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Aligning Slotted Shoe Cleats

With the growing popularity of events like Eroica where vintage bikes must be used with old school toe clips and straps, there is a need to know how to align slotted shoe cleats.

Slotted Cleats for use on modern shoes with a standard 3 bolt system, are available from Yellow Jersey. These cleats only use two of the three screws. The reason being that with this old school system, the strap is what holds the foot to the pedal, the cleat is just there to prevent any fore and aft movement. Therefore two screws are enough and also two screws allow adjustment for angle.

But where do they go, and how do you know they are aligned properly? Well read on and I will explain. When I started racing in the 1950s, cycling shoes had leather soles and the cleats were nailed on. So we had to get them positioned right, there was no such thing as “Pedal Float.”

The slotted cleats were usually made of aluminum and came in a little packet with enough nails to get the job done.

Remember this was in the days before God invented Tennis Shoes. (or Trainers in the UK.)

Every household had a shoe repair kit that included a cobblers last, which is a cast iron foot that holds the shoe while you hammer nails in it. (Picture above left.)

The first thing we did with a new pair of shoes was go for a ride without cleats. The toe clips held the foot in place, and after a 20 or 30 mile ride, the pedal would make a mark on the sole of the shoe. This mark acted as a rough guide to where the cleat should be, but there were also a few simple alignment checks that I will pass on.

We nailed the cleat on using just a few nails, then went for a test ride. When we were satisfied the cleats were in the right place, we hammered in the rest of the nails. As usual, my post contains a little bit of history. If we look back at how we got where we are today, often the problems we encountered in the past are a clue to solving the problems of today.

The first thing to do with today’s set up, is clip in your regular shoe to your clipless pedals, and measure from the pedal spindle to the toe. It is important you replicate the same foot position with your old school pedals, as this is what you are used to, and a different position will affect saddle height and other things.

This is shown in the picture above as measurement “A.” Position the slotted cleat so you attain this same measurement. Choose a toe clip that will allow clearance between the toe of the shoe and the inside of the clip.

1/16 to 1/8 inch is ideal, slightly more is no big deal. What you don't want is your toe pressing hard against the inside of the clip. Sore toes will result, and maybe some blackened toe nails. If the clips are too short, they can be packed out with washers or nuts between the pedal and toe clip.

The cleats are aligned as follows. With the shoes side by side, soles and heels touching, the slots in the cleats are in a straight line across both shoes. You could drop a straight edge in the slot. This means when pedaling, the inside of the foot is parallel with the crank arm. In addition, when the two shoes are placed with soles facing, the cleats line up exactly, and you can see clearly through the two slots. (See above picture.)

It is important that both these tests check out. The reason being, let’s say both cleats are rotated slightly in the same direction. The straight edge check across the slots may line up, but when the shoes are placed with the soles facing the cleats will not line up.

Conversely, the cleats could be fitted so the toes are turned in or out slightly. With the soles facing each other the cleats may line up, but when the shoes are placed side by side the cleats will not be aligned straight across. Only when both checks agree are the slots in the cleats at a true 90 degrees to the inside edge of the shoe.

A word about toe straps. Thread the strap through the outside quill plate of the pedal, then through the slot in the pedal frame.

Give the strap one complete 360 degree twist, before treading the strap through the inner pedal plate.

This prevents the strap from slipping. It probably won’t slip anyway, but if you want to be true old school, give it a twist.

There is a little tag thing on the inside of Campagnolo pedals that stops the strap from rubbing on the crank arm. Make sure the strap is inside this little tag. Thread the strap through the toe clip, then through the first spring loaded quick release buckle. But never, repeat never, tuck the end of the strap into the second loop.

Only Trackies tuck the strap in. They have the luxury of a person to catch them when they come to a stop. Roadies just fall over if they can’t undo the strap. Which will happen if the end is tucked in. Leave the end of the strap sticking out, so you can grab it and pull it tight

Even better, if you can find some of these little strap end buttons, you will really be the Dog’s Bollocks.

They give you something to grab hold of when you tighten the strap, they prevent the strap from slipping completely out of the buckle, and your bike is idiot proof so no one can borrow it and tuck the straps in.

Tighten the straps by pulling on the loose end as soon as your feet are in the clips. Before you come to a stop, reach down and flick the buckle open with your thumb. Give the straps an extra tighten as you approach a climb, or if you are about to launch a big attack. But go to the back of the pace-line first so no one sees you. 


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Reader Comments (7)

Perfectly proper in all respects. While I grew up on exactly that ritual, I never "Look"ed back once clipless arrived. Interestingly, my 30-something son much prefers clips and straps for all his riding. Although he forgoes the cleat nailing.

Reminds me that Adidas, Puma, Sidi and others made shoes with an "adjustable" slotted cleat. No standard emerged and most suffered from one design problem or another. Most commonly slipping. But they all tried to address the task you so expertly outline.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHelicomatic

i hated those nails. i (and others) never seemed to be able to get them peened over enough to prevent losing them , and at the races, many tyres were punctured by stray cleat nails. Eventually i took to using a couple of small screws and even pop rivets to secure the cleat. These were the days before injection-molded soles with bolt-on cleats.
Nowadays it's hard to find shoes that easily slide into clips and straps- the velcro straps on most modern shoes catch on the end of the toeclips. There are some laced shoes still in production, but choices are limited. i'm regretting tossing out my old worn Adidas Merckx shoes. They fit me the best. Although i have since managed to find another used pair and a new set of their proprietary cleats.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

I reverted to toe clips, straps, and slotted cleats so I could also ride the same bike with street shoes -- and perhaps because I liked the simplicity and this was what I used when I began cycling in my youth. I bought modern shoes but with laces -- Bontrager's Classique -- so there's no catching at the strap. But with the Yellow Jersey cleats I've had much trouble. First, the the slot seemed too narrow. I really had to jam the shoe down to get it to take on the pedal, and to get out required really wrenching my leg up. So I took a little file, and filed and filed and filed to gradually widen the slot, until my local bike mechanic strapped together hacksaw blades to do the same but working both sides of the slot at once to keep a parallel gap. We eventually got it so I could usually pull my foot out of the pedal without straining (or nearly panicking). But now at high rpm (on my fixed-wheel bike) came clacking from the left side. I suppose this was from an unevenness to my early filing: although the shoe felt secure, it might've been wiggling slightly under strain. The clean remains hit and miss to slip easily over and onto the pedal's back edge. I must allow the possibility that I have lost and been unable to reclaim a skill unused for a decade while I rode clipless pedals. But I like to think that getting into and out of pedals in slotted cleats should be like riding a bicycle -- easy once you've done it a little. I wonder if there's something different about this design, with its complex curves, that makes it more difficult than were my old, simply convex Sidi cleats.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScott Bontz

Dave, I used to do the twist in the strap to keep it from slipping through, but it never really worked. What I do now is make a double back and forth loop through the inner pedal web as shown below. For this I use the longer nylon webbing MTB straps because most leather ones are too thick and too short.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Thanks very much for this very informative post, I was researching this same exact subject recently online. and found nothing as useful and comprehensive as what you've written here.........even on Sheldon Brown. I will be removing the 1984 Look clipless pedals from Fuso #228 and doing some Eroica ride training with newly acquired clip/strap pedals soon.

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMartin W

Wow, Dave, thank you for sharing this knowledge!

September 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGrego

Good post Dave- This was a mystery for most when slotted cleats were the standard. Nailing customer's cleats I would align the shoes exactly as you have pictured. I must have been doing a decent job because I became busy with people taking the sixty mile drive south from San Francisco after a doctors referral from the University of California S.F. Medical Center.
Personally I always found the traditional system comfortable. The foot should roll slightly through the pedal stroke. New systems with float does not fully address this. Time marches on; I don't mind tightening my straps when I do Eroica. Single straps; I always double strapped racing.

September 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTerence Shaw
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