You don’t have to own cycling shoes in order to ride a bike, but most people who become serious about cycling end up investing in a pair at some point. They make your cycling easier, more efficient, and altogether more enjoyable. Not only that, but they can also help with knee pain and other ailments that you may suffer from while cycling.
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To the uninitiated, cycling shoes can seem a little complex, but they’re really quite straightforward. All cycling shoes are stiffer on the sole where the shoe meets the pedal, and some have cleats on the bottom that clip into specific pedals you can put on your bike. Perhaps the most confusing aspect of the pedals below is that they're all called 'clipless,' even though you clip into them.
There are essentially two kinds of shoes with cleats: Those designed with walking in mind, and those designed to make cycling as efficient as possible (and as a result the walking part becomes a bit more difficult.) Also worth noting is that because you can get different kinds of cleat systems – each one specific to a certain type of pedal - cleats come supplied with the pedals and not with the shoes. So without further ado, here’s our guide to cycling pedals and shoes in case you’re thinking of investing in a pair and taking your cycling to the next level.
ROAD SHOES AND PEDALS:
Road racing shoes are what many people have in mind when thinking of dedicated cycling footwear. The soles can be virtually or totally inflexible, and they all feature a cleat that clips into dedicated bike pedals. The soles are also very thin in order to deliver maximum power transfer and to maximise that feeling of being dynamically connected to the bike. Because of the stiffness of the uppers as well as the sole, it's important to get a really good fit.
Although there’s more than one kind of cleat system for road shoes, one of the most popular kinds remains the ‘Look’ system invented more than 30 years ago. With this system, the cleat is bolted on to the sole of the shoe instead of recessed, so you wouldn’t want to walk far in them.
Another popular variation for road shoes is the Look Road pedal. They essentially function in the same way, but you would require Look specific cleats.
Non-clip MOUNTAIN BIKE/LEISURE SHOES AND PEDALS:
These are much more what would be considered a normal-looking shoe, and the only part of the shoe that’s stiffened is where the sole makes contact with the pedal. Paired with a pedal such as the below, you can attain maximum grip but not being clipped in to the pedals and the bike.
Many people who use the shoes without a cleat use flat pedals or ‘flatties’ that look like a standard pedal but have raised pins to add extra grip. These help your feet stay on the pedals when you’re bombing downhill.
You also get mountain bike/leisure shoes that take cleats. In this case, the cleat is recessed into the shoe’s sole instead of bolted on, which means that unlike road shoes you can walk around comfortably without making that clip-clop sound.
Shoes such as these would would use a cleat system called the SPD. Some of the SPD pedals come dual sided and some, like below, have a flat on one side and a clip on the other so you do not have to clip in every time.
MOUNTAIN BIKE / EXPERT SHOES AND PEDALS:
Mountain bike/expert shoes are stiffer all round and tend to look more like the classic road shoe. While leisure shoes such as the Giro Petra above could be described as 50/50 cycling and walking, MTB expert shoes are built with 90% cycling in mind. However, they’re more flexible than road shoes, they accept recessed cleats, and the soles are lugged (bumpy) so you get decent grip when scrambling over rocks on foot.
Just like the more Mountain Bike/Leisure shoes mentioned before, these shoes use the SPD system. They would clip into an SPD pedal such as the one below:
A few points on perfect pedal-and-cleat practice
- Most cyclists ride most efficiently with the ball of the foot over the pedal spindle.
- It is usually most comfortable to match the gait of your walking style (i.e if you walk toes pointing outwards/inwards when walking, set your shoe up the same)
- The first time you ride with cleated shoes, practise stationary holding on to a fence and once comfortable with this move on to grass or traffic-free road so you can concentrate on what you’re doing.
- Practise clipping into the pedal and releasing without looking down. Most important, practise unclipping your dominant foot whenever you’re coming up to a stop.
- To help ensure you get a great shoe fit, Specialized have supplied our Edinburgh Bruntsfield and Newcastle brances of our shops with a foot measuring tool. So if you’re near our Bruntsfield or Newcastle branches just pop in to get fitted!