Fitting a cleat is simple right? There are two bolts and a plate in your shoe to attach them too, but ask someone whereabouts on the shoe to attach the cleat and it stops being quite so obvious. Front or back? Left or right? We spoke to top enduro riders from around the world, industry insiders and biomechanics to answer the question, how do I fit my cleat to my mountain bike shoe?
Everyone has an opinion or advice on whereabouts in the shoe cleat channels to place the cleat, so we thought, why not ask some of the fastest riders in the world?
Popular belief dictates that directly under the ball of the foot is the only place for the cleat, so quite far forward on the cleat racks. This opinion has been shared for many years, passed on from road cycling, but with more investigation into cycle biomechanics and power transfer advice is changing.
A Biomechanical Viewpoint
We spoke to Lotte Kraus at gebioMized, professional bike fitters to the stars, to ask her advice on how to position your cleat. She says “The further backwards the cleat, the less the calf muscles are activated when taking the full pedal stroke”. So putting your cleat backwards from the ball gives your calf muscles a rest, allowing you to keep pedalling more efficiently for longer. Chris Porter, designer of the Geometron and cycling maveric wholeheartedly agrees, “We need to almost switch the calf muscles off and have the ankles soft and heels down, bouncing on a relaxed Achilles’ tendon”.
So we slam it to the back? A Racer’s Viewpoint
So, we should put the cleat as far back as possible? Well, here is when we get into personal preferences. Putting the cleat further back towards your heel is reported to offer increased stability. Rae Morrison, Elite EWS Liv Team Racer, hailing from New Zealand states “By putting the cleats further back you remove the work of the calf muscle and shorten the chain from your glutes and quad (biggest and most powerful muscle for cycling) to the pedal. Therefore a much more direct energy transfer, and more blood/ oxygen can fuel these big muscles instead of been wasted on the calf working more to try and stabilise your foot than putting actual strength into the pedal stroke”. Rae Morrison slams the cleats as far back towards the heel as she can get it. She finds it more stable when riding through rough terrain as well as more energy conserving when pedalling.
The Middle Ground
Jerome Clementz, winner of the 2014 Enduro World Series and team Cannondale rider, says “I put my cleats on the second row of the threading holes of sliding plate. Then I put the sliding plate at the far front end. This way my cleats are around midway on the adjustment slot”. Jerome has tried putting the cleats further back in what we think of as a more DH position but finds that this isn’t as efficient for him on the pedals.
If there is anyone’s opinion that you can trust, it’s Tracy Moseley, she’s learnt every aspect of her trade from DH to XC with enduro in thrown in for good measure. “My cleat position has changed as my disciplines have changed…from DH days of slamming them as far back as they could go, and even to the point where I would cut out the area you could put your cleats so I could have them even further back than standard! To XC racing where I moved them a lot further forward to really feel as though I was pushing down from just the ball of my foot in the most economical and efficient way”. For Enduro I compromised somewhere in the middle of those two and found a place that was efficient for pedaling but also a stable, controlled place for the DH stages”.
New Trek Factory Racing signing Lewis Buchanan echoes the opinion of the more experienced pros and adds some evidence for the ‘not at the front’ idea “I used to have my cleats placed towards the front of my foot and found I was riding on the ball of my foot. I found that I got a lot of feedback through my foot and got a kind of foot pump. I feel having my cleat in the middle really balances the weight that I can press on each pedal or for cornering for example”.
On The Ball
Not everyone sits in the middle ground though, Trek Factory Racing rider Katy Winton is more of a ‘ball of the foot’ rider, due to a start in XC riding. As she’s moved to enduro riding she’s started to move them back to get more stability. “Because I’ve done so much with them in one position its gradual changes… just because I went enduro I haven’t just slammed my cleat back”. Large changes in setup can affect how you feel on the bike so if you’re making a big change, do it gradually and work with your body.
It’s not just front and back we have to think about either, for true cleat nirvana we need to think about the lateral movement of the cleats too. Cleats can be placed closer to the inner edge or outer edge of your foot. This movement affects the width of your stance, and therefore your riding position. Smaller people, often women, may want a narrower stance to that allowed by the bottom bracket and crank. Moving the cleats towards the outside of the foot brings the foot inwards and narrows the stance. Moving the cleats towards the inside of the foot widens the stance and may result in a more stable feeling.
The most important advice here from Lotte is that, if you are getting pain in the outside of your knee, have a look at moving your cleat inwards and, if you are getting pain in the inside of your knee, try moving the cleat outwards. If neither are bothering you, we’d recommend heading for the middle ground to start with.
Sideways movement in the extreme. The difference between lateral (towards the outside) and medial (towards the inside) positioning is significant. If it’s causing knee pain it is wrong.
So, is it just personal preference where do I put my cleat?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear conclusion from the pros, personal preference always takes the win. However, weighing up the evidence and research and with her knowledge of biomechanics and bike fitting, Lotte Kraus says “A mid foot position creates a much more stable situation for the downhill sessions whereas for climbing, a position just behind the ball (between metatarsals 1 and 5) is optimum which leads to a good compromise, I´d give a middle position a try!”
Even though the field was split, one important issue was highlighted! We can conclude that you should not just whack the cleats in and forget about them. Give a position forwards and backwards from the middle position a try and see what works best for you, fully back may rock your world, or perhaps you prefer the middle ground. Keep in mind that a new pedal position can take a while getting used to, so give your muscles time to adapt.
For this article, we’ve working in conjunction with Lotte Kraus, a Physiotherapist and a biomechanical expert at gebioMized, a bike fitting and analysis provider. At gebioMized Lotte is in charge of the International School on Cycling Optimisation (ISCO), where they are educating fitters from US, Europe and Asia. As a cycling analyst Lotte is currently working with the World Tour Team Cervelo Bigla and top athletes like Andre Greipel so she knows her stuff.
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Words & Photos: Catherine Smith