Last Updated on May 2, 2022 by Andrew Culture
Cycling shoes – why?
Remember when you were young and wanted to go for a ride on your two-wheeler? You simply went outside, hopped on, and pedalled off. You didn’t worry about putting on the proper shoes or having any cycling-specific gear. As long as you had shoes on your feet and were wearing clothes that could get dirty in case you took a tumble or got splashed, you were in good shape.
Now, however, if you go out cycling, it’s not enough to wear an ordinary pair of trainers. The right pair of cycling shoes can boost your speed and efficiency, reduce muscle strain, give you better control over your bike, and improve your overall performance. There are lots of choices, but which pair is right for you? Let’s have a look.
Clipless pedals or flat pedals?
The type of pedals you have on your bike will greatly inform what type of cycling shoes you purchase. There are two main categories of pedals: flat and clipless. Flat pedals are the traditional bike pedals we all grew up with. Good flat pedals will offer more traction to keep your foot from slipping off. Some will even have toe clips to really keep your foot in place and allow some power transfer when the pedals are on an upstroke.
The term “clipless pedals” is something of a misnomer, since corresponding bike shoes actually clip into the pedals. Many cyclists prefer this type of arrangement, even those who are more casual riders. They allow for a more efficient use of your energy, as they allow you to propel your bike through every movement of your legs. Matched with the proper cycling shoes, clipless (or clip-in) pedals give you all the benefits of toe clips and then some.
If you decide to go with a clipless pedal system, it’s important to know that there are a few different types. Off-road and mountain bikes typically have a two-bolt arrangement, which you’ll often see as SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics). Road bikes, on the other hand, have a three-bolt arrangement, which is sometimes called LOOK style or SPD-SL. Finally, racing bikes may have four bolts, and these are often called Speedplay.
While many riders do like these clipless (or clip-in) pedals, some novice cyclists are apprehensive about using them because they are concerned about not being able to unclip in time to prevent toppling over and injuring themselves (or someone else). Your pedal preference is a highly personal choice, but it’s important to remember that, again, your cycling shoe choice will be dictated by the pedals you pick.
Fitting the Cleats
If you’ve got clipless (or clip-in) pedals, the cleat is the part on your cycling shoe that actually fits into the pedal. Cleats come with pedals and not with shoes, so when you do buy your shoes, it’s important to make sure that the pair you pick is compatible with the specific type of cleat you have. And, it’s not always enough to check the number of bolts — check the compatibility with your specific brand and style of cleat.
For example, cleats like LOOK Delta, LOOK Keo, and SPD-SL all appear to be similar because they’re all three-bolt cleats. However, not all three-bolt cycling shoes will work with all of these cleats. And while some shoes are compatible with both two-bolt and three-bolt cleats, many are specifically for road biking or off-road biking and are therefore compatible with just one type of cleat.
Where Will You Ride?
If you’ve got a road bike, you’ll want road cycling shoes. These are lightweight and very stiff, with a cleat that sticks out from the sole. They’ll give you great performance on your preferred terrain, but they’re definitely not designed for walking. These often take three-bolt cleats, though some will take two-bolt.
Cycling shoes for off-road and mountain bikes are also stiff, though they’re more flexible than road cycling shoes. The cleats on these are typically recessed within the sole to allow for better traction if you have to walk, especially on uneven and rough terrain. They’re also usually easier to disengage from the pedal than road cycling shoes. For this reason MTB style SPD pedals are also popular with city cyclists who frequently need to clip in and out of their pedals.
Other Terrain Choices
If you use your bike for commuting or ride in more urban environments, you may opt for city cycling shoes. These can have two-bolt cleats or no cleats at all. City shoes are much easier to walk in thanks to their rubber soles and recessed cleats, and most look like ordinary trainers. However, they’re less stiff than the other options, and some riders find that this reduces their pedalling efficiency.
If you’re a triathlete, though, you’ll want a shoe that you can both cycle and run in, and many manufacturers offer these. Triathlon shoes are often SPD compatible, but as always, it’s essential to check before you buy.
For securing cycling shoes to your feet, laces look good and will get the job done, but lots of riders feel like they can get in the way. Plus, cycling in muddy or wet conditions make unlacing your shoes a mess. Lots of cyclists prefer hook and loop straps, and some shoes even have additional buckles and cam straps to really keep the shoe in place. Higher-end cycling shoes have ratchets and dials to ensure a perfect fit.
It’s also good to know that cycling shoes generally don’t break in like other shoes do. They start stiff and remain stiff; if they lose their rigidity, it’s probably time for a new pair. What this means is that it’s important to find a pair that’s comfortable when you try them on, since the way they feel probably won’t change very much.
Cycling shoes need to be maintained much more than other types of footwear. For example, cleats need to be installed correctly; this can be a DIY job, or a well-regarded bike shop should be able to take care of the job for you. Cleats also need to be lubricated regularly, especially if you’re biking in muddy weather. This will not only get you in and out of your pedals easily, but it will keep you safe. Finally, for how to properly maintain your own cleats and shoes, refer to the manufacturers’ instructions.
Popular Cycle Shoe Brands
Shimano and Pearl Izumi are big names in cycling, and you’ll find cycling shoes from both of these manufacturers. Giro makes excellent cycling shoes, as do Gaerne, Lake, Northwave, and a number of other companies.
Conclusion – Two Wheels Good!
The right cycling shoes are a critical component of any cyclist’s gear. They’re where your body meets your ride, connecting you and your ride into a two-wheeled, two-legged machine. Sure, you can get around on a bike without anything on your feet, but that’s not practical if you’re aiming to improve your speed, distance, or both.
Like everything else these days, all cycling shoes are not created equal. By making a careful assessment of your needs and preferences and then trying on some options before making your purchase, you’ll settle on the proper pair of cycling shoes for you.