Cleat positions - too far forward because of tradition?

When I started cycling 15 years ago I was told that the ball of the foot (1st metatarsal head) had to be over the pedal axle. I’ve never heard a convincing explanation why that was necessarily the “right” place to fit a cleat.

There are a number of publications and opinions out there on the merit of more rearward cleat placement, usually brought up in relation to triathlon performance.

Through triathlon, my cleat placement has moved back beyond the adjustment range of factory produced shoes and has stayed there as I shifted to road and gravel. I find it much more comfortable to ride this way, as it reduces calf loading and I haven’t seen a change in FTP. (note - I have big feet and ride custom shoes). The only place I ride with a traditional cleat position is in CX, and there I ride at the back of the adjustment range.

Speaking to a expert podiatrist in Switzerland today who does shoe fitting I raised the question why cleat placements on shoes are where they are and he shared the opinion that the forward cleat positions are driven by tradition and ease of manufacturing - putting cleats further back becomes trickier.

I would love to learn more about how others experience this, how the industry thinks about it, and where trends are going. @James_Huang - how about a nerd alert podcast episode :smiley: ?

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Another “as far back as possible and then some” preference here. FWIW I too have clown feet (size 47), there may be something there.

On the other hand I think toe overlap may have some influence on the traditonal position: it is obviously easier to ensure clearance with a forward cleat and conversely an extreme rearward cleat position might create difficulties for many people.

Obviously I can make sure that this doesn’t occur but that’s not an available option for everyone.

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Ahem… :wink:

And adding a couple others of interest:

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Ahem, the level of discussion on fore / aft position extends to:

Firstly, you want to verify that your cleat position centres the ball of each foot over the respective pedal axle. This can be done by putting your pedals at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock and trying to get your eyeline directly above the pedal spindle. Again, this is vastly easier with a helper who can verify this step for you.

Fascinating post.
I was brought up on the ‘ball of the foot o’er the pedal spindle’ (BOFOPS) and KOPS school of thought. Fortunately in the bad (good) ol road and track racing days this worked for me.
Later on (adventure racing Indian style) with running shoes, large Zefal plastic mtb toeclips and straps) I notice that my feet were much further forward and this felt ‘right’. Right= no pain and able to sustain position for a bit longer than the event. Ditto for LOOK step-in pedals and road shoes
Nothing scientific, but it works for me.

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Hence why I added other references. In short, many of the common methods have moved more rearward from the “spindle under the ball of the foot” that was the norm for decades.

“New Neutral” as I learned within the Specialized Body Geometry school, aims to place the spindle roughly centered between the first and fifth metatarsal bones. This is that rear shift from the ball of the foot (sesamoid bones) and is used by more than Spesh/Retul these days.

I am still searching for more detail there, but that is the gist. Rearward is the trend.

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One important point to note - forward cleat position is necessary for those who can really kick and accelerate in a sprint.
interesting to hear others note where their foot goes on flat pedals as I also use my ball of the foot on flat pedals even when cycling for +2 hours on them.

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For the record, fore-aft placement is covered in more detail than your quoted section.

  • They specifically hit on the 1st-5th, and placing the cleat midway between them…

Those are just a couple of screenies I snagged. It’s best to actually view all the text, pictures and related subtext of the pics to get the full info they covered. It’s pretty good and useful info in total.

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I, too, have wondered why when so many people, like me, slam the cleats as far back as possible, the range of adjustment hasn’t shifted rearward.

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My bad, I overlooked your other references.

I struggle with the fact that mostly a recommendation is made without a justification as to why. Whether under the first metatarsal or halfway between 1st and 5th, why would either be optimal? Retul defining this as a neutral position is also not a good explanation.

Hogg is the only one that gives a more in depth point of view on the why of different positions and notes that some positions aren’t accommodated by most shoe manufacturers.

I’d be curious to know if the current adjustment ranges center on this retul neutral and give equal adjustment to the front and back, or if that is already towards the back of the adjustment range. Whenever I see pictures of cleats (including this photo from the myvelofit link above, they’re at the rearward end of the adjustment range, never at the front:

So if people predominantly were to ride with their cleats towards the back, are manufacturers maybe placing cleat holes too far forward?

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Interesting post, I’ve always slammed them pretty much all the way back or close to that on most shoes, always wondered why the holes allow for so much forward adjustment since it seems unusual that someone would want the pedal axle in front of the balls of their feet which can be done on a lot of shoes.

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All great questions and observations. Like so much of fitting, there is no single answer that works for everyone or every situation. But, there are ideologies and trends that are either applied or learned (or combined) that we see. This single cleat placement issue is parallel to many other fit discussions (saddle, bar, etc. placement).

There is little if any ‘hard’ science but we have plenty of anecdata and experience from numerous fitters and ideologies. It is all more wishy-washy than fitters might like to admit, and way more loose than fit customers might want to see. General rules and guidelines are about all we have, with plenty of needs to push or violate those in some cases. All that to establish that there is no real certainty to any of this, unfortunately.

Re: Shoe cleat hole placement - I suspect this is largely tied to the ‘tradition’ of having the ball/1st Met over the pedal spindle for so long. The tendency to see the cleat in the rear position and slot to hit these “new” rearward placements is a sign of a shift in ideology. The fitters and riders are ahead of the curve to a degree with the shoe makers behind the change. Like other aspects in the industry, I suspect we may see some adaptation from the makers to more closely follow this, but there are limits.

  • For one, some people still like and prefer the more forward cleat position. So shoes / cleats need to allow for this position, along with the newer trend towards rearward.

  • Another is that people are not all “equal” in their layout of these various landmarks. It’s necessary to have a range of adjustment that handles the fact that these Met locations may vary for riders with respect to the heel cup of the shoe (which I consider the ‘origin’ of shoe fit).

  • Add in the fact that some people (like me) have notably different size between their feet, which can lead to limits of how far you can get the cleat backward/forward between each shoe to get each foot positioned over the pedal in whatever way is possible. Some shoes prevent proper placement if the foot variation is large enough, and the holes are set more one way or the other.

  • There are some additional spacers, along with the old school approach of re-drilling mount holes, that get people to even more extreme mid-foot cleat placement. These show a need for that position, at least for some users (more commonly in Tri from what I have seen). But there are limits to what is possible or practical in a shoe design, so we may still see some limits.

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One post I haven’t seen brought up is here: https://www.velonews.com/gear/technical-faq-cleat-position-and-injuries/

And the follow up:

I seem to like playing with position and have landed on all the way back, then adjust forward as needed. As someone that’s 6’3” with a size 46 shoe I can see up to a 3cm difference in saddle height between a traditional cleat position and set back. Set back cleats needing a lower saddle height.

This is too deep for me but I find my riding position to influence my cleat position. I know, I know, many fitters are cleat position first. But I do the occasional Tri and with the saddle slammed forward I put my cleat all the way back. Gravel I have a more traditional setback position and my cleat is still back but it’s definitely further forward than my Tri shoes.

That’s my likely incorrect 2¢

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Thanks for bringing up this topic. Just recently my new fitter pushed my cleats back. Two immediate benefits:

  1. I felt more stable over the pedal and “felt” (not measured) like I could transfer slightly more power;
  2. A year’s long joint pain in my left foot 1st metatarsal started to subside (I’m an arthritic old man).

Only downside I’ve noticed is toe overlap with my front wheel caught me off guard the first few times.

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My size 45 feet always have the cleats all the way back. I find it lower the calf muscle usage that is necessary to stabilize the foot. My final cleat position tuning is done by feel as I pedal lightly. I feel for how stable my foot feels without using the calf muscles. If it feels like it wants to rotate around the pedal spindle then the cleat is in the wrong place. If it feels like the heels want to drop then the cleats are too far forward. The reverse for too far back. When it is set correctly it feels like my foot is stable and not wanting to rotate without needing any calf muscle to stabilize it.

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A bike fitter moved my cheats back a few years ago, I prefer it, feels like a more solid platform. I actually use midfoot cleat adapters to push the cleats back 1cm more than the holes in my Bonts would allow.

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Moving the cleats further back improves stability of the foot and takes some pressure off the front of the foot. 2 things I found to be true after moving my cleats further back over time!

Anyone seen this? I picked one up on the Kickstarter just to check it out. Will probably trade it to a local fitter at some point.

I mostly mountain bike, but grew up riding clips with axle under ball of foot. Now I ride flats and pedal naturally with my feet much further forward. My feet go even more forward descending.

On my gravel bike I still clip in and my feet just always want to move around so it seems like im constantly adjusting the cleats and they never feel quite right.

I previously used to shove my cleats all the way back but eventually settled on having the axle just behind the ball of my foot as I drop my heels a bit. So when my heel drops the ball falls level with the axle.

Whilst having the cleats all the way back felt okay I never really felt it was that much of an advantage.