There are three main interfaces with the bicycle: hands to handlebars, butt to saddle, and feet to pedals. Each interface has unique challenges and special needs in order to make the bicyclist comfortable and capable of performing well. This article series focuses specifically on the feet to bicycle pedals and cleats interface.
The foot to pedal interface is a crucial force-transference point. Force created by the quadriceps and gluteals is transferred from your foot to the drivetrain at the foot/pedal connection point. The interface of foot to pedal is handled by your cycling shoes and cleats. The attachment point of foot to pedal includes the equipment of bicycle shoe, pedal and cleat.
A vast majority of cyclists produce the most force with their hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteal muscles. The bicycle pedal gives the human body a way to harness a great magnitude of force, and turn that force into forward motion. With their small relative size, the pedal and cleat connection point can be considered delicate. The greatest chance you have of successfully harnessing the force your body generates is dependent upon an optimal connection at the point of the pedals.
Think about how many times you turn the pedals around during any given bike ride. With an optimal pedaling cadence of around 90 revolutions per minute, that’s 5,400 RPM in a 1-hour ride. This fact makes the correct anatomical alignment of your cleats to pedals critical for avoiding knee (or hip) injury and getting the most out of your efforts on the bike.
Clipless pedals – a brief overview
Many bicyclists use clipless pedals. A clipless pedal is a bicycle pedal that does not utilize a traditional toe clip and strap to retain your feet on the bicycle pedals. A clipless pedal retention mechanism is similar in nature to a ski binding, with the rider applying downward pressure to snap a cleat on the bottom of your cycling shoe into the pedal.
There are many styles of clipless pedals and cleats on the market. They all share a common function of “clipping in” to or onto a pedal. (Isn’t it ironic that we use the term “clipping in” when the pedals are considered clipless?! This is a common point of confusion for the neophyte cyclist, new to the concept of modern pedals.)
Pedal and cleat types
The proper function of cleats is directly related to on-the-bike safety and exposure to overuse injuries. You will generally find three main styles of pedals and cleats: triangles, lollipops and recessed. Triangle and lollipop-shaped pedals and cleats are used exclusively on road bikes, while recessed cleats are used on all manner of bicycle types.
The most common triangle pedals and cleats are made by Look and Shimano. Speedplay is the primary manufacturer of lollipop style clipless pedals, which have a cleat plate that attaches to your shoes. Recessed cleats, made by Shimano and Crank Brothers, are smaller cleats that attach to the shoe in a recessed manner, which allows you to walk with a normal gait and saves your cleats from the wear and tear associated with walking on them.