I’m occasionally asked if I still use midsole cleats when I ride instead of the traditional forefoot position. The answer is “yes.” I’ve been doing this since 2006 and it was the topic of one of my very first blogs back in 2007. Since then I’ve coached and spoken with other riders who have also made the change. Most found it beneficial but some decided it wasn’t for them. That’s pretty much the finding with anything unusual that’s tried by a large group of people. If you search “midsole cleats” on my blog you’ll find many of their comments and other pieces I’ve written on the topic.
Something I haven’t discussed here is the downside of making such a change. There are some rather minor ones, such as needing a completely new bike fit and the forefoot overlapping the front wheel making slow, U-turns a bit hazardous until one learns to adjust for that situation. The bike fitting is a given and should be done annually regardless of whether or not the cleat position is changed.
And it could also be that for riders who have many, many years of using the traditional cleat position that switching to midsole is likely to reduce their pedaling efficiency for several weeks. It’s also possible that the midsole cleat reduces absolute sprint power in road cyclists, although that’s not been tested in any research I can find. I’m convinced, however, that midsole positioning improves time trialing and climbing for roadies. For triathletes it seems a no-brainer as it reduces the work of the calf muscles, which do little more than stabilize the ankle, as the bigger muscles of the thighs actually produce the torque. Since the calf is minimally worked with the midsole position, the triathlete starts the run with much fresher calf muscles, the primary movement muscles for running. Seems like a pretty good thing to me.
The big downside I haven’t discussed much here is getting shoes and pedals that work well for the midsole position. As for shoes, the athlete who decides to make the change must either modify a pair of shoes (best to start with an old pair) or buy new custom-made shoes. I’ve done both. I started with redrilling a pair of Shimano shoes I’d had for a couple of years. Since then I’ve been using custom shoes from D2 Shoe. I’m on my third pair. They’re very nice, but more expensive than buying over-the-counter cycling shoes. (You can see a picture of my most recent pair on my blog home page.)
There’s another downside that is usually the one that stops riders from switching over to the midsole position—changing pedals. You more than likely won’t be able to use the pedal system you currently have. That’s because the midsole or arch area of the cycling shoe is typically quite narrow. A four- or three-bolt cleat simply won’t fit there. It’s too wide. That means you have to go to a two-bolt cleat, typically called a mountain bike pedal system. That will fit and most work just fine in the narrow space of the shoe’s arch area.
A “pure” mountain bike pedal won’t really work as there is not medial-lateral support on a road shoe to stop the foot from tilting left and right while pedaling as is built into a mountain bike shoe. That limits your options. Here are the pedal systems I’ve used over the years, in the order in which I used them, and what I learned about each.
Shimano SPD A520. I used this one for many years. At about $55 it’s cheap, fully adjustable for release tension and designed for a road shoe. But it’s relatively heavy. They also wear out rather quickly. I would typically get nine months from a pair before they started squeaking telling me they were close to dying. You can’t repack the bearings so they are just throwaways.
Crank Brothers Eggbeaters. These are lightweight, minimalist pedals that come in a wide range of prices. The float and exit tension are not adjustable, but I didn’t find this to be a problem. The only thing I didn’t like about them was that I had to repack grease frequently as they would start squeaking. They would also squeak a bit if I got dirt on the cleat.
Sampson Fondo. This has a very similar look to the Shimano A520, uses exactly the same cleat and the release tension is also adjustable. As pedals go, it’s still cheap at about $100. It’s a bit lighter than the A520 and they seem to last longer. I had a pair I used for more than a year that I never wore out before switching to the next pedals.
Bebop. This is what I’m currently using. I’ve been on them for four months and so far I really like them. They are very light, depending on the model you select (I’m using the titanium model) and come in a wide range of prices. As with most everything in cycling, as the weight goes down, the price goes up. It took a lot of rides to become comfortable with clipping in. Unclipping is no problem at all. Release tension is not adjustable, but I’ve had no problems with that even when sprinting. They’ve never released prematurely. My only concern has been the liberal amount of float. At first I felt like I was pedaling on wet ice. Although I’ve learned to control my sloppy foot movement, I’d prefer less float.
This is not an all-inclusive list of the two-bolt pedal systems that will work with a midsole cleat position for road riding. It’s only a few of them. I’d be interested in hearing from you if you’re a midsole-cleat rider and what you’ve learned about the pedals you’ve tried. Please feel free to leave a comment.