Are Cleats Better For Cycling?

April 08, 2022 6 min read

Cleats and clipless pedal systems are used by all types of riders.

Cleats are the part that attach to the bottom of your shoes. They help you stay stable while pedaling. You can buy them separately or get them already attached to your shoes. This article will help you to learn all about cycling cleats, and whether they're a better choice for you.

How Cycling Cleats Work

Cleats work by interacting with the spring mechanism built into the pedals. When you clip in, the mechanism clamps on the cleat and holds your shoe in place. You can push down on the pedals, pull on the upstrokes, or even pedal backwards using cleats.

To unclip your feet, you should twist them to the side, away from the bike's frame. You wouldn't want to clip your feet into the pedals because then you'd be stuck.

You should use an SPD cleat with an SPD compatible pedal and a two bolt compatible shoe. An SPD cleat will not be compatible with a Speedplay pedal, nor will it be compatible with a three bolt compatible shoe.

Clipping in and out is a skill that takes practice. You should do it slowly at first, until you're comfortable doing it quickly.

Pros and Cons

On flat pedals, your foot is constantly changing position. Your foot is not attached to the pedal, so you can't pull up on the pedal. You must push down on the pedal to keep it moving. As you push down, your foot gets more and more uncomfortable. This causes you to lose control over your bike.

Cleats let you use both the upstroke and downstroke of your legs to generate power.

Clipless pedals are more stable than cleats. You can push and pull on them all the way through the stroke. Your feet stay in a constant position.

Flat pedals make bikes easier to ride downhill, but they also make them more difficult to control. Clipless pedals keep your feet attached to the bike, but they may be harder to pedal uphill.

Cyclists should always use flat pedals when they're riding through muddy terrain. Flat pedals make it easier to unclip and tripod during rough corners.

Cleats can sometimes be cumbersome – they take a bit of practice to be able to safely dismount the bike every time.

Flat pedals are easier to use than cleats, but they're not always safe. Cleats are better for climbing hills and sprints.

Overall, cleats are better if you're looking to maximize efficiency. However, they take some getting used to, and not everybody likes riding with them – despite the obvious efficiency gains.

How to choose cycling cleats

When choosing new cleats, road riders should choose strong, secure three-bolt cleat systems such as Look or SPD SL, while off-road and mountain bike riders should opt for two-bolt cleats such SPD.

Float is the amount of rotation allowed when riding a bike. A zero degree of float means your foot is locked into place. A four or five degrees of float allows some slight side-to-side motion. This helps prevent knee pain.

How to set up cycling cleats

You should put your cleats on the bottom of your shoes. There are some nuances to ensure you get them right. Two-bolt cleats require different positioning than single bolt cleats.

Best practice is to mount cleats in the center of the ball of your feet. You should be able to feel the cleats under your feet when pedaling. Your pedals should be aligned directly under your feet.

There are five main ways to adjust your cleats: Fore and aft, side-to-side rotationally, float, pedal tension, and shims.

Fore and aft and side-to side adjustments mostly come down to individual preferences and anatomical necessities. A bike fit is a great way to ensure you get your pedal position right while maintaining suitable knee and hip positions.

Cleats are designed to allow a certain amount of float, so make sure you check the specifications before buying them. Some cleat manufacturers offer colored cleats to indicate the amount of float allowed.

A professional bike fitter will help you get the right fit for your shoes and pedals. You should also try to ride without adjusting your cleats or saddle height. Your cleat position and height affects your riding position, and your saddle height. Adjusting either of these things may alter your riding position.

Pedaling Style

Plantar flexion is good because it allows the rider to push down on the pedal without having to use a lot of force. It makes pedaling easier, but it doesn't make the rider stronger. Excessive plantar flexion is bad because it causes the rider to lose control over the bike. This can lead to crashes.

Good placement for the cleats in a region of the ball of the foot allows the calves to be used effectively. Variations in foot proportions such as the relative lengths between the big toe and overall length of the foot may need to be adjusted so that the cleat isn't placed too far back or forward.

Moving the cleats back on the shoe sole to reduce leg leverage reduces the muscular effort required but doesn't allow the foot to contribute to the generation of force or to the fluidity during the stroke.

What About Clipless Pedals?

Clipless pedals require you to put your foot in a special shoe that fits over the pedal. You then snap the shoe onto the pedal. This is different from regular shoes because you need to put your foot in the right position to get it to fit properly. There is no strap to hold your foot in place.

Clipless pedals are some of the most popular types of bicycle pedals. They allow your feet to be attached directly to the crank arm without having to use toe clips. This allows you to perform pedaling movements similar to running while riding a bicycle.

Clipless pedals allow you to ride faster because they make your pedaling action stronger. They also help you maintain better posture while riding.

There are pros and cons to every type of pedal and cleat set. You need to assess them based on what kind of riding you want to do.

Three Bolt Vs Two Bolt Systems

Three-bolt systems are more secure than two-bolt systems. Bikes using three-bolt systems are generally more expensive than bikes using two-bolt systems.

Two Bolt

Two-bolt cleats are used by many cyclists who want to use clipless pedals but don't want to sacrifice too much comfort or stability. These cleats are easy to walk around in while off the bike. This makes them useful for urban riding.

Three Bolt

The three bolt system is advantageous when riding over rough terrain. The system is accomplished by using an SPD-SL cleat that is attached to the shoe with 3 bolts. You must ensure that the pedal goes into the cleat correctly before clipping in.

These shoes have three bolts, which makes them more powerful than other shoes. However, walking in them is very uncomfortable because of the cleats' protrusion out of the sole.

Color Coding

Cleats should be colored according to the level of float they allow. For example, blue indicates a low level of float, yellow indicates medium float, and red indicates high float.

Fitting Cleats

Properly installed cleats should be placed approximately 1/2” away from the front wheel. This allows the foot to rest comfortably in the cleat without having to bend forward too much. Cleats should be placed about 3/4” behind the centerline of the pedal spindle. This ensures that the foot is positioned correctly when pedaling.

Rotating Cleats

Your cleats should be centered on your shoes. To make sure your cleats are aligned correctly, check if there is any space between them. If there isn't, then you need to rotate your cleats by turning them 180 degrees. You might also want to consider getting some new cleats because yours are worn out.


If you're new to the world of cleats, then it can definitely be a confusing place. Hopefully this guide has helped to clear some things up for you, and helped you to decide whether cleats are something you need!