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What A Difference A Millimeter Makes… The Cleats

April 2013

I’ve written before about the importance of saddle height, of bike fit, stem length, bar angle and the lot but I ran into an interesting one last week that had a huge impact on my cycling and running…

Now, I should listen to Matt at the bike shop when he encourages me to try to fix and fit things myself. His theory is that it’s really tough to break a bike component when you’re simply adjusting it, so adjust away – if it gets worse, put it back, if you mess something up so bad that you can’t figure it out, bring it in and we’ll get you fixed and explain where you went wrong.

So over the winter while I’m riding on the trainer, I look down and notice that my left heel toes out just a bit. My Look cleats have a 4.5 degree float (this means that your foot is not locked in to a set position, the cleat will ‘float’ just a bit to the left and right). For some reason I naturally used up the float, to the left, on that foot. When I’m on the road I’m not looking at my feet so I didn’t know it was happening until I had some time on the trainer.

I hemmed and hawed over whether or not I should make the adjustment myself for at least a couple of months before I finally bit the bullet and made the change two weeks ago – just a millimeter or two on the cleat meant a centimeter at the heel and now both feet are dead straight when I pedal.

Here’s the reason for the hesitation: The equipment used to line my cleats up was extensive, blocks on the pedals with rods sticking out of the blocks, angles and measurements and probably 45 minutes… It was a pretty big production, so I hesitated, thinking “who am I? I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground as far as cleat alignment goes. Truthfully this is the one problem I find with going to the bike shop to get things fixed: Relying on the shop can lead to paralysis for simple adjustments. Of course, not knowing what you’re doing can end a lot worse, so there’s that too.

There are ramifications too… Over the winter I complained of a hamstring issue, the left hamstring to be specific. I thought the pain was from ramping up my running miles over the winter and running on snow covered roads (I wrote a couple of posts about this). So I pulled back on my running miles thinking I just needed to rest the hamstring and while it’s gotten better, there was still quite a bit of tightness during a run. Afterward there was a little soreness… After the cleat adjustment though, the hamstring pain is starting to fade away – even yesterday after all of the miles I put in over the last week or so, while there is muscle soreness to recover from, my hamstring is feeling a lot more “normal”.

Lesson learned, while I had my cleats fitted by one of the best guys in our State, with professional equipment that I didn’t have access to, that last final adjustment made all of the difference in the world. I’m getting a much better push from my left leg and the proper muscles are now taking the hit rather than my hamstring.


  1. cyardin says:

    This is a great write up of a topic that amateur riders don’t know much about. I have had a similar problem with my left ankle as a result of many sports injuries from my youth. It took me a couple of years before I changed my cleat position (Look Keos as well) for exactly the same nervous fear of having no idea what I was doing. I have never been nervous around adjusting the height of the seat post, and have adjusted this many times over the years to find the exact position – now I have it measured. Surprisingly my last seat post adjustment of a 5mm lift introduced pain in my upper hamstring and so I brought it back down and have settled on the height. You are fortunate in that your LBS is encouraging you to tinker. One of my LBS’s always wants to charge people for a “fitting”. Keep these kind of posts coming.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Glad you liked it, and I’ll continue to write posts about all of my trials and tribulations. In fact you gave me a pretty good idea… I’ll be dedicating a page on this blog to posts of that nature. So, for that, I thank you.

  2. kruzmeister says:

    Great info Jim, I’m doing the seat tinker at the moment, but this is good to know also. I’ll be sure to check my feet when I’m on the trainer next.

  3. saltyvelo says:

    mm’s make huge differences when it comes to bike fit. the best thing is, you can go ride 10 miles and know if it helped or didn’t. if you think it is helping, you go further distances. I know a guy who went through probably 20-25 saddles. come to find out, one leg is longer than the other and that was causing his hip’s to rock ever so slightly, giving him saddle sores on his right side. Some shims under his cleat and all is well.

    The important thing it to use what we learned in the 5th grade. Change one variable at a time. otherwise, you don’t know what you fixed.

  4. Reblogged this on nzmultisports and commented:
    Some sage advice!

  5. elisariva says:

    Love geeky posts. Yes, a millimeter can make a difference!

  6. […] = ''; } Cleats, creaky knees and global shortagesWhat A Difference A Millimeter Makes… The Cleats .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]

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