Choosing the Right SPD-SL Clipless Road Cleats
As a critical contact point–the pedal-shoe connection is where our body transfers power to the machine and creates speed on the bike–the SPD-SL system can be precisely tuned to each rider’s needs in a variety of ways, including the float by using one of three stock cleat options (Red, Blue, and Yellow).
Basic Set Up and Tuning
But first, let’s explore the basic setup features of Shimano road cleats and pedals. The cleats have a three-bolt mounting pattern and feature a channel at each bolt that allows for vertical, lateral, and angular adjustments of the cleat position. Setting these adjustments will determine how and where a shoe clicks into the pedal and also sets the general riding position of the foot.
Shimano SPD-SL pedals have an adjustment screw that dials in the release tension depending on rider confidence and preference. Riders who are new to clipping in, or those who may not have as much rotational mobility through the hip, knee, or ankle, can opt for a low-tension setting for easy disengagement when needed. Other riders, like hardcore racers who are on and off the power in critical race scenarios, will crank down the tension to ensure maximum engagement. Most will find a happy medium somewhere in between, and it's easy to find that balance with some turns of an Allen key or the help of a local shop.
Fine Tune with Float
Float refers to a certain amount of angular rotation that a cleat, and thus the rest of a shoe, can freely move before it meets the resistance of the release mechanism on a pedal. In other words, it’s how far your toes point toward or away from the bike before meeting resistance.
There are three different models of Shimano SPD-SL cleats to choose from that are designated by three colors: Yellow, Blue, and Red. Each has different float ranges and pivot point locations, and they are designed with various rider biomechanics and riding styles in mind. Different amounts of float help accommodate different riding styles or help with physiological nuances such as flexibility (or lack thereof), past injuries, or knee pain. While float can help reduce stress on joints and make for a more comfortable pedaling movement, it can also result in a feeling of slightly less power transfer if your foot moves around too much.
Choosing the Right SPD-SL Float Cleat
It's crucial to determine your neutral foot position before selecting and installing the correct SPD-SL cleat. Neutral foot position refers to the most comfortable/efficient position for pedaling. For some athletes, this means that both feet point perfectly straight forward. For others, the toes naturally point inward or outward. Injuries on one side of the body can result in different neutral foot positions for the right and left sides. Fret not! There's a setup for everyone.
Regardless of your preferred foot angle, the goal is to position the cleats with the neutral foot position in the middle of the float range. This allows for even float beyond the neutral foot position, which helps take stress off knees, ankles, hips, and lower back...the impact of a few degrees of float can ripple throughout the whole body! It may take several rides to dial the position perfectly, so take your time and make small cleat adjustments as needed, or visit a local shop or bike fitter for help dialing everything in.
SM-SH11 Yellow SPD-SL Cleats – 6 Degrees of Float
SM-SH11 Yellow SPD-SL cleats are the most popular option among casual fitness cyclists and a solid choice among many athletes. They have a six-degree float range (three degrees in each direction), allowing free foot movement and low joint stress.
The float's pivot point is in the center of the cleat, allowing the toes to point in a wide range of angles. This broad range also provides more room for error when setting up cleats. Those new to cycling, experiencing knee pain, lack flexibility, or don't know where to start should consider Shimano's SM-SH11 Yellow SPD-SL cleats as a solid option.
SM-SH12 Blue SPD-SL Cleats – 2 Degrees of Float
SM-SH12 Blue SPD-SL cleats are Shimano's newest cleat option, and they are a middle ground between yellow and red. SM-SH11 Blue cleats have two degrees of float (one degree in each direction), allowing for a small range of movement while still delivering a high amount of pedaling efficiency. The pivot point sits at the front of the cleat, which eliminates most lateral movement while allowing a small amount of rotation from the pivot back toward the heel.
SM-SH10 Red SPD-SL Cleats – 0 Degrees of Float
SM-SH10 Red SPD-SL cleats have no float and are 100% fixed in position. This makes them optimal for sprinters, professional athletes, or those who want the most efficient power transfer possible and are not prone to knee pain. Note that SM-SH10 Red SPD-SL cleats require precise cleat positioning, so they are best installed by seasoned riders or with the help of a bike fitting professional at your local shop.
Still not sure which cleats are right for you? Visit your favorite bike shop or bike fitter for help dialing in the perfect setup. The SPD-SL system provides all the adjustments and options for the perfect fit, and a little extra help can go a long way in dialing in your personalized ride.