Providing a critical connection between rider and bike, cleats allow you to securely clip into your pedals, then efficiently convert your pedaling power into propulsion down (or up) the road because energy is transferred both on the downstroke and upstroke.
When choosing bike cleats it’s important to remember that not all cleats work with all pedals, and there are also various performance characteristics to consider. Generally speaking, bike cleats can be broken down into two main categories: road and mountain. Road bike cleats typically attach to the sole of your cycling shoe via a three-bolt pattern, and once attached they protrude from the bottom of your shoe, making walking around off the bike a tad awkward. Mountain bike cleats, on the other hand, usually utilize a two-bolt interface and are typically recessed between lugs on the sole of your shoe so they are easier to walk around in and don’t impact traction like road cleats can.
On the road side there are four prominent types of cleats — Shimano, Look, Time, and Speedplay — and all are pedal specific, meaning there’s no cross-compatibility. It’s a similar story with mountain bike cleats, with the main options being Shimano, Crankbrothers, Look, and Time. Again there is not 100% cross-compatibility, though there are numerous pedals besides those made by Shimano that will work with Shimano SPD style cleats and vice versa.
Float, which is the degree of side-to-side angular rotation a pedal-cleat interface allows, is another important consideration. Shimano, for instance, offers three road bike cleat options. Red Shimano road bike cleats deliver zero float. Blue cleats have 2 degrees of float. And yellow cleats have 6 degrees. Which one is best for you will come down to personal preference and biomechanics, as some riders may have physical limitations (such as knee issues) that require cleats with excessive float.
Finally remember, that over time your bike cleats will wear down, which diminishes performance. So keep an eye on them (many have built-in wear indicators) and pick up a new set when the time is right. JensonUSA carries a wide variety of bike cleats from brands like Shimano, Crankbrothers, Look, Xpedo, Time, and Ritchie. If you have any questions, give one of our Gear Advisors a call at 888-880-3811. They can helping you through the decision making process.