How To Install And Adjust Cleats on Cycling Shoes in 6 Steps [With Pictures]

Pro bike fitter and mechanic Robbie Ferri walks you through nailing the setup of your clipless pedal cleats

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

When it comes to cycling, one of the biggest upgrades you can make is investing in clipless pedals. They can help you cycle more efficiently and greatly benefit you when it comes to bike fit and power transfer.

Using clipless pedals requires cycling shoes with special cleats fitted. As a professional bike fitter and mechanic with years of experience, I know that learning how to install and adjust cleats on cycling shoes properly is vital.

Not only will they work much better, but properly adjusted cleats can also reduce the likelihood of knee pain and other injuries, amongst many other benefits.

An SPD-SL cleat on the bottom of a cycling shoe.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Why Is It Important To Install Cycling Cleats Correctly?

In my years of cycling experience, here’s what I have seen from cleats that haven’t been properly installed.

#1. The Shoes Get Stuck

If cleats are not installed correctly, they can likely come loose. Although this might not sound like much of an issue, it means that when you go to unclip your feet, the cleat spins, and your foot gets stuck, causing you to fall when you stop.

#2. To Prevent Injuries

If cleats on cycling shoes are installed incorrectly, then you will find that they might not hold your feet in the correct place. This can cause injuries. One of the biggest causes of knee pain is having cleats set up incorrectly, putting your feet at the incorrect angle.

#3. To Protect Your Cycling Shoes From Damage

It’s really easy to install cleats wrong, and a lot of the time, this ends up in the cycling shoes becoming damaged. When the cleats are loose, it strips the threads on the shoes, and it can be difficult to repair.

A pot of grease, a rag, marker pen, and a Allen key for adjusting cleats.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

How To Install And Adjust Cleats On Cycling Shoes in 6 Steps

Now for the exciting part, let’s discuss how you’re going to install and adjust cleats on cycling shoes.

The Tools You’ll Need

Here are the tools I recommend you have when doing this task.

  • Allen Key Set
  • Cleaning Rag
  • Anti-Seize (grease)
  • Torque Wrench (optional)

Step #1. Remove The Old Cleats (Optional)

Unscrewing cleats on a SPD cycling shoe.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

The first step you need to take is to remove any old cleats that might already be on the shoes. Unfortunately, cleats take a beating when they are on the bottom of your shoes and, because of this, are often a nuisance to remove. 

Start by taking the rag and cleaning around the area so you don’t cover yourself in mud. Then, take a small Allen key and clean out the bolt hole from any mud and debris.

Marking the bottom of an SPD cleat to ensure you put it back on right.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

If you are replacing the cleats and want them in the same place, take a pen and draw around the cleats now so you know exactly where to put the new ones.

Now insert the 4 mm Allen key and turn anticlockwise. These are often stuck, and you have to be very careful not to round them off. If you do, it is possible to still get it out with a Torx bit set, but it can be challenging.

Step #2. Clean And Grease The Threads

Greasing cleat threads.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

The next step is to go to the bottom of the shoe again and clean the threads using the cloth. You will need to remove any dirt from the inside and ensure that they are not cross-threaded in any way.

Then, you will want to pop a bit of grease in each of the holes, or you can put it on the bolts instead. It’s important to grease the threads. If you don’t, the bolts get stuck, and the cleats become a nightmare to get out later. 

Step #3. Attach The Cleat 

Installing the cleats in the correct position.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Next, take the bolts and loosely attach the cleats to the shoes. I would only screw them in lightly for the time being. You will then want to check they are in the correct position, and then you can tighten them later. 

If you are unsure how to set up the cleats at the correct angle? We will discuss that in the next section. 

Once you have them in the correct position, you will want to tighten the bolts up. Shimano recommends 5-6 Nm of torque if you are using a torque wrench, which we highly recommend.

Tightening the bolts on SPD cleats on cycling shoes.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

How To Position and Adjust Cleats

There are many methods for getting the correct cleat position. As a bike fitter and someone who has helped a lot of cyclists find comfort on the bike, here are the methods I recommend. 

#1. See A Bike Fitter

Bike fitters are professionals who will be able to set you up with your bike so you pedal as efficiently as possible. This will be saddle height, reach, handlebar width, and more. One of the most important places a bike fitter must look at is your cleats. 

The fitter will typically watch you on the bike and perform basic tests to see where your feet are best suited. It takes lots of little adjustments to perfect the cleat position and sometimes add on parts such as longer pedal spindles. 

#2. Sit Test 

Next, we have what I like to call the sit test. It’s a good way to see how your feet naturally lay, and then you can replicate that on your cleats. So find a large box or sit on the edge of a table with your feet hanging in front of you, facing straight forward.

Now, look at your feet and the angle at which your feet sit. For some people, it will be straightforward, they might point outwards, and for some, they will point inwards. This is a good place to start angling your feet when setting up your cleats roughly.

As far as the position of the cleat forward and back, you either want the ball of your foot parallel with the pedal spindle or the cleat pushed further back so the pressure is closer to the center of the foot.

The bottom of an SPD and SPD-SL cycling shoe.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

#3. Adjust On The Go

Finally, your last option is to adjust on the go. This is what a lot of cyclists do, and I wouldn’t personally say it’s a fantastic idea. You can set the cleats up straight so your feet point directly forward, then start riding and see how it feels. 

You can then micro-adjust either way to see if it feels worse or better. The most common place you will feel pain when your cleats are incorrect is in the knees. Again, this, in my opinion, is not the best way to learn. A fitter is the best way.

Everyone Is Different!

It’s important to understand that when it comes to cleat position, everyone is different, and it can take time to get used to using clipless pedals. The best route to go down is to see a bike fitter. Then you have the best chance of it being correct instead of guessing and risking injury.

An SPD cleat being clipped in.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

The Different Types Of Cleats

When it comes to cycling shoes, there are many different types of cleats. You have SPD, SPD-SL, Speedplay, Look Keo, Delta, and even Crank Brothers. They all attach in similar ways as shoes only come with either a three-bolt or two-bolt system. 

The most common two cleats and patterns are referred to as SPD and SPD-SL. SPD is generally used in spinning and off-road riding with a two-bolt system. Then you have SPD-SL, which is used for road racing and has a three-bolt system.


Another very important factor is float. This is the amount of movement the cleats have in them. Typically, SPD mountain bike cleats will have 6 degrees of float. SPD-SL yellow cleats have 4 to 6 degrees, SPD-SL blue have 3 degrees, and SPD-SL red have no float.

If you are new to clipless pedals, I highly recommend a cleat with a lot of float, as this is going to mean your foot can move around a lot more, and this will result in less injury and more comfort.

I only recommend SPD-SL blue or red cleats if you have had a bike fit or expert advice.

Now You Know How To Install Cleats on Cycling Shoes…

Clipless pedals are a great upgrade for your bike, and we highly recommend them. It’s vital to have your cleats set up correctly, or if not, it can lead to a loss in performance and possible injuries.

Thanks for taking the time to read our guide!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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