Shimano SPD-SL road pedals and cleats are a popular choice among professional and amateur cyclists thanks to their stable platform, easy operation, and long-lasting performance. The wide, low-profile cleats distribute force evenly and allow for easy walkability without needing to carry special cleat covers for your mid-ride coffee stop.
There are three different models of Shimano SPD-SL cleats to choose from that are designated by three colors: yellow, red, and blue. Each of the cleats offers unique features, including different float ranges and pivot points, and are designed with varied rider biomechanics in mind.
What is Cleat Float?
The key differentiator between the three Shimano cleat options is the amount of float each allows. Float refers to the back-and-forth movement of the foot while you are clipped in and is essentially how much you can point your toes left or right while your shoe is attached to your pedal. Different levels of float help accommodate different riding styles or help with biomechanical issues such as lack-of-flexibility, past injuries, or knee pain. While float can help reduce stress on joints and make for a more comfortable pedaling movement, it can also result in a feeling of slightly less power transfer if your foot moves around too much.
Your neutral foot position is also important to understand before selecting and installing the right SPD-SL Cleat for you. The neutral position of the foot is defined as its most natural or efficient angle while pedaling. For some athletes, this means that both feet point perfectly straight forward. For others, the toes naturally point slightly inward or outward. If you’ve had an injury on one side of the body, your neutral position may differ between your left and right feet.
Regardless of your foot angle, the goal is to position your cleats so that your neutral foot position falls in the middle of the float range. This allows for an even amount of float beyond your neutral foot position, which helps take stress off your knees and other critical joints. It may take several rides to dial the position perfectly, so take your time and make small cleat adjustments as-needed.
Yellow SPD-SL Cleats – 6 Degrees of Float
Yellow SPD-SL cleats are perhaps the most popular among casual fitness cyclists but are used by a wide range of athletes. They're characterized by a six-degree float range (three degrees in each direction), which allows for free movement and low joint stress. The float’s pivot point is in the center of the cleat, allowing the toes to point in a wide range of angles. This large float range also provides more room for error when setting up your cleats. If you're new to cycling, experience knee pain, lack flexibility, or simply don’t know where to start, Shimano’s yellow cleats are your best bet.
Red SPD-SL Cleats – 0 Degrees of Float
Red SPD-SL cleats have no float and are 100% fixed in position. This makes them great for sprinters, professional athletes, or people who value the most efficient power transfer possible and are not prone to knee pain. Note that red SPD-SL cleats require that you know your optimal cleat position precisely, and you are comfortable adjusting your cleats into that perfect position.
Blue SPD-SL Cleats – 2 Degrees of Float
Blue SPD-SL cleats are Shimano’s newest cleat option and they exist as a middle-ground between yellow and red. Blue cleats have two degrees of float (one degree in each direction), allowing for a small range of movement while still delivering a high amount of pedaling efficiency. The float pivot point is at the front of the cleat, which eliminates lateral sliding movement while allowing a small amount of angle change from the pivot point back towards the heel.
Selecting the right cleats for your personal biomechanics and riding style is an essential step when setting your cycling shoes. It can be confusing at first, so ask your local bike shop for help in determining the right amount of float and how to install the cleats properly for your neutral foot position. Professional bike fitters are another great resource that can help you decide what cleats are right for you.