Shimano’s colorful SPD-SL cleats are the secure, reliable interface between your cycling shoes and pedals. They are the critical contact point where power is transferred to the bike and where we turn our pedaling effort into speed. Choosing the right cleat style is important not only for pedaling efficiency and power transfer but also for keeping your knees, ankles, feet, and the rest of your body happy with each pedal stroke.
There are three different types of Shimano SPD-SL cleats that are designated by three colors: Yellow, Blue, and Red. Each has different float ranges and pivot point locations, and they are designed with various rider biomechanics and riding styles in mind. Float refers to a certain amount of angular rotation that a cleat, and thus the rest of a shoe can freely move before it meets resistance. In other words, it's how far your toes point toward or away from the bike before meeting resistance.
Different amounts of float help accommodate different riding styles or help with physiological nuances such as flexibility (or lack thereof), past injuries, or knee pain. While float can help reduce stress on joints and make for a more comfortable pedaling movement, too much float can feel slightly less powerful if your foot moves around too much. Check with a bike fitter or your local shop for help in deciding which level of float is right for you and your riding needs.
Yellow SPD-SL Cleats – 6 Degrees of Float
Yellow SPD-SL cleats are the most popular option among casual fitness cyclists and a solid choice amongst many athletes. They have a six-degree float range (three degrees in each direction), which allows for free foot 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 broad range also provides more room for error when setting up cleats. Those who are new to cycling, experience knee pain, lack flexibility, or simply don't know where to start should consider Shimano's yellow cleats as a solid option.
Blue SPD-SL Cleats – 2 Degrees of Float
Blue SPD-SL cleats are Shimano’s newest cleat option, and they are 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 level of pedaling efficiency. The pivot point sits at the front of the cleat, which eliminates most lateral movement while allowing a small amount of rotation from the pivot back toward the heel.
Red SPD-SL Cleats – 0 Degrees of Float
Red SPD-SL cleats have no float and are 100% fixed in position. This makes them optimal for sprinters, professional athletes, or those who want the most efficient power transfer possible and are not prone to knee pain. Note that red SPD-SL cleats require precise cleat positioning, so they are best installed by seasoned riders or with the help of a bike fitting professional at your local shop.
Still not sure which cleats or set up are right for you? Visit your favorite bike shop and or bike fitter for help dialing in your ideal setup. The SPD-SL system provides all the adjustments and options for the perfect fit, and a little extra help can go a long way in dialing in a personalized setup.