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Cycling Cleats for Beginners – Best Options

For beginners, using cleats while cycling can be daunting and complicated. To help you better understand, here are the best options for various cycling cleats recommeneded for beginners.

An athlete in action as he rides his bicycle with a pair of cleats on.

When it comes to the best cycling cleats for beginners, you really have 3 options (or 3 different types of bike pedal systems):

  1. Clipless: this is where you are required to wear a special cleat that snaps snuggly into the pedal of the bike; locking it into place.
  2. Push: think of your standard children’s bike, there’s no special equipment needed here, just two feet to push the pedals.
  3. Strap: these kinds of bike pedal systems involve pockets or straps that you would slide your foot into.

If you ride more than 3-4 times per week or plan to take cycling seriously, then clipless pedal systems are what you’re looking for. These are the most common bike pedal systems for professional cyclists and those who ride on a regular basis; especially if you’re entering into competitions.

Let’s explore clipless pedal systems a bit further to help you choose the best cycling cleats for you!

Three Bolt Vs. Two Bolt Systems

In order to successfully bike utilizing clip-in pedals, there are two main systems that bikers can consider: three-bolt systems, and two-bolt systems.

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1. Two Bolt Clip-ins (Ideal for Mountain Bikers)

As a better system for off-road cycling, commuting, and touring, the two-blot system uses a similar mechanism as the three-bolt system, just with one less bolt.

With the two-bolt system, however, there are clip-in mechanisms on the pedal that appear on both sides which makes it easier to clip-in. Since these cleats are a little smaller, they can be easier to walk around in when off the bike, because they are recessed into the tread of the shoe.

2. Three Bolt Clip-ins (Ideal for Road Cyclists)

The three-bolt system is primarily used for road cycling. For this particular type of cycling, a larger more stable pedal platform is afforded to the rider, which can be advantageous to the terrain the biker will be riding. This system is known as SPD-SL under the brand of Shimano.

This system is accomplished by using a plastic cleat that is fixed to your shoe with three bolts. These bolts attach to the pedal on one side only, so you must ensure that the pedal is installed the correct way up to clip-in.

With three bolts, the contact area between cleat and pedal is larger; this enhances the power transfer from your shoe to increase performance. The shape and size of the cleat do make these shoes difficult to walk in, however, as a result of the cleat’s protrusion out of the tread of the shoe.

A close look at a man installing clipless pedals on the cycling shoes.

Are My Shoes Compatible?

The compatibility of your shoe with two or three bolt pedal systems ultimately depends on the shoe. Some shoes — like the Nike SuperRep Cycle — are compatible with both systems, while others are only compatible with one or the other.

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Product descriptions should be read carefully when making a purchase in order to ensure the pedal and cleats are properly compatible with your shoes.

Buying The Right Clipless Cleats

When you make the choice to purchase clipless/clip-in pedals, you will find the cleats are designed to be used with the specific pedals included in the box.

Manufacturer-specific cleats are included with the purchase of clipless/clip-in pedals. Put simply: Shimano cleats will not work with Look pedals. However, some two-bolt systems brands such as Richey and Wellago are created for cross-brand compatibility.

Cycling cleats on display at a store.

4 Different Types of Cleats & Pedal Sets

Cycling cleats and pedal sets can be classified into 4 different types. The individual types of cleats have a matching pedal that allows for attachment onto the crank arms on your bike.

The cyclist’s foot (shoe) is secured to the pedal, which makes the peddler’s stroke more powerful. These are called clipless pedals.

There are pros and cons to each type of pedal and cleat set that should be assessed on the basis of the kind of riding that you’d like to do.

1. SPD-SL

The Shimano SPD SL cycling set is my personal favorite and a very popular option with road bikers and elite cyclists.

Additionally, these are most likely the best cycling cleats for individuals just starting off. They are easy to clip in and out of design. Easy walking capabilities are also afforded with yellow pads. Both of these features make it quite similar to Speedplay.

Three screws allow the shoe to snap into place with a click. These cleats also include the best features of other popularly enjoyed cleats, including a larger pedal than the Speedway, yet still not as large as the Look. Further, they weigh less than the Look, but a little more than the Speedplay.

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2. Speedplay

SpeedPlay Unisex_Adult Aero Walkable Pedalplattenset, NUR FÃœR Zero Serie GEEIGNET, 14115 Pedals, Yellow, Standard Size

Click image for more info

Speedplay cleats are a popular choice among cyclists for one important reason: their ease of clipping in to and out of. The difficulty of clipping in and out of the cleats is one of the most feared aspects of riding with cleats to many, contrary to the previous trends where you’re able to simply take your feet off the pedals and come to a stop.

The best way to identify the difference between Speedplay cleats and the other three cleats is that Speedplay cleats are round. Speedplay pedals are also identical on both sides which can be advantageous for new riders because clipping is made easier. This process is made easier can be crucial for when riding at an intersection, or riding within a group, when the clipping in and out process can be made more difficult.

The most serious cyclists use cycling cleats, so if you’re a new cyclist hoping to get a bit more serious, clipping in and out of pedals is something that should be practiced because of its difficulty. Clipping should be practiced in order to establish ease when you’re coming to a stop on your bike. It also needs to be practiced in order to successfully get going on the bike.

While this process of practice may lead to a few falls, ultimately practicing is critical to your confidence on the bike, as well as your physical health while on the road (let alone your ego).

3. Look

CyclingDeal Compatible with Peloton Look Delta (9 Degree) Bike Cleats - Indoor Cycling & Road Bike Bicycle Cleat Set - Fully Identical or Compatible with Peloton Spin Bikes Pedals and Shoes

Click image for more info

While similar to the SPD SL, this is a little bit larger of a cleat. Comfortable for longer rides, it has a wide 3 bolt base. The process of clipping in and out of this cleat feels a lot like the SPD SL but is made a little more difficult by a less defined lip.

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With a little bit of room to the fit, both the SPD SL and Look cleats have a nice feeling attributable to the small amount of play side to side. That being said, the Look pedal is a little bit bigger, making it weigh respectively more than the SPD SL.

4. SPD

Venzo Bicycle Men's or Women's Road Cycling Riding Shoes - 3 Straps- Compatible with Peloton Shimano SPD & Look ARC Delta - Perfect for Road Racing Bikes Black Color 37

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SPD cleats are the most common kind of bike cleat used and is used most with mountain biking. These are less commonly used with road bikes because it’s more difficult to quickly clip in and out of.

There are 2 screws that are attached to the cycling shoe. The size of the cleat is small, comparable to the size of Speedplay cleats, however, they have a smaller base than the SPD SI or Look cleat.

Understanding Color Coding When it Comes to Cleats

Helpfully, manufacturers such as Shimano and Look color code their three-bolt road cleats in order to indicate the level of float that the specific cleat allows for.

When referring to float, this can be understood as the small amount of lateral rotation that the rider is afforded once the cleat has been clipped to the pedal. Float is important to ensure that your feet aren’t fixed in one place: misaligned feet without a few degrees of float can lead to knee injuries.

A close look at a pair of blue cleats from Shimano.

Adjusting & Fitting Your Cleats

The most important part of keeping your body comfortable and ensuring you’re biking is as efficient as possible, is to install them in the correct position. As the only fixed interface between the bicycle and rider, proper installation can also help you to avoid injury.

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Since there’s nothing worse than installing a set of cleats incorrectly, as it could lead to knee or back pain, we’ve provided a simple six-step procedure to ensure your feet are roughly in the correct spot.

1. Make Your Mark

After putting your shoes one, feel for the bit of the shoe that sticks out behind your big toe on the inside of your foot. Make a mark of the front of this on the side of the shoe. Find the similar protrusion behind your little toe on the other side, and mark that spot too. Masking tape is advised during this step of the process so as not to ruin your shoes.

2. Identify The Midpoint

The next step should be to take your shoes off and flip them over. On the sole, draw the points showing the position of the back and front of the ball of your foot. There will most likely be some markings on the base of the shoe: you can use them to align the parallel lines that you’re drawing across the bottom.

3. Find The Center

You’ll notice that most cleats have a small marking used to signify their center. When examining your cleat, the center spot sits directly over the axle of the pedal. The mark is located on the side of cleat models such as Shimano, and Look. We recommend you choose cleats with some amount of float if you haven’t been fitted for a bike.

4. Add Some Grease

Since they sit close to the ground, your cleats tend to get blasted with water, grit, and grime. This can have a hard time on your bike. In order to prevent the bolts that hold your cleats into place from seizing, you can add a dab of grease to the holes at the bottom of the shoe before they are fitted.

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5. Rotate When Necessary

Nearing completion, the cleats should be centered between the lines on your shoes. For those who have heels that point either inward or outward, the back of the cleat can be rotated slightly in the corresponding direction in order to correct for the slight difference your feet may require.

A cyclist riding her mountain bike by the coast trail.

6. Go Out & Ride!

After you are happy with the adjustment you’ve made, it is time to tighten everything up and take your bike for a ride. Some adjustments may need to be made upon your initial observations.

For example, changes may need to be made if your heels are rubbing against the crank. This particular problem might suggest that you as a bike rider have a particularly wide stance, therefore you may need to space the pedals further out.