Installing your SPD pedals and cleats properly will maximize your pedalling efficiency and help you prevent knee injury.
Before you start
Shimano pedals are marked with a left and right indicator on the body of the axle of the pedal. When installing the pedal, it’s easy to get confused which way tightens and which way loosens. Just remember that with your bike upright, turning the pedal in the direction of the pedal stroke tightens it, and turning it in the opposite direction of your pedal stroke loosens it.
If your pedals are hard to remove, use a pedal wrench to increase the leverage – or the longest length Allen key you can find that fits (typically a 6mm or an 8mm) – rather than a stubby multitool. Be sure to check the Allen key has fully engaged, so it doesn’t slip and round out, or gouge your hand on a whole chainset worth of teeth.
Clean the crank arm threads
Before fitting your new pedals, clean and check the threads on your crank arms. Lightly apply some grease to the threads on the pedal to help remove them next time. Applying it to the pedals will spread the grease across the threads.
Tighten the pedal
Start by tightening the pedal carefully by hand, making sure the pedal is parallel to the crank to avoid any cross-threading. Use a pedal wrench to tighten up the pedals snug and tight, or a 6mm or 8mm Allen key if there are no wrench flats. Shimano pedals use bearings, so will self-tighten as you pedal. Take care with ultra-light pedals because some use bushes, and can loosen off as you ride unless done up sufficiently tight.
Mark position of a worn-out cleat
If you’re replacing a worn cleat that’s already in the right position, draw the outline first with a permanent marker so you can fit your new cleat in the same spot. SPD cleats leave an indentation behind on shoes with a plastic mount, which you can use to line up your new cleats. Use a 4mm Allen key to remove the bolts.
Loosen the bolt heads
If the bolt heads are encrusted with mud, use the smallest Allen key you can find or you’ll risk rounding them out – which will mean you’ll have to drill them out to remove them. If the mud is proving particularly stubborn, soak the cleats in some water overnight to soften it up.
Apply some anti-seize to the new bolts – such as copper slip – which helps to reduce mud and water ingress better than ordinary grease. Tighten up the bolts slowly and evenly, so that the cleat doesn’t shift around.
If you’re fitting cleats to a new set of shoes, you’ll need to spend some time finding the optimal place in which to position them. With your riding shoes on, but without any cleats fitted, sit on your bike and hang your right foot down in a natural pedaling position. Mark a spot on the outside of the shoe to show where the cleat sits in the fore and aft relation to the axle. Roughly speaking, the cleat should sit under the ball of the foot.
Check your feet
Sit up on a table with your legs dangling down and your shoes and socks off. Take a good look at your feet – do your toes naturally point in or out? If they do, draw a line on the underside of the shoe, aiming to mimic the angle of your feet. This gives you a rough guide to the lateral position of the cleat. Although there’s some float in the pedal, finding the right angle will remove undue stress on the knee joint.
Line up your markers so you can position the cleat in both directions, both fore and aft in relation to the axle and its angle in relation to your shoe. Nip down the bolts just enough to keep them firmly in place. Try not to let them dig into the sole of the shoe, because the indentations left will make fine tuning harder – carbon soles are more resistant. Don’t use any grease just yet.
Recheck the cleat position
With your shoes back on, balance yourself against a wall and clip in. Your legs should hang naturally down, without any noticeable stress on your joints. Check how much float there is to either side – the amount of lateral movement before the cleat disengages – to ensure it’s even. If there’s any discomfort, adjust the cleat until it feels better.
Backpedal and make sure your heel doesn’t rub against the cranks when your shoe is floated in its most inward position. If there’s any rubbing, move the whole cleat parallel to the left, being careful not to alter its angle.
Take a test drive
Take your bike outside and go for a leisurely spin. Try to feel whether there is any twisting through your joints, particularly the knee. As you spin, there should be no sense of awkwardness or pressure anywhere. When you’re happy with the position, run a permanent marker around the cleat, so you’ll know where to position it next time it wears out if it doesn’t leave an indentation.
Apply more anti-seize
Remove the bolt and apply a couple of dabs of anti-seize on the bolt threads – this will be more effective than ordinary grease in keeping mud and muck at bay. Don’t overlook this step or you risk the bolts seizing over time, and rounding out when you try and remove them. If this happens, you’ll need to drill them out.
Tighten down the bolts of the cleats evenly, making sure they don’t shift in position. Ensure the 4mm Allen key is properly engaged so you don’t round out the bolt heads – applying some degreaser to the Allen key head will remove any grease that may cause slipping. If you’re using old bolts and they’re a little worn, pop in some new ones now and avoid any hassles later.
Adjust the four spring tensions evenly with a 3mm Allen key. If you’re new to clipless pedals, keep them fairly loose until you gain confidence. Shimano’s multirelease silver cleats (SH56) are great for beginners; when the pedal’s spring tension is tightened, they can be released by sharply pulling upwards while still being easy to disengage from side to side. Don’t forget to loosen off the pedals again if you swap to normal SPD cleats.