Most types of footwear are suitable for cycling if you’re a fairly casual rider and don’t cycle on a heavily frequent basis.
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you probably ride regularly enough to warrant the use of specially designed cycling shoes, and this type of footwear can be incredibly beneficial in a number of different ways.
If you’re just dipping your toe, so to speak, into the world of cycling shoes then it might appear daunting at first; what is the difference between fixed and floating cleats? How does a mountain bike shoe compare with a road cycling shoe?
These are common questions so in this article we’re going to look at the advantages of bike shoes before moving onto the different types that are available so that ultimately you can decide which style of cycling footwear is right for you.
Advantages of Wearing Bike Shoes
Whether you ride with clip-in or clip-less pedals, you’re sure to be able to find a suitable pair of bike shoes.
One of the main benefits of using bike shoes is that they typically feature far more rigid soles in order to offer a greater amount of energy transfer from your pedaling.
If you’ve ever suffered from aches or cramps in the soles or arches of your feet then the additional support provided by this rigidity can greatly help to alleviate any pain or discomfort.
More recent developments in bike shoe technology have enabled riders to enjoy the same degree of pedal efficiency offered by clip-in pedal-shoe combinations while enjoying the freedom of clip-less varieties.
You might want to consider a clip-less pedal-show combination when looking at bike shoes as the maximal energy transfer coupled with the extra control and freedom of movement and definitely make for a more productive and enjoyable ride overall.
Fixed versus Floating Cleats
If you choose to ride with a clip-in pedal setup, then you will likely need to invest in a pair of cleats for your bike shoes.
Simply put, a cleat is a piece of plastic or metal which attaches to the bottom of your shoe and locks into the pedal to keep your foot in the best position for pedaling.
There is some debate over which is more advantageous, fixed or floating cleats, with one school of thought being that floating cleats help to prevent knee injury by helping your leg to move outside of a single plane of movement.
The amount of “float” provided by a cleat-pedal combination is defined as the amount of movement allowed by the cleat within the pedal fixture before releasing, and it is usually measured in degrees.
You will see anything from 0 – 6 degrees of float depending on the type of cycle shoes you opt for, and many manufacturers produce pedal systems which adjustable degrees of float so that you can tweak them over time as your pedaling technique changes.
Generally speaking, adjustable floating cleats are often the most beneficial in terms of preventing knee injury and offering a greater degree of overall comfort.
Ideally you will want to experiment with different cleat-pedal setups before making your final purchase so that you can determine which is most suitable for you.
Types of Bike Shoes
Road Cycling Shoes
It is worth noting that some variations of road cycling shoes provide a small pad in the heel for added traction; this can provide you with an additional degree of push as you pedal.
Triathlon shoes are another interesting take on road bike shoes as they are designed more specifically for use in races, with an incredibly barebones design which allows you to more easily and rapidly get on and off of your bike.
Road cycling shoes are generally very lightweight, and more high-end road shoes will even use carbon fiber to enhance the hardness of the sole.
Bear in mind that this sole stiffness combined with the lack of flex makes road cycling shoes unsuitable for walking any moderate distance, so you will want to ensure you are equipped with suitable alternative footwear if you plan on alternating between cycling and walking in a single session.
Mountain Biking Shoes
If you would prefer to wear a pair of bike shoes that enable you to walk on tricky terrain then mountain biking shoes might be just what you’re looking for.
As you can see above on the Shimano SH-XC30 Mountain Bike Shoe, the tread allows the abillity to walk on unstable, tough terrain.
Sole rigidity is ample in mountain bike shoes; however, they offer a suitable amount of flex and traction for you to safely walk on uneven or even slippery terrain. The added rubber in the sole can make a world of difference in terms of added traction.
The amount of extra features offered on top of this basic design will vary depending on your chosen price range, but mountain bike shoes will usually feature customizable laces or even Velcro closure systems to help you adjust for the perfect fit.
Other possible features in mountain biking shoes aside from more lightweight materials include buckle-and-ratchet straps, waterproof liners, and even extra ankle protection; the latter is ideal if you have a fair amount of hiking to do between bike trails.
Casual or Hybrid Cycling Shoes
If your cycling routes typically only come out to a few miles then you may want to consider a pair of casual cycling shoes, such as the Shimano SH-CT45 Click'R SPD Shoe, or even simple running trainer-type footwear.
This will offer a fair amount of traction, and while you typically won’t benefit from a cleat mechanism you will be able to keep your feet firmly in place with the use of straps or toe clips; it would again be advisable to experiment with different combinations until you find what is most comfortable for you.
Hybrid bike shoes take an interesting spin on more casual forms of footwear as they are perfectly comfortable for walking in while still being able to lock into place with clip-in pedal setups. The Shimano Click’r SPD range offers comfortable shoes that you can also walk in or even wear to the gym, yet also clip into when on your bike, which are great for the casual rider.
If you tend not to cover great distances on your bike or you are simply looking to spread your budget a little further by purchasing shoes that are great for cycling and walking then you will definitely want to look into the hybrid-type cycling shoes that are recently becoming widely available.
A Word on Shoe Sizing
More casual styles of footwear will offer a certain amount of give as they conform to the shape and size of your feet, but if you’re going for hard-and-fast bike shoes then you’ll want to ensure a decent fit from day one.
You won’t be able to break cycling shoes in because of their rigidity, so keep your standards high in terms of comfort and please do not rush into purchasing a pair in the hope that the fit will improve over time.
You may notice that your feet slip around the heels as you walk in them, so it is important to determine whether this is due to the stiffness of the soles (which is perfectly natural) or if it is because of a less-than-ideal fit (not what we want).
To ensure your new cycling shoes fit correctly, make sure you have plenty of support and that any slippage is isolated to the heel and not the arch of your foot.
It is also a good idea to choose shoes that provide a little wiggle room for your toes.
For the final time we will stress the importance of experimentation, but in closing it is also worth mentioning that this involves a certain degree of patience.
You may not be able to find perfect bike shoes right away but take your time and in the end your patience will pay dividends. I would love to hear about your experience with cycling shoes, what types you have tried and how beneficial these have been to your riding.
Until next time, enjoy your ride!