Cycling Shoes: A Buyer's Guide
While anyone can ride a bike wearing regular athletic shoes, achieving desired results and improving performance requires bicycling shoes that are compatible with the type of activity being done.
First, a lesson in bike pedals: not only are there specific shoes for certain activities, but there are special pedals as well!
Platform pedals are wide, flat pedals that do not attach to your shoe. These pedals don't typically require special biking shoes, although a stiffer, rubber outsole may help maintain control. With platform pedals, the rider can only push down on the pedal and cannot pull up. A toe cage can be attached to enhance control.
Clipless pedals are used to attach the shoe and pedal and are typically a 3-hole or 2-hole style. This system involves screwing a cleat directly onto the bottom of the bicycling shoe. Adding this cleat allows the rider to push down and pull up during the pedal stroke, increasing power and maximizing the energy transferred between the shoe and the pedal, making each stroke much more efficient.
Road Cycling Shoes
Shoes used for road cycling have a rigid sole and less flexibility than most shoes, allowing for maximal energy transfer and a powerful pedal stroke. Due to the stiffness of the sole and lack of flexibility, road biking shoes aren't suitable for walking more than a short distance. Typically road cyclists use a 3-hole style of clipless pedals with a cleat that protrudes from the sole of the shoe.
Less expensive road cycling shoes are made with plastic, and mid-range shoes are made with a combination of different materials. This makes them heavier and a little more flexible. Velcro straps are generally used to secure the foot, with a ratchet buckle being added in mid-range priced shoes. Higher priced road cycling shoes are typically more durable, have increased ventilation, and are made with lighter materials like carbon fiber. Carbon fiber by design makes the sole of the shoe very stiff, allowing maximum power transfer and in turn, potential performance improvement. Additionally, higher priced versions offer a more intricate fit and more secure fastening systems through the use of buckles and straps.
Mountain Biking Shoes
Similar to road cycling shoes, mountain bike shoes are designed with a fairly rigid sole. Mountain bikers also look for maximum energy transfer between the pedals and shoes, but extra tread is added to support the rider's need to occasionally dismount and walk. The sole of a mountain bike shoe is more flexible than a road cycling shoe to enable easier walking. Mountain bike shoes tend to have a 2-hole style of clipless pedals with a cleat that is recessed into the sole.
With increasing price comes different features. More expensive mountain bike shoes typically weigh less, have more rigid soles, waterproofing, and different buckles or straps to improve fit. Removable spikes are also an option on more expensive versions.
Triathlon Cycling Shoes
Triathlon bike shoes are very similar to road cycling shoes, but because triathletes are concerned with a quick transition, the type of closure is different on a triathlon shoe. The best closure is one that allows the athlete to put on and remove the shoes as quickly as possible, but that also doesn't allow movement of the feet (which promotes a more productive pedal stroke and greater power transfer). Typically a triathlon-specific cycling shoe will have one to three velcro straps that allow the foot to easily slide into the shoe. These straps or buckles tend to fasten in toward the body as opposed to away from the body, like in a road cycling shoe. This makes them easier to adjust while riding. Additionally, most triathlon cycling shoes have a loop in the upper heel to facilitate getting into and out of the shoe during transitions. More expensive triathlon-specific cycling shoes are made of lighter, better quality materials and offer increased ventilation to minimize water absorption, a more structured fit, and a stiffer sole.
Cyclocross events require an off-road shoe designed to handle all weather conditions and that allows for easier off-the-bike running. Typically, riders will wear mountain bike shoes with toe spikes and a little less mesh ventilation to allow for riding and walking though different conditions. Because the sport requires stroke efficiency along with running agility, it's important to find cyclocross cycling shoes with a little less stiffness in the sole. Buckles should secure the foot and heel as tightly as possible while still preserving comfort. Some riders prefer velcro closures because they can't become clogged with mud, while others believe velcro doesn't secure as well in wet conditions. (As with all shoes, personal preference dictates the best option!) In contrast to most types of biking shoes, cyclocross athletes tend to choose more inexpensive shoes because of the conditions they compete in. More expensive shoes with carbon soles are less flexible and can make running more uncomfortable.
Spinning shoes are shoes specifically used on an indoor stationary bike and are very similar to road and mountain biking shoes. Clips are recommended for spinning on a stationary bike because the flywheel is constantly moving; not clipping in puts the rider at risk of losing control of the pedals. When deciding on a specific shoe, it's vital to know the type of pedals installed on the bike you'll be using. If you're using a bike at a gym or studio, check with a staff member first to ensure compatibility between your shoes and the pedals.