Correct cleat placement is not only essential for you to get maximum power out of every pedal stroke, but also to prevent injury of the joints and muscles. Unfortunately cleat position is neglected by a lot of riders in comparison to the rest of the ‘fit’, and often the cleat is simply centered on the shoe and forgotten about. It is rare that this central position is the optimal placement for the cleat, meaning that the best case scenario is a loss of power to the pedal, and worst case scenario is an injury forcing you off the bike completely.
Many cyclists come into cycling from other sports, due to the low impact, non weight bearing nature of riding a bike. This is great provided that the bike is set up correctly, but more importantly, that the cleat set up is correct.
I regularly come across riders who have suffered various injuries from running, playing football etc and have been advised to take up cycling as an alternative. I would say at least half of these riders have suffered from knee trouble at some point or another, and are looking to cycling as a means to keep fit without aggravating their injury further.
You must first find a ‘base position’ for the cleat from which to work from. There are several variables to consider when finding this location;
This refers to how far forward or backwards the cleat will sit, relative to the foot inside the shoe. As a starting point you want the ball of the foot to sit just in front of the pedal axle, exactly how far in front (or how far back the cleat is positioned) is dependent on the type of riding you will be doing. Track sprinters for example would benefit from a cleat position that is further forward, whereas a TT or long distance road rider would benefit from a rearward position. Also, if you have a tendancy to point your toe, you will require less cleat setback than if you were to drop your heel a lot more.
The method for fore/aft placement of the cleat is fairly straight forward. Firstly you need to locate the ball of the foot, which is the joint of the first metatarsal (knuckle of the big toe). Once you have this located, put your foot in the shoe and mark this point where the sole meets the upper. Next you need to locate the centre of the cleat. This will be indicated by a small line somewhere approximately halfway between the top and bottom. You want this line as a starting point, 7-8mm behind the mark that you made on the shoe. You can also mark your 5th metatarsel (joint of the little toe) and position the cleat center at the approximate center of these two points (see pic)
This is the ‘side to side’ placement of the cleat. A good starting point is to centre the cleat, neither towards the inside or outside edge of the shoe. The exact placement that is correct for you would depend on the ‘Q Factor’ (distance between pedals in comparison to the width of your hips) and the shape / dynamics of the lower limbs. If you are unsure, starting with the cleat in a central position is the best idea.
The rotation of the cleat refers to the angle of its placement and will affect the ‘toe in’ or ‘toe out’ direction of your foot. To find the correct angle to set each cleat, have someone observe you whilst you are walking, and note whether your foot naturally points in or out and to what degree. A large percentage of the population are slightly ‘toe out’, and it is rare for both feet to be symmetrical in this respect. Your cleat position should mirror this natural position of the foot, so for a slight ‘toe out’ stance, you should rotate the cleat inwards and vice versa for a ‘toe in’.
Your aim is for each foot to be in its natural position, and to be in the centre of the float of the pedal. If your heel is forced too far out when you are pedalling, it will put pressure on the medial ligaments in your knee and the ligaments on the outside of your ankle. The reverse would happen if your heels are too close to your crank arm, resulting in pain when walking or running, even if you cannot feel any problem pedalling.
Following these simple steps will help you get your cleat set up in a good starting position. At Midland Fit we offer a cleat adjustment service either on its own or as part of the ‘Pro Fit’.