SPD-SL / 3-hole clip-in pedals: Everything You Want to Know

IC1 shoe with SPD 3  cleat

What are they?  

SPD-SL / 3-hole refers to a type of clip-in pedal system. Clip-in pedals are traditionally known as clipless pedals. Clip-in pedals are used with cycling shoes that have cleats attached to their soles. You clip the cleat into the pedal so that your shoe is connected to the pedal while you’re pedaling. The SPD-SL / 3-hole cleat attaches to your shoe using three bolts. (Another type of pedal system called SPD / 2-bolt uses two bolts).

These pedals have to be used with SPD-SL / 3-hole cleat compatible shoes installed with SPD-SL / 3-hole cleats. Some indoor cycling classes and at-home indoor cycling programs use SPD-SL / 3-hole clip-in pedals (it is important to know which kind your studio uses). Outside, they are popular with road cyclists and triathletes.

Shimano IC1 3 hole SPD shoe

What are their benefits? 

The SPD-SL / 3-hole cleat used for compatible clip-in pedals is larger than cleats used with SPD / 2-hole clip-in pedals. With a wider pedal platform and more contact area between the pedal and the cleat on your shoe, your pedal stroke will be more stable. You will also notice improved power transfer and increased efficiency - which will really count when you’re pushing hard.  

The benefits of clipping into your pedals will quickly become obvious. You’ll likely be able to pedal with a higher cadence, improved power transfer, and better efficiency. By securely locking your foot in the correct position on the pedal, you will be able to pedal harder and faster without fear of your foot slipping off the pedal.

Your pedal stroke will likely also become smoother when you clip in, as the secure connection enables you to push down through the first half of your pedal stroke (using more of your quads) and pull up through the second (using more of your hamstrings). 

Off the bike, walking in shoes with SPD-SL / 3-hole cleats is a little trickier as the cleat protrudes from the sole of your shoe.

IC1 3 hole SPD shoe spinning

How do you use them?

If you are new to clipping into your pedals, you may want to arrive to class early so you aren’t doing it under pressure. Your instructor will also be very happy to help you out. Once you have the hang of it, it will be a quick and natural motion.

You can only clip into SPD-SL / 3-hole pedals on one side of the pedal. Rather than needing to flip over the pedal, you can trust your clip-in target to always be in the same position - pointing upwards. Place the front of the cleat into the catch point at the top of the pedal and push down and slightly forward. You will hear a satisfying click as your foot secures into place. To release your foot from the pedal, turn your heel away from your bike to disengage.