Many everyday cyclists ride their bikes wearing regular sports shoes. In this case, is investing in the purchase of cycling shoes really necessary? If you ride on a regular basis, the answer is yes. Cycling shoes are specially designed to improve your comfort when you pedal, while optimizing your level of performance.
Unless you’re an experienced cyclist, terms like cleats, clipless pedals, or pedal systems might sound a bit confusing. That’s why we asked Winston Endall, bike mechanic at SAIL, to give us some things to consider in order to choose the perfect cycling shoes for your needs. In this article, we will see:
- How bike shoes work
- The types of shoes offered
- What to look for in a cycling shoe
- Find a compatible pedal system
- Fit, sizing and lacing systems
- How to care for your cycling shoes
- A few pro tips
How do cycling shoes work?
Cycling shoes have much stiffer soles than regular sports shoes, which ensures a more efficient transfer of energy to the pedal. Basically, your whole foot is pressing on the pedal at the same time, not just your sole. This makes your pedal strokes stronger and more efficient and gives your foot better support, making long rides much more comfortable.
What types of shoes are offered?
There are basically two types of cycling shoes:
- Shoes for automatic pedals (road cycling, mountain biking).
- Platform shoes (everyday transport, cross-country mountain biking).
Clipless pedal shoes, despite their ambiguous name, bind your foot to the pedal using cleats, which are bolted to the sole for a stronger connection with your bike. These shoes are mostly used by road cyclists, but some mountain bikers also use clipless pedal shoes for a bit more power on long stretches of flat trails. It should be noted that the cleats of road bike shoes protrude from the sole making it difficult to walk, while the cleats of mountain bike shoes are in a recessed area of the sole making you makes it easier to walk if you have to push your bike up a hill or carry it over obstacles.
Platform shoes do not have cleats and can be used with normal pedals, but have a stiff sole like clipless pedal shoes. They are a good compromise between the latter (which do not allow you to walk easily when you are not using your bike) and sports shoes (which can be less comfortable after a while).
What should you look for in a cycling shoe?
The features that will have a noticeable impact on your ride will largely depend on your type of cycling. Overview.
Road cycling (performance)
Road cyclists looking to increase the power of their pedal strokes should look for a stiff, treadless sole with a three-hole cleat system. Many shoes feature mesh inserts to help with ventilation. Although they may seem a bit strange, road bike shoes are all about performance. They are not easy to walk on and are therefore mainly used by cyclists who do not intend to get off their bike for anything other than a coffee on the go.
It’s also important to consider the shape of your feet when choosing a road bike shoe. “Where your arch is located can influence your shoe choice,” says Winston. “The further forward your wedges are, the more you will be on your toes, which will put more pressure on your calves. Look for a model that fits well and offers more wiggle room in terms of adjustment for a more consistent thrust. The more you can push the wedges back, the more you will use your gluteal muscles and the less you will strain your calves. Take a look at some of Shimano’s picks for inspiration.
Road cycling (touring)
While cycling shoes are always better than sports shoes for casual cyclists, especially those who enjoy longer rides, a mountain bike clipless pedal shoe might be a good option here. Recessed cleats allow riders to get on and off the bike, while ensuring a good connection to the pedal. If you’re sightseeing and plan to stop often, check out the GIRO and Garneau brands.
Mountain biking (cross-country)
Mountain bikers looking for a stronger, more secure connection to the bike can turn to MTB clipless pedal shoes. These usually have small holes for (smaller) shims to avoid contact with the ground, and they use a two-bolt shim system. The aim is to be able to cross rough terrain on foot if necessary, while having more power on the faster sections of the track.
People who commute by bike have to stop more often than road cyclists or mountain bikers to navigate through traffic, which makes using clipless pedal shoes quite complicated. Platform cycling shoes, on the other hand, offer a good balance between walking and riding. They should be more comfortable than stiffer road bike shoes and have grippy soles.
Find a compatible pedal system
Contrary to popular belief, shoes don’t have to match pedals; these are the wedges. Here, Winston recommends buying a compatible pedal and cleat combo first, then focusing on choosing your shoes. The cleats you choose should attach easily to your bike shoes, which have standard mounting holes (assuming you stick to a two- or three-hole system). As a bonus, replacement is easier, as cleats generally wear out faster than shoes. You can simply buy new cleats rather than completely replacing your shoes.
Fit, sizing and lacing systems
Your cycling shoes should be comfortable, with some room for your toes to wiggle and not go numb during a three-hour ride. On the other hand, your heel shouldn’t slip when you walk. The more adjustment points you have, the better you can adjust your shoe, so look for a shoe with two or three attachments, whether straps, buckles or ratchet cables.
How to care for your cycling shoes
You can simply clean your shoes with a cloth and soapy water. If they are leather, treat the leather according to the instructions. Keep your shoes dry and remove the insoles often to let them dry. You should also check your cleats from time to time. If your cleats show signs of wear (they don’t work properly, the edges are worn, or they look a little worn), don’t hesitate to replace them.
A few pro tips
- If you ride (or commute) in shoulder seasons, invest in good shoe covers to keep your feet warm.
- Mountain bikers should also purchase shin guards, as the pedal can (and will!) hit your shins at times.
- When mountain biking in muddy or soft terrain, remove bolts and screw in cleats. These will help your shoes bite into the ground to make it easier to climb slippery hills.