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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 4/5
Section - 8h.3 Adjusting SPD Cleats

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 4/5
Previous Document: 8h.2 Cleat adjustments
Next Document: 8h.4 SPD cleat compatability
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Six adjustments can be made when setting up SPD cleats.  With the foot
parallel to the ground and pointing in the direction of travel, the
adjustments are:

1) Left/right translation
2) Front/back translation
3) Up/down translation
4) Front to back tilt
5) Side to side tilt
6) Azimuth, often called "rotation"

Front to back tilt is adjusted as the bicycle is pedaled since the
pedals themselves rotate freely in this direction.

Some people may need to adjust side to side tilt, but this requires
the use of shims which are not provided and can cause the cleat to
protrude beyond the tread of the shoe.  Custom insoles that have
one side slightly thicker than the other may have the same effect
as shims between the cleat and the shoe.

Separate up/down adjustments for each leg may be necessary for
individuals with established leg length differences.  To adjust
up/down translation in one shoe use a combination of an insole
and raise or lower the seat.  To make small up/down changes
equally in both legs, simply raise or lower the seat.

The usual adjustments for SPD cleats are left/right, front/back,
and Azimuth.  Of these Azimuth is the most sensitive.  For most
people these three adjustments are sufficient to obtain a
comfortable alignment.


Aligning SPD cleats:

Position the cleat so that it lies on the imaginary line between the
bony knob on the inside of your foot at the base of your big toe and
a similar but smaller knob on the outside of the foot at the base of
the smallest toe.  Set azimuth so that the pointed end of the cleat
points directly toward the front of the shoe.

If you're switching from clips and straps, and you are satisfied with
your current alignment, use the following alternate method.  Position
your SPD shoe fully in the clip of your old pedal and align the cleat
to the spindle of your old pedal.  Center the cleat in the X direction,
leaving room to adjust either way should the need arise.

Some people find pedaling more comfortable if their left and right
feet are closer together.  This is sometimes called the "Q-factor".
If you prefer to start with a low Q-factor, then move the cleat so that
it is as close as possible to the outside of the shoe.  Tighten both
cleat bolts before engaging the pedal.

Adjust the release tension of the pedals so that it is somewhere in
the low to middle part of the tension adjustment range.  The higher
the release tension, the harder it will be for you to disengage the
pedals when dismounting.  The lower the release tension, the easier it
will be for you to inadvertently pull out of the pedals, especially
when standing and pedaling.  If you stand often to power up hills,
consider setting the initial release tension higher as an unwanted
release under these conditions can result in a painful spill.  See
the pedal instructions.

Mount your bike on a trainer, if you have one, to make preliminary
cleat and release tension adjustments.  Practice engaging and
disengaging the pedals a few times before you take a real ride.
Soon you will find this easy.  If you notice that a shoe rubs a
crank or chainstay, adjust left/right translation and azimuth
until the shoe no longer rubs.

As you pedal, you will probably find the initial azimuth
uncomfortable on one or both legs.  Notice how your foot would like
to rotate.  Adjust the azimuth of the appropriate cleat in the same
direction your foot wants to rotate.  For example, if your foot
wants to rotate clockwise, adjust the azimuth of the cleat (when
looking at the bottom of the shoe) clockwise.  Start by making
moderate corrections.  If you overshoot the adjustment, correct by
half as much.

As you approach optimum azimuth, you may need to ride longer before
you notice discomfort.  Take your bike off the trainer, and go for
a real ride!  And bring your 4mm allen key.

You may find very small azimuth adjustments difficult to make.  This
happens because the cleat has made an indentation in the stiff sole
material (usually plastic, sometimes with a tacky, glue-like
material where a portion of the sole was removed).  When you tighten
the cleat after making a small correction, it will tend to slide back
into the old indentation.  Try moving the cleat one millimeter or so
to the side or to the front or back, so the cleat can no longer slip
into the old indentation pattern as it is being tightened.

Pain in the ball of your foot can be relieved.  One way is by moving
the cleat rearward.  Start by moving the cleat about two to three
millimeters closer to the rear of the shoe.  Be careful not to change
the azimuth.  When pedaling notice how far your heel is from the
crank.  After making a front/rear adjustment, check to make sure the
crank-heel distance has not noticeably changed.

Moving a cleat rearward on the shoe has the effect of raising your seat
by a lesser amount for that leg.  The exact expression is messy, but
for an upright bike, the effect is similar to raising your seat by
about y/3 for that leg, where y is the distance you moved the cleat to
the rear.  For example, if you move your cleat 6 millimeters to the
rear, you might also want to lower your seat by about 2 millimeters.
Remember, though, that unless both cleats are moved rearward the same
amount, your other leg may feel that the seat is too low.

Another way to relieve pain in the ball of the foot is to use a custom
orthotic and/or a padded insole.  Most cycling shoes provide poor arch
support and even poorer padding.

After riding for a while with your aligned cleats if you find yourself
pulling out of the pedals while pedaling, you will need to tighten the
release tension.  After tightening the release tension the centering
force of the pedals will be higher, and you may discover that the
azimuth isn't optimum.  Adjust the azimuth as described above.

On the other hand, if you find you never pull out of the pedals while
pedaling and if you find it difficult or uncomfortable to disengage
the cleat, try loosening the release tension.  People whose knees
like some rotational slop in the cleat may be comfortable with very
loose cleat retension.

As with any modification that affects your fit on the bike, get used
to your pedals gradually.  Don't ride a century the day after you
install SPDs.  Give your body about two or three weeks of gradually
longer rides to adapt to the new feel and alignment, especially if
you've never ridden with clipless pedals before.  Several months after
installing SPDs, I occasionally tinker with the alignment.  

After performing the above adjustments if you are still uncomfortable,
seek additional help.  Some people can be helped by a FitKit.  If
you're lucky enough to have a good bike shop nearby, seek their


Tightening cleat bolts:

Tighten cleat bolts until they _begin_ to bind.  This will happen when
further tightening produces a vibration or squeal from the cleat.
Tighten no further or you may damage the mounting plate on the inside
of the shoe.   After living for a while with a comfortable alignment,
remove each mounting bolt separately, apply blue loctite on the
threads, and reinstall.  Should you later find you need to loosen a
bolt to adjust the alignment, you will have to reapply the loctite.

Keeping the Pedal/Cleat interface clean:

Occasionally you may find the pedals suddenly more difficult to
disengage.  This usually happens because dirt or other contaminants
get caught in the cleat or pedal mechanism.  I have found that a good
spray with a hose quickly and cleanly washes off dust, mud, or other
gunk from the pedal and cleat.  You may also wish to spray the pedal
with a light silicone or teflon lubricant.


John Unruh (
Lawrence You (


Case History:

I have sensitive legs--feet, ankles, knees, tendons, etc.  If the
cleats aren't aligned properly, I feel it.  I took a long time to find
a cleat alignment that was comfortable for long and/or intense rides.

I ride a Bridgestone RB-T, 62cm frame, triple chainring.  I wear size
48 Specialized Ground Control shoes--evil-looking black and red
things.  They were the only shoes I could find in my size that were
comfortable.  When I installed the M737 pedals, I had 175mm cranks.
I set the release tension so that the indicator was at the loose end
but so that I could see the entire nut in the slot.

The azimuth I found most comfortable had both shoes pointing roughly
straight ahead.  The ball of my left foot began hurting, so I moved
the left cleat back about 4-6mm.  This placed the ball of my foot in
front of the pedal spindle.  I did not make any left/right

Unfortunately, on longer rides, the ball of my left foot still hurt,
so I got a pair of custom CycleVac "Superfeet" insoles.  I removed the
stock insole from the shoe, and inserted the CycleVac insole.  The
CycleVac doesn't have any padding at the ball, and my foot didn't like
the hard plastic sole of the shoe.  I had a pair of thin green Spenco
insoles lying around, so I put those under the CycleVacs to provide
some padding.  I didn't use the stock insoles because they are too
thick.  Finally, the pain was gone!  If I remain pain-free for a while
I may try moving the left cleat forward again.

Then I replaced the 175mm cranks with 180mm cranks, and I lowered the
seat 2.5mm.  My left foot was still happy, but my right knee began to
complain.  Not only that, but my right foot felt as if it was being
twisted to the right (supinating), toward the outside of the pedal.
After fussing with the azimuth of the right cleat, I couldn't find a
satisfactory position, though I could minimize the discomfort.

I moved the right cleat as far as I could to the outside of the shoe,
bringing my foot closer to the crank.  I also reduced the release
tension further.  The red indicating dots are now just visible.  This
helped my knee, but my foot still felt as if it were being twisted,
as if all the force were being transmitted through the outside of the
foot.  In addition, my left Achilles Tendon started to hurt at times.

I lowered the seat another couple millimeters.  This helped, but I
felt that my right leg wasn't extending far enough.  Then I tried
_rotating_ the saddle just a little to the right, so the nose was
pointing to the right of center.  This helped.  But my right foot
still felt supinated, and my right knee started to hurt again.

I removed the right CycleVac insole and Spenco insole and replaced them
with the original stock insole that provides little arch support.
Bingo.  The discomfort was gone.  It seems I need the arch support for
the left foot but not for the right foot.

How long will it be before I make another tweak?  The saga continues...


Copyright 1993, Bill Bushnell.  Feel free to distribute this article
however you see fit, but please leave the article and this notice

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 4/5
Previous Document: 8h.2 Cleat adjustments
Next Document: 8h.4 SPD cleat compatability

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