Cleats gradually wear out over time and stop working as they should, so you need to swap them periodically, but exactly when are they due a change?
The amount of time that cleats last depends on a host of factors including the brand you use, your mileage, your riding style, conditions, how far you walk in your cycling shoes, and so on. All of those factors mean that it’s not possible to give an exact timespan for changing your cleats but here’s the information you need to decide when it’s time for a new pair.
As cleats wear out you’ll often find that their connection with the pedal becomes sloppier. You can sometimes find that it's hard to release your foot from the pedal or, conversely, that you pull your foot off the pedal accidentally. You really don’t want to do that, especially not in traffic, so err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding when to fit new cleats.
Many cleats come with wear indicators to help you decide when it’s time to bin ’em (see below), but don’t rely on these totally. If the wear indicators are still intact but the cleats don’t feel right – if entry/exit is too easy, too difficult, or isn’t smooth, or if the connection to the pedal isn’t snug – change them anyway.
When buying replacement cleats, remember that most systems offer options with different amounts of float (the amount your foot can move before you unclip).
Shimano told us, “Shoe cleats wear in different ways depending on how the rider uses their shoes.
“The cleats should either be replaced when it becomes difficult for the rider to release themselves from the pedal, or when the cleat starts to release with much less effort than when it was new.
“Before replacing a cleat you can adjust the binding mechanism [on the pedal] with an Allen key, which alters the grip the pedal has on the cleat. If that fails to address the releasing issue then you can make a visual check on SPD-SL cleats too.
“If you can see the cleat body underneath the coloured pads on the front and back of the SPD-SL cleats this suggests it's time to change your cleats.”
In other words, if any section of the cleat’s coloured tips has worn through to the point that you can see the cleat body below, that's an indication that it needs replacing, according to Shimano (above is a pic from Shimano's dealer manual to illustrate the point).
New Shimano SPD-SL cleats have a list price of £19.99. Shimano offers SPD-SL pedal cleat covers for £14.99 to add grip and protect your cleats when you walk.
Look Kéo cleats come with wear indicators that tell you when they need replacing.
Look Kéo Grip cleats have polyurethane anti-slip pads at the front and rear to stop you sliding around like a sheep on lino when you walk. These have two wear indicators at the front and two more at the rear that appear with use.
“It is dangerous to use the cleats if one or more of the wear indicators are visible,” says Look.
A new set of Look Kéo Grip cleats has a retail price of £19.99 but you can find them for about half that if you shop around.
Other Kéo cleats come without the polyurethane pads. It's time to change these when white material shows through the cleat’s main red, grey or black material.
It’s the same story if you use Look’s Delta cleats (£15.99).
If you’re walking more than a few metres to and from your bike in your cycling shoes, Look advises you to use Kéo Covers (£7.99). These protect your cleats and make walking a bit more manageable.
Time currently offers four different sorts of cleats – iClic, RXS, ATAC and ATAC Easy. Obviously, you need to buy the right sort for the pedals you use. iClic and RXS are designed for road use, ATAC and ATAC Easy for mountain biking.
Sets of Time iClic (above) and RXS cleats each have an RRP of £15.99.
It must be said that Time’s road pedal cleats have a bit of a reputation for wearing out quickly if you walk any more than an absolute minimum in them.
"It is difficult to identify a hard and fast rule to determine how often cleats should be replaced," said Time. "There are many factors involved such as the number of miles ridden each year, type of terrain ridden on and how often the shoes are used to walk in.
"Depending on how heavily they are used could mean that the same set could need to be replaced every six months with one rider and every year with another.
"The best way to know when your cleats should be replaced is when you start to have play between the sole of your shoe and the pedal."
Time doesn’t produce its own cleat covers but third party models are available from Cleatskins, although we don’t know of any UK stockists.
Speedplay says, “Replace cleats at least every 3,000-5,000 miles or sooner if the cleat parts show advanced wear.”
This applies to cleats for Zero, Light Action and X pedals. We’re not going to rebut that official advice, but we’d say that you need to keep an eye on the springs and replace them if they show signs of wear.
“Lubricating the cleat springs with a dry-type (PTFE) lubricant and keeping the cleats free of dirt and debris by cleaning them regularly or using Light Action Coffee Shop Caps (cleat covers) when walking will greatly extend the life of your cleats,” says Speedplay.
Speedplay Zero cleats are expensive – the RRP for a pair of Speedplay’s V.2 cleats is £42.50, although you can find them cheaper online – but they tend to last much longer than plastic cleats. The outermost section of the cleat is metal and can be slippery to walk on, particularly on damp surfaces, but it’s durable.
Speedplay’s Coffee Shop Caps are covers you snap on to your cleats to protect them and to make walking easier. The RRP on these is £10 a pair.
You can also get Speedplay’s Walkable Cleats (£59.99) that feature rubberised covers that stay on the cleats while you’re riding. Again, the idea is that they provide extra traction and protect the cleats from wear when you walk.
These come with Cleat Buddies which are plugs that you fit in the centre to prevent mud and gunk getting into the central hole in the cleat if you walk over dirty surfaces.
“Never ride on parts that are damaged or show excessive wear,” says Speedplay. “Never install cleats using any combination of new cleat parts and old cleat parts.”
Positioning new cleats
You can draw around your old cleats with a crayon or some chalk before removing them in order to fit your new ones in exactly the same place.
Some people prefer to mark the position with tape while Look Kéo cleats have their own positioning system, although it only works with certain shoes.
We'd advise you to use a torque wrench to tighten the bolts to the manufacturer's guidelines.
Do you have any tips or information to add? We're always keen to hear them.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.