Wearing cleats are an integral part of cycling shoes (click here for the full guide). Cleats do not come with the shoe, they come with the pedal of your bike. Putting cleats on and adjusting them to fit properly is an important part of wearing cycling shoes and getting the most benefit out of them.

Are all Cycling Cleats the Same?

There are a number of different types of cleats on the market and they are designed to work for different styles of riding. Most however have the same basic mechanics. Most of your pedals have two main components, the pedal and the cleat. The cleat will attach to the sole of your shoe and then clip into the pedal. To get going on your bike when wearing cleats is also about the same in all makes of cleats. First you will clip one foot into the pedal, usually your less dominant foot so you can use your more dominant one to push off with.

In this way you only have to clip in one foot while the bike is moving. The other important thing to take into consideration when wearing cleats is stopping. You should always try to stop near a wall or some other solid structure to be able to lean against it. That way, if for some reason you find it difficult to unclip, you will not fall over with your bike. Most cleats have two systems available to the rider, a three bold system which is primarily used for road racing and a two bolt system which is mainly used by mountain bike riders.

The three bolt system is commonly known as SPD-SL and can also be used for spinning or indoor cycling. This system incorporates a reasonably large, plastic cleat which will attach to your cycling shoe using three bolts. These types of cleats offer a stable platform on the pedal and can therefore produce a lot more power and give greater performance when road racing. These types of cleats are not good for walking in as the cleats will protrude quite far out of the shoe.

The two bold system is primarily designed for mountain bike riding but can also be used for casual riding or commuting. The cleats on this system are a lot smaller than your three bolt cleats and they also have an option of clipping in on either side of the pedal to make it easier. The two bolt system cleats will fit snugly on the sole of your shoe not protruding as the three bolt road riding cleats to. This makes them easier to walk with, or to push or carry your bike when mountain bike riding on rough and difficult terrain.

Most cycling shoes are compatible with either the two or three bolt pedal systems, however there are a few of the more specialised, high-performance shoes that can only be used with one or the other. When selecting your shoe you should always ensure that the cleat system on your bike is compatible with it.

Are Bike Pedals all the same Size?

The majority of bikes have the same size pedals, namely 9/16″ x 12 TPI threads. If your bike has a one-piece crank then the size of the pedal will be around ½” x 20 TPI. There are of course always exceptions to the rule however they are not very common, such as the French bikes which use a 14mm x 1.25mm thread. Always check the size of your pedal as well as the cleat system on the pedal before you go and select your cycling shoe

The two must be compatible or you might find yourself in a situation where you have the best, most expensive cycling shoe you can get, but cannot use them with your cleat system. You can however, if you feel strongly about the shoe you want, change the pedal system on your bike to match it.

Which Cleats are Best for Cycling?

The answer to this question will depend on a number of different things. The type of cycling you are looking to do will have a great influence on the type of cleat you need. If you are going to be mountain biking, commuting or just having a casual ride now and then you need a cleat that will allow you to get the most out of your pedals as well as being comfortable to walk in. If however you are going to be road racing then the cleat you would choose would rather give you more pedal power with protruding cleats than give you a comfortable walking cycling shoe.

Cycling cleatsChoosing the right bike pedal for your style of riding is vital and selecting the right shoe that will be compatible with your pedal and cleat system is essential. Most of your road bikes will use the same form of fastening system on their cleats, a three bolt system, and all road racing shoes are compatible with this. There are some however such as Speedplay that come with a four bolt pattern and this will either require a specialised shoe or an adapter to be able to use them. When deciding on which shoe to choose this is the most important, however there are other things to look at such as float.

Float is the wiggle room your foot has before you move it far enough to release it from the pedal. Some cycling shoes have no float and will release your feet from the pedal at the slightest movement. This means that you can add pressure on your knees and ankles when using these shoes as your leg and foot must be perfectly positioned. Most cleats though, do offer a range of float to relieve the pressure put on knees when cycling. The more the float the more you will have to twist your foot to relieve it from your pedal.


Your cleat system will be different for each style of riding and having the right shoe to match your cleats is important. Remember cleats come with the pedal and not the shoe. Mountain bikers need different shoes than road riders as the cleat systems on these two types of bikes differ substantially. Check your bike’s pedal and cleat system before you select the cycling shoe you want.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Lilly Harvey. If there's two things I'm passionate about in life, it's shoes and writing!

Combining both my passions with my Fashion Design degree, I've helped create Shoe Adviser to help readers choose the best shoes for them, enjoy!

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