be the culprit. If you visited a professional fitter, they would hopefully ask the following questions to pinpoint if a leg length issue is an origin of the saddle wear.
1.) Do you have an x-ray or medical information diagnosing a leg length difference (considered by many as the Gold Standard, the STANDING AP Scanogram Full-Length X-ray used by clinicians is the most accurate way to diagnose a Leg Length issue)?
2.) Have you been told you have a leg length issue?
3.) Do you get saddle sores, but only on one side?
4.) Does the saddle show uneven wear (your original question) or even tilt lower to one side?
5.) Does one knee have more bend than the other when pedaling?
6.) Do you rock lower to one side than the other when pedaling (viewed from the rear)?
7.) Do you sit off-center or side-saddle?
8.) Is it obvious or observable (perhaps others have mentioned something to you)?
9.) Do you have lower back pain or discomfort on one side?
Even with all these questions from a fitter, we would recommend that a medical professional would be the best person to diagnose you with a leg length discrepancy. If that is the diagnosis, leg length shims could be a possible remedy. We do not recommend cleat stagger if you are looking for a quick fix.
Often, the problem starts with the foot/pedal interface
We’ve noticed that many riders are misaligned due to the inherent tilt in their feet. Using a Cleat Wedge can help align the foot in its connection to the pedal and improve the alignment of the kinetic chain up the leg, through the knee, and up to the pelvis.
The image on the left displays the knee collapsing inward as the foot is forced flat to meet the pedal. This knee collapse causes the leg to push inward, which then rubs excessively against the saddle. You likely also noticed that your cycling shorts may show significant wear on one side vs. the other.
Do you experience cycling knee pain? Do the images above look familiar? Are your knees going outward when you pedal? If not, you’ve likely noticed this when riding with others. The origins lie in an under-discussed topic in cycling: stance width.
Here’s a fun exercise to find out what we mean by “stance width.”
Take a few steps.
Stop and stand in a comfortable position with your legs side-by-side.
Look at your feet. This is your natural stance width that your body selects when you are not clipped into the pedals. Now, for fun, clip into your pedals on the bike and observe how your normal stance on your feet and your bike setup may be different.
We are not suggesting that you mimic the exact comfortable standing stance to your bike setup, but it does give you an idea of why many people experience discomfort on the bike. When you performed the exercise above, you may have noticed that your feet are wider apart than on your bike or that your feet “toe out” to the side.
Clipping into a pedal may limit your natural position, but we promise you don’t have to quit cycling and sell your bike.
The knee followeth the foot
Going back to our illustrations above, when you clip into the pedal, the foot does not have a choice to move. Consequently, the knee kicks out at the top of the pedal stroke (going where it wants to) and then, because it is attached to the foot, follows it inward at the bottom of the stroke. After thousands of revolutions (a 2-hour ride could have 10,000 depending on how fast you pedal), you may develop some significant knee pain.
Solution #1 – Cleat in = foot out
In the earlier days of cycling, the default was to tell the rider to bring their knees in to meet their feet. Sadly, this may cause even more knee pain. The best solution is to move your cleat in, which in turn, will move your foot out to meet your knee. This simple change will help with your knee alignment and potentially alleviate cycling knee discomfort.
Solution #2 – Pedal Washers or Pedal Spacers
If you’ve already moved your cleats in completely but your knee continues to push outward, try adding 1.5mm washer (only use one) to the pedal spindle where it attaches to the crank arm.
If you have a wider stance width (many riders do), you may require more lateral (foot out) adjustment. 20mm Pedal Spacers provide the extra length. 20mm spacers require a 15mm pedal wrench but we also provide Hex+ 20mm Pedal Spacers for pedals that install using a 5mm or 6mm hex key wrench.
Now that you’ve moved the foot outward, you likely increased your comfort, alleviated knee pain, and aligned your feet to your knees. Your pedal stroke should look more like the image below:
Eurika! You’ve maximized your ability to apply power to the pedals and now can ride off into the sunset (without having to ice your knees or visit an orthopedist when you arrive home). Remember that bikes are symmetrical and people are not. Take this into account and assure that you and your normal, asymmetrical human parts are customized to fit your bicycle.
Most cycling shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals and feature holes drilled in the soles for attaching cleats. The bicycle cleat engages with the pedals to create a secure connection. Cleats are supplied with your pedals, and they should match the type of cycling shoes, whether road-specific or off-road/multi-use-specific.
Some cycling shoes are drilled to accept both 3- and 2-hole bicycle cleat designs, but most will accept only one or the other. Shoes made for use with 2-hole systems cannot be modified to use a 3-hole cleat. The 4-hole Speedplay® pedal system can be adapted to fit 3-hole shoe styles. There are a few shoe brands/specific models drilled with 4-hole Speedplay-specific bolt pattern.
What’s the difference in functionality?
The 2-hole system is commonly known as the SPD system (SPD = Shimano ® Pedaling Dynamics). The 2-hole system can be used for all types of riding, including road cycling, mountain biking, touring and commuting. When paired with some shoes, the recessed cleat design allows easier walking. Most off-road racing, where a mud shedding cleat design offers an advantage, is where a small two-hole cleat is popular. There is a road-specific version known as “SPD-SL” (3-hole bolt pattern). Get SPD Cleat Wedges.
The 3-hole system is also known as the Look-style system (for the pioneering manufacturer/brand, Look Cycles). The 3-hole system is most often used for road cycling because it offers a stable platform for energy transfer while riding. The soles of many performance oriented shoes are often made more for riding than walking with stiff soles and little tread. The larger cleat design incorporates a three-fastener connection, which is much more secure connection than with two fasteners like the ones found with the 2-hole type. Popular brand names of 3-hole bicycle cleats are; Look ®, Shimano SL, Time ® Road and others. Get Look Cleat Wedges.
The 4-hole system is associated with the Speedplay® pedal/brand. Speedplay design has the clasping mechanism on the cleat, rather than on the pedal, like with SPD and Look systems. In this system, the shoes are made more for riding than walking. The system with a four-fastener connection, generally offers more adjustability options in the foot/pedal connection, often making it a favorite of bike fitters. We offer these in both the Walkable™ style (shown below) and regular road cleat style.
Please feel to e-mail us with any questions regarding how your pedal/cleats fit with your wedges. Contact us!
As long as you are talking about BikeFit branded wedges, this is not one wedge against another. Both of the wedge styles offered from BikeFit work extremely well. Each wedge, however, has its place. In most cases, it’s preferential to use the Cleat Wedge.
When to Use In-the-Shoe Wedges
1.) Cleats not compatible with Cleat Wedges
The In The Shoe (ITS) Wedge often is a “fill in” product for types of cleats that are not compatible with Cleat Wedges like Crank Brothers. However, Crank Brothers provide a shoe shield (seen on the left) where you can use Cleat Wedges with their cleats.
2.) Hyper-Mobile Feet
A hypermobile foot would be a good place to use an ITS in combination with a Cleat Wedge. This type of foot needs more support. A more rigid foot tends to be more responsive with less wedging and the Cleat Wedge is a better solution for most rigid feet. This also may be a great option for those who have room in their shoe and would not be affected by the change in volume inherent with the addition of In The Shoe Wedges.
In-The-Shoe Wedges are also great for diagnostics. If you are looking to determine the effects of wedging on cycling mechanics, ITS Wedges provide the ability to make quick changes. This also holds true if you are testing out comfort but do not want to take the time to remove your cleats, add cleat wedges, and realign (time saver). We should mention that this is usually a temporary change. Once the comfort or mechanics are confirmed, the first choice to correct your foot’s natural angle/tilt is almost always cleat wedges.
4.) Fine Tuning
In-The-Shoe Wedges also offer a fine-tuning option for cyclists “in-between” wedge levels or it is tough to tell if 2 cleat wedges or 3 cleat wedges is the better solution. In other words, if 2 or 3 cleat wedges help correct your mechanics and reduce foot pain, try using 2 cleat wedges and add an ITS as the 3rd wedge. Go out on a ride and spend some with the ITS in the shoe and some time with it in your back pocket. Over a period of time, you will usually discover the preferred amount of cleat wedging. For many cyclists, you may require more than 3 Cleat Wedges. Since we do not recommend using more than 3, the ITS wedge provides the extra bit of tilt needed!
When the cleat on one bike shoe is shifted forward and the other one positioned to the rear, rather than symmetrically aligned (see the photo above).
We tend to hear more about cleat stagger when it accompanies a comment suggesting that a particular anatomical leg length difference is located at the femur. With that information in mind, many fitters and cyclists consider staggering the cleats. Is this the right answer?
Things to Consider:
How can you be sure the leg length difference is only in the femur?
Are you sacrificing optimum cleat fore/aft position with cleat stagger?
What other aspect(s) further up the chain is/are compromised by cleat stagger? Are you sacrificing too much in order to avoid a simple solution?
We noticed that by addressing almost all leg length differences as a leg length discrepancy, you will most likely discover the best solution: a Leg Length Shim. This also tends to minimize other complications from the foot up that can possibly occur via cleat stagger. Some of these sacrifices can include injury, pain, imbalance or loss of power.
Find our for yourself! Try both a cleat stagger and a Leg Length Shim separately. In most cases, a bike fitter or BikeFit Pro will be able to observe better symmetry from the rear view. For the individual, you will likely feel a distinct difference between the two. Which one felt better? In our experience the preferred solution usually, if not always, includes the Leg Length Shim as the primary adjustment. Some cyclists expressed that the cleat stagger drives them absolutely bonkers (medical expression).
Lastly, remember with all leg length issues, it is best to have a bike fitter or BikeFit Pro check your posture on multiple shaped saddles. Some different saddle shapes mask the potential asymmetrical movements often associated with a leg length issue. Only by checking your posture on a few different saddles can you assure you have indeed addressed the difference as well as possible.
At BikeFit, only after installing the shim is staggering the cleat ever-so-slightly a consideration we make in order to fine-tune. Even then, it is rare at best.
The equipment of the cyclist often tells a story. You can acquire valuable information from looking at the components. However, expensive hardware and software will not find it–you must use your eyes! The popular Look Keo pedal is one of the easier pedals to discover uneven wear as the result of a common misalignment. Sometimes this wear can show up in just a few minutes of pedaling.
Where do You “Look” and Why?
For most, our feet do not meet flat or level with the pedal due to forefoot varus. Notice the inside of the foot tilted up higher than the outside of the foot.
In order to clip into the pedal, the foot is forced to be flat (the cleat will not engage the pedal if it is tilted). Therefore, your foot is forced to be level (parallel) with the pedal. How do we know? Look at your pedals and you will see the uneven wear. If the foot wanted to meet the pedal flat and level, the wear would be even, not uneven.
Take a gander at the Look Keo pedal below. Notice inside the red circle which pinpoints the pedal wear more in this area than anywhere else. The reason: the foot wants to be tilted in its natural position.
Many stores and fitters own the expensive Keo Fit pedal but that only addresses cleat rotation to some extent.
What about the newer Look Keo pedals with the wider platform or the Look Delta pedals? You will still find the same wear underneath the front area of the pedal up toward the inside.
These example Look pedals and many others like it show the need to add a wedge. Cleat Wedges® enable the cycling shoe to connect with the pedal naturally, by acknowledging the foot’s inherent angle. This creates a neutral foot position throughout the pedaling cycle, resulting in greater comfort, power, and even pedal wear! One of the most desirable and comfortable indicators is even pedal wear.
This pedal wear is evident in other pedal systems. See our blog post on Speedplay Pedal Wear for more information.
Why are BikeFit’s 3-hole Leg Length Shims (LLS) longer and protrude out more than other brands? The additional length is by design.
Cleats are designed to be used on the bottom of a cyclIng shoe (directly in contact with the sole). Take the cleat away from the surface (sole) and it will no longer work as it was designed. Adding length to the front of the LLS is like adding shoe surface to assure the cleat/pedal interface will function properly.
Engagement problems may begin to occur when building up a 3-hole road cleat to as little as 3-4mm in height. Of course, the greater the stack height, the more likely an engagement issue will arise. The front of the cleat may dip into the pedal too far causing a delay or even the inability to clip into the pedal.
Same Size Leg Length Shims = Dangerous
Leg Length Shims of the same size and shape as the cleat contact surface force the cleat to dip too far into the pedal. If the LLS does not extend out in front of the cleat, the increased gap between the shoe and the cleat can cause problematic engagement.
BikeFit Protruding Leg Length Shims
BikeFit’s Leg Length Shims extend well beyond the front of the cleat providing a platform that allows the pedal to facilitate smooth and easy engagement.
Take a look at 2 more examples below of the size differences between BikeFit’s LLS vs. others.
The engagement problems may not occur every time you attempt to clip into the pedal, but it will eventually happen! It only takes one mishap at an inopportune time to cause significant concern. If you are looking for Leg Length Shim Saftey, BikeFit provides you with the best comfort and options.
Taking into account pedal and cleat wear is often an overlooked aspect by many cyclists and bike fitters. In this article, we focus specifically on Speedplay cleat wear.
This information is static (will not be seen with motion capture or data capture during a bike fit). In other words, if your fitter only looks at dynamic (on the bike) data, they miss important information. Why? Although extremely important, dynamic fitting is just one aspect a fitter must consider.
The ultimate bike fit includes both dynamic AND static analysis (the cyclist and the bike or equipment) as well as consideration for how the cyclist feels. Keep in mind, how you feel is as actually more important than how you look on stick-figure printouts or a picture of you in a video.
Your Equipment Tells a Story
Take a look at your shoes. Turn them over and look inside the circle area of your Speedplay road cleat. MOST people notice uneven wear.
Do not be surprised when you see this. There is something you can do to alleviate the problem.
Next, look at the springs. Uneven wear inside the red circles is the norm–not the exception.
Why? The foot is naturally tilted and it wants to stay that way even if the equipment initially forced it flat. As a result, equipment wears out uneven.
Let’s also look inside of your shoe. One of our most popular illustrations is the one on the below where people say they feel more pressure on the outside of the foot. Why? The pedal and shoe are flat but the foot is tilted.
The Uneven Wear Culprit
Is this Speedplay’s fault? Absolutely not. All pedals are flat and wear out unevenly. For example, unlike running, in cycling, you can only buy shoes that function one way. All cycling shoes function the same regardless of price or brand (there is one brand that purports to include added tilt to the shoe but all of the shoes within that brand function the same). In running, even within one brand, you purchase shoes for different body architecture (stability, support, neutral…etc). In cycling, you only buy shoes that are flat at the forefoot. Consequently, you can now diagnose these problems, take a look at possible solutions, and connect with a BikeFit Pro to make your shoe/cleat fit the pedal properly.
Remember it is normal to see uneven wear, but normal does not necessarily mean right. It is also common to see the foot in a relaxed position hang with a tilt or angle to it.
First, you must flatten the foot or it won’t even clip into the pedal. We as cyclists learned to master this skill of leveling the foot to get into the pedal but we are hardly aware of it. Once clipped in, the foot tries to go back to its natural tilted position. Hence, uneven pedal wear.
The Solution: Cleat Wedges
Knee on a chair and ask someone to hold a straight edge across the bottom of your feet. They will most likes look like the figure on the right.
We have never seen a broken Speedplay spring from a cyclist that has a flat forefoot. However, a flat or neutral forefoot is rare, to say the least. This comment is not coming from Speedplay but it is absolutely our belief that the correct use of cleat wedges will prolong the life of your Speedplay cleat springs. Remember it is important to follow the manufacturer’s suggestion for upkeep and maintaining your equipment.