Guide To Pedals & Cleats

We all hear people talking about their “first clipped in ride” or “first clipped in fall” and some might think what are the benefits of using clipless pedals or wonder where to start…..so we aim to help using this article! Below is the different kinds of pedals and cleats you can find on the market today, with handy tips on setting them up and how they benefit your cycling!

Standard or Flat Pedals

These usually come on the bike as standard, more so on mtb bikes or hybrids. They are as the name suggests standard flat pedals for use with any footwear. Some are plastic some are metal depending on cost and their intended use. They come in various sizes and colours. These sorts of pedals are popular with people who have maybe tried clipless pedals and not liked it or simply don’t like the idea of being clipped into the pedal. They do have the downside of not being able to use a full pedal stroke when cycling, so only about a 1/4 of the pedal stroke produces forward momentum.  

Clipless pedals replace the toe clips of the past where a riders shoes would be “clipped in” at the toe end of the pedal and sometimes had straps for the rear of the shoe, these were ok but difficult to disengage and were not the greatest if you had an accident especially if you had straps on too.

Shimano SPD Pedals & Cleats

 Popular with MTB and off road riders these have the benefit of being able to use more of the pedal stroke than a standard flat pedal, as with practice you are able to push, “scrape” (pulling the foot along the bottom of the pedal stroke – kind of like wiping dog muck off your shoe) and pull the pedal back up meaning you are using more of the pedal stroke and producing more forward momentum, this is more so noticeable on hills where the pulling up motion produces more power to get up the climb. These also come in all shapes and sizes the ones pictured above are for dual use so they can be used with normal flat shoes or can be used with MTB cleated specific shoes simply by flipping the pedal arround.

Shimano PD-M520 Pedals

The ones above are for MTB cleated specific shoes only as they have no other platform for the foot/shoe to push against other than the cleat in the shoe itself.  There are also double sided cleated pedals, double sided cleat only pedals and come in all sorts of styles to suit the rider.  Finding the one that suits you best can be tricky, but once you have found the one that is right for you its alot better than riding on standard flat pedals.

Shimano SPD MTB Cleats

The cleats for SPD pedals are small and metal and fit into the underside of the shoe with allen keys to secure them in one place. They are designed not to come out of the cleat mechanism whist in normal pedal motion and disengaging the cleat from the pedal is usually done by a side to side motion – simply moving the foot from the ankle in a twist like motion disengages the cleat and your foot is free from the pedal. People often worry that in an event of an accident that the foot would remain stuck to the pedal, having had an accident myself on a clipped in ride and doing lots of research into them before buying them, the cleats will not remain clipped into the pedal in the event of an accident, any movement other than the normal forward to back motion of the pedal stroke leads to the cleat disengaging and the foot becoming free.

The shoes for SPD pedals are usually designed with off roading in mind, but some do come in more commuter friendly styles enabling the daily commuter to ride clipped in and still walk around the workplace safely as the cleat is in the underside of the shoe and the shoe sole is higher than the cleat meaning it’s just like walking in a normal pair of shoes. They do have the drawback for some of not being comfortable on long rides due to the style and fitting and sometimes the narrowness of the cleat and pedal on some styles can create pressure points in the underside of the foot leading to pain and discomfort so if looking for a set up for longer days in the saddle these may not be for you. 

Shimano SPD SL Pedals & Cleats

Usually used by road riders as they are not really suitable for use off road due to the nature of the protruding cleat.  The cleats come in 3 variations of the same style, but vary on the amount of float they offer – float being side to side movement before the cleat disengages.

Yellow cleats offer the most float at 6 degrees and are the best ones to have if you are a beginner or have issues with your knees or hips due to the fact they allow the most movement in the ankle and knees when in use. They are fastened to the bottom of the shoe with 3 allen key bolts and are adjustable in forward/back and angle they are on the shoe.

Blue Cleats are the same as yellow but only offer 2 degrees of float. They are said to offer most a good balance between comfort and efficiency but should be avoided if you have issues with knees and hips for the reasons detailed above.

 Red cleats have 0 degrees of float and should only be used by people who have both experience of riding in cleats and have made sure that they are going to work for them due to the fact they keep the foot in a rigid position, they do offer the most efficient pedal strokes and loose no power but for anyone with any muscular or skeletal issues in the lower body will suffer using these.

The pedals for Spd SL come in all shapes, sizes and materials from steel to carbon wide to thin – all depending on preference of the rider. Personally I have Shimano 105 5800 Carbon SPD-SL due to the fact they have a comfortable platform to use, they are wider than some models and lightweight – but not at a premium cost to the bank balance! Again riders should try different types until they find the one they like beg/borrow of friends to see what theirs feel like to make sure you are getting what you want before splashing the cash on what look good but might not be practical, speaking from experience I had a cheap steel pair which were relatively thin, caused pressure points on my feet meaning I was in pain after about an hour or so and this severely affects your ride, as one of my favorite sayings is “comfort over style” – a phrase I stick by when it comes to by bike as not being comfortable on the bike is a bigger determinant to the performance on it that an extra few grams on the heavier items or less aerodynamic items!

 The SPD SL works much the same way as the SPD in the sense of twisting the foot to the side will disengage the cleat and allow the foot to release, to engage it simply put the toe into the pedal and push the heel down as pedaling. Much in the same way as the SPD the difference in performance is noticeable once used to using them.

 SPD SL shoes are not like SPD shoes and are much more difficult to walk around in off the bike, also not advised to do so unless you have cleat covers due to the damage it causes to the cleat.  They come in different styles, colours and materials to suit the rider, some have carbon soles that can be molded in the oven for added fit and comfort. Fit is vital in the shoe because it is your main contact point and movement point whist on the bike so be sure to do your research before hand, if possible try  a friends pair on see what the fit feels like,  visit a LBS to try a few pairs on then make a decision, things like Hot Foot, Cramp, Pain in the arch etc etc can all be avoided by a good fitting shoe.

On top of the ones listed above there is also Look clipless pedals and speedplay pedals. Look invented the clipless pedal in the early 80’s and Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault aka The Badger were the first riders to test them in the pro peloton.

Speedplay Pedals and Cleats

 Speedplay pedal and cleats are different from the traditional setup of the pedal does not contain all the workings to make it clip in and out, on speedplays this is all in the cleat attached to the shoe. Used by pretty much the whole pro peloton now they are some benefits and drawbacks for you amature rider.   Benefits include them being lightweight some are made from Titanium which is stronger and lighter than steel, and can offer small gains in performance if used and set up right and they offer the greatest float adjustment of any cleat being from 15 degrees down to zero, and the double sided pedal that saves that awkward second or two looking for the right side of the pedal!

The downsides are they are not for everyone, and they can be hard to “dial in” the float that is right for you can take some fiddling about. The cleat also needs to be serviced much more frequently, and is very large on the bottom of the shoe which means if you are a commuter they are not the best option given that damage to the cleat would make cycling home very difficult.

Most standard road and mtb shoes will take speedplay cleats, if not adapters are available to purchase and cleat covers to protect them at the cafe stop are also available!

Look Keo & Look Classic Cleat & Pedal

Look offer a broad range of pedals and cleats on the market ranging from a standard pedal and cleat operation not that dissimilar to Shimano’s, and the Look Keo Blade Pedals offering various resistances to the pedal for engaging and disengaging, they also offer a MTB version for offroading.

Look systems are also said to be a lot easier to engage and disengage than Shimano systems, and offer a lot more flexibility to “dial in” the comfort zone for the rider, and are reported to offer the widest platform pedals increasing comfort and performance. They work in the same way as other clipless systems in that a turn of the foot from the ankle releases the mechanism and the foot from the pedal.

The cleats themselves operate the same way but are smaller than Shimano’s and closer to the shoe which can make walking easier but also have cleat covers to protect the cleat when walking. Look cleats and pedals will work will all road and MTB shoes as they attach to the shoe in the same way as other brands.

So there we have it the main pedal and cleat systems available on the market today. There are of course many variations within this but we wanted to keep it simple! We advise getting professional advice on fitting cleats as if they are not fitted correctly or in the right position needed for you they can cause issues or even damage to the lower body especially in the knees. If a bike fit is not an option for you there are plenty of articles on it online but also videos on youtube our favorite is bellow as it offers the best advice and has the added bonus of being from GCN our second favorite cycling advice guys – besides Bike Bible of course!

We hope we have not missed anything out – but if we have let us know in the contact us section on the website and we will be sure to put it right!

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