Cleats are one of mankind’s more clever inventions, I believe. People were playing games that caused them to skid around and lose their footing. Therefore, someone had the bright idea to attach little studs to the bottom of their shoes, thereby providing instant traction. Behold the birth of the cleats. This kind of shoe has been in existence since at least the 16th century, at which time King Henry VIII of England is known to have ordered a pair to be used while playing football (or soccer, as it would be called in the United States). However, considering their usefulness, it is easily conceivable cleats have been around for much longer. Regardless of their history, modern cleats have become an indispensible part of numerous uniforms in modern sports.
While sports usually have cleats specifically designed to deal with certain challenges, most cleats fall into two basic categories: those with larger, blunt studs on the bottom and those with smaller, sharp spikes. Those shoes in the first category are usually used in soccer, American football and other sports that require playing in dirt, grass and often mud. Those shoes in the second category are most often used for track and field and baseball. In both cases, however, the end goal is the same: to allow the wearer better in the interest of improving speed and agility.
Cleats with blunt studs are made by a wide variety of manufacturers, including big sportswear names like Adidas, Nike and Reebok. These shoes tend to be sturdier and heavier than their spiked cousins, as the sports they serve are often rougher and involve physical contact. The studs always exist on the ball and heel of the shoe, although they can sometimes cover the entire sole. The primary purpose of such footwear is to allow the wearer to change direction rapidly without slipping. Soccer, American football and rugby all require such zigzagging movements, and cleats can mean the difference between a successful play and a mouth full of mud.
Cleats with spikes are essentially lightweight shoes with spikes attached to the bottom, either screwed into the sole or on a spike plate. The spikes are placed at the front of the shoe’s sole and can number anywhere from three to a dozen. Although there are usually no spikes on the heels, those cleats specifically intended for high jumping and javelin throwing sometimes have them there. Spikes can vary in length from 3/16 inches to 1/2 an inch, but most are somewhere around 1/4 inches. Like blunt cleats, spike cleats are manufactured by an array of companies, including those mentioned above.
Although the shape of the blunt stud is fairly standardized, there is some variation in spike shape. Spikes come in three styles: pyramids, needles and compression tiers. The first are conical spikes that tapers to sharp points. Needles also have sharp points, but their cones are of a thinner diameter. Finally, compression tiers are in the shape of a terraced cone with a flat end. The motivating difference behind the styles is that while pyramids and needles are designed to penetrate the surface of a traditional track, compression tiers are meant to be used on synthetic tracks. Rather than penetrating the surface, these flat-ended spikes compress the track’s surface and use the resulting reaction force to increase the runner’s speed.