Friday, March 5, 2010 by Frank Radaker
Your most important bicycle contact points are your feet. They experience the greatest amount of pressure and, with your knees and hips, experience the repetitive motion of cycling. Adjusting your pedal cleats is the foundation of every bicycle fitting adjustment you make above your pedals.
The simplest cleat adjustment is the fore/aft position. Even that requires an off the bike observer who can note your foot angle while pedaling against resistance. Simply stated, the more toe down you pedal the more forward on the shoe the cleat needs to be. The more flatfooted you pedal the more aft the cleat needs to be. Within this range though, we’re only talking a few milimeters. The idea is to make sure the pedal axle is essentially centered under the ball of your foot when the crankarm is pointing straight forward (e.g. 3 O’Clock for the right crankarm). The Bicycle Fitter can then fine-tune the fore/aft position depending on whether you are a spinner / gear masher, have small feet / big feet, etc..
The stability of your feet on the pedals also relates to your knees. A significant amount of forefoot side tilt relative to your lower leg can result in your foot rocking inside your cycling shoe. This rocking effectively pulls the knee first toward and then away from the bike’s centerline on every pedal stroke. Since your knee is designed to flex backwards and not side-to-side this can sometimes produce sharp pain on the inside and/or outside face of your knee. Shoe Wedges, either under the cleat or inside the shoe are designed to fill the gap created by the forefoot tilt. They produce a stable platform for your foot and eliminate the rocking thus knee stress.
Another symptom of this forefoot tilt for most cyclists is excess pressure on the outside margin of the foot (less often on the inside margin). The smaller toes frequently become numb on a foot experiencing this pressure or the foot experiences “hotspots.” Cleat wedges fill in the gap created by this forefoot tilting and allow the pressure to be spread across the entire ball of the foot thus numbness and/or hotspots are usually eliminated with the correct number and orientation of wedges.
Although overlooked by many cyclists, a proper cleat fitting which addresses fore/aft, rotational, “Q” Factor, forefoot tilt and leg length discrepancy issues will produce a less painful and less injurious cycling experience. Odds are, you’ll be faster on your bike too.