Riding an indoor bike is an effective way to boost your fitness, cross-train, or rehab an injury. Whether you’re taking a studio class (once coronavirus guidelines deem it safe again) or riding a stationary bike at home, knowing how to set up your indoor cycling shoes properly will help you get the most out of your workout and prevent injuries as you ride.
Most popular bikes these days like Peloton come with clipless pedals (the kind you clip into—yes, the name is confusing) so your shoes require a cleat that corresponds to the pedal style.
“Cleat placement is very important, second only to saddle height,” says Marissa Axell, certified body geometry RETUL fit specialist with Roaring Mouse Cycles in San Francisco. “Clipping your likely-asymmetrical body to a symmetrical system like a bike creates the potential for injuries.”
Not only that but having the right cleat placement also ensures you’ll be able to transfer maximum power so you get the most out of every workout. For instructions on how to properly place your cleats, we tapped Axell and Chris Balser, owner of Bicycle Fit Guru in Minneapolis, who has worked for 30 years fitting both Olympians and weekend warriors to their bikes. Here are their tips for setting up your shoes.
Join Bicycling now for the latest advice and tips!
Select Your Shoes and Cleats
First thing’s first: Your cleats have to match your shoes, which have to match the pedals. Most indoor bike pedals accommodateLook Delta or Shimano SPD cleats. If you want to use a different cleat system—for example, if you already have bike shoes with a different cleat like Shimano SPD-SL—then you’ll have to swap the pedals. Some shoes, like those from Peloton and SoulCycle, may already come with cleats (Delta specifically, for both). But most cycling shoes do not and require you to buy your cleats separately. Indoor-specific shoes sometimes have mounts that accept both cleat systems, but not all do, so be sure to check the compatibility before buying.
The Best Indoor Cycling Shoes to Buy Right Now
How to Select and Install Clipless Pedals
SPD cleats are generally recessed further into the sole, making the shoes easier to walk in, and they require less effort to unclip from the pedals. The larger, triangular Delta cleats commonly used by indoor riders offer a more secure attachment but stick out from the bottom of the shoe, sometimes making it harder to walk off the bike.
Pick cleats with a higher degree of “float.” Float refers to the amount of lateral wiggle room the cleat has to allow you to rotate your toes toward and away from the bike, which is important to prevent knee injury. If you’re going with Delta, it’s a good idea to select the red cleats, which offer nine degrees of float. (The gray and yellow options offer 4.5 and 6 degrees, respectively). Most SPD cleats allow at least six degrees of float, which is plenty for indoor riding.
To narrow down your shoe options, check out our list of some of the top indoor cycling shoes you can buy right now.
Mounting the Cleats
To mount your cleats to your shoe, you’ll need a 3 or 4mm hex wrench (for Delta or SPD cleats, respectively).
Holding your shoe upside down, line up the holes on the cleat with the holes in the sole.
For Delta cleats, each of the three bolts has its own rectangular washer that you’ll set into the cleat before screwing in the bolt. SPD cleats just have a single two-holed washer for the two bolts.
If you have any bike-specific grease, wipe a small amount on the threads of each bolt—you’ll have a smoother time with the trial-and-error process of getting your cleat placement right, and this will make it easier to remove and replace the cleats once they’re worn out.
Using your hex wrench, tighten the bolts a couple turns, keeping them slightly loose, so you can play around and find your proper placement before tightening them down all the way.
4 Key Products for Setting Up Your Shoes
SHIMANO SH51 SPD Cleat Set
$14.00 (36% off)
Look Delta System Red Cleats 9 Degree Float
Park Tool PolyLube 1000 Bicycle Grease
Bondhus Set of 9 Balldriver L-wrenches, sizes 1.5-10mm
$10.31 (34% off)
Positioning the Cleats
Both Axell and Balser agree that it’s better to set your cleats further back towards the heel of the shoe.
“The best way to set up your shoe for [stationary bikes] is to move the cleats all the way back,” says Balser. This moves your foot more forward over the pedals—making it easier to stabilize your ankles, giving you more support, allowing you to feel comfortable pressing through the entire foot, and relieving pressure off the ball of your foot. “You want the ball of your big toe to be ahead of the pedal spindle by at least a pinky-width,” says Axell. “You just don’t want the ball of your foot directly on the spindle, which can cause pain or numbness.”
Finding Your Ideal Saddle Height
Another thing to note: If you’ve already been riding a while and you decide to move the cleats back on your shoes, you’ll need to adjust your saddle height a touch lower because you’ve removed some of the distance between your hip and the pedal. (If the bike only has rivets for setting the saddle height instead of letting you incrementally adjust it, choose the highest setting you can without it causing you to rock your hips as you pedal.)
When determining the angle of the cleats next, it’s important to allow your feet to face the way they do naturally when you’re standing. “Most people have one foot that turns in or out more than the other,” says Balser. “It’s super important to let the body be the way it wants to be, because the architecture of your bones and development of your muscles are all designed around that.”
To address this, try pedaling in tennis shoes, or with the screws on the cleats loosened, and take a look at where your toes and heels are pointing naturally throughout the pedal stroke. Then, tighten the cleats down so they allow your body to keep that shape. Don’t worry about getting it perfect—the amount of float in the cleat gives you room to be a little off.
Axell recommends this tip for trying to replicate your natural stance: Stand in front of a full-length mirror with your hands on your hips, march in place three times and let your feet land naturally. Most people stand with their feet directly under their hips, but if your feet are inside or outside your hips, you should adjust your cleat width accordingly.
“If you prefer to stand with your feet really close together, I would recommend you to set your cleats towards the pinky-toe side of your shoes, which will push your feet closer to the bike,” Axell says, and vice versa, if you tend to have a stance that’s wider than hip-width apart or if you are particularly tall.
Troubleshoot Your Current Cleat Placement
How do you know if your current cleat placement is wrong? “Numb toes, pins-and-needles, or hotspots can mean there is too much pressure underneath the ball of the foot,” says Axell, which indicates you need to push your cleat backward a bit.
“You might also just feel like it’s awkward, or like you’re pressing into the outside or inside of your shoe,” says Balser. Wiggle your foot side to side while you’re pedaling, then stop; if it comes to rest in the middle, you’re good, but if it’s pressing to one side of the float allowance, adjust towards the direction your foot is pressing toward.
If you have knee pain, Balser suggests this method for determining if it’s being caused by poor cleat placement: “Stand without shoes, and twist your hips without moving your feet. This will pinch the inside of your knee. If that’s what you feel when you pedal, your cleats need an adjustment.” If you feel pain in your lateral (outer) knee, it means your heel needs to turn inward a bit, and if you feel it on your medial (inner) knee, try angling your heel outward.
Can You Benefit from Virtual Physical Therapy?
If you still have pain or discomfort, you might want to try arch-supporting insoles. As your arch flattens, your knees and hips follow, and aftermarket cycling-specific insoles will help keep your arches in place so everything stays aligned and happy. “If [you] increase the amount of contact between the foot and the insole, the more comfortable the [rider] is pressing through the whole foot,” says Balser. “And when you press through the whole foot, the knee pain goes away.”
Download the All Out Studio App
for some amazing at-home workouts!]
Some of these tips take time to dial in and might require showing up to the studio early for class, if you don’t have a stationary bike at home. But getting your shoes set up correctly for your body is worth the effort and will help prevent injury, so you can get the most out of your Peloton membership, indoor cycling classes, or other cycling endeavors.
Test editor Riley Missel is an experienced road racer, mountain biker, and a national champion on the track who has been at Bicycling since 2017.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io