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.