Cycling Shoes And Cleats

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Cycling Shoes and Cleats: Everything You Need to Know

Written by:

Last updated on:

The pedal and cleat system are two of the most complicated parts of cycling. We, like most cyclists, are gear junkies. Each pedal and cleat system has its pros and cons. They all have their place on the market.

This can make the worlds of pedals and cleats seem more complicated for non-gear-junkies. You will need to decide which system you want to use, whether you are a beginner or a more advanced cyclist. This will impact the type of shoes you purchase, the style of your bike(s), as well as other decisions.

This was all new for us, so we wanted to help you understand it. This is a brief overview of the most common types of bike cleats, along with some suggestions on which ones you might want to consider.

A pair of cycling shoes can make Spinning classes more productive and more profitable. It is possible to make a difference in the comfort, power transfer, and safety of your Spinning class by switching from sneaker shoes or athletic shoes to cycling shoes. Comfortability and safety are the main benefits of cleats and cycling shoes in a spinning class. Both cleats and cycling shoes are made from Flax Fiber.

Tips from Professionals

It is impossible to have all the types of bicycles, shoes, and cleats that are available for everyone. We asked our experts to help you choose the right shoe for your spin class. We will help you choose the perfect cycling shoes with cleats.

The Fundamentals

The Spinner bike features adjustable pedals and straps so that the rider can wear sneakers or other athletic shoes to make the ride more comfortable. The proper shoes and cleats are key to smooth riding. Turning the pedal to the other side will reveal a clip that allows for the attachment of the cycling shoes via cleats. We encourage you to use cycling shoes and cleats to spin classes in order to ensure that you are as efficient and safe as possible.

Type CleatBest forDownsideOur Favorite
SPDMountain bikers, general-purpose cyclists and indoor cyclists.Power is not max power, power is transferred at a small contact point. Check price
Take a lookRoad cyclists with higher-end needs who desire maximum performance.Not great for mountain bikes. Check price
SpeedplayRoad cyclists of high quality.Uncommon. Indoor cycling is not compatible. Check price
SPD-SLFor those who are looking for a wider platform, cyclists look for it. Popularity is growing.It is difficult to find compatible shoes. Check price

Most Popular Types of Cycling Cleats

SPD Bike Cleats

The SPD pedal is as universal as cycling is, but it is not a standard. With the possible exception of generic kids pedals, the SPD is probably the most commonly used pedal and cleat.

The classic 2-bolt SPD cleat. This is the most popular all-around cycling shoe, but it’s not preferred by many road cyclists.

For road cyclists, the SPD cleat was actually designed for mountain and trail bikes. SPDs are great for road and triathlon bikes and you can use them if that’s what you feel most comfortable with. Many road and tricyclists prefer SPDs for their ease of use, comfort, or simply because they want one cleat system on all of the bikes.

Because SPDs attach to the shoe using two bolts, they are called a “two bolt” cleat. This provides a rider with a feeling of a fixed attachment point at the ball of their foot. However, the power transfer is perhaps slightly lower than a three-bolt system.

What are the benefits of an SPD? Many. They are comfortable and easy to walk in. This is great if you want to walk around towns, coffee shops, or other places while on your bike. These cleats are also easy to attach to, whether you’re stopped at a light or just starting to ride. This means you won’t have to mess around with heavy traffic.

This is the pedal/cleat combination you’ll find most often on bikes at spin classes and bike rentals. It makes it an excellent choice if you have to choose between one or both. You will find that most bikes are equipped with SPDs if you rent a bike for a warm-weather vacation or to go to a spin class at the health club. These are the closest thing you can get to a universal bike cleat (remember that there is no such thing as a true universal bicycle cleat).

Designed for:People who are looking for a universal cleat that can fit on all types of pedals, road and mountain bikes, and any other bikes. These cleats are also great for those who prefer to wear highly-walkable shoes with their cleat.

Not for:High-end road riders, as many top-end road cycling shoes do not work with SPDs

SPD Shoe We like: Giro Carbide (Find here

SPD Pedal We like: SPDEH500, Dual Platform (see here)

Look Bike Cleats

Look-style pedal with wider overall platform.

You will not find look pedals on mountain bikes. They are more common in road cycling, but less so in mountain biking. The look pedal is a 3-bolt pedal with the cleat connecting the shoe via three points of contact. They have a wide power base and a larger contact platform. These cleats can be used with many of the best road bikes shoes currently on the market.

Look, a native of the ski industry took many of their ideas from the ski binding world to make bike pedals. After much trial and error, the design was perfected and is now one of the most popular cleat/pedal combinations on the market. The look pedals allow the rider to have a little bit of “float”, which means that you still feel some movement in your foot when clipped-in. This makes it easier for the knees as the pedal strokes allow the leg to move in its own natural way. These have a more plasticky feel and a triangular shape, which embodies the three bolt design.

Look’s main lines are the Delta, and the Keo. Although they look the same, they are not identical. The Delta is popular for indoor spin classes and is compatible with Peloton. Keo is more suitable for outdoor cycling.

The efficiency of power transfer in Look pedals or cleats is what we like. It feels like your effort is being transferred directly to the chainring by every stroke. The shoes are compatible with Looks and are ideal for serious road riders or triathletes.

The Look system has many great features. The most obvious is the fact that Look cleats shoes can be difficult and slippery to walk in. If you plan to walk around in Look shoes, don’t expect to have a normal stride and gait. They are less versatile than other options, such as renting bikes for the road or spinning classes. You may need your own pedals if you plan on renting a bike for a long trip.

The SPD-SL cleats perform and look almost the same as the SPD-SL cleats (not confused with SPD cleats). They are almost twins. The SPD-SLs are described in more detail below. However, if you compare them side by side, it will seem like they are one and the same. The two systems do not always work together, so make sure you choose the best one for your needs. Although it has been possible to attach the SPD-SL cleat to a Look pedal, this is not a long-term solution. The systems are slightly different.

You will need to replace the soles on your shoe every season.

Quick note: A Look pedal can be equipped with a built-in power gauge. Although it is not cheap, it can be a simple way to measure your power.

Recommended for:Higher Road Cyclists Who Want High-Performance, But Don’t Mind Walking in a Shoe

Not for:Mountain bikers or people who will primarily cycle in spin classes

What Shoe Do We Like? Sidi Alba (Find here

We Like:Look Pedal (Find here)

Speedplay

Although Speedplay pedals or cleats may be a bit less popular than cleats, they are still very popular with road cyclists.

Speedplay, the innovative cleat-pedal combination, has a loyal, but smaller following.

The Speedplay pedal looks funky at first glance. The clip is circular. Depending on the pedal you choose, the platform may be very large or small.

You will quickly see the usefulness of this speedplay. Speedplays often have dual-sided surfaces. This is great for when you need to clip in quickly (e.g. at a busy stoplight). You can adjust the clip pressure and float very easily. They are also lighter than other options.

What are the down sides? Price is the most obvious. Speedplay is priced at a level that is often higher than other options. Compatibility is key… You don’t see many bikes with a Speedplay pedal …. or shoes with a Speedplay sole. These are usually items that Speedplay members have.

The four-bolt system used by Speedplay pedals is different from the two-or three-bolt systems found in other pedals. Although the cleats were designed to fit the three-bolt shoes, we like that the cleats can still be used with great shoe selection, even though the pedal is a little random.

If you’re a serious cyclist who needs a light, high-end pedal and cleat, this pedal is perfect. If you want something compatible with your friends’ bikes, it is not the best option.

For:Avid road bikers who are looking for a more powerful pedal and cleat system

Not for:Beginners or intermediates who want an all-around, good system

Speedplay Shoe We Like: Lake403 with Speedplay Soles (>see here)

Speedplay pedal we like: Speedplay zero Chromoly Walkable (see here)

SPD-SL

The SPD-SL cleat. The Look’s 3-bolt design is very similar to the SPD-SL.

SPD-SLs look nothing like SPD cleats. We wish Shimano would come up with a unique name for them, as they can be confusing. We will call them the SL cleats for now. Their only commonality with SPDs is their naming.

The SLs are very similar to the Look cleats and pedals in design and feel. They are a 3-bolt system, with a triangular profile, just like the Looks. They have a wide platform that allows the foot to transfer power efficiently. They also have impressive float to allow for comfort in any type of cycling stroke, just like the Looks. The SLs are a favorite on our road bikes. They can be worn with many of our favorite shoes, including high-performance shoes that are stiff and durable. We feel they give us maximum speed.

Plastic cleats can wear over time, especially if they are used a lot. You will need to replace the cleat piece once a year.

Common question: “Are the Look and SPD-SL systems interchangeable?” An SL cleat can fit a three-bolt shoe with a Look cleat. The cleat-pedal fit is only a few millimeters different between the two sizes. A SL cleat must fit an SL pedal. To properly fit a Look pedal, a Look cleat must be used. While you can use one cleat in each pedal for a short time, it is not a long-term solution.

SPD-SLs are more commonly used on triathlon and road bikes. They can be difficult to disengage from quickly and are not suitable for mountain biking, where you need to be very agile and low-profile.

For:Advance Road Cyclists who desire great power transfer and compatibility to excellent shoes

Not for:Leisure cyclists who value a versatile shoe/cleat and the ability to comfortably walk in their bike shoes

SPDSL Shoe We Like:Sidi Alba.Find here.

SPD SL Pedal We Like Shimano Ultegra (Find here)

Beginning Tutorial: Cleat and pedal basics

You may be reading this and still thinking “This is great. But I want to know how to attach my bike to my bike with those fancy bicycle shoes.” So we will go back a second and give you an overview.

Three Things You Need:

Although we’ve mentioned three components quite interchangeably, it is worth taking a moment to go over each component.

A Pedal

Road bikes come with either no pedals or very basic alloy pedals that can be replaced by the buyer. Each rider will have a preference for a particular type of pedal, so someone might want to spend $50 on pedals and another person may be willing to spend $250. The type of pedal you choose will have an impact on the cleat you attach to your shoe.

An example of a shoe that has an SPD cleat and the SPD pedal it can clip to.

It is easy to put a pedal on your bicycle. Every bike has universal threads where a pedal can be attached. Keep in mind that the right pedal can be turned counterclockwise to loosen it, while the left pedal can be turned clockwise to loosen it. This can be confusing for some. A pedal wrench is needed to loosen or fasten a pedal. However, most people have basic tools at home that can do this.

Clipless pedals are a term that is often used, but the majority of pedals today are clipless. There was a time when you had to fasten your shoe/cleat onto a pedal. Thankfully, those days are gone.

A Cleat

A cleat is the second thing you will need. The cleat must be compatible with your chosen pedal, as you can see in our reviews. An SPD cleat cannot “clip in” to a Look pedal. You can also choose the cleat you prefer, depending on which shoe you are wearing. The configuration of the holes to attach the cleat to the shoe may vary. There are cleats for the SPD with two bolts, the SL with three bolts, and so on.

It is simple to attach the cleat to your shoe. The cleat can be adjusted to match your pedal stroke. Adjust it during your first few rides to ensure the contact point between your foot (and the bike) feels comfortable for your knees.

A shoe

You will also need a shoe. You will need a shoe that is comfortable for your feet and practical for the purpose you intend to use it. The stiff, efficient SPD-SL shoe might suit you if you enjoy long road rides with a bunch of serious riders. The SPD is the most popular shoe for you if your spin class will allow it. You want to be able to move around without damaging the floor or slipping in a shoe with a “recessed” design. SPD offers more options.

We recommend SPDs for beginners. These are universally accepted and easy to use. They also don’t cost a lot. Compatible pedals have a wider platform which can be useful at stoplights.

2 bolt vs. 3 bolt (2 hole vs. 3 hole)

This is an important distinction in cycling cleats and could have been the beginning of our discussion. Bike shoes can be used with either a 2-bolt cleat or a 3-bolt cleat.

Both holes and bolts are synonyms. Three bolts means the shoe has three holes to attach the cleat or bolt it into. Two bolts are the number of holes that are aligned. However, if you look closely at the shoe you’ll see several options for positioning the cleat so there may be more than one pair of holes.

The SPD is the 2-bolt standard cleat and pedal. This 2-bolt category also covers most Speedplay models. The SPD-SL, Look and Look are 3-bolt cleats/pedals. If the shoe you purchase has a 2-hole cleat design you cannot put a Look pedal on it.

What about Peloton Cleats & Pedals?

This section is a great place to discuss the Peloton. Peloton already comes with a pedal, so there’s no need to worry. Peloton’s pedal can be used with any 3-hole or Delta-style Delta-style cleat. The company strongly recommends that you only use the supplied pedal and not replace it with your own. If you’re serious about riding a peloton you should get an SPD-SL or Look shoe. While you can use the Peloton shoe, many riders prefer to ride in their own shoes.

Safety and Practice

Whatever system you choose, make sure to practice enough to get used it before you race it on busy roads or in races like a time trial or triathlon. Every system is different. I remember feeling like a complete rookie when I switched from the SPD system to the SPD-SL system. I’d been riding for a decade.

There are several ways to get used to the system. First, take your new cleated shoes and pedals out for a spin in low-traffic areas like a garage or side street. You can practice moving forward and coming to a complete halt. Unclip. Clip back in like you’re at a stoplight turning green. Repeat this process until you feel it is second nature.

We also like to have our bike on a trainer if we have one. You can do some good spins with the new pedals. Make sure to clip and unclip with the same urgency as you would on a road bike. This practice will allow you to get used to the shoes and allows you to adjust them in a controlled setting.

Remember that everything can be adjusted. You can adjust the springs to tighten the shoe’s attachment to the pedal if it seems to slip off. You can adjust the springs to make the pedal not unclip when you stop. You can also adjust the position of the cleats on your shoes if it isn’t straightening or just a little uncomfortable. You will need to have the right tools at your disposal and be prepared to adjust several times over the first 100 miles.

Various types of Cycling Shoes

MTB (Mountain Bike) Shoes:

MTB shoes have a rugged and flexible sole design because mountain bikers need to quickly adjust their feet. MTB shoes can be used for running and walking and are very comfortable. These shoes will not cause discomfort when mountain biking. Shimano Pedals can be used with Mountain Bike shoes so you can attach your bike to your spinner bicycle.

Road shoes

Road shoes are shoes with a sleek design, stiff soles, and light weight. These shoes are not suitable for running and walking as the soles of the shoe are very stiff. These shoes are great for longer cycling as they distribute all pressure equally to the feet. The Delta cleats are compatible with Road cycling shoes and provide excellent comfort for your cycling.

Universal Shoes

The modification of road shoes can be described by universal shoes. Universal shoes are compatible with both LOOK Delta cleats and SPD cleats. Universal shoes are compatible with both LOOK Delta cleats and SPD cleats. This gives you a wide selection of options for choosing your favorite cycling shoe. It is also available in a variety of online shops as a third-category shoe.

Clipless Pedals

Clipless Pedals are one of the most efficient bicycle inventions. Clipless pedals are a concept that is derived from skiing technology. Clipless pedals provide a more sophisticated link between foot and pedal. Clipless pedals allow you to clip in and out of a pedal instantly. Clipless pedals are great for both Road and Mountain Biking. You want to feel as connected as possible to your bike and pedal as efficiently as possible for a better riding experience. We provide every spinner bike equipped with clipless pedals, also known as Clip-in and Step-in pedals. After attaching the cleats to the shoe, push down to secure the paddle. You can easily remove the clipless pedals by twisting your ankle backward.

Cleats make the shoes complete

To attach your shoes to the pedals you will first need to attach cleats. It’s impossible to attach your shoes to the pedals if you don’t have cleats. Different types of cleats will be required for different types of cycling shoes to allow them to clip in. There are many styles and designs to choose from when it comes to cleats for cycling shoes.

The following paragraphs provide more information on cleats and how they can be attached to your cycling shoes.

The Process of Clip-in

Cleats are the metal objects that are attached to the correlative shoe. They allow you to attach the Clipless pedals. To attach cleats to your shoes for the first time, you will need professional assistance. The following instructions can be used if you don’t have the contacts to a professional or local bike shop.

  1. Before you attach the cleat to your shoe, you will need to determine where the ball of the foot is. To achieve outstanding performance, freedom of movement, and comfortability, you must attach the cleat under the ball of your foot.
  2. Attach the cleat so that your standing position and angle of the cleat are in an equilibrium position. To do this, you need to stand naturally and consider your riding position. After you have found the perfect spot for your feet, adjust your cleat position accordingly.
  3. To ensure that the cleat is balanced, it is important to secure the bolt. All bolts should be tightened equally. You can tighten the bolts alternately until they are uniform.
  4. Once you have adjusted the cleats to your shoe, check the result before you start spinning. You can try the shoes on by holding a solid object and then clip the pedal to the shoe. Once you feel you are comfortable with the adjustment, then you can start to spin. If you aren’t satisfied with the adjustment, you can simply repeat the process of clipping in to the new measurement you prefer.

Why Float is important in cycling?

Float is the measurement of how much your foot moves while clipped into a pedal. It refers to the angle dimension of your foot while rotating left and right simultaneously. This movement can be either towards or away from the bike depending on what the rider considers right. Three types of Shimano cleats are available for floating movement. The red cleat gives movement on both the heel and toe, while the blue cleat attaches to the pivots on your toe. The fixed cleat is the red one. A rider can benefit from a little bit of float to make their riding more efficient. Floating can help a rider transfer power efficiently to the pedal and prevent injury.

Your cleats must be secure and snug to your cycling shoe’s sole. Your cleats should not be twisted on your shoe. This is a sign that your bolts are not properly installed.

Proper Cleats and Cycling Shoes will provide a safer and more efficient spinning class experience. To have a smooth riding experience, your shoe and cleat must be matched. You now have a complete understanding of the cleats and shoes for indoor and outdoor cycling. You can have a great riding experience in both indoor and outdoor cycling platforms by using the right combination of pedals, shoes, and cleats.

Glossary of Shoe, Shoe and Pedal Terms

Bolts The number of contact points (screws), that a bike shoe and cleat have. This information is crucial for cleat-to shoe compatibility. SPD has 2, Look has 3 Speedplay has 4.

Cleat The critical piece of metal that bolts to your shoe and clips to the pedal creating a point of contact.

Clip-In The process of attaching the shoe to your bike pedal using a clip. It becomes second-nature once you are proficient at it.

Clipless A term that you will often see on the shoe/pedal market. However, most systems today are clipless, so it is almost a given.

Compatibility A shoe, cleat and pedal that can “fit” together. Compatibility is the ability for a shoe, cleat and pedal to “fit” together. You can have a SPD cleat that fits, a SPD-compatible pedal, and a 2-hold compatible shoe.

Egg Beaters A type of clip manufactured by Crank Brothers and very popular among mountain bikers. Because they look similar to a kitchen knife, they get their name. They are strong and lightweight, but they are not very popular among road or tricyclists.

Float The amount of side-toside swivel you can expect from your cleat. Some cleats have zero float and lock your foot in. Some cleats offer up to 20 degrees float. A float that is between 6 and 3 degrees is preferred by many riders. Some float is thought to be more gentle on the knees. You can lose power if you have too much float.

Hole: See “Bolt”

Tab:Many brands offer a small piece that can be placed under the cleat to mark where your cleat should be. This guide can be useful if you need to swap out your cleats frequently, which you may do if you ride a lot. An inconvenient cleat position can cause discomfort to the ankle or knee.

Platform – The flat area at the pedal where your forward half rests. A wider platform captures more power and is more comfortable.

Recessed : A cleat that is recessed into the shoe for walking. Many SPDs come with recessed cleats which can be useful when you need to walk around your garage or shop without worrying about a protruding sole.

Retention system Pressure: The adjustable setting that controls how tight your cleat is locked-in with your pedal. Start with lower pressure to allow your foot to unclip more easily.

Stack Height The distance between the top tube and the bottom bracket close to the chainring. This is important because your shoe shouldn’t have any impact on the stack height. Thinner stack heights are better. Ideally, your shoe should have a minimal impact.

Sole stiffness: This refers to the stiffness or rigidity of a shoe for biking. A stiffer sole means that your legs transfer more power to the pedal and not losing it as power is lost from flimsy footwear. It will feel almost like your sole is as solid and stable as a 2×4.

Tension – This refers to the pressure needed to release the shoe from the pedal and the cleat. You can adjust the tension to your preference with a good system. Most cyclists want the right tension to prevent the cleat from accidentally releasing while they are cycling. However, it should not be too tight that it becomes difficult to release quickly.