If you're like most cyclists, you are probably aware (sometimes painfully so) that there are only three main contact points between your body and the bicycle. Hands and handlebars, butt and saddle, as well as feet and pedals.Since the comfort and output of the rider is often governed by these contact points, problems in any one of these areas can have massive implications. For the purpose of this article, we're going to focus on the last point—feet and pedals—specifically, cleat placement and position. When most people think about riding a bicycle, they immediately think of the pedaling motion. For example, in sign language, the sign for bicycle is made by making the pedaling motion with your hands. When we perform a bike fit, our basic goal surrounding the feet is quite simple; create less pressure on the foot, find the optimal leverage to spin, and get the foot, knee and hip all in one line. It sounds really simple on paper, but in reality there are only about four inputs a fitter can change on a rider's feet—including custom insoles and/or custom shoes. Cleat position and placement is one of the most important steps in the fit process as it affects the other areas of bike fit quite dramatically. So much so, in fact, that our staff here at Predator always sets the rider's feet up as the first step of the fit. Cleat position can drastically change the rider's fore and aft positioning on the saddle. Proper cleat placement also helps the cyclist pedal more efficiently, often times generating an increase in power while reducing fatigue and potential for injury. Below I've listed four basic variables that we as professional bike fit specialists can change to catch and correct potential problems:
Fore/Aft Adjustment of the Cleat - There are three major considerations when determining the fore/aft positioning of a rider's cleat. BBPS (Ball-of-foot Behind the Pedal Spindle): When the axle of the pedal is behind the ball of the riders foot, it gives the cyclist an easier ability to spin higher RPM's. BOPS (Ball Over Pedal Spindle): This is a "neutral" position in that the axle of the pedal is positioned directly under the ball of your foot. Many fitters use this position as their "go to" or starting point. Finally, the BAPS (Ball Ahead of Pedal Spindle) position: The ball of the rider's foot is behind the cleat. This provides the rider with more leverage to generate power on the pedals, but taken to an extreme can also cause "hot foot" or an aggravation of the Achilles tendon.
Left/Right Adjustment of the Cleat - Lateral adjustment has a lot to do with an individual rider's hip measurements. This adjustment is used to line up the rider's foot, knee and hip. In most cases both right and left cleats are adjusted the same. However, occasionally some riders require more adjustment. In these cases we can add a spacer between the pedal spindle and crank arm to add an additional 20mm in width if needed.
Rotational/Float Adjustment of the Cleat - There are a wide variety of pedal systems available today. The adjustment that they offer is often as widely varied as the systems themselves. Some systems allow rotation of the cleat, where others allow only an adjustment of the float on the pedal. Occasionally, we run into a pedal that has no adjustment—in this case, you get what you get (as fitters, we're not big fans of this last one!). Float or rotational adjustment is used primarily to ensure that the knee is tracking straight up and down. This adjustment can get tricky as a small change can move the heel right or left several millimeters, which dramatically changes how the rider's knee will track throughout the pedal stroke. There have been a lot of discussions about whether float in a pedal system is a good thing. Personally, my own pedal system has no float at all—something that I've been doing for years and have had good results. However, I believe this topic is something that each individual cyclist should explore with their fitter, as each case is different. In general, based on what I have seen over the years, an experienced cyclist with good form can often transition to fixed cleats and see a large change in SpinScan™ performance and power output.
Wedge Adjustment of the Cleat - Often the least considered adjustment to a rider's cleat position is "wedge". Wedges are simply plastic or carbon shims that a fitter will add to correct variations in varus or valgus. Once again, we're shooting for proper tracking of the knee through the pedal stroke and the obvious goal is to keep the foot, knee and hip in one straight line. There are many theories about the use of cleat wedges and whether or not they should be used. Through our years of experience and the extensive data that we've gathered, we look at it like this: without question, cleat wedges work. If the rider needs it, we use it! As I've mentioned in other articles, bicycle fit is a dynamic process. When a rider comes in for future adjustments, cleat wedges are an area that we reexamine to determine if any changes need to be made. Age, injury, changes in equipment are all factors that may require an adjustment to the amount of wedge used on that particular rider. If you want to get you hands on some Wedges click on the link here for each style: LookSpeedplaySPD
As you can see, once you begin to examine cleat position, it's not as easy as it looks at first glance. Whatever you do, seek the assistance of a trained fit professional when setting up your cleats. I've heard all kinds of crazy theories over the years, the most common being: "Just put the cleat in the center of the shoe and ride it. If it bothers you, then give it a little twist." While this may work fine for 1% of the population, for the rest of us it's really important to make sure that we are properly fit to our machines! It's my hope that this article has taken some of the mystery out of the cleat positioning process. As always, if you have any questions pertaining to fit or cleat position, we invite you to give us your thoughts in the comments area below. If you've enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.