When to replace SPD cleats (about worn cleats)

Following on from our article about SPD cleats, a little about cleat wear. Although they are a sturdy chunk of metal, SPD cleats (and SPD-SL cleats, though these are made of nylon resin – see below) do eventually need replacing, and people occasionally ask WHEN that should be done.

How long do SPD cleats last?

Well, if you are on a budget like me then you will use your SPD cleats to destruction to get the most mileage out of them. But sooner or later they will get worn from the constant friction of clicking in and out. Believe it or not, I went clipless almost 3 years ago and have only just replaced the first SH-51 cleats I bought. I (VERY) roughly calculate that I got about 100 hours riding out of them. However, because they were the first cleats I used when I first went clipless, I was a lot more nervous riding clipped-in, so I used to clip and unclip a LOT more and so probably wore them out quicker. Still, I doubt you will get much more out of them than this.

How to know SPD cleats need changing?

The way I found out was when I bought a new set of SPD pedals – suddenly my old cleats just wouldn’t fit firmly into the pedal anymore. There was lots of play, my shoes would pop out when they shouldn’t and conversely, when it was time to unclip, I couldn’t because there was too much freedom of movement.

I took a photo of the new SH-51s I bought and put them on top of the old, worn ones, have a look at this:

Worn SH51 SPD cleat, compared with new cleat

Maybe at first glance you can’t see that, but the top cleat is the old one (duh!) and even though they are placed precisely tail-on-tail, the old cleat is probably close to two millimetres shorter! No wonder it was flapping around in the pedal – I just wonder how come it was working OK with the old pedals. Probably because they were trashed too..!

So, here are those signs of worn SPD cleats once again:

  • too much play (not firmly clipped in)
  • pop out unexpectedly
  • DON’T pop out when you do want them to due to too much play

Worn SPD-SLs?

That’s for SPD cleats. As for worn SPD-SL (e.g. SH10 and SH11) cleats, well, to be honest I don’t know – never used them! They are not metal, but made of some kind of nylon resin. I have heard of people riding them for as long as 4 or 5 years, but I am not sure that would be the rule. Of course, it hugely depends on how much riding you are doing, though road-biking involves less clipping in and out than mountain-biking, on the whole.

In any case, they are designed so that the yellow or red detail wears off in time so you know when to replace them. I imagine there are similar symptoms with these as for MTB SPDs.

Basically, if in doubt, just replace them, before they get rusted into the shoe plate like my SPDs did and I had to drill them out! You will probably notice the improvement!

2 thoughts on “When to replace SPD cleats (about worn cleats)”

  1. How did you manage to drill them out, ive just tried myself and made no headway other than ruin my drill bits

    1. Oh, I didn’t see your comment straight away. I am trying to remember exactly how I did it. I don’t think I actually drilled a hole, as you say, the metal is too hard, I think I just drilled as deep as I could (just a little dent, really), all the way round the head of the allen (hex) bolt and suddenly it just came loose and I could unscrew it!

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