Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Today, I’m answering a letter from “Mike,” who’s looking for new shoes and inquiring about cleat placement on them. If you’ve had the same or a similar experience, I’m sure Mike will appreciate reading your tips and advice in Comments.
“Hi Jim, Thanks for the article on cleat placement. I would appreciate it if you can answer a question. [Editor’s note: I believe Mike is referring to this article: Bicycle Cycling Shoe Cleat Positioning Alignment and Adjustment by Jim Langley]
For comfort I ride a full suspension mountain bike as my road bike. It’s a Canyon Lux 29er Lux | Full Suspension XC Bike | CANYON US. My 10-year old Garneau MTB shoes have given out. My LBS had few options in my size (48) so I ordered 5 pairs to try from Competitive Cyclist.
The shoes that I like the best are Giro Sectors, except that the slots are positioned too far behind the ball of my foot. In their farthest forward position they still feel like they are 1/2 inch behind where I would like them to be.
The 4 other shoes I ordered (from Garneau, Pearl Izumi, Fizik, and another Giro model) are not as comfortable as the Sectors, but have the slots positioned further forward so the cleat can be under the ball of my foot.
So my questions:
• Is there some trend to move pedal position further back behind the ball of the foot?
• Are you aware of a way to extend the slot without damaging the integrity of the shoe?
• Got any other advice or insights?
You’re welcome, Mike. Nice to e-meet you.
I don’t know if I’d call it a trend, but pushing the cleats further back than “normal” is something that has been shown to help some riders eliminate “hot foot,” that awful burning sensation you can get under some circumstances. Pushing the cleats back does this by getting more of the foot over the pedal for added support.
Please see this article by RoadBikeRider co-founder, coach and author, Fred Matheny. He explains the problem more and gives some solutions to try: https://www.roadbikerider.com/how-to-deal-with-hot-foot-tips/.
As far as I recall, the trend to move cleats rearward started with the riders who did the Race Across America. One of the top guys, Lon Haldeman experimented with it and I believe it’s where Dr Andy Pruitt at the Boulder School of Sport Medicine learned about it.
Dr Pruitt went on to design shoes for Specialized under the Body Geometry brand and used some of what he learned in those shoes.
I would say that people should start with a standard neutral position and if that doesn’t work, then they should start trying the cleat positioned further back.
Expert Fitter Paul Swift Weighs In
One of the great things about the tech articles we’ve published over the years is that comments can come in any time. In looking back at one of these stories, I found that Paul Swift of BikeFit Education commented recently recommending I watch his history of cleat placement video.
I did and it’s very good. He explains more fully and expertly how cleat placement has changed over the years.The video is on his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1103401383201663. I don’t know of any other way to view it except on Facebook. I apologize if you’re not a user. Perhaps Paul will see this and provide another way to view it.
I have not modified any modern cycling shoes to move the cleats further than the shoe was originally made for. But, back when clipless pedals arrived on the scene (1983) I did add adjustable clipless cleats to lots of shoes – sometimes significant surgery was required (90% of cleats were nailed on back then).
From that experience, I would say it all depends on the design of the shoe on what you find inside and what it’ll take to get more room to move the cleats. I took a couple of photos to show 1) that many SPD cleat holes in shoes have 2 positions you can use to move cleats front to back and find what’s best; and 2) it’s relatively easy to access the bottom and top of the sole.
If you’re lucky, you could remove the innersole inside the shoe that usually just pulls out like the one shown, which is on a Giro shoe. Then you might be able to access the plate that the cleat screws into (on my Giro shoe, I would need to cut the innersole carefully to get at the plate).
But, if you can see it/get at it without damaging your shoe, you might be able to modify the sole of the shoe so that the plate moves up enough for you. You would use something like a Dremel tool with a grinding bit. Or a small rat tail file. (You don’t know what’s in the sole, so wear a mask to protect your lungs from any toxic dust.)
If you were holding the Sector shoes – like at the store – you could probably pull out the insole and take a look and not harm the shoe at all. For the mod to work the plates need to be movable. If they’re stuck inside a cutout in the insole, it’s probably going to be impossible to move the plates.
Overall, it’ll likely be easier to buy shoes that allow positioning the cleats where you want them. But if you want to try modifying the Sectors, I hope these ideas are helpful. And, watch the Comments for readers’ ideas.
Ride total: 9,955
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.
I’ve been suffering from hotfoot for more than 30 of my 50 years of riding. I’ve tried a few things, but I think moving moving the cleats back has been the most effective change, and the reason I probably won’t be going back to 3-hole road shoes. I do think that the change in cleat position has slightly affected my pedaling stroke and ability to maintain an efficient spin. Can you comment on this?
Chuck Matson says
Great article. I enjoyed Paul Swift’s video as well. For a more detailed discussion of the issues underlying cleat position, I recommend a site that I found extremely helpful when I was deciding where to place my cleats. https://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bikefit/2011/04/power-to-the-pedal-cleat-position/
Rick Simpson says
Rick Schultz says
3 great links above with great info. Paul Swift on history, one thing he didn’t mention was when pedals changed from clip to clipless, shoes were still the same. Since shoes counted on a toe clip to hold the shoe together when pulling up, when you changed to clipless, a lot of cyclists ripped the upper part of the shoe from the lower. That’s is when we truly got the modern shoe.
Next, Paul mentions Sidi and he is SO RIGHT. I have NEVER been able to get a SIDI shoe fitted correctly fore/aft for 2 reasons, (a) as Paul mentions, the holes are too far forward, (b) there are cleat screw holes vs slots like most everyone else incorporates. With holes, I only have the slots in the cleat to move it to the correct position whereby if there are slots in the shoe, I can use those to get the cleat positioned exactly correct. So, RULE #1, when buying a 3-bolt road shoe, make sure it has slots and not holes, RULE #2, make sure it is any other shoe besides SIDI.
William Wightman says
We are spoiled by the selection of good bike shoes available. I have always used SIDI because the fit for me is perfect and they last 10+ years if you treat them nicely. I did have a hot foot problem when I first started riding a recumbent. Solved that by warming up slower and longer and leaving the shoe clasp more loose such that it can move around and breath. I have purchased some retail cleat aft-position shifters but will not install them until after a Bessie’s Creek 6-hour TT coming up on April 3, 2021. No last minute changes rule.
David L says
Have tried different insoles? I’ve had a pair of Specialized S-Works road bike shoes for over 10 years with over some 60,000 miles on them and they are still in very good shape. Specialized Body Geometry shoes come with three different arch support options (Red+ being the lowest, Blue++ being in the middle, and Green+++ being tallest). When I first got the shoes they came with the red insoles. I was getting hot foot right from the get go. I changed to the blue insoles and it helped a little but still would get hot foot after about 25 miles so then I bought the green insoles and I have not had any hot foot problems since and I normally ride 30 to 50 miles weekdays and up to 90 miles on weekend group rides. In my Mtn. bike shoes I use the Ice Bug Slim yellow for high arch support and never have any hot foot issues.
Interesting about the recommendation to move the cleat back to ease “hot foot.” I had a hot foot problem and solved it by moving my cleats forward, more towards the toes. Now I have the cleats as far forward as they will go and no more hot foot.
“I have not modified any modern cycling shoes to move the cleats further”
Note that some Shimano shoes, like RC-901 have a builtin feature to move holes for cleat bolts back or forth.