Should I move my cleats back?


Came across the following:

Seems to be some evidence for putting the cleat in the arch of the shoe, although people point out how it would likely make technical riding on a MTB harder. I certainly can’t imagine riding this way, but may make sense for the true XC types? Then again, if there’s really 9% to be gained, wouldn’t all of the roadies have adopted this by now?

Curious to hear your take. Keep up the good work!


Hey Eric,

This is a great question. I wanted to address it in excruciating diagrammatic detail, but I realize that’ll never happen, so here goes:

– There are lots of variables: your biomechanics, what you’re used to, your effective seat tube angle, your pedaling technique, blah blah. In the end, you have to rock what works for you.

Why moving your cleats back might be a good idea

– Joe Friel is a highly regarded athlete, coach and author. I’m inclined to consider his ideas.

– When you lift heavy in the gym, you’re taught to drive through your heels. So, logically, pedaling “through your heels” might make you stronger.

– If you have issues with your calves or Achilles tendons, this can relieve some stress.

– Moving your cleats back moves your feet farther forward in relation to your hips — much like moving your saddle back or slackening your seat tube would. This moves the pedaling work away from your quads and into your hips. I pedal best with a slack seat angle; this might create a similar effect.

Why it might be better to leave your cleats forward

– Your calves, while not as big as your quads and glutes, are not weak. I’ll bet, if you went to a gym, you could calf-raise more weight than you can squat. I doubt your calves are the weak link in your pedaling.

– If you talk to Greg Romero (Olympic BMX coach who knows a lot about pedaling power), you’ll hear a lot about the Triple Extension of your hips, knees and ankles. Humans are designed to move this way. Placing your cleats under the balls of your feet helps you generate power with this natural, running-like motion.

– For technical riding, you need as much range of motion as you can get. I just measured, and I get 3-4 inches more travel at the ball of my foot than at the arch. These inches will be very handy — especially with a high seat. For a cross country mountain biker, this might be the deciding factor. You need to make great pedaling power at full seat height, and you need the ability to move and groove. The farther backward your cleats, the harder this will be.

Testing, testing …

Don’t do anything solely (ha! SOLEly!) because of tradition or habit. If you’re curious about cleat placement, experiment.

Flat pedals makes this easy. Try pedaling with your feet forward, then back. Then go for a ride and see where your feet end up.

Here’s one more reason I need a power meter. Lee Likes Testing!

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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12 replies
  1. leelikesbikes says:

    Coach G says placing the cleat behind the ball of the foot tends to be good for overall power and skills.

    He also says most people should ride with flat pedals and get a sense for where they place their feet naturally.

  2. Chris says:

    For many years now I have put the pedal closer to the arch of my foot (I use flats) for part of a long uphill. I push against the wedge of the seat (I run a lower than normal saddle, so there is no need for me to lower my seat when I do this) and just push. Sometimes I stand with the pedal there. I do this to rest some muscles (especially calves) and work others…

    …BUT the ball of my foot goes back on the pedal as soon as I start the descent. For me, there is a noticeable drop in control when the pedal is in my arch. I like to feel the pedal underfoot and in exactly the right place. Also, twice I sprained my ankle when I caught my toe and it got dragged under the pedal, so I want no overhang up front. The only time I move the foot a little further forward in the gnar is when I go off a big (for me) drop to decrease the leverage on my foot/achilles when I land, minimising the risk of injury.

    I’m heartened by this article. Great post. I love Joe Friel even more!

    Hey, I reckon one could run two sets of cleats if your pedals don’t touch the other set, like Eggbeaters or XTR. DX or Acid = doubt it.

  3. Adrian says:

    But don’t get it wrong, otherwise it would ‘defeet’ what you are really trying to accomplish. I agree with Chris that feet/pedal placement may change slightly for whatever it is you are trying to do, but too much change has hurt my feet/ankles especially when moving them into the arch of my foot and then hucking off a 3 footer or more. My feet tended to bend upwards too much maybe because they can flex either way if they’re too far back. Experiment and use what works for you, as Lee says.

  4. Sean says:

    I think it’s important to mention that moving the cleat toward the arch is nothing like putting the cleat at the arch. I’m not aware of any cycling shoe that allows the cleat to actually sit under the foot’s arch. The longest slots I’ve seen on a shoe for cleat adjustment were about 1″ long and the arch is well behind that point. The arch on most people’s feet is only slightly forward of the ankle, not a half-inch behind the “ball” of the foot.

    Locating the cleat at the rearmost position on my various cycling shoes does not feel at all like having the cleat over the arch of the foot. Not even close. So anyone worrying about the difficulty of riding techie terrain with a cleat over the arch is just over-reacting, to say the least.

    The reason why coaches tell people to move their cleats back is because too many people don’t pay attention to the fore/aft position of the cleat, and many people have their cleat too far forward. Try pedaling with the cleat in the front-most position, then move it back 1/8″ at a time and see how it works out.

  5. Josh says:

    If farther back is better, and people tend to have their cleats too far forward, then you should start with your cleats set closest to your heel and move them forward from there. The other way around just increases the chance you’ll end up too far forward.

  6. leelikesbikes says:

    I rocked some front squats and one-legged deadlifts last night, barefooted on a wooden floor. I use light weight and try to focus on clean movement.

    I felt like I was driving force through the back of the ball of my foot. Not the middle of the ball, as when stepping forward, but the back of the ball, as when driving down.

    That might suggest a slightly rearward cleat position.

    I dunno. The can is open, and the worms are OUT!

  7. leelikesbikes says:


    Now that I think of it, when I climb the to my house (2.4-mile climb with up to 17% grade) I end up with the back of my arch over the pedal spindle.

  8. Sean says:


    I’m not too concerned with controlled laboratory experiments done by Joe Friel for the purpose of exploring cleat position for road cyclists and XC racing “dirt roadies.” If your riding is focused strictly on delivering watts and not on handling the bike through technical terrain, the position of the cleat is likely to be pretty far rearward to maximize large-muscle (glutes, hammies, lower back) engagement and use.

    I think Greg Romero’s ideas are far more useful for a person that rides the way your book and this website encourages — aggressive, playful riding. Joe Friel’s stuff is interesting but I don’t see much use for the type of riding you discuss here. If this were a website concerned with generating maximum wattage on a stationary bike, I might see the point of Friel’s experiments. Heh heh heh.

  9. leelikesbikes says:

    “dirt roadies” = a classic that i will steal!

    Yep, Romero is the closest we have to someone who’s running tests pertinent to our riding style. He has this amazing new power meter that replaces a BMX bike’s cog. it measures torque, wattage, acceleration, the whole bit. the thing looks amazing, and I’m trying to get one so we can generate some real-life data.

    BTW: He’s been testing flats vs. clips for sprinting power. Clips are clearly superior.

  10. Petey says:


    This is for the Few “dirt roadies” who enjoy this space. With my cleats mounted in the forward position I feel I can achieve a better spin for a longer distance but after a short while I develop “foot burn”. This position puts too much pressure on the ball of the foot where all the nerve thing’s are.

    What works best for “you” is still the best.


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