How to set up clipless pedal cleats

Treat your riding shoes to some new cleats

It's important to remember to look after your kit as well as your bike, and replacing worn cleats early will prevent accidental unclipping and stop them getting seized in place on your shoes.

Here are seven steps to setting up clipless pedal cleats.

1. Remove the cleat bolts

Remove any dirt from the bolt heads with a pick and penetrating oil, then use a good-quality 4mm Allen key to remove the bolts, turning them anticlockwise.

Remove dirt from the cleats
Remove dirt from the cleats

2. Position the new cleat

Shimano cleats can go on either shoe. CrankBrothers pedal users should put the cleat with a dot on the right shoe for a 15° release angle and easier unclipping, or the left for 20° release. Place the cleat spacer between the cleat and sole, with the smooth side facing the cleat.

Check the position of your new cleat
Check the position of your new cleat

3. Screw in the cleat bolts

Grease the new cleat bolts and thread them through the concave side of the cleat washer and then the cleat itself. Use the 4mm Allen key to screw the bolts into the threaded plate that sits inside the shoe. Leave them loose enough that the cleat can still be moved around.

Secure the cleat in place
Secure the cleat in place

4. Set the fore/aft position of the cleat

Some XC riders like the cleats set forward to engage the calf muscles, but a more rearward position gives better control on descents. Try fitting them all the way back to begin with, then moving them forward until you find a comfy position.

4. Set the fore/aft position
4. Set the fore/aft position

5. Set the side-to-side position of the cleat

If you’ve got big feet or clumpy downhill shoes you’ll probably want to place the cleat inboard on the shoe as this will move the shoe away from the crank arm, reducing the risk of fouling when unclipping.

5. Set the side-to-side position of the cleat
5. Set the side-to-side position of the cleat

6. Set the cleat angle

Most riders line them up straight(ish) with the shoe. Angling the cleat slightly inwards (towards the big toe) means you’ll unclip sooner, and vice versa. But a cleat angle that puts your foot into an unnatural position during pedalling can cause knee problems.

6. Set the cleat angle
6. Set the cleat angle

7. Tighten the bolts

Tighten the bolts alternately, a little at a time, until tight. Then clip in and ride. If you’re unhappy with the cleat position, loosen the cleat, adjust appropriately and then retighten in the same way. Repeat until you have it dialled, then repeat the whole process on the other shoe.

7. Tighten the bolts
7. Tighten the bolts

8. And you're done!

With your new cleats fitted you're ready to ride
With your new cleats fitted you're ready to ride

Jargon buster

Release angle: The angle through which you have to twist your foot before the pedal mechanism will disengage. CrankBrothers offers a choice of release angles, while Shimano provides just one, though its pedals have adjustable tension (the force required to unclip).

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Seb Stott

Technical writer, Tech hub, UK
Seb is a geeky technical writer for BikeRadar, as well as MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines. Seb's background in experimental physics allows him to pick apart what's really going on with mountain bike components. Years of racing downhill, cross-country and enduro have honed a fast and aggressive riding style, so he can really put gear to the test on the trails, too.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep!
  • Current Bikes: Focus Sam 3.0, Kona Process 111, Specialized Enduro 29 Elite
  • Dream Bike: Mondraker Crafty with Boost 29" wheels, a 160mm fork and offset bushings for maximum slackness.
  • Beer of Choice: Buckfast ('Bucky' for short)
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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