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How to Choose the Best Bike Shoes

How to Choose the Best Bike Shoes

Riding a bike does not have to be complicated and you can cycle in just about any shoe. However when your riding becomes more regular, and you may want to capitalize on the benefits of a specially designed shoe for cycling. Athletic shoes and sneakers work great on flat pedals for casual riding, but cycling specific shoes offer stiffer soles, reinforced areas for durability purposes, as well as the ability to clip into cycling pedals. Riders can experience higher energy transfer, less fatigue, and a more efficient ride quality with the use of cycling shoes, especially the clipless variant, which means the shoes feature cleats and clip into pedals. Your riding style and the terrain you navitage will determine what type of cycling shoe best fits your exact needs. From road cycling, mountain biking, to commuting and bar hoping around town there is a shoe/pedal combo sure to bring you more freedom, fitness, and fun!

Cycling shoes are commonly paired with compatible pedals that allow the rider to clip into the pedals, securely holding your feet onto the bicycle. The most common style is a 2-bolt or 3-bolt cleat that you screw into the sole of the shoe. This cleat clips into the compatible pedals achieving a secure connection between the shoe and the pedal.This improves pedal stroke efficiency and decreases fatigue. This is especially noticeable when sprinting in top gear and climbing hills.

Cycling Shoe Style Comparison Chart

 

Road Bike Shoes  Mountain Bike Shoes Commuter Shoes
Sole  Smooth/Slick Grip For Traction Smooth Grip
Sole Stiffness Stiffest Stiff Soft
Cleat Protrudes from Sole Recessed in Sole Recessed in Sole
Pedal 3-Bolt Clipless Flat or 2-Bolt Clipless Flat or 2-Bolt Clipless


TRIATHLETE GEARING UP NEXT TO THEIR BIKE

Road Cycling Shoes

Road cycling shoes are designed with a focus on being ultralight, aerodynamic, and well ventilated. They offer the stiffest soles on the market, achieving the maximum power transfer possible between rider and the pedals. Any rider looking for the highest performance advantage in road cycling would want to start shopping for a road cycling shoe and clipless pedal setup.

The biggest drawback to road cycling shoes is that most are not designed for walking due to their smooth, hard plastic sole as well as the protruding cleats. In addition the stiff sole does not allow the shoes to flex, and can be uncomfortable when walking.

Road cycling shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals, the type where you clip into the pedal for a solid contact between the shoe and pedal. The name is confusing as clipless pedals are the kind you actually clip into, but the origin of the name goes back to the toe clip days. Clipless was meant to distinguish these new type of pedals from the old standard toe clips with straps. When clipped into the pedals the rider gets increase power input due to the power being transferred not only on the down stroke, but also the upstroke of the pedaling motion.

When shopping for road cycling shoes keep in mind you want to base your final purchase decision on the type of riding style that best suits your goals. For instance, if you're a road racer and want to give yourself every competitive advantage you'll want to browse carbon fiber road shoes offering the lightest weight and stiffest soles on the market. If your road riding has you hoping on and off the bike frequently, or even going inside establishments on your route, you'll want to browse the 2-Bolt cycling shoes to allow you to walk around easily yet still improve the power transfer while riding.

Pedal Compatibility

3-Bolt Cleats

The majority of road cycling shoes feature a three bolt cleat design that has three holes on the bottom for installing the cleats. A 3-bolt cleat system will offer the highest stability rating and energy transfer. The cleat is larger in size and helps distribute the force of the rider's pedal stroke over a wider area of the pedals. This not only allows for a solid connection between shoe and petal, it also reduces pressure on the contact point greatly.

Popular Brands in 3-Bolt Cleat Systems: LOOK, TIME, SHIMANO (SPD-SL)

2-Bolt Cleats

A smaller percentage of road shoes feature a 2-bolt cleat design, similar to mountain clipless shoes. These shoes can offer a more comfortable option in a clipless system, and are popular with commuters and casual riders.

Popular Brands in 2-Bolt Cleat Systems: CrankBrothers, TIME, SHIMANO (SPD)

PEARL IZUMI ROAD BIKE SHOE PEARL IZUMI ROAD BIKE SHOE VIEW OF SOLESPEARL IZUMI ROAD BIKE SHOE SIDE VIEW

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MOUNTAIN BIKE FLAT SHOES IN THE DIRT

Mountain Cycling Shoes

Mountain biking shoes are much different than road shoes, the demands of trail riding are much different than that of the roadways. When shopping for mountain bike shoes you'll want to look at the type of mountain biking you're into as well as your riding style. There are specific shoes designed for different disciplines and a cross country mountain bike shoe is much different than a downhill shoe. Mountain bikers have the choice between traditional flat shoes or clipless and your riding style and choice of trails will determine what suits your riding needs best.

Flat mountain bike shoes do not feature cleats, rather a traditional grippy sole. The rubber used on the sole is designed to stick to the pedals and provide maximum traction. A major benefit of not being clipped in is the ability to quickly take your foot on and off of the pedals. This can be very convenient when trail riding, especially technical features and punchy climbs. Flat shoes work great for casual trail riding and technical mountain biking.

Clipless mountain bike shoes use the 2-bolt cleat system and the cleat is recessed into the sole of the shoe. This allows the wearer to walk much more effectively when off the bike.Clipless mountain bike shoes are great for cross country and long distance riding. They are also common for road cyclists looking for more comfort and commuters.

Mountain biking shoes also feature protective features in addition to the benefits of a road cycling shoe. Higher end mountain bike shoes will feature stiff soles, lighter weight as well as reinforced ankle and foot protection, sophisticated fastening systems, and waterproof technology.

FIVE TEN FREERIDER PRO SHOESPEARL MOUNTAIN BIKING CLIPLESS SHOESPEARL IZUMI MOUNTAIN BIKING SHOES VIEW OF SOLE

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URBAN COMMUTER CYCLING THROUGH TRAFFIC WITH BACKPACK

Casual Cycling Shoe

Casual cycling shoes are similar ins tyle to your average athletic shoe or sneaker. Casual cycling shoes are an excellent choice for urban commuting, recreational riding, and indoor spin cycling classes. Taking attributes from both cycling and casual footwear these shoes offer the 2-bolt clipless compatibility as well as a comfortable shoe to walk in. While not as stiff as a performance cycling shoe, they'll get you the improved pedal efficiency as well as a comfortable shoe to wear into the market or cafe.

SHIMANO COMMUTER SHOESHIMANO COMMUTER SHOE WOMENSSHIMANO CLIPLESS SANDAL

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CYCLIST LEANING ON THEIR BIKE, VIEW OF SHOES AND DRIVETRAIN

Cycling Shoe Sizing & Fit

When buying a pair of cycling shoes it is important to find the right fit. Being a performance piece of equipment it's important that the shoes fit properly in order for the rider to fully benefit from the features of the shoe, as well as avoid injury. Purchase a cycling shoe that fits well from the moment you try them on. Cycling shoes are stiff and made of material that does not stretch or break in much. When cycling your toes will swell with exertion and heat, ensure your cycling shoes have enough room for your toes to wiggle slightly in order to avoid blisters and discomfort. The overall shoe should feel snug and your footbed well supported. The heel should be locked into the heel of the shoe, with no room for play. Cycling shoes are often labeled in European sizes, each manufacturer should have a size chart that is best reviewed when choosing your size. You can find these charts next to the "Description" button on the product page for any cycling shoe on our website.

US, UK, Europe Size Conversion

MENS AND WOMENS US, UK, AND EUROPE SHOE SIZING CONVERSION CHART


CYCLIST TAKES A BREAK AT SUNSET, VIEW OF SHOES, BIKE, AND SCENIC VISTA

Cycling Shoe Features & Accessories

There are four major types of retention systems used in cycling shoes.

  • Laces are the traditional form of fastening the shoes, and can offer fine tuned fit and comfort. The downside of laces is their tendency to get caught in the bicycle drivetrain. In addition laces canc collect dirt, moisture, and debris while riding.
  • Hook & Loop style fasteners offer a quick closure system and often use velcro to secure in place. This type of closure system is more secure than laces and stays tighter longer.
  • Ratcheting adjustable closure system featuring buckles and snap closures to allow finer tuning of the degree of tightness.
  • Dial system with ratcheting cables commonly referred to as the BOA system are the most sophisticated option for shoe retention. Knob dialing adjustment and a secure fit, as well as a quick release feature make this system top of the line.

Cycling Shoe & Toe Covers

Toe and shoe covers provide an extra layer of insulation and protection from the elements for your feet. Whether cold, wet, or the both this piece of equipment can meant he difference between a fun winter ride and frozen toes. Either just toe covers or entire booties this product is typically made of neoprene or something similar which provides insulation and water resistance. The covers will feature holes to allow cycling cleats to protrude from the shoe and should be worn when riding only. Shoe covers are great for the coldest of riding weather, while toe covers can take the chill off of a morning route and get tossed in your jersey pocket as day breaks.

PEARL IZUMI TOE COVERSPEARL IZUMI SHOE COVERS

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Cycling Shoe Maintenance

Cycling shoes are a piece of performance equipment and it's important to care for them as so. Extend the life of your cycling shoes and save money by taking simple steps to keep your shoes in great condition, longer.

Cleaning

Clean your shoes after a dirty ride, especially if the shoes are soiled with dirt or mud. Use a towel or rag to wipe the shoes down, if dirt is stubborn a brush with warm water can help. Dry wet shoes thoroughly with a towel and remove insoles to allow airflow. Placing the shoes in a dry, well ventilated area helps. From packing wet shoes with newspaper, to using fans and boot warmers there are many tricks for drying your cycling shoes. 

Cleat Replacement

Routinely check your cleats for wear, misalignment, and dirt/debris. If you notice a degradation in the quality of your clip in and release it's probably time to change your cleats. When replacing cleats make sure you purchase the correct model that is compatible with your pedals.

 SHIMANO SPD CLEATSSHIMANO SL SPD CLEATSCRANK BROS CLEAT

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Now that you've had a crash course in Cycling Shoes 101 you're ready to start shopping around. Keep in mind what style riding you enjoy and where your cycling goals are headed, then choose the shoe that best fits your needs and desires. If you still have questions, or would like some shoe, pedal, or cleat recommendations from riders just like you, feel free to drop us a line today!
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If you're local to Southern California we invite you to visit one of our Bicycle Warehouse retail stores to experience the best selection and service around.

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