Pro cyclists have been known to carry their cycling shoes as hand luggage on airplanes because it’s the only way they can ensure the shoes don’t go astray, as can happen with checked-in baggage. Just goes to prove: shoes are essential tools of the cyclist’s trade.
However, you don’t need to invest in a £200-plus pro-level shoe. Starting at under £50 a pair, cycling shoes can be the most affordable route to improving your cycling experience.
Why I ride in cycling shoes
I (the Bike Co-op’s Ged) did a century ride around 20 years ago wearing Converse sneakers. Past the 50-mile mark, it wasn’t my neck or my legs or my ass or my back that hurt. It was the ball of each foot. I’ve cycled in proper stiff-soled shoes (which cost no more than Converse sneakers) ever since – even for riding to work.
To help you choose a pair that most matches your needs, we describe shoes as either road, mountain bike or multi use.
The road shoe is the cycling shoe in its purist form. Unlike MTB or multi-use shoes, little or no compromise is made for walking.
Road shoes are lighter weight – often under 500g a pair (MTB shoes can weigh a kilo). Even more important, a road shoe has the smoothest, thinnest and most rigid sole to maximise pedalling efficiency and to minimise pressure on the foot. Then the sole is drilled to take an externally mounted Look/SPD SL-style cleat for secure (but instantly releasable) connection with the pedal.
Road shoes are especially recommended if you want to maximise power output whilst perfecting a smoother pedal stroke AKA souplesse. You will however have to learn to live with the duck-walk clip-clop gait that cleats create when you walk in them.
Multi-Use Cycling Shoes
Multi-use means the shoe is equally fit for cycling and walking.
Multi-use also means these shoes are perfect for near any type of cycling, be it commuting, leisure, charity rides, on-road up to sportive level and off-road up to trail centre black-route standard.
To be this versatile, the sole is stiffened where it makes contact with the pedal, then it’s more flexible under the toes so you can still walk comfortably in them. Nearly every multi-use cycling shoe is drilled to take a recessed SPD-style cleat for improved pedalling efficiency without compromising your ability to walk in them.
To make them truly wearable, multi-use shoes also have to be good looking. This probably explains why the classy women’s Giro Petra and men’s Giro Rumble – both featuring Vibram hiking soles and both price tracked down to £62.99 (RRP £69.99) – are our current best selling cycling shoes.
Multi-use shoes are especially recommended if you want cycling shoes you can pretty much live in on all but the most formal occasions.
Mountain Bike Shoes
Dedicated MTB shoes fall into two camps.
- 5Ten shoes have super grippy Stealth rubber soles, which stick to your flat pedals’ grip pins. 5Tens are perfect for any type of mountain biking from pure leisure to World Cup Downhill Racing level, and they’ll double as everyday multi-use shoes.
- Then there are MTB shoes made for SPD-style pedals – just like multi-use shoes – except here, the shoe will be lighter and the mid sole noticeably stiffer. However, unlike a road shoe, an MTB shoe’s grippy rubber outsole offers walking traction whenever you get off the bike to hike.
MTB shoes are especially recommended for mountain biking. That goes without saying. However, we know plenty riders who use SPD mountain bike shoes as a stiffer-soled, more technical alternative to multi-use shoes for everyday road riding too.