Cycle Shoes Guide
15th September 2015
This guide helps to explain the wide variety of cycling shoes available. We consider specific designs for road cycling, triathlon and mountain biking, and variations within these sub-categories.
What are cycling shoes?
Starting with the basics, what are cycling shoes and how are they different from normal sports shoes? Cycling shoes use “Clip-less” or “Clip-in” technology; with a ‘cleat’ on the bottom of the shoe you clip into the pedals. This has the advantage that you are able to generate a more fluid effort in the whole of the pedal stroke; pulling up on the pedals as well as pushing down. The result is increased efficiency and ultimately speed!
Clip-in shoes also increase efficiency through their construction compared to normal sports shoes. They tend to have stiffer, thinner soles that flex less as you pedal; translating into better power transfer through the pedals. They also feature buckles, straps and laces that help to strap your feet firmly in position, avoiding uncomfortable slipping and movement that you may encounter in traditional sports shoes.a
So, cycle shoes are made specifically to be more efficient and comfortable than normal sports shoes. However, to further add to the advantages of cycle shoes, there are many adaptions to the “Clip-in” shoe. In this guide we consider the different designs, to help you get the most from you cycle shoe purchase.
Road cycling shoes
First up, road cycling shoes. Road shoes are easily identified; they normally have a smooth low-profile plastic or carbon sole, without grips or lugs (except maybe one on the heel). They often have vented uppers to allow your feet to remain cool in hot conditions, and they will have a combination of buckles and straps to secure your foot in place.
What should you look for when buying a road shoe?
- Cleat compatibility: Road cycling shoes will most likely use a three-bolt cleat mount. This means that they are only compatible with “road style” clip-in systems, such as Shimano SPD-SL and Look pedal/cleat systems. Be aware that there are also other systems available such as Speedplay. When purchasing your shoes, ensure they are compatible with your pedal choice. Please note that cleats are never provided with shoes.
- Buckles, straps or BOA lacing? The means of fastening your feet into your shoes largely falls down to three options; ratchet buckles, Velcro straps or BOA cord fastenings. Traditional Velcro fastening are reliable, strong and lightweight. Ratchets are sturdy, allow easy adjustment on the move, and provide a very firm hold on your foot. BOA is the lightest system available, and the lacing avoids uncomfortable contact points that can occur with some strap systems. What you choose largely depends on personal preference and budget, with all systems having pros and cons, but all ultimately functioning well.
- Ventilation: The final thing to consider with your road shoes is the level of ventilation. Within the road shoes category you will find a broad spectrum of ventilation levels; at one end are winter shoes/boots that have minimal mesh or holes that may let in water, and a higher level of insulation from the cold. At the other end of the spectrum, are highly ventilated shoes that have holes in the sole and mesh uppers to increase breathability and comfort in hot summer months. Look for a level of ventilation that suits the weather/climate you are riding in, and it will help to keep you comfortable.
Triathlon Cycling Shoes
Triathlon cycling shoes are similar to road shoes in some aspects, but fundamentally different in others. The main difference is that triathlon shoes are designed to be easily removable, even whilst riding (to speed up transition). They are also likely to be softer lined so that you can wear them without socks if you wish.
What should you look for when buying triathlon shoes?
- Strap closure and heel loops: Most triathlon shoes use a single wide Velcro strap to secure your foot. This makes it easy to adjust and undo the strap whilst you are on the bike; a key part of transition during a triathlon. The lack of buckles also means it is more comfortable if you place your foot on top of the shoe as you pedal into transition. Another helpful feature to look out for is loops on the heel, which allow you to pull the shoe on quickly during transition.
- Ventilation: Triathlon shoes tend to be heavily ventilated, to allow the foot to dry after a swim. Look for shoes with mesh panels that will help air flow over the foot, and keep you comfortable during your time on the bike.
- Cleat compatibility: The question of cleat compatibility for triathlon shoes is identical to that for road shoes that we discussed above; with the norm being a three-bolt mount, but with other variations also available.
Mountain Biking Shoes
Mountain bike shoes are significantly different to road and triathlon shoes, both in function and appearance. The first and most obvious difference is that mountain bike shoes have lugs and grips on the sole, which enable you to walk and run when you are forced to dismount to open gates or in muddy conditions. The second feature is that they have a different cleat system (more on this below). A third difference is that these shoes tend to be made of tougher, water resistant materials such as synthetic leather to help keep out the trail muck.
What should you look out for when buying mountain biking shoes?
- Sole Flexibility: Compared to road shoes, most mountain bike shoes have more flex in the sole; this is to achieve a comfortable compromise between the maximum power transfer sought after in road shoes, and the ability to walk off the bike that is necessary for off-road riding. As you move towards the higher end of the mountain bike shoe range, you will see more carbon fibre soles; these are designed primarily for mountain bike racers who have a greater focus on power transfer, so if you think you’ll be walking a lot in your shoes, then a pair of plastic or composite soled shoes is a better option.
- Cleat Compatibility: Mountain bike cleats are very different from road cycling cleats and the two ranges are not inter-compatible. Mountain biking cleats are smaller to allow them to sit inside the grips and lugs on the sole of the shoe, they affix using just two bolts and they are designed so that they stay clear of mud and debris. The cleats you use will depend on the pedal system you are using. Cleats are not normally compatible between pedal systems, though for mountain bike shoes they all use a two-bolt mounting system. Please note that cleats are never provided with shoes.
- Ventilation: As with road shoes there is a wide spectrum of ventilation levels in mountain biking shoes. At one end there are winter boots, which could be fully waterproof, Gore-Tex lined and have sealing cuffs. At the other end, there are summer racing shoes which have more mesh coverage, less synthetic leather or rubber, and an overall lighter weight.
- Closure System: Again mountain bike shoes have a variety of closure methods similar to road shoes. The choice you make between Velcro, ratchet or BOA will depend largely upon budget and personal preference.
Sizing and Fit
Sizing and fit is often an area where questions arise for cycling shoes: How do sizes compare between brands? What do I do if I have the wrong size?
Cycling shoes are quite a personal choice, we hope that this guide has helped to explain the different styles and designs. There is a huge range on the Wiggle site, so there is certain to be a colour and design that matches your kit and preference.