Cleat Position for MTB and Road: Complete and Easy Guide!

Do you want to find where and how much float to get the perfect balance of power, comfort and control?

To have the cleat position spot on. The center of the cleat needs to be behind the 1st MTP (metatarsophalangeal) joint which is the same as the center of the ball of your big toe. And then locate the center of your ball foot in front of the spindle.

How to do it? How far in front? How much float? Those are the real questions that you’ll find the answers to in this post

To get started. Install your cleats on your shoes loosely following the package instructions. Let’s go!

Table of Contents

How to set the cleat position spot on?

Before adjusting the cleats you need to know two things:

1. Find out what your natural heel position is.

feet angle cleat position

How to do it : 

Sit on a table and let your feet dangle at 90 degrees, look down and see where your feet naturally sit. Most people, sit in a heel-in position. This is the angle you should need to look for when adjusting your cleats.

2. With your shoes on find your 1st MTP and adjust the cleat position.

The goal is to have the center of the ball foot (1st MTP joint) in front of the spindle. So that all the pressure goes through the bones and not through the toes.

Here is how to do it:

  1. Adjust the fore/aft cleat position at the middle not super tight because we are going to change it later probably.
  2. Put your shoes on and find the 1st MTP in relation to the ball of your foot and draw a small line or a dot on the shoe.
  3. Preferably in a trainer, hop on the bike and try to get the mark in front of the spindle
  4. Adjust the cleat position until you get the mark in front of the spindle. Also, check that you have the right heel angle of where your foot sits. 
  5. Once the mark is in front of the spindle move the ball of your foot further in front by moving the cleat back a notch.

The heel drop angle and the size of your shoe will determine how far in front the center of your ball foot (1st MTP joint) will need to be. Let’s see how much in the next table.

Shoe SizeHeel DroppersToe Droppers
36 – 387 mm9 mm
39 – 418 mm10 mm
42 – 439 mm11 mm
44 – 4510 mm12 mm
46 – 4711 mm13 mm
48 – 5012 mm16 mm
European size shoes are used as reference.

For exceptional heel droppers and riders that want to boost their sprint like crit riders are recommended to use the minimal measure on the table.

For exceptional toe droppers and riders wanting to boost their capacity to sustain effort is recommended to use the maximal measure on the table.

Note: These are just general recommendations that will work for the majority of people looking to improve their performance but it may vary from one person to another.

Cleat position forward or back?

cleat position forward or back

The optimal cleat position is the center of the cleats behind the joint of your big toe. That said you’ll never have a problem if they are too far back, but you might start to develop problems if it’s too far forward.

If your cleats are too far back your foot will be more stable, but as further back, they go, the less you can use your calf as a lever for a sprint. 

The upside of the cleats being further back is that your legs will be shorter and in consequence, your saddle height and handlebars will come down making you more aerodynamic. In short, they provide some benefits for triathletes, excessive heel droppers, and people that don’t have a good sprint. 

If the cleats are too far forward you’ll reach a tipping point where your feet are going to be very unstable, your brain will compensate with asymmetrical movements, causing your hips to drop either side and it will translate into knee or hip pain.

So if you are a good sprinter or it’s part of your ride strategy to smash everyone at the end with a nice sprint then you’ll benefit by having the cleats far forward right on your tipping point.

To float or not to float?

The short answer is, most people benefit from having a bit of float at both sides from where their feet naturally sit.

For the majority of pedals, you can use different cleats. Some cleats give up to 9 degrees of float and others are completely fixed so your heel will not move at all. 

Unless you are having specific issues. There is no reason to change the standard cleats with 4 ½ degrees of float.

Not having heels float at all or on both sides can cause knee injuries.

Now that you have your feet well settled in the pedals (fore/aft position). Check your float to finally get your cleats in that sweet spot.

Lateral position or Q-factor

Q Factor Bike

I want to talk about this issue because it is a common problem bike riders face and no one speaks about it.

So what is it?

Is your stance width or your foot separation distance. The problem here is that all road bikes have pretty much the same Q-factor.

And how that is a problem you may ask?

Well, it’s pretty simple, everyone is different and a huge variety of pelvis widths exists. 

Let’s put an example: let’s say you have a 42-inch waist which is a considerable size. In a normal road bike, your knees will follow an oblique trajectory like chopping the pedals.

So the problem is that your femur position is such that your knees will have your hip width but the crank is in a completely different place causing your knees not to move in a natural vertical position.

It is very inefficient for power transfer and will hurt your knee and cause patella pain.

There are any solutions?

Yes, here are some of them:

  • Install a custom titanium axle
  • Use speed play spindles 
  • Put pedal extenders

My recommendation here is, if you are having trouble with your stance either too short or too big, accurate and professional advice from a bike fitter will be the best option.

The finish line

It’s always wise to take into account that your body is unique and different people will have different heel angles and drops, so what works for others may not work for you.

Most people will benefit from having the cleats behind their 1st MTP joint and unless having specific problems it is always best to have some float on both sides.

Pain is always an indication that something is not right and you should check your bike fitting as soon as possible. If pain persists don’t hesitate and check with a professional bike fitter or/and sports physician.

Did you know that bike fit starts with your cleat position? The next step is setting your bike seat height. Check it out!

And if you are not sure or you haven’t chosen your bike size read our full guide here.