Cycling shoe comfort is subjective, dependent almost entirely on the type of riding you do. All bike shoes have stiff, injection-molded soles of plastic, carbon fiber or fiberglass, in addition to cleat attachment points for clipless pedal compatibility. Riding with your shoes attached to the pedals results in a more powerful pedal stroke, while the rigidity of the shoes translates to a more efficient pedal stroke.
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Types of Shoes
Specific types of bike shoes perform best for their corresponding forms of riding. Road shoes have the sleekest profile, including slick soles with exposed cleats, because they’re primarily intended for speed. The soles of road shoes are stiffer than those of other types of shoes. Mountain bike shoes are intended for off-road riding cross country and on single track, trails, slick rock. For easier walking, mountain shoes have recessed cleats surrounded by rubber soles and are less rigid than road shoes. Touring shoes also have rubber soles and recessed cleats. They come in several styles, such as stiff-soled sandals, hiking boots or tennis shoes, for extended wear off the bike. Indoor bike shoes are specifically made for indoor cycling classes.
Cycling shoes have three basic types of closures, including laces, Velcro straps or notched cam straps with buckles. While laces offer the best way to fit shoes to your feet, long laces should be tucked in to avoid becoming tangled in the pedal’s crank arm or the chain. Mountain shoes typically have Velcro straps, while road shoes usually have cam straps and buckles. Indoor cycling shoes have more breathable uppers than other bike shoes, to prevent your feet from getting too sweaty in a hot cycling studio. Shoes geared toward all-weather commuting may be waterproof or have uppers made of a heavier material. Professional-grade shoes have carbon fiber soles, while low- to mid-range shoes have plastic soles.
An important aspect of bike shoe comfort is how it attaches to the pedal. If you’re not comfortable clipping into a clipless pedal system, you can’t use road shoes — their soles are too slick to sit on top of a platform pedal. However, you can wear mountain, touring or indoor shoes and use flat pedals and toe cages. Clipping in gives you more pedal power. It's also easier to release your feet from clipless pedals after you become accustomed to them, which can be crucial when you have to put your foot down quickly during off-road riding. Most road shoes use the SPD or Look clipless systems. Mountain riders who frequent muddy single track should look for a clipless system that won’t easily become packed with mud and render them useless.
No matter what kind of shoe best suits your riding needs, it should fit comfortably from the get-go. All bike shoes should fit snugly, while allowing you some room to move your toes. The arch of the shoe should be close-fitting, offering your arch full support. The heel cup shouldn’t move up and down as you pedal. If the heel cup slides up and down when you walk around while trying the shoe on, try the next size down, or try another brand or model instead. You may initially experience slippage due to the sole’s rigidity, however, rather than a poor fit.