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October 20, 2009
When I started this post I originally intended on doing a write-up for a full bike fit. It didn’t take long before I started to comprehend how massive a topic this is. Even the basics would take thousands of words and dozens of photos to explain. Therefore I decided to break this topic down to the individual elements of the bike fit.
When doing a bike fit the place to start is at the feet. This is the first point of contact on the bike and proper cleat setup is one of the most important elements of proper fit.
Many PhDs have been written about cleat positioning and there are various theories out there. Unless you’re biomechanically sensitive or have some individual needs these basic steps should get you going with a good and neutral cleat position that will minimise injuries and be comfortable.
1. On most cleats there is a center of cleat marking. You can see this vertical line on the side and center of the cleat below.
2. Attach the cleat onto the shoe so that the middle of cleat marker is approximately 5mm back from the widest part of your foot (usually around the ball of your foot). It sometimes helps to tape a washer onto the side of the widest part of your bare foot so you can press on the shoe when the foot is inserted and feel underneath the shoe.
3. Once both cleats are attached in the proper position lay the shoes on a ledge with the cleats pressed up against it. Check to make sure the toes are even (thus making sure the cleats are positioned equally).
4. With the shoe attached to the pedal, check again to make sure that the wide part of the foot is slightly (about 5mm) ahead of the pedal axle. The other dimension to cleat positioning is sometimes referred as the lateral position or the “Q-factor” (the distance the cleat can be adjusted towards or away from the crank arm). This is highly individual based on your body type.
A rule of thumb is that when the cleats are mounted there should be about 2cm between the heels of the shoes when they pass the crankarm on the way through the pedal stroke. Your feet should be close to the crankarm without letting your ankle hit it on its way through the stroke. Riders with wider hips may benefit from moving the cleats to the centre or even as far as the inside of their shoes to push their feet further out.
In many cases riders don’t pedal with perfectly straight feet. To compensate for this most pedals have some degree of float so you get that neutral feel in sync with your natural toe-in or toe-out tendency. This is the most important setting to keep your knees happy and is highly individual.
I would try to set the cleats dead straight and let the pedal float take care of any abnormal leg movements. I notice that some people have this odd knee jerk during their pedal stroke when their muscles are tight, but after they loosen up it goes away.
When I started getting knee problems I switched over to Speedplay pedals. They were very difficult to get used to because of their high degree of float. However, after I got accustomed to this I loved them and will never use anything else.
Once the cleats have been set using this basic technique, the cleat position should be neutral. There should be absolutely no twisting sensation through ankles, knees, or hips.
There’s been some interesting research done on moving the cleat position very far back towards the middle of the foot. This apparently produces more power by recruiting more of the larger muscles – the quads and glutes. I’m going to research this with a number of experts and I’ll write about it in a later post.
Thanks to Cycling Edge for letting me use their fit studio for taking these photos and helping me with this post.