Home » How to Install Cleats on Cycling Shoes (Step-by-Step)

How to Install Cleats on Cycling Shoes (Step-by-Step)

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Installing cleats onto your cycling shoes makes cycling more manageable and more comfortable, as long as it’s done correctly. Properly putting cleats on your cycling shoes can also help avoid any possible injuries.

Here’s how to install cleats on your cycling shoes:

  1. Find the right cleats for your cycling shoes.
  2. Put on your shoes and apply tape to the sides.
  3. Mark on the tape around the ball of your foot.
  4. Take your shoes off and continue marking under the shoes.
  5. Find the middle of the cleat.
  6. Grease the bottom of the shoes.
  7. Put the cleats on and screw them in slightly.
  8. Do a seated assessment.
  9. Adjust the cleats as needed.
  10. Test the cleats out on your bike before cycling.

Along with steps on how to install cleats on cycling shoes, I will also discuss the purpose of cleats on cycling shoes, the various cleats and shoe options for cycling, and which cleats are best for specific cycling types.

What Is the Purpose of Cleats on Cycling Shoes?

2-Bolt SPD

If you’re new to the world of cycling, you might not realize that there are specific shoes made for cycling, which help tremendously with both comfort and functionality. Along with these shoes come cleats, which make the cycling process much safer.

Cleats on cycling shoes are essential to the comfort and safety of the rider. Cleats provide more pedal efficiency, securely attach your feet to prevent slips, and line your feet up correctly for the most efficient cycling experience, resulting in fewer cramps and fatigue while cycling. 

If you’re considering using your cycling shoes without cleats, I would highly recommend against it, especially for avid cyclists. It would be best if you wear them to prevent injuries and cramping, making the whole riding experience much more fulfilling.

Can I Put Cleats on Regular Shoes?

You can put cleats on regular shoes. However, it won’t be as comfortable and can cause problems such as the shoes tearing, cramps, and overall discomfort. Many regular shoes have thin soles, so attaching cleats can cause them to break. Therefore, only using cleats for cycling shoes is recommended.

Cycling shoes are made with stiff soles, whereas other shoes can have thin, flexible soles. Many people choose to cycle with regular shoes, and if that’s the case, I don’t recommend using cleats with those shoes unless they’re very durable.

Next, I will go over step-by-step how to install cleats on your cycling shoes.

1. Find the Right Cleats for Your Cycling Shoes

The first step to installing cleats on cycling shoes is to find the right cleats for your cycling shoes. There are different types of cleats, some bigger and some smaller, and they can be for various cycling styles.

Depending on the type of cycling you do determines which cleats are best for you. For example, if you mostly cycle indoors, you will need a specific cleat, whereas outdoor cycling will need another.

When you buy cycling shoes, there are typically three different options for the types of cleats that could go with them:

  • 2-bolt cleats: These cycling cleats will only have two holes on the bottom of them for the cleats.
  • 3-bolt cleats: These cleats will have three holes in a triangle shape.
  • 2-bolt and 3-bolt cleats: These cleats will have five holes for both bolt options.
3-Bolt Cleat SPD-SL

While these are the main three options, there is also a rarer, fourth option that includes 4-bolt cleats. These cleats are only on Look cleats, and while there are four holes, most can be adjusted to fit 3-hole cleats, even though they work best with 4-hole cleats. However, I’ll get more into that later in the article.

Once you’ve figured out what type of cleats will go best with your cycling shoes, it’s time to figure out which cleats will be best for you. There are smaller cleats (typically the 2-bolt) recessed in the shoe and non-recessed (typically the 3-bolt). For most people, using recessed cleats is best if you’re just starting.

Choosing which cleats depends on if you’re more of an indoor cyclist, a mountain cyclist, or a road cyclist. As these three things are vastly different, the cleats will be specifically made for each.

The main types of cleats that I’ll discuss in this article include:

  • SPD cleats
  • SPD-SL cleats
  • Look cleats
  • Speedplay cleats

There are many types of cleats, but these are the most widely known types and typically the most used.

SPD Cleats

SPD cleats are the most common 2-bolt cleats out there. Since they are the most common, they are more universal than other cleats. Therefore, even if you’re traveling, you’ll most likely be able to find a bike with pedals fit for this type of cleat.

Not only are they one of the most common, but they’re also one of the most comfortable and easiest to navigate. SPD cleats are smaller, so they’re a lot easier to walk in and much easier to clip into the pedals. These cleats are suitable for all types of cycling: indoors and outdoors.

If you’re looking for SPD cleats, I recommend the BV Bike Cleats from Amazon.com. This cleat set is designed to fit most cycling shoes, and they are easy to operate, with a single direction release and a 14° rotational adjustment. Therefore, it can be adjusted to fit anyone’s needs.

SPD-SL Cleats

SPD-SL cleats are very different from SPD cleats, and while it’s easy to get the names confused, there is nothing in common between the two.

SPD-SL cleats are 3-bolt cleats. While these cleats are bulkier than the SPD cleats and harder to walk in, they typically offer a little more power and control while pedaling. These cleats are great for more advanced cyclists who want bigger cleats with a lot of float.

If you’re looking for SPD-SL cleats, I recommend the SHIMANO Cleat SPD-SL from Amazon.com. These cleats have great ratings and offer rubber tips on them, which allows for easier walking. They are of excellent quality and will give you many years of use.

Look Cleats

Look cleats are common among many road cyclists; however, they’re not common for indoor cycling or mountain cycling. Look cleats, like SPD-SL cleats, are 3-bolt cleats. In fact, Look cleats are similar in many ways to SPD-SL cleats. 

However, with Look cleats and Look pedals, there is typically more float and overall movement than others. However, the cleats are more challenging to walk in.

If you’re looking for some Look cleats, I recommend the LOOK Keo Grip Road Cleats from Amazon.com. These cleats come in various colors, with each color offering a different float option. Therefore, it fits the needs of every cyclist.

Speedplay Cleats

Speedplay cleats are less common than other cleats, primarily because of their unusual 4-bolt design. Despite this, many of the cleats still adapt adequately to 3-bolt shoes. However, some cyclists still prefer to have unique pedals and cleats explicitly made for the Speedplay design. 

Many cyclists still prefer Speedplay cleats for several reasons. These cleats are typically a lighter-weight option compared to others and have great functionality. Most cyclists who like this type of cleat prefer road cycling.

If you’re looking for Speedplay cleats, I recommend the Fsskgx Road Bike Cleats from Amazon.com. These cleats fit all Speedplay dimensions while being sturdy, durable, and providing excellent walking comfort. They’re also easy to install and use while cycling.

2. Apply Tape to the Sides and Put On Your Shoes

After you’ve found the cleats that work best for your shoes and your style of cycling, it’s time to get started with installing. The first thing you’ll need to do is put tape along the side of the shoes. You will use this to create a mark to line up the cleat without marking on the actual shoe itself.

Apply masking tape to sides of shoes

You can also put tape on the bottom of the shoe, around the ball of your foot. While this isn’t necessary, it might help if this is the first time you’re installing cleats. If you choose to do this, be sure not to cover the area where the cleats go completely.

After you’ve done this, put on your cycling shoes and feel around until you find where your bone sticks out, just below your big toes. This is where the ball of your foot is.

3. Mark on the Tape Around the Ball of Your Foot

After finding the ball of your foot, mark the area with a marker. You can do this by making small markings on each side of the ball of your foot, or you can make more extensive markings to show the area better.

Mark on tape the location of the widest part (ball) of forefoot

Be careful not to mark on your actual shoes and only on the tape, especially if you’re using a permanent marker. Getting a permanent marker on your brand new cycling shoes would be frustrating, so don’t be afraid to use a good amount of tape to protect them!

4. Take Your Shoes Off and Continue Marking Under the Shoes

After you’ve located where the ball of your foot is and make your markings along the sides of your shoes, you can take your shoes off. Continue the markings you made slightly under the shoes. This will give you a better idea of the area the cleat should go when you’re ready to install them.

Take shoe off and continue mark to underside of shoe on tape

However, you don’t have to continue marking if you already have a good idea of where the cleat should go.

5. Find the Middle of the Cleats

Next, find the middle of the cleat. Depending on the type of cleats you have will determine the center. Suppressed cleats with 2-bolt designs will have a less obvious center than non-suppressed cleats with 3-bolt or even 4-bolt designs.

This cleat has a notch indicating where the center is

Some cleats will have markings indicating the middle of the cleats. The markings could be in the middle of the cleat or even on the side, so pay close attention.

6. Grease the Bottom of the Shoes

Many people forget this step or just decide to skip it altogether. However, greasing your cycling shoes and the cleats before completely installing them makes removing the cleats so much easier.

I recommend buying the ProGold EPX Grease from Amazon.com to use on your cleats and pedals. This grease works great on pedals and prevents corrosion and rust, which can be a problem for many cyclists’ cleats. 

Applying grease will ensure the metals don’t fuse together and provide the proper lubrication for a more uncomplicated removal.

7. Put the Cleats On and Screw Them in Slightly

After properly greasing the shoes and cleats, line the cleats up at the area where the ball of your foot would be and begin screwing them in.

The cleats I’m installing requires a hexagon wrench

Don’t screw them in all the way; only screw them in enough that the cleats stay in place. You want to leave enough leeway so you can adjust the cleats after completing your seated assessment, which I’ll discuss in the next step.

You will notice the marks won’t be aligned with each other. The inner shoe mark will usually be more forward than the outer mark. Place the center of the cleat somewhere between the lines and adjust as needed after the seated assessment.

8. Do a Seated Assessment

A seated assessment is one of the most critical aspects of installing cleats. Since everyone is different, you need to ensure that your cleats are installed in a way that best benefits you when you’re cycling.

To do a seated assessment, sit in a tall chair (or any surface) in which your feet can dangle. Ensure that your feet are entirely dangling, as this is essential to the seated assessment.

Use a Tall Surface (pictured using a park bench) and Let Your Feet Dangle

While your feet are dangling naturally, look to see how they dangle. Do one or both feet tilt slightly outward or inward? Are they completely straight? It’s important to note precisely how your feet fall to understand how to adjust your cleats.

9. Adjust the Cleats As Needed

After completing the seated assessment, you’ll have an idea of the best way to install your cleats. If either of your heels point in or out, even if it’s very slight, rotate the cleat in or out (just slightly) also. Getting this completely right might take some time and a lot of adjusting.

This is my left shoe. My left foot turns out slightly (heel points in with toes turned out) so I rotated the cleat inward (clockwise) just slightly. If this was my right foot, I would turn the cleat counter clockwise.

If you’re really struggling with this step, it would probably be a good idea to see a professional bike fitter. While you might want to do it yourself, you want to make sure that your cleats are on well before anything else.

If you see a professional bike fitter, they will be able to adjust your cleats to perfection and even answer any questions or concerns you may have. Therefore, you may be able to do it yourself next time.

10. Test the Cleats Out on Your Bike Before Cycling

After you’ve successfully installed your cleats on your cycling shoes, you will want to test them out. Getting out on the bike and going on a long cycling ride might be intriguing, but you want to test your cleats to make sure they’re not causing any pain or discomfort before doing so.

I tested the placement of the cleats in a parking lot and made adjustments. The next day, I went for a 20-mile ride with no problems in cleat placement.

The best way to test your cleats would be to use an indoor bike. Cycling indoors ensures you won’t go anywhere, making it easier to get off the bike if you experience any pain or discomfort.

However, if your cleats aren’t made for indoor cycling, going on a short cycling ride to test them out is acceptable. It would be a good idea to bring any tools you would need to adjust the cleats, just in case.

Final Thoughts

Installing cleats might seem like a difficult task, but if you have all the right equipment, it’s easy. While finding the ball of your foot and the area where the cleat needs to go is simple, adjusting the cleats to work best for you is the most challenging aspect of the whole process.

If you’re struggling with adjusting the cleats how you need them, it would be best to see a professional bike fitter. They will tell you how your cleats should be positioned and ensure you are as comfortable as possible while cycling.

Related articles:

Are Cycling Shoes Worth It? 6 Things To Know

Can You Use Cycling Shoes Without Cleats?

How And Why Road Bike Shoes Make A Difference

Are Cycling Shoes Supposed To Be Tight?

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