Pedal foot placement power/efficiency

I’m fairly new to cycling and so far I have only used flat pedals and regular shoes. Now, I would like to try clipless, but I would appreciate some advice before making the investment in new pedals and shoes.

I have seen that most cycling shoes have the slots under the ball of the foot area, with no way to mount their cleats farther back. My pedalling position on flats is naturally close to the middle of my foot. I have tried placing it closer to the front just for a little bit, (ie. right behind the ball of the foot). But I find that the closer to the front, the more tired my calves get becase I have to continuously keep them engaged so my heel doesn’t drop in the downstroke. At the same time, I’m not sure if this is a good thing because it means my calf muscles will also contribute to the stroke, providing more power.

Now my question is not necessarily wether I can get shoes that seat the cleats further back (I know there might be some out there), but about foot placement being something you can get used to and any personal experiences with switching foot position and power/endurance changes.

I don’t think you want to place the cleats in the middle of your foot. This might work for flat pedals but not so much for clipless. If you have heel drop issues, then some of the TR sessions will give you good training advise such as increase RPM and loosen tension on your lower legs and feet. Don’t mash, but spin.

Normally speaking the cleat should be placed half way between the head of the big and small toe metatarsal bones. Check out Cam Nichols on YouTube, he has a few bike fitting videos and they discuss the Steve Hogg way to fit shoes, clips & bike.

You may want to try SpeedPlay clipless as there is a wide range of adjustments. And if you do road cycling, and depending on your budget, a shoe with stiff sole will be very helpful.

This and only this.

See you in about 6 months!
(there’s a TON of info)

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FYI Steve Hogg has pages on mid-floot cleats, their benefits (and downsides) and how to go about doing it.

Would be cool if the podcast did a deep dive on this.

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More and more shoes are starting to let you put the cleats closer to the midfoot. I think the research pretty much rules out any power loss from going midfoot. From what I understand, the role of the calf is essentially to transferring the power generated from the glutes and quads (the classic example of this is Michael Jordans jump from the free throw line off a flat foot).

This podcast was pretty useful for bikefit in general but also deals with this briefly:

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I’ll vouch for moving cleats back resulting in performance improvements. I had a pair of Bonts which had a cleat mounting position which felt too much under the toes. I would feel fatigue and burning in my calves during hard efforts even with the cleats back as far as they would go. Luckily Bonts just have a monolithic slab of carbon for a sole, so I drilled new holes further back and moved the cleats back slightly behind the ball of my foot. Massive improvement, more comfortable and more power.

I have big feet (US size 13, euro 48), I’m not sure how much this affects the cleat position results. Maybe if someone had small feet it would matter less?

I’ve since made my own custom shoes and used this experience to help find my optimal cleat position. I personally wouldn’t go too far under the arch of the foot as it feels like I lose a bit of top end sprint power from the reduced length.

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From a performance perspective, it doesn’t matter.

Get a proper cleat fitting! I just had mine done as part of a professional bike fit and the before and after on the the pedal efficiency and cleat fit was massive. I also required proper inner soles in my shoes.

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Got a link to the data/studies? I’d be interested to read it. It’s hard to create a study for something like cleat placement or crank length, where people are already trained and conditioned to a certain setup.

Here’s a couple, but there are more.

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First thought is that when you transfer to shoes with cleats, they’re more likely to have an inflexible sole, so you’ll get better power transfer. I don’t know what shoes you’re using now, but if they flex, then yes, it will load the pressure just onto the area that meets the pedal rather than spreading it around the whole of the foot.

Second thought is that if your heel is in danger of dropping on the downstroke, your saddle height might be too low?

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As others have suggested or hinted at, it is really worth getting a bike fitting. By switching to clipless pedals and shoes alone, your saddle height will / should probably change. If you’re dropping your ankle, it could be that your saddle is too low, or that it’s too far back or forward. There are some bike fittings that are more expensive (~$200 or even more), and these can be super helpful. You can also try having a friend help, or even video yourself and post it for critique or feedback.

In my experience, foot placement is something that you can adapt to somewhat, though I tend to think that what feels naturally efficient can often point you in the right direction – or at least to a starting point. One benefits of a good fitting is that they may find that you’re more efficient in a certain position – sometimes much stronger (they can “discover watts” by changing your position).

I myself have somewhat large feet for my height and am a runner, so I began by putting my cleats further forward on my shoe. (I also was told, when I first got into biking and got my first “real fit,” that dropping my heel was a good thing, so with a longer foot-as-lever, I thought it would make sense to put my cleats forward). I have since moved them back, and don’t mind occasionally playing around with cleat position. I think it’s something that you can get used to, as long as you make small, incremental changes, AND as long as you don’t over-think or obsess over the position of the cleats. It can also help to have data, such as power data or – more likely – comparing how slightly different positions feel in a series of short time trials or loops. It’s important that one is able to relax the muscles that don’t need to be tense at a given time in order to be efficient, and to not force the body into something that feels painful or wrong, since the cycling motion is one that will involve thousands of rotations per ride. (There have been cases of elite runners getting coached to land on their feet differently, even after years of running in their “natural” way, even if their “ugly” or “theoretically inefficient” running style still got them to a world-class level. These attempts to change their running gait seem to usually go very badly, resulting in injuries etc.).

I would also spend some times on YouTube hearing from different coaches and fitters. There are some really knowledgeable guys on YouTube, along with coaches who look at and compare different studies. I have found it’s best to listen to a variety of opinions just so you can hear what’s out there. There are also some great articles about this on Slowtwitch.com – along with another good forum (mostly triathletes, but also lot of bike knowledge, and people who know a lot about bike fit).

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I’ll chime in with my own $0.02, both personally and as a bike fitter…

Others mentioned above putting the pedal spindle basically between the 1st and 5th metatarsal heads fore-aft. This is the generally accepted approach, though there is a small movement of mostly ultra-endurance folks to put the pedal spindle closer to the Lisfranc (TMT) joint. Over a decade or so of fitting, I’m finding myself pushing folks’ cleats a bit further back, though I’ve never redrilled a shoe to get a mid foot position. Biomechanically, getting the pedal axis behind the body’s natural pivot point makes sense for endurance sports, and has the added benefit of being a little easier on the sensitive nerve tissue around the metatarsal heads. The trade off (there’s always a trade off) is that you’re losing a mechanical advantage with a shorter lever arm from the ankle to the pedal, akin to going from the big ring to the small ring. This would really only come into play when looking for max power sprints, though, so I usually find it a worthy compromise.
Using the mentioned approaches, you will likely find the cleat will be towards the back of the available adjustment range. For whatever reason, shoe companies make soles with cleat holes that are about 5-10mm forward of what I think a general ‘average’ would be.

Yes, you will probably get used to it. If you’re having difficulty, jam the cleats all the way back (be sure to adjust seat height down a tiny bit to account for reduced reach), get used to that, and move the cleats forwards slowly to get the recommended position. Or don’t, and just leave them back if you’re comfortable with that.

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