The right cycling shoe can make a massive difference. It can turn an ok indoor cycling session or a cycling class into a great one. Many beginners start off with standard trainers when they take up indoor cycling, but once you have made the switch to proper cycling shoes, you will experience a much more efficient, comfortable and safer ride.
Cycling shoes are made of breathable and light materials and closely fit the shape of your foot for much greater comfort, and the stiff soles transfer maximum power to the pedal, giving you a better connection to the bike and improved performance.
Knowing about the different components of a cycling shoe and how you choose and fit them can be complex for beginners. Here, we look at one of the most important parts of the indoor cycling shoe – the cleat – and how to put them on.
What Are Cleats?
Generally speaking, cleats refer to the part of an athletic shoe that protrudes out. They are designed to help the person wearing them to gain greater traction on surfaces that are softer or slippier.
Cycling cleats are usually shaped like a blade, and are made from rubber, metal or plastic. Because of the nature of indoor cycling, and to prevent damage to the floor, indoor cycling cleats are normally made from rubber or plastic.
These are Xpedo plastic cleats I’m using.
Why Are Cleats So Important?
If you are cycling at a leisurely pace on your indoor bike, the use of cleats is probably not essential, although they are never going to hurt. However, if you are going full throttle on your bike, the use of cleats will not make it only easier, but safer for you as well.
When you are not using cleats – otherwise known as not being ‘clipped in’, the movement of the pedals comes from you pushing down on them. If you are wearing cleats, however, you also have the kinetic advantage of an upward motion, or pulling, which makes the pedals turn significantly faster which, in turn, adds to your speed.
Not only that, but when you are clipped in to cleats, you are using more muscles to turn the pedals which makes for a much more effective training session.
One of the biggest problems indoor cyclists face is foot slippage. When you are cycling at high speeds, it is really common for your feet to slip off the pedals and for the pedals to hit your calves or shins, which, if you have never experienced, is incredibly painful. Imagine a pedal hitting you at 100RPM – it’s going to leave one mighty bruise or even break the skin!
However, using cleats prevents your foot from slipping, helping you to prevent this rather painful and avoidable injury.
Getting used to wearing cleats when you are participating in indoor cycling can take some getting used to. There is a process involved in putting on your cleats – ‘clipping’ in and out.
You almost certainly will get caught on your bike to begin with it, but before you know it, using cleats will become a part of of your indoor cycling routine and your experience and session will be all the more effective and enjoyable for it.
The Key Components Of Wearing Cleats
When it comes to cycling shoes, there are three specific parts you need to know about. These are the cleat, which is obviously what we are going to be talking about in more detail, the pedals and shoes themselves.
Knowing how these three components work together is going to improve your indoor cycling experience and safety. Cleats are sold separately to the shoes in most cases, and how they fit to the pedals is dependent on the indoor bike that you are using.
How To Choose The Right Cleats For Your Indoor Cycling Shoes
Before you do anything, you need to make sure that your cleats are compatible with your shoes, and your shoes are compatible with the pedals on your indoor cycling bike. If they are not, you are not going to be cycling anywhere fast.
The majority of indoor bike pedals are compatible with Shimano SPD cleats and Look Delta cleats. If you did want to swap them out – maybe you have cycling shoes with a different cleat system, then you will need to change the pedals to ones that will work with them.
I currently use Look Delta cleats with the 3 bolts that I use with my pair of DHB Dorica Road Shoes.
For some indoor cycling bike programs, such as Peloton, the cleats may come with them already. However, most cycling shoes do not need you to buy separate cleats. If you do, make sure that you check the compatibility.
How To Fit The Cleats Onto Your Indoor Cycling Shoes
Now we have gone through the basics of what cleats actually are and how they will benefit your indoor cycling experience, it is time to look at how to fit them onto your shoes. It does appear to be a complex process to begin with, but you will get the hang of it and it will be like second nature before you know it.
Our handy step by step guide below will give you a good starting point for fitting your cleats onto your indoor cycling shoes.
Start with the cleats removed from the shoe. While you have the cleats off, check them over to make sure they are not worn or damaged.
If they are, you may want to think about replacing them to get the very best out of them. To put on your cleats, you will need a 3mm or 4mm hex wrench, assuming you have SPD cleats or Delta cleats.
Make sure that you are wearing the socks that you would usually wear for indoor cycling – not anything thicker, and not anything thinner than normal. Pop on your cycling shoes and tighten them as you would normally.
By pressing with your thumb and your finger, locate the ball of your foot. It is easy enough to find; it is the part that protrudes out under your big toe. The cleat for your indoor cycle should be aligned here to create maxim comfort and efficiency and give you the most scope for movement in your ankles.
Now if you want you can mark this point at the side of your shoe – put masking tape on your shoe to avoid them from being ruined. Do this for the outside and the inside of your foot. However it’s not really necessary, you’ll still get full efficiency out of your cleats when connected.
Take off your shoes and turn them over. Using a ruler on the masking tape, draw a line to connect the two marks.
Look at your cleats; they should have a marking of some sort to denote the centre point. This is what sits over the axle of the pedal.
Grease up the bolts that hold your cleats in place. Add a bit of grease to the holes in the bottom of the shoe before you fit them. This will make it much easier to make adjustments if and when you need to.
Now that your cleats are centred between the lines on your shoes, you are nearly ready to get on your bike – literally. However if you have heels that point inwards or outwards, you may want to allow for that by rotating the back of the cleat a little in the corresponding direction.
Make sure that they are angled as well as possible – if they are poorly angled, they can cause knee and joint pain. Your cleat angle may not be the same for both feet, so bear that in mind.
Once you are happy with the fit, tighten everything up with your hex wrench and get on your bike and try them out. Of course, you may need to make adjustments if they do not feel right, or your heels are rubbing against the cleat.
Troubleshooting Your Cleats
Sometimes, even the most careful of measuring and fitting, you may not get it exactly right first time. If you are experiencing numbness in your toes or pins and needles or hotspots on your foot, then something is not quite right somewhere. It is usually because there is too much pressure on the ball of the foot, which means that the cleat needs moving back a little. Sometimes, it just feels a little ‘odd’.
If this is the case, give your foot a bit of a wriggle while you are cycling. If it rests in the middle, it is all ok. If it presses to one side, move the cleat in the direction that your foot is pressing towards.
If you have knee pain, they may also need adjusting – if the pain is on the inside of your knee, you may need to turn your cleats in. If it was on the outside, they may need turning out.
Hopefully, these tips have helped you to understand the importance of a good set of cleats for your indoor cycling sessions, how they can help you and how to fit them correctly. By doing this, you should be much more comfortable, avoid the risk of injury and have a much better performance.