Drive My Bike

Understanding Clipless Pedals – Installing Cleats On Shoes
May 23, 2009, 11:58 am
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In my previous posts about clipless pedals I covered two of the clipless systems available, and also what kinds of clipless shoes are available. Once you buy your shoes and pedals you’ll need to attach your cleats to your shoes. That’s what I’m going to show here.


Installing your cleats is actually very easy. I’m going to focus on SPD cleats, as shown on the shoe on the right in the above picture. If you have a different kind of cleat then you’ll need to adapt these instructions, but the basic steps should be the same.

When you purchase your pedals they will probably come with cleats and all of the hardware that you need to attach them to your shoes:


Here’s a close-up of the cleats themselves:


These cleats are identical, so there is no right or left that you have to worry about, but they do have a front and back, and it matters which side you place towards the sole of the shoe. You can see the “teeth” on the cleat on the right. These go against the bottom of the shoe, and they bite into the sole to help prevent the cleat from sliding around. The oval washer goes on top of the cleat, between the cleat and screw, and allows for a bit of lateral adjustment of the cleat as you tighten the screw.

When you buy your shoes they may have a “plug” that is screwed into the spot where you will put the cleats:


Simply remove those screws and it should come right off:


I am using a hex driver on my multi-tool to remove these screws. Use the proper driver for whatever type of fastener came on your shoes.

Once you get the plug removed you’ll see the empty spot where you’ll attach your cleats:


There is a metal plate underneath the plastic sole of the shoe that “floats” so that you can set your cleats where you like them. There are two sets of screw holes in the plate, depending on where you want to set your cleat. The advice I was given was to start with your cleat in the middle and ride that way for a bit, then make adjustments as needed. I use the top set of screw holes so that my cleats are in the middle. This has worked well for me and I don’t feel the need to adjust them. You can see the impressions in the plastic where the teeth from my cleats bit in when tightened.

Beware that some shoes have a removable insole that presses against the back of the metal screw plate inside the shoe. If this is the case, and you are holding the shoe upside down like in the picture, the insole might raise up a bit, allowing the metal screw plate to get out of alignment with the slots in the sole, or the plate might even fall out. If this happens, don’t panic, just put the plate back in place, then put your hand inside the shoe to press against the insole and reposition the screw plate so it lines up with the slots. You’ll probably need to keep your hand there to hold the plate in place until you get one of the screws started.

At this point you may want to put just a touch of grease on the tips of the screws so that they will go into the screw plate easily and won’t seize up on you when you need to replace your cleats.

Now put your cleats on the shoe, approximately where you want them, being sure that the “toothy” side of the cleat is against the plastic, and the pointy “nose” of the cleat is towards the toe of the shoe. Put the oval washer on top of the cleat in the recessed space, and put the screws in, using your fingers to get them started, but don’t tighten anything yet. Check the position of the cleat. At this point you can move the cleat around so that it is where you want it.

Once you get it in the right position then you can tighten the screws:


Be sure they are good and tight. You don’t want to muscle them so hard that you bend or break anything, but they need to be tight enough that the cleat doesn’t move around or come loose.

When you are done it should look like this:


Be sure that you check these screws regularly to make sure they are still tight. I had one of my cleats loosen a bit the other day, and it almost made it so that I couldn’t unclip, which was a bit scary for a few moments.

One more thing worth mentioning. You’ll notice the big “M” on the cleat in the picture above. There are two kinds of SPD cleats. The black cleats in the picture towards the top of this page don’t have an “M” on them, and are unclipped by turning the heel of your shoe to the side, which is the more traditional way. The silver cleat in the picture above is more forgiving and allows a multidirectional motion (hence the “M”) of the heel to release the cleat. You can move the heel to the side, or up and to the side, and the pedal will release. These cleats are a bit easier to learn with and you might want to consider them. I didn’t know the difference before, but my first set of SPD pedals came with “M” cleats, so that is what I started with.

Hopefully this series on clipless pedals has been helpful. I really like “clipping in” now, and if you can try it I think you will also be glad to join the clipless club. I’d love to hear of your experiences and adventures, so leave me a comment.

48 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I fell hard my first time riding clipless, but that’s the last time it has happened. I love clipping in and being attached to my bike. It might sound kind of silly, but I like being one with the wheels. Now I clip in and just go. And besides–it makes hills way, way more fun to climb. Thanks for the series!

Comment by Kate

Just got my first set of SPD clipless pedals and associated shoes and was unsure about which row of the backing plate screw holes to use so tried as recommended in article. Initial test ride went well although recommend to wind back the tension on the pedals to get used to them. Thanks for the column.

Comment by Stefan

kick ass man. thanks so much!

Comment by goo

excellent article, thank you. i recently bought a cyclocross bike and was trying to use mtb shoes on its spd pedals. your article cleared my doubts.

i like this blog, reading articles one by one from the start.

Comment by shivin

I’ve noticed that MTB shoes come with 4 extra bolt-like things, and something late looks like a small spatula. What are they for?

Comment by Caitlin

Sorry Caitlin, I’m not sure what those things are. I’d recommend checking with your local bike shop to see what they say.

Comment by Scott

Those are studs. The spatula thingy is for screwing them in. Studs like that give you more traction in muddy conditions.

Comment by Mackdaddy

Spot on. your article has enlightened and broadened my knowhow. thank you. Gibraltar

Comment by Francis

one of the cleat screw came loose wile on the pedal. How do I remove now the shoe to fix it?,

Comment by N.L

If you can’t get the shoe loose by the normal sideways twist, then I’d recommend asking a local bike shop for some help.

Comment by Scott

Just read this and it has cleared up a whole load of headache for me, basically, the back and forth positioningof the cleats, and the pictures really helped. Will see how it works now 🙂

Comment by tony gurney

Thanks a lot for the article! It’s really usefull!

Comment by Borys

Much thanks for the detailed description of cleat installation. The illustration (and text) that came with my spd pedals, for my mtb shoes were scarily crummy!

Comment by Jere

Thanks for the good guide – the tiny bolts that came with mine barely fit through the holes of my Lake bike shoes… Was a tough 10 minutes of pushing hard with my hex driver 🙂 I appreciate your time very much.

Comment by Cameron S.

Thanks a ton man. I would never have figured that out by myself

Comment by Destry

Hey thanks for the great write up ( there is little good information on the web about this for newbies to clipless pedals) – your description and great photos help a lot! Still searching for some more info on Look pedals which I understand are more focussed towards road / racing bikes rather than MTB…any links welcome!

Comment by neil

nother thing worth mentioning is that some shoes/clips come w/ “stickers.” They are supposed to be put inside the shoes under the insole. Just a guess (I’m a newbie) that their only function may be to keep dirt, mud, etc. from coming into the other screw holes on the bottom of the shoe.

Comment by KK

This is REALLY good. Thanks so much for this great article. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate. Will check out your website often.

Comment by Dennis

Very clear and helpful – especially as we have precisely the same Izumi shoes. The cleat manufacturer’s instructions and diagram were borderline incomprehensible – and as a result I had the whole cleat way too far forward. Looking forward now to a more centered bike stride. Next step would be to solve that clicking and clacking, by lowering the sole’s cleat recess just a millimeter or so. Otherwise, avoid nice natural wood floors…

Comment by Canonchet

Thank you for the pictures! I had installed my cleats based on the horrible drawing that came w/the shoes – and I put them on upside down and backwards. Had it not been for your pics, I would have looked like the newbie that I am, returning my shoes/cleats to the store for not working w/my pedals. Good stuff!

Comment by Julie

Recently was given a hand me down pair of shoes with the cleats out. Had no idea what went where until I saw this. Definitely cleared up everything for me, thank you. I’ve yet to ride with them, but I’m sure it’ll be nice.

Comment by Kyle

Just purchased a pair of Keen sandals and Wellgo half/half pedals (SPD/platform). I had never used clipless before and I didn’t see any instructions with the pedals or the sandals. Thanks to your write-up I was able to install them successfully and go for my first ever clipped-on ride.

I took them and my freshly repaired bike out for a test ride this evening to get the hang of riding with them. Don’t want to embarrass/hurt myself with a slow fall at a stop light or something. I’ve read those stories… I find clipping on a little tricky. Now I just have to figure out whether my positioning of the cleats is good for me. Tomorrow’s 39K ride should give some indication, I hope.

Aside: anyone have an idea why they are called clipless when they clearly allow the rider to clip on to the pedals? I would make more sense to me to call platform pedals clipless and SPD clipped/clip-on, etc.

Comment by Abram

They’re called clipless since you don’t need to use toe clips. Prior to the release of clipless pedals, the only way to “connect” to the pedals was by using toe clips, aka cages, to hold your shoes on the pedals.

Comment by Nik

My Shimano shoes (used) came with small set screws in the front holes of the sole. One day I could not get the shoes to clip in after 5 minutes of trying. Upon close inspection I found one of the front set screws had backed out enough to prevent from snapping in. Can I just remove these front set screws? Are they there just to keep the threads clean or what?

Comment by Deane

Deane, I’m not sure about those other screws you are describing. I’d recommend that you drop by a local bike shop and ask their professional opinion.


Comment by Scott

SO helpful, thanks so much! I’m so excited to ride with my new pedals. Just have to figure out how to install them 😛

Comment by Nicole

For anybody wanting to try out/learn how to use clipless pedals safely – our local gym has some exercise bikes with SPD pedals on them. You can practice getting in and out, and fine-tuning the positioning, with no danger of falling over. 🙂

Comment by bob

Fantastic! This article was exactly what I needed to get up and running with clipless. Thanks for the great pictures.

Comment by Craig

This site was just what I needed! It made it perfectly clear how to attach the cleats on my shoes. Thanks so much.

Comment by Ann Goodman

I’ve been wanting to get me some of those for my road bike, but didn’t trust that the look ones will do the trick, and no one on the stores could help me as technical as with this (and the other) post’s.
I think i’ll try the spd model for my road bike, because i like to know i can walk a little with them, or not have to carry other pair of shoes to go for a coulple of days out. And the eagg beater model of crank brothers allways caught my attention.

So what i’m saying is, thanks for all your insightfull reviews about clipless pedals; they’ve been a real help for me.

Comment by stijepan

excellent!! the instructions that came with the cleats were totally useless and didn’t help at all!! this did totally, helped me solve which was back and front and which way up they should you!! can’t wait to try them out now!! thanks a lot for helping me out – as you can tell i’m a newbie to cycling 😀

Comment by Leanne

Thanks for the great info as this will help me when I get my pedal (there getting delived soon)

Comment by Alex

I bought everything separate–shoes, pedals (used), and cleats. Neither my cleats nor pedals came with insole washers or flat nuts, but I noticed you didn’t mention anything about them. Are they necessary? Manual shows the insole washer, flat nut, and waterproof seal all going on the inside of the shoe.

Comment by tadpole

Tammy, sorry for the slow response. I don’t have anything like that with my shoes, but different shoe manufacturers might have different setups. You might want to take your stuff by your local bike shop and get their opinion.

Comment by Scott

Thank you for the advice. I installed the pedals on my bike and cleats on shoes in a matter of 30 minutes. I started out on my trainer. It did not go well for so I switched to pavement. Within 20 minutes of riding in the neighborhood I got the hang of it. Not scary at all. I just pedaled as normal until I figured it out. I have bookmarked you thanks again

Comment by Jeff S

My first clipless ride was with egg-beaters (and I haven’t wanted to try anything else yet). Once my reflexes improved to the “oh crap” sensation/getting the 20 degree twist-out down pat, I knew I’d never ride a flat pedal again. Being connected to the bike and feeling every little sensation I used to miss is one thing, but the confidence inspired when knowing my feet will never fly off in wet or muddy or even icy conditions is beyond compare or description, PLUS I get to pull UP with my legs in addition to cranking down. Doesn’t matter if I’m rounding a tight corner to face a 12 pitch climb or catching air off a 6′ mogul or bunny hopping a 10″ rock/stump in the middle of the trail, I KNOW the bike is going where it needs to and day-dreams are now for real. I thought I was big time when I traded my flats for cages, but I can never thank enough one of my best friends who talked me into trying clipless… riding the road or trails hasn’t been the same since ;)).

Comment by John S

This is very helpful – thank you so much!!!

Comment by Rebecca S

Thanks alot for this article! Very informative and much appreciated!

Comment by Teddy

Thanks so much for the great directions. They were just what I was looking for. I didn’t have a clue how to put the cleats on my shoes. Thanks 🙂

Comment by jenny

Ya, as everybody else has been saying thanks and good description!

Comment by Jeffrey Miller

Just bought some half spd/normal pedals after a nasty tumble with toe clips & decided to go the whole way! Got some Wellgood units with useless instructions – all was revealed after reading this, one of my Lake shoes didn’t seem to have the inner plate until I found it hidden underneath the insole – surprised I didn’t feel that! great article – thank you

Comment by Chris L

Awesome!! Great instructions. At a coffeshop, can’t wait to go home and tweak my SPD and ride test my new cleats. Thanks for the INFO.

Comment by Drknite66

Thanks Scott appreciate you taking the time to document and with the pics too. rt

Comment by rt

Great instructions, clear and simple, and great photos. Thanks very much!

Comment by SK

Whoa- these clipless pedal blog posts have been super helpful- thanks!
I was pretty confused about how the shoes, the cleats, and the pedals all came together. This really filled in the gaps.

Comment by danwho

Excellent explanation for fixing the cleats with good pictures, made it very easy, thank you. My first time so here goes!!!!

Comment by sally jarrom

ditto to all the above.

Comment by Donnie

great reading very helpful for us plonkers I feel more enlightened thanks give us more?????????? need photos of your cycle routes

Comment by David

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