Put extra power in your pedals by repositioning your cleats
By Selene Yeager
Two years ago, Joe Friel, author of The "Training Bible" Series, decided to follow the advice of Goetz Heine, a former pro cyclist and shoe designer who'd recommended he push his cleats all the way back to the arch of his shoe. (He actually punched holes in the sole of his Shimano shoes to do so.) Friel improved his sustainable power-to-heart-rate ratio by a stunning 9 percent. "That's obviously an extreme example," says Steve Hogg, a renowned expert on cycling fit. "But it happens. I have one elite customer who, after major changes in cleat position, improved his personal best over a 43-kilometer time trial by three minutes. Most riders can make a difference in their performance with a change in cleat position." Here's Hogg's advice for shifting your cleats to pick up a little easy speed.
MOVE TOWARD THE AFT Your calves work hard to stabilize your foot on the pedal as you ride; cleat position affects just how hard. The farther forward the cleat, the more effort your calves expend. "I've found over many years that the great majority of riders perform better with the ball of the foot in front of the pedal axle on a conventional shoe," says Hogg, who recommends the following as starting placements. (Note: Mark your old position in case you experience knee pain or other discomfort.)
SHOE SIZE - MOVE CLEAT BACK
- 36-38 7-9mm
- 39-41 8-10mm
- 42-43 9-11mm
- 44-45 10-12mm
- 46-47 11-14mm
- 48-50 12-16mm
DIAL IT IN Placing your cleats toward the front of your shoe does offer a benefit: You can apply higher peak torque to your pedals. Your ideal cleat position should provide the torque you need without the calf fatigue you don't. Depending on what kind of riding you do, adjust your cleats accordingly: PURE SPRINTER (TRACK) Move the cleats forward from the recommendations above. Endurance isn't a major factor in sprinting, so calf fatigue isn't an issue.
ROAD RACER (CRITS, DAY RACES) Move cleats as recommended in the chart above, so that the pedal axle sits a bit behind the ball of the foot. Rearward cleats allow your big muscles to work better and keep your calves fresher over the long haul.
DISTANCE, TIME-TRIAL AND RECREATIONAL RIDERS If you have little need for sudden acceleration, move the cleats even farther back toward the midfoot. An added benefit: Some find this position helps them eliminate "hot foot" and other painful conditions that arise from pressure on the feet.
REMEMBER: If you move the cleats any meaningful amount, you will need to adjust your saddle height, says Hogg.
SET THE CLEAT ANGLE Your heel shouldn't hit the crank when you turn it inward, but you do want some rotation. Mount the cleats so there is about a finger-width of space between the heel of the shoe and the crankarm. To set the cleat angle, Hogg recommends the following procedure:
While riding at a solid pace, stop pedaling and coast. Try to move your right heel toward the crank arm. If you can't, angle the front of the cleat toward the inner edge of the shoe, and then retest until you can wiggle your heel inward. Then, repeat the pedal-and-coast test, but this time, try to turn your heel away from the bike. If it's stuck, angle the nose of the cleat farther toward the outside of the shoe. Retest until you even the amount of heel movement in and out of your natural rotational angle. Repeat the process with your left foot.