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Ultimate Cycling Shoes Guide: Choosing The Right Pair

Enhancing your bike experience is easy to do. One of the simplest ways to improve performance is by wearing cycling shoes. You will look better, ride faster, and farther too.

The only disadvantage to wearing cycling shoes will come when you balance your checkbook. They range in price from $100 to $400 for a pair. If you ride multiple disciplines and/or use different pedal models you will need to own multiple pairs of shoes, or get used to changing cleats frequently.

Why Wear Cycling Shoes?

Aside from the aesthetic aspect, your performance will improve dramatically from wearing cycling shoes over a pair of running shoes, for instance. From a visual perspective cycling shoes tell other riders you’re serious. They look great and are usually durable and easy to keep clean.

To understand the benefits to performance, think about what you are trying to accomplish when you pedal. Essentially, you are trying to transfer energy from your body to your bike’s drive train. If you wear a running shoe with a soft shoe, part of the energy in your body is wasted flexing the sole of that shoe. A cycling shoe on the other hand will have a stiff sole. This way it does not flex at all and your energy transfer is more efficient.

In addition to the stiff sole you maintain connection on the upward portion of your pedal stroke. If you visualize pedaling from the side of the bike your feet move in a circle. With flat pedals that do not clip in, you are floating on the upward portion of the pedal stroke. There is a very minor loss in efficiency and you have a much greater chance of your foot floating off the pedal.

Do Clip-In Shoes Make A Difference?

As I mentioned above, clipless pedals make a big difference when it comes to pedaling efficiency. There may be an additional competitive advantage with an SPD-SL cleat and pedal because they are typically lighter than their SPD counterparts.

The weight difference between pedals and cleats should be a factor you consider when committing to clipping in. There is a 200 gram difference in weight between an Ultegra SPD SL pedal and a Deore XT SPD pedal. There is also a 5% difference in weight between the average clipless pedals and flats.

How To Choose Cycling Shoes?

Once you have determined the clipless pedal combination that works best for you your choice in cycling shoe comes down to fit. For cyclists with wide feed you need to order a wide shoe. Shimano, Specialized and Fizik are known for making great fitting shoes for cyclists with wide feet.

The best place to buy your next pair of cycling shoes will be at your local bike shop. If you don’t have a local bike shop you need to visit REI, Scheels or another large sporting goods store with a good bike shop reputation.

How To Put Cleats on Cycling Shoes

The process to install cleats is simple. Make sure you have a multi-tool because it will take a small metric Allen wrench to install the cleats. Positioning of the cleats is key. You want it directly below the ball of your foot. A perfect fitting on the first attempt is rare.

You will need to take your bike out for a long ride. Pay attention to how your foot feels while pedaling. If you are experiencing hot spots or your pedal stroke feels off an adjustment to the cleat position is needed.

I like to start out on the end of the ball of my feet by my toes and make micro adjustments working back towards my heel with each ride. Three rides of 20+ miles is enough to dial in the cleat position.

SPD vs SPD-SL Cleats

I have gone back and forth between Crank Brothers Cleats, SPD Cleats and SPD-SL Cleats. This is something that will have to be a personal choice for you. I love the speed and simplicity of getting in and out of SPD Cleats. My Crank Brothers Cleats are the easy release model, but unfortunately they don’t have an easy in option.

My least favorite cleat type is the three hold SPD-SL. Its the same hole pattern needed for Keo Grip cleats, and even Delta cleats for Peloton owners. My issue is not with the cleat itself, but the shoes setup to accept those cleats. Most road shoes are horrible to walk in. I like to tour on my bike so getting off and being able to walk are important to me. Several shoes have both two hole and three hole setups for SPD or SPD-SL cleats.

Here’s a Pro Tip for clipping in. If you have an indoor smart trainer practice clipping in and out while the bike is on the trainer. It provides a safe environment to break in your cleats and get used to the process of getting in and out quickly. I know my Wahoo KICKR Smart Trainer is more than sturdy enough to practice clipping in.

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