How To Install Cleats On Indoor Cycling Shoes

Are you considering clipping in for your indoor rides? Firstly, do it! Clipping in makes your pedal strokes more powerful and gives you a better experience. 

Saying all that, setting up your cleats incorrectly can cause joint pains. So, how to install cleats on your indoor cycling shoes?

To get the best indoor cycling experience, place your cleats under the balls of your feet. Then think about how your feet align to the pedal when you’re riding. If you place your cleats correctly, they will not only help you improve your pedaling but also prevent injuries.

There’s a bit more to it than that so let’s drill into some of the detail!

Why Should You Use Cleats?

If you’re using your indoor bike as a way to simply get your legs moving, then clipping in might not be for you. However, if you’re looking to push your cadence then I would recommend clipless pedals.

Why?

Well if you aren’t clipped in, then you’re essentially just pushing the pedals in order to get them to spin. When you are clipped in, you are able to pull as well as push, allowing you to spin more quickly and more efficiently. Another bonus of clipping in is that you are working a greater number of muscles.

From a personal experience, I’m so glad I switched to clipping in quickly. Once you get used to the notion that you’re attached to your bike, it becomes second nature and I did notice an increase in performance. 

So if you’re looking to improve your performance on the bike, clip in.

Related article – Are Cycling Shoes Worth It?

Man putting on white cycling shoes

Float And Tension – What Are They?

You will hear float referenced a fair amount when talking about clipless pedals. What this means is the amount your foot can rotate when you’re clipped in. 

The way it is calculated is by how many degrees your feet can rotate right and left. You have some float if your feet are able to rotate from side to side a few degrees, whilst remaining clipped in. 

Why is that good?

First and foremost, it’s safer. It also creates a pedal stroke that is more natural when riding your bike, both in or out of the saddle. 

Basics Of Pedals And Cleats

Now you know why you might want to clip in, let’s look at the different options when it comes to pedals and cleats.

The two most popular types of clipless pedals are SPD and Look Delta Pedals. As a side note: clipless and clip-in pedals are the same. I know, confusing, right? 

Before clipless pedals became a thing, toe-clip and strap pedals were popular. Manufacturers needed to find a way to differentiate between those and the new pedals. “Clipless” became the adopted name as there are no toe clips, making them clipless.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, back to SPDs and Look. Both pedal systems do work in a similar fashion. The cleat gets mounted onto the shoe and you press the cleat into the pedals. The shoe locks into place.

When you need to release yourself from the pedal, simply turn your foot.

Related article – Can Indoor Cycling Help Improve My Running?

SPD

What does SPD stand for? Shimano Pedaling Dynamics.

This type of pedaling system is more popular with mountain bikers than roadies outside. SPDs are growing in popularity for cycling indoors, especially with spin classes so you may have come across them. 

In terms of compatibility, if your bike has SPD pedals, then your cleats must be SPD too. SPDs are known as the “two-bolt” cleat. 

Why?

Two bolts secure the cleats to the shoe! This system gives you a feeling of being more fixed on the ball of your foot. However, the power transfer is slightly less than when you use a three-bolt pedal system (SPD-SL).

The reason this pedal system is so popular with mountain bikers is that sometimes you need to be able to walk easily on trails and SPD cleats are recessed so you are able to walk normally. 

This is also why they become popular for spin classes as the recessed cleat means that it won’t scratch the gym floors.

Best For

If you want a very universal cleat that works with many pedal designs. If you want a walkable bike shoe with a cleat.

Not Great For

High-end roadies as the top-end road cycling shoes aren’t compatible with SPDs.

SPD cleats

Look Pedal System

Look pedals are more popular with road cyclists and less so with mountain bikers. 

Similar to Shimano’s SPD-SL pedal system, Look uses the three-bolt system. This gives you a wider contact point between your shoe and your pedal so you’re able to apply a bit more power.

With Look pedals, you also get a bit of “float”. By that, I mean that you get some side-to-side movement in your foot, even when clipped in. 

 Why is this good?

It makes things easier on your knees and your leg is able to follow its natural range of motion as you pedal.

In terms of what you can get from Look, there are two main lines, Delta and Keo. They look similar. 

The Delta line is more popular with indoor spin classes and is actually compatible with Peloton. Whereas the Keo range is geared more towards outdoor use. I can’t deny that you get a stiff and direct transfer of your efforts with Look and for that, they work really well for riders who want a high-end option for the road.

One thing to note is that whilst Look and SPD-SLs look almost identically, they aren’t interchangeable or compatible with each other.

Best For

Serious road cyclists

Not So Great For

Mountain bike riders and spin class goers

Look pedal system

How To Install Cleats On Your Shoes

So now you should have worked out which type of cleat you are planning on using, let’s look at how best to install them. Fortunately, the method in mounting both SPD and Look are near enough the same.

Regardless of which type you bought, they will arrive with washers and bolts. You need to align the cleat up with the hole pattern on the top of the shoe’s sole.

Once you’ve done that, pop the washers on the holes. It’s possible the washers won’t fit comfortably but this will mean that you can make changes to the position later. Apply some grease to the bolt. Take an Allen key and screw the bolt in. Don’t fully tighten it yet as we have a few things to do to find the optimum cleat position.

Three things you should consider when positioning your cleats. The fore-aft. Rotation or angle. The lateral position of the cleat.

Fore-Aft Position

With the fore-aft position, you should be aiming to have your cleats roughly under the balls of your feet. The result of this is that your feet sit firmly on the pedals, giving you greater power as you’re pedaling. 

Finding the ball of your foot is started by finding your big toes’ base. Some riders will get a ruler and a tape measure and calculate the identical measurement on your shoe. Others prefer to eyeball it. Use your preferred method! 

Rotation

You will then need to work out your natural alignment when you’re sitting down or standing as this helps to figure out the correct angle of your cleat. A simple method for this is sitting on the sofa and dangling your feet. Are they pointing inwards, outwards, or straight up?

If they’re pointing outwards, you should point your cleat inwards slightly. 

Inwards? Point your cleats outwards.

Lateral Position

Moving onto the lateral position of your cleat. I’d recommend that you sit on your trainer, ideally in front of a mirror.

Look at how your hips, ankles, and knees are aligning. 

Do your knees go inwards while your ankles outwards? If so, position your cleats slightly outwards. If it’s the opposite, then your cleats should be slightly inwards. 

Another method is to clip in, try them out, and adjust as you go.

Process of installing clipless pedals

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there cycling shoes that are compatible with both SPD and Look Cleats?

No, SPD and Look work on the three-bolt system but they aren’t compatible.

Are indoor cycling shoes any different from outdoor cycling shoes?

No, indoor cycling shoes and outdoor shoes are the same. You can use whatever pedal system you prefer in or outdoors.

Related article – Best Road Bike Cycling Shoes: Reviews and Complete Buying Guide

Do all SPD cleats fit all SPD pedals?

No, though it’s rare to find an SPD cleat that isn’t compatible with an SPD pedal. However, the Boerte bike cleats are only compatible with Shimano SPD SM-SH51 pedals, despite the two-bolt mounting system.

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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