Triathlon Tech: Replacing Cleats And Pedals

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  • Published Nov 23, 2010
  • Updated Jul 19, 2012 at 5:55 PM UTC

When should you replace your cleats and pedals? Ian Buchanan provides an answer.

Q: My Speedplay cleats look OK, but is there a time or mileage when I should replace them?

A: Having cleats and pedals that are in good condition not only helps you get the most out of your drivetrain, but it can also help you avoid injury.

Many pedals that use plastic cleats (Look, Shimano SPD-SL) have wear indicators (usually a colored area or small hole on the bottom) that disappears as the cleat wears. Whether a cleat has a wear indicator or not, if the cleat is less than half of its original thickness, it should be replaced. You can also look at the pedal body where the cleat contacts to see if you have developed a wear pattern between the cleat and pedal that could allow your foot to rock as well. It is important that you replace your cleat frequently enough that the wear does not encourage the foot (and thus joints like the knee further up the kinetic chain) to start rocking laterally during pedal loads.

Metal cleats, like those found on Speedplay, may appear fine, but the springs and/or base plate may be flattening or developing grooves that allow the foot to rock on the pedal. In addition to visual inspection of the springs, you can check this by engaging the shoe on the pedal and then removing your foot (leaving the shoe attached to the pedal) and then grabbing the heel and the toe of the shoe and twisting it from the medial to lateral aspect (big toe to small). Speedplay X series pedals with round springs are more prone to rock-inducing flat sections wearing into the springs than the square springs found on Speedplay’s Light Action and Zero series. However, all cleats wear somewhat, and the junction should feel pretty snug, even if the rest of the cleat looks fine. Replace the cleat and the base plate if you feel rocking or vertical play.

Regardless of which pedal brand you use, when inspecting your pedals and cleats, check that your pedal bearings are smooth and tight as well; loose or worn bearings can create extra friction you have to work to overcome and can be another culprit in foot rock.

While every rider wears his or her cleats and pedals at a different rate, if you inspect this important juncture point on the bike at least once every thousand miles you should be able to get a good idea as to how often you need to maintain or replace cleats and bearings.

Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx with locations in Waitsfield, Vt., and Peabody, Mass., and offers cycling and triathlon products, specialty bicycle fitting and analysis services, consultation, and technology research. Visit

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