Once you’ve become pretty well acquainted to your bike, the desire of specialization kicks in. You’re after the best parts, latest accessories and you want to look like a pro in cycling equipment. This is where cycling shoes come into play and you may read below why they are so special.
The purpose of cycling shoes
Cycling shoes are designed to be attached to bicycle pedals and they are basically useless without them. Of course, they are attached not to regular pedals, but to clipless ones. Attaching shoes to pedals hasn’t been designed to offer the perfect grip for these two, but for pedaling efficiency, as you press down with one foot while the other pulls up the pedal (see illustration). As force is uniformly applied along the 360 degrees rotation of the pedals, this type of riding is called round pedaling.
Clipless pedals all work on the same principle, even if they come in different shapes for mountain bikes and road bikes. The cleat attached to the shoe’s sole is connected to a matched fitting on the pedals. For a better understanding of the system, you can think at ski bindings. It’s the exactly same story, only in another form!
Getting back to what I said above, cycling shoes and clipless pedals are an inseparable pair. It’s no point in using cycling shoes without the appropriate pedals and vice versa. Therefore, cycling shoes and clipless pedals are usually purchased by people who aren’t quite novices to pedaling. Many cyclists feel insecure with their feet attached to the pedals and it is a quite a normal reaction since it takes up to one month of getting accustomed to this system.
Types of cycling shoes
There are two main types of cycling shoes:
Road cycling shoes have a perfectly rigid sole and bigger cleats protruding beyond the sole. The rigid sole provides efficient energy transfer to the pedals, and also the comfort necessary for those longer rides which can be well extended up to hundreds of kilometers. They are lightweight, aerodynamic and provide a firm ankle support. Walking with such shoes is very hard and is not recommended as it affects the rigidity of the sole.
Off-road cycling shoes also have a rigid sole, but slightly more flexible, with the cleat positioned below the line of knobs. The more flexible sole is very useful when you have to step off the bike and push it.
Except these two types of shoes, we can mention:
– Touring shoes: a hybrid between a pair of adventure shoes and one made for off-road cycling. They have been designed for those into several days bike trips in need of a pair of shoes which they can use for pedaling but also walking. There are in fact a lot of options as this type of specialized footwear may come in form of sandals, hiking boots or even sneakers.
– Freeride / downhill shoes: for those always looking for the fastest descent, and also for the best control of their bike, as they have a large platform, increased rigidity in the ankle area and a better toe protection. Not everyone likes this type of shoe for downhill (especially beginners) because they believe that it might be difficult to detach the shoe from the pedal when you want to stick your foot off (when cornering for example).
Triathlon shoes are basically road cycling shoes with a strap on their heel, as this makes them more comfortable to be put on and off.
What cycling shoes suit me best?
Same as with ordinary shoes you can find the cycling shoes to suit your perfectly! Try several pairs until you find one in which your foot is nor too tight, neither too loose. There has to be a “chemistry” down there just like for a cycling helmet – neither too tight nor too large. Comfort is vital for shoes, but you must not neglect their efficiency as your force won’t be fully transferred to the pedals if your foot moves inside the shoe. Most important is that the shoe keeps your heel firmly, without allowing it to move while your foot moves through the 360 degrees rotation of the pedals.
There are also models designed for women and for men, each tailored to the anatomical particularities of their legs. Don’t forget to mention this when you go buying your next pair of cycling shoes.
How do I asses the quality of the shoes?
Sole material is the main indicator of the quality of the shoe. Entry-level shoes have soles produced from harder plastic, while high-end models have full carbon sole. Carbon is very stiff, optimizing power transfer.
Top models are manufactured from genuine leather, while the lower priced shoes are made of synthetic leather. In addition, shoes belonging to the first category have an adjustment system evenly distributing tension avoiding increased pressure on certain spots of the foot only, and this prevents numbness. Lace-up cycling shoes are not recommended as they can wrap around the pedal or get sucked by the chain.