Cycling shoes have a considerable influence on your riding performance and overall comfort. From protective mountain bike shoes to stiff and efficient road bike shoes and winter footwear for commuters, we have a bike shoe to suit your needs.
The 1940s saw the emergence of cycling shoes designed with steel reinforced soles to prevent flex and allow efficient pedal action. This new type of footwear had a supple leather upper and was designed to fit in toe clips. In 1971, the invention of plastic toe clips by Cinelli started a footwear revolution finding its peak in the 1990s. Nowadays, cycling shoes come with different features depending on cycling discipline.
So, how do you choose between them and do you really need a cycling-specific shoe?
Why wear cycling shoes?
In a sport where your feet don't touch the floor that often, it is a curious thing that there is so much development around it. However, your feet are where you send power to the pedal making their position on the pedals optimal, a key to riding efficiency. Ask any experienced cyclists, and they will tell you that changing to clip on footwear is the best investment you can make for your bike.
To that effect, bike shoe suppliers have created lightweight, stiff-soled shoes designed to improve power transmission.
Cycling shoes improve performance and pedal efficiency. Therefore, cycling shoes will make you go faster with less effort. While cycling shoes are optional, they are a powerful add-on if you wish to improve your cycling.
Cycling shoe differences
Cycling shoes are different depending on the type of cycling you are doing. Road cycling shoes do not carry the same features as Mountain biking shoes.
Road cycling shoes
A proper road shoe is essential to establish a good connection between the rider and the bike. Cycling road shoes transfer all the power from the rider to the pedals while being comfortable to wear.
Road cycling shoes are lightweight. More often than not, their upper is soft to allow the foot to expand under high pedalling pressure. They have a stiff sole to efficiently transfer the power to the pedals and reduce energy loss. A variety of fastening systems is available, from Velcro to Boa lace systems. Considerable influence on energy efficiency, road cycling shoes are a low-cost way to increase your speed and bike performance.
Four types of fastening system:
- Velcro: Cost effective solution, Velcro is usually find on entry level road shoes. However, this doesn't mean it doesn't have advantages. Velcro is light and quick to put on, although it is not the best option to hold your foot securely.
- Ratchet: Second on the list, the ratchet system offers a more precise adjustment and hold the foot tighter. It is also easy to tighten while riding. However, it requires two hands to loosen, making it impossible to do while riding.
- Dials: There are many dial types, but the Boa system is the gold standard. The dials use a cable to tighten and loosen the shoes offering a precise level of adjustment with just one click making it easy to do while riding.
- Laces: although considered old fashion, the laces have made a small come-back as they allow to fine tune the fit of the shoe through its entire length. However, it takes longer to put on and cannot be adjusted on the go.
Another thing you need to consider when buying a road cycling shoe is the sole. Cycling shoes soles are stiff to ensure a better transfer of power. Soles come in different materials, from the entry level plastic to the fully carbon sole and the composite (carbon/plastic) middle level. The stiffer and lighter the sole is, the more power you get out of your pedal strokes.
Next, you need to look at the cleat system on the shoes. There is two different types: 3 and 2 bolts. If you wish to go off road or walk a little in your cycling shoes, you should consider the two bolts system like SPD. If you are purely and simply road riding, then the three bolts system is the way to go as it offers a wider platform to increase the power transfer to the pedal.
Finally, the upper of the cycling shoe is important too. Made with a variety of material, the upper can be more or less stiff. Stiff upper are designed for sprinting, while more supple upper are perfect for longer rides.
Mountain Biking Shoes
Only developed in the 1990s by Shimano, mountain bike shoes have now become essential for any off-road cyclists. More casual in their look, MTB bike shoes are similar to outdoor walking/running shoes. They give more protection than road shoes and an improved grip while walking. Their cleat recess lets riders clip-on when riding while allowing them to walk on it when needed. Mountain bike shoes also often work with double-sided pedals, making them easy to clip; and a good option for beginners.
There are two main categories of mountain bike shoes: the casual rider shoes and the more serious rider.
If you are a casual off road biker, two options are available to you:
- Shoes that hook up with flat pedals: These are designed in the same way as an outdoor shoe, with good grips on the sole and water-repellent material to make it easy to keep clean. The main difference with an outdoor shoe is the sole stiffness of the MTB shoes to allow for better power transfer.
- Clipping shoes: The clip on pedal have a stiff sole with an outdoor shoe design. The main difference is the cleat recess on the sole to fit a cleat in, while allowing the rider to walk on it. Usually, these shoes come with hook and loop straps for proper adjustment.
Experienced XC rider or gravity rider will look for more aggressive shoes. On top of having the following features, stiff rubber compound soles, comfortable padding and ventilation, these shoes will have soles with grips for scrambling up and down anything while carrying your bike.
Mountain biking shoes are also ideal for commuting, allowing you to clip on and get the most out of your pedal stroke without having to carry a second pair of shoes for your work day.
Cycling Shoes FAQ
Are cycling shoes worth it?
In short, the answer is yes. While adding to your overall performance, cycling shoes also allow for a more comfortable ride, and add stability in slippery conditions. As your feet are clipped in, there is no loss of power, and they won't slip off the pedals.
Can cycling shoes be used for walking?
While you can walk around with your cycling shoes, these are not meant for long walks. Road cycling shoes can be slippery when walking on smooth ground, and we'd advise you'd only walk in them for short distances. Their cleat raised position can put a strain on your ankles, and walking on them could damage your shoes. Mountain bike shoes, however, are designed with a recessed cleat which allows you to trek up trails, making them ideal for commuters.
Can cycling shoes be washed?
Yes, you can wash you cycling shoes. Just wipe them off with a damp cloth. If you have overly muddy shoes, dump them in a soapy water bucket and rub them with a soft brush. Rinse with cold water. Take out your insoles to speed up the drying process. Open all the velcro straps, and let air dry.
Can you use cycling shoes without cleats?
In theory, yes, you can use your cycling shoes without cleats. However, as they are designed to be clipped in, not having a cleat fitted into them could lead to discomfort and slipping of the pedals. We advised against it.
How do cycling shoes clip-in?
The most significant stop to cyclists moving to clip on pedals is the fear of being unable to unclip and fall. However, clip-on shoes are easy to use. Whether you are using SPD off-road pedals or Look type on-road pedals, they both work the same way. To clip, slide your cleat into the pedal and push on your toes to secure the cleat into the pedal. To unclip, all you have to do is twist your ankle, and the cleat will pop out of the pedal.
Are there cycling shoes you can wear to work?
The best commuting cycling shoes need to combine comfort, practicality and flexibility while ensuring power efficiency and letting you walk once you reach your destination. There is an array of non-clip cycling shoes available for flat pedals if you do not wish to clip in. If you are using cleats, then a pair of mountain bike sneakers or gravel cycling shoes will work perfectly for cycling to work.
When to replace cycling shoes?
Unlike standard footwear, cycling shoes don't wear easily. Depending on the amount of cycling you do, the conditions you ride in and the care you give them, cycling shoes should last several seasons.