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Cycling shoes have come a long way since their inception. Today, a variety of designs are available to assist cyclists for optimal performance while on the saddle.
With the abundance of choices, the search for your ideal bike shoes could be daunting. Don’t fret! You’ve come to the right place as RunRepeat has piled everything you need to know to make the most fitting and informed decision for your unique preferences.
Cycling shoes explained
Cycling shoes are simply footwear designed and built for the most efficient biking experience. As mentioned, there is a wide variety of models to choose from. Before you make a decision, factors such as type and vigor of the cycling you plan to do should be put into consideration.
Some of the hallmarks of bike shoes are their narrower design, rigid soles, relatively lighter weight, method of attaching the footgear to the pedal, and innovative closure systems.
Materials and design
Most bike shoes are characterized by a relatively snugger fit and stiffer soles than casual shoes. Due to this, they are not meant to be walked on for extended periods. Their upper materials are usually made from lightweight textiles that are not easily penetrable by liquids. However, most cycling footwear (especially road shoes) employ several air pockets for ultimate breathability, which compromises water-resistant features.
Upper materials come in several choices: synthetic, synthetic/mesh, leather, suede, and knit.
Given the snug fit of cycling shoes, closure systems are designed to prevent pressure points across the top of the foot. Newer fastening systems such as BOA dials and ratchet buckles also aim to provide easier on-the-fly adjustments while on the bike.
Down below, soles are engineered to provide rigidity to aid in the efficient transfer of energy onto the bike. Most bikers deem that the stiffer the sole, the higher the power transfer is. However, the level of rigidity is still relative, as some prefer a little bit of flex to maintain comfort throughout the ride.
Cycling shoes’ soles come in three variations: carbon composite soles, full carbon soles, and unidirectional carbon. Carbon composite soles are crafted from a combination of carbon fiber and nylon - it is the most flexible out of the three. Full carbon and unidirectional carbon fiber soles are the same but the latter is designed with the fibers going in a single direction, providing a stiffer feel.
Today, there are two types of pedal systems cyclists can choose from - Clipless and Flat. To put it simply, clipless bike shoes employ a variety of holes in the sole to accommodate cleats that clip onto the bike’s pedal. This system allows the footwear to attach to the pedal for a better connection.
Clipless systems are designed to let the rider use most muscular groups in the legs as the cyclist can both pull the pedal upwards and push it downwards. It is said to provide better power transfer compared to the flat pedal system.
Clipless shoes employ three varieties of hole numbers depending on the cycling activity. 2-hole clipless shoes, also known as SPD, are usually seen on mountain bike shoes. 3-hole shoes, often called SPD-SL or Look, are commonly placed in road bike shoes, while the 4-hole type is the least common. The more holes, the more attached the footgear is to the pedal.
Finally, flat cycling shoes usually display a skate-inspired aesthetic. They do not have holes in their soles and instead have a regular sneaker sole look. However, their outsoles are characterized by excellent traction to help keep the foot planted on the bike while pedaling. Flat bike shoes are usually seen on MTB shoes and casual/commuter bike shoes.
Different varieties of bike shoes
Cycling involves a variety of activities and disciplines, and for each type, a particular design of cycling shoes is recommended. Read on to find out more.
Cycling on paved roads entails smooth, long rides with some downward slopes and climbs. Moreover, some of the most popular cycling competitions are held on smooth pavement. With this in mind, road bike shoes employ the stiffest soles compared to other types of cycling. This allows ultimate energy transfer but isn’t recommended for prolonged use off-bike.
Moreover, since mounting off the bike isn’t often done in road cycling, this footwear has smooth soles with rubber pads to aid in those short times you need to stand or walk.
Road shoes usually employ a 3-hole cleat system that clips onto the bike’s pedals. They are lightweight and feature ventilation holes for improved breathability. The price range for road shoes falls between USD 60 to USD 550. Some of the brands that offer top quality road shoes are Mavic and Fizik.
The sport of Triathlon comprises of three continuous endurance races. It usually includes swimming, cycling and running. Due to the competition’s nature, cycling shoes made for Triathlon are characterized by features for smooth and quick transitions such as easy draining, fast-drying materials, and on-the-fly adjustments.
Triathlon bike shoes are basically road cycling footwear aesthetic-wise with tweaks intended for the fast-paced sport.
Also called Velodrome, track cycling is a racing sport usually held on a venue with a specially-built surface. Bikers are required to go around the course and finish a certain number of laps in the fastest time. The shoes used for track cycling are also essentially road shoes, but companies have applied a number of changes to accommodate the needs of the racers. They tend to be very minimal in design and usually employ the traditional lace-up fastening.
Due to the rugged and often unpredictable nature of mountain trails, MTB shoes are crafted to be burly, protective, and rugged. The uppers are characterized by impact-resistant features while soles employ aggressive lugged treads for grip and durability.
Mountain cycling shoes come in two different pedal attachment choices: clipless and flat. Clipless MTB shoes make use of the 2-hole system for easier clipping out and planting of the foot. The cleats are recessed into the sole to allow the rider to walk or hike whenever needed. Flat mountain bike shoes, on the other hand, resemble skate kicks but with a lot more grip and stiffness.
Moreover, mountain biking activities could further be broken down into several disciplines, each possibly requiring a different type of MTB shoes. Check out Sidi and Giro’s lineup of mountain bike shoes.
Tour cycling is defined by the leisurely riding of the bike in long distances. This activity comprises of being off the bike for sightseeing and exploring; hence, cyclists usually use flat cycling shoes or clipless shoes with recessed cleats. Touring bike shoes often compromise the level of sole rigidity for traction.
Casual or commuter bike shoes utilize relatively softer soles than road bike shoes. They also feature a sneaker-like design complete with molded midsoles. Most casual cyclists make use of Five Ten’s mountain bike shoes due to their suitable features.
This category also includes the sandal type of cycling footwear. Cycling sandals usually employ the 2-bolt cleat system. One of the manufacturers of cycling sandals is Shimano.
Often called Spinning shoes, they got their name after the fitness club that popularized this type of workout. This activity is done inside gyms and fitness centers on a stationary bike. Specialty indoor cycling shoes aren’t widely available, so practitioners usually buy either road or mountain bike shoes, depending on the pedal used in their local club.
Winter cycling shoes are designed for riders who want to stay active despite the chilly weather. Companies have designed this footwear with insulation and high-top profile for maximum coverage and protection against the cold, wind, and moisture. There are winter versions for both road and MTB shoes.
How to choose cycling shoes
There are several factors needed to be considered to arrive at the most informed decision one could possibly make. These are purpose, closure system, pedal system, and fit.
The first step in figuring out which cycling shoe you need to get is to know what type of cycling you plan on doing. The different disciplines have been discussed above. Once you decide on this, the choices will be narrowed down, and you’re one step closer to your ideal pair.
Cycling shoes employ a variety of fastening systems to provide optimal performance and options to satisfy a wide range of preferences. Brands have even designed proprietary closure technologies to offer alternatives to the market. But what are the different types of fastening systems in bike shoes?
The most common closure system employed in today’s cycling shoes is the innovative BOA dials. It is connected to thin wirings placed throughout the upper that cinch everything when the dial is tightened. The BOA system offers a lightweight and on-the-fly adjustment.
Another option is the Ratchet buckle. This fastening usually secures the top part of the foot and comes with Velcro straps to clinch the mid and forefoot sections. It provides easy adjusting while on the saddle and prevents pressure points, but it is the heaviest out of all the closure types.
The Velcro straps are usually employed in Triathlon cycling shoes or in combination with other closure types. These straps are easy to adjust while cycling and they are lightweight as well.
Last, but not least, is the traditional lace-up system. Although many of today’s cyclists get turned off by the lack of adjustability of laces, plenty still prefers it for its feather-like weight, proven efficiency in securing the foot, and the assurance of no hotspots.
Types of pedal systems have been discussed at the top part of this article. If you missed it, please scroll up to find out more.
Cycling shoes’ fit is engineered to be narrower than that of the everyday trainer. This relatively tight fit is designed for improved power transfer and to prevent the foot from sliding around inside the shoe while pedaling. As for measurements, most cycling shoes come in European sizing, so it is beneficial to know what your EU size is.
Note that each company uses different sizing. For example, Northwave’s size 42 in men’s could fit differently from Shimano’s size 42 in men’s.
Read on to know more about the correct fit of bike shoes.
Getting the right fit
A proper-fitting bike shoe feels quite tight yet comfortable. The snuggest part should be in the heel area, and there should be enough toe room in the front. There also shouldn’t be excessive pressure on the instep. Most cycling shoes won’t stretch over time, so they must be comfortable from the start. Here are some tips you can try for your next shopping trip:
- It is recommended to visit your bike shop and get your feet measured in the afternoon as they tend to swell slightly as the day progresses.
- Bring socks you would wear with your cycling shoes.
- Ask for a store employee to measure your feet in European sizing. This way, it is done by a professional and is more accurate.
- Try several pairs on. Expect all cycling shoes to feel stiffer and snugger than regular footwear, but make sure that nothing is pinching and causing restrictions.
- Stand and walk short distances around the house or store. There shouldn’t be more than half an inch space from your toe to the shoe’s toecap. Make sure that there’s no heel slippage too.
- Mimic pedaling moves by sitting down on a bench and stretch out your legs with your feet flexed, then move your feet downward as if scraping something off the shoe’s toe caps. While you are doing these movements, observe if there are any slippage or pinching.
- Assess the shoe’s overall comfort. Feel if there are noticeable seams that could cause blisters. Make sure the closure system does not bring about pain and pressure. And lastly, observe if the footbed provides enough support and cushion to counterbalance the sole’s rigidity.
- If you plan on doing long rides, it is best to check the shoe’s weight as well. Heavier pairs could make long trips more challenging.
Since cycling shoes are engineered to be narrow, cyclists with wide feet often find themselves putting more effort into finding the perfect pair for them. Hearing this, brands have paid attention and produced models created on specialty wide lasts. Check out some of the wide cycling shoes below:
- Northwave Extreme (Road)
- Shimano RP9 (Road)
- Giro Apeckx II (Road)
Due to the ladies’ naturally narrower foot shape, exclusive for women cycling shoes are essential. Although most bike footwear could be converted into women’s sizing, the width could be bothersome for a few. Hence, it is crucial to know that companies have been releasing women-based bike shoes. Some are listed below:
- Sidi Alba Carbon (Road)
- Shimano XC5 (Mountain)
Frequently asked questions
Where to buy cycling shoes?
Since cycling crossed over to the mainstream many years ago, all the gear needed for the activity have also been readily available. However, cycling shoes could almost be exclusively found in bike stores. This guarantees cyclists that cycling shoes are authentic, and the fitting will be done by a professional.
To help you save time, effort, and energy in searching for the ideal cycling pair for you, we have gathered all the essential info about every bike shoe model available. Just click on a shoe or input the name in the search bar to reveal everything you need to know about it.
Why are cycling shoes expensive?
Cycling shoes are specialty footwear built and engineered for cycling efficiency. Materials, designs, and technologies employed in these shoes aren’t ordinary. Above all these, everything has to be durable and lightweight.
Making a pair of good quality cycling shoes requires a significant amount of craftsmanship and skill. It has been proven that the better the quality and lighter the weight, the more expensive the bike shoe is. Hence, the saying “you get what you pay for” serves true when investing in cycling shoes.
How to take care of cycling shoes?
Proper care will help you get the bang for your buck in the long run. How? It will aid in prolonging your pair’s lifespan and provide optimum assistance with every pedal. With unpredictable conditions when cycling, it should be expected that your shoes will either be dirty, muddy, or wet after each session. Here are some tips you can do to keep your footgear looking and smelling fresh.
- Clean your shoes after every session before putting it into storage. To clean it, make a solution of warm water and dishwashing soap, then dip an old toothbrush in the mixture. Proceed to brush your pair in gentle circular strokes until clean.
- Squeeze newspapers inside the shoe while you’re cleaning it to let moisture and liquid be absorbed.
- Spray your shoe’s hardware with lubricant to clean out the gunk and ensure that they function properly.
- Apply a water-repellent solution to your shoes to prevent liquid and dirt from sticking to your shoes. This step should only be done when needed.
- Regularly check for screws or any component that needs replacing such as BOA dials, ratchet buckles, laces, heel pads, etc.
- Take out the insoles to let the shoe “breathe” and air out.
- Store your pair in a cool, dry place that is out of the sunlight’s reach.
When to replace cycling shoes?
The obvious answer to this is when the wear and tear start to affect the comfort and performance of the shoe. But the question “how long does a pair of bike shoes last?” involves a more subjective answer, as it all depends on how often the user wears it and in which discipline of biking it is being used for.
Usually, road shoes last longer than mountain bike shoes. This is due to the smooth and predictable terrain of the pavement. Moreover, the first ones to break are typically the closure systems with hardware and soles.
Which cycling shoes to wear with toe clips?
Although clipless and grippy flat bike shoes are the main choices of cyclists today, there are still a few who prefer riding with toe clips. Toe clips are made from either metal or plastic attached to the front of the pedal. They are shaped after the toe box of the shoe and prevents slippage during the forward motion of pedaling.
Any bike shoe with recessed cleats should work fine with toe clips.
What are the accessories for cycling shoes?
Bike shoes come with accessories to further aid in the cyclist’s comfort and performance. Each brand offers a distinct set of accessories, but some of the most common ones are insoles with a variety of arch support, laces, and overshoe.
Overshoes are made from waterproof materials. They are usually worn over the cycling shoe during winter to protect the wearer’s foot from the elements such as water, dirt, and chilly wind.
Can cycling shoes be used for spinning/indoor cycling?
Yes. Due to the technical features of traditional cycling shoes, they are actually preferred by most studios. Some cycling clubs even rent out cycling footwear to their patrons, but for hygienic purposes buying your own would be best. Although there are indoor cycling-based models available, these shoes are basically patterned after the traditional ones.
Which bike shoe to use depends on the model of stationary bikes being used in your local club. For example, both Peloton and Soul Cycle use cycling shoes with the 3-bolt cleat system, while the original Spinning class use 2-bolt pedals. Make sure to inquire first before purchasing your pair.
15 best cycling shoes
- Five Ten Freerider
- Mavic Aksium III
- Giro Cylinder
- Shimano TR9
- Five Ten Impact Pro
- Shimano RC7
- Fizik R4B
- Giro Empire ACC
- Shimano RP9
- Sidi T-4 Air Carbon
- Five Ten Freerider Pro
- Sidi Wire 2 Carbon
- Five Ten District Flats
- Giro Empire VR70 Knit
- Sidi Alba
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