Cleat Position

Where should your cleat go? Fore and Aft.

I believe cyclists’ cleats are a personal matter and should be placed in the best position to suit the shape and size of the foot, the pedal stroke and the type of riding.

Advise given to many cyclists in the past has been to place the pedal axle under the ball of the foot while the foot is flat. The ball; referring to the 1st metatarsal head or big toe knuckle. I believe this was because people equated the pedal stroke to our walking gate, with the last bit of significant force being applied to the 1st metatarsal as we push off. Some feel this is a contributing factor to it’s size.

I feel too the strength of the legs’ individual kinetic chain is very high at the 1st metatarsal head, this indicates the theory about cleat placement being directly under the 1st metatarsal head while the foot is flat to be good advise.


However, what happens when the rider experiences heavy loads and or fatigue and their heel starts to drop below the pedal axle?

The ball of the foot will rotate down and  behind the pedal axle moving the force forward to the toes. This loads up the calf muscles as they try and stabilize the foot wasting energy. Try it with a pen, place a pen under your toes and imagine pushing down through the pedal stroke really hard, like you are going for the win. Feel where the muscles are contracting to help stabilize the foot and leg. Now move the pen back somewhere behind the 1st metatarsal head and again push and imagine you are really pedaling hard. Feel the different muscle enlistment?

By bringing the cleat back to a place where the pedal axle can sit under the fist metatarsal head even when experiencing high loads and or fatigue with the heel dropped, you do not end up putting the force of the stroke through the fore foot where there is less ability to support the kinetic chain.

How far back should you go?

It will depend on where your 1st metatarsal head is on each foot, the amount of heel drop relative to the the length of the foot and what the needs are on the bike the shoes will pedal.

The first variable, foot size is going to be more about where you can put your cleats as oppose to where you want to put them. Some times I see the need to move a cleat into a position further back than the shoe will allow for. This can be over come with a Speedplay pedals and set back plate combination, or drilling out new holes in the shoe.

The next variable is about how far down your heel drops when on the rivet or climbing in the saddle, when the load is high. The more the heel drops the further back the cleat should go. Ankle movement will be lessened as the cleat moves back but this will help with the over all stability of the foot and if the rider drops the heel already, this may help a lot.

Another variable to consider is the bike and type of riding. Triathlon is a perfect example of a discipline where the cleat can be positioned back further than general recommendations due the fact that it advantageous to use as little calf muscle enlistment on the bike as possible; keeping them fresh for the run. You are much more likely to have heel drop while seated and triathlon riders can see long hours seated and riding in the aerobars.

At the other end of the spectrum would be a track sprint. Out of the saddle riding would suggest the foot being used to control the rider’s over all position in a very dynamic way, moving them up and forward as to get into the sprinting position. It seems the further forward the cleats go the more pop the rider can get when they jump out of the saddle for a sprint. The calf is used to add drive to the stroke and increase the over all out put but for short periods of time. The heel will still drop with load and fatigue but to a lesser extent meaning the cleat does not need to be as far back.

Steve Hogg has drawn up a chart of numbers based on a huge amount of samples, thousands of cyclists and many thousands of cleats. It relates the distance from your first metatarsal head rearward to the pedal axle, to your shoe size in EU sizing. It is the place to start for do it your self cleat fitting. It’s brilliant and lets you dial in the details of heel drop and type of riding. If you are a keen time trialist or triathlete you can use the longer, more rear ward measurement and if sprinting is your game then try using the shorter of the two measurements. Same with heel drop, if you drop your heel a great deal, use the longer measurement and for those who point their toes you can use the shorter measurement.

Shoe Size:                        Pedal Axle Behind 1st Metatarsal Head (Joint Center):

36/38                               7 mm/9 mm

39/41                                8 mm/10 mm

42/43                               9 mm/11 mm

44/45                              10 mm/12 mm

46/47                              11 mm/14 mm

48/50                              12 mm/16 mm

When I fit cleats I use a slightly different way to calculate the fore and aft position.

I feel using the foot’s individual skeleton is a great way to truly take full advantage of each leg’s unique capability. I aim to have riders’ cleats near the middle of their foots’ metatarsal band, the portion of the fore foot between the  1st and 5th metatarsal heads. This means that no matter what angle the foot is at there should be some portion of the metatarsal band over the pedal axle keeping the riders’ kinetic chain fully engaged at the point of contact with the pedal.

Then I will deviate the from there addressing heel drop, type of riding and any other unique foot, shoe or cleat aspects for a tailored position




02 Dec 2014

By Aaron Dunford


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