Cycling shoes: how to choose between different types
How can I choose the right cycling shoes? A simple question that requires such a complex answer! Especially because talking about cycling shoes is as reductive as speaking about bicycles in general! There are so many disciplines in our cycling world, that we'll have to evaluate in a deeper way how to choose between the different cycling shoes compatible with your use.
Choosing the right cycling shoes depends on the activity your going to practice, but not only that. Your habits and your feet morphology are equally important to consider in this regard. I personally prefer quick release so, either during a trip or shorter MTB excursions I prefer to anchor my feet to the pedals.
Choosing the right cycling shoes is very important to guarantee a comfortable and productive ride, letting you enjoy the excursion.
There are mainly two factors to consider when choosing cycling shoes:
- features of the bike shoes;
- discipline practised.
Features of the bike shoes
Cycling shoes, together with the saddle, are one of the most important accessories to choose when cycling, no matter your level! Whether you ride thousands of km per year, or you ride every other weekend, feeling good on the bike might influence your experience and judgement of the trip or excursion. Choose wisely your cycling shoes and give your feet some time to get used gradually to the new purchase!
Quick-release or flat pedal?
In this quick look at some features when choosing the right cycling shoes, the first aspect we can consider is the type of pedal you have mounted on the bike. There are mainly two types of pedals: quick-release keep your feet hooked to the bike to improve the performance while riding and avoid sliding on wet terrains; flat pedals don't hook the feet, which are free to move, exception made for some pins helping with the grip between shoe and pedal.
You might want to choose between the first or the second depending on the discipline you usually practise.
Generally, the quick-release system is used by sportsmen, while flat pedals are used among cycling paths users or easy trips.
In order to improve your riding performance, you might want to consider the stiffness of your cycling shoes. A stiff sole allows conducting the maximum power to the pedal and keeping the foot stable. On the other hand, you get less comfort: putting your foot on a stiff sole reduces the comfort especially if you're riding for many hours. You have to find a compromise between stiffness and comfort.
If you fancy a pair of bike shoes for some short MTB excursions, a rubber sole might become mandatory. Another important element when choosing the right cycling shoes is the sole adherence: if you use the bike on wet terrain, having a dowelled and not too stiff sole is important.
To improve the comfort on your cycling shoes, especially for mountain excursions or short journeys, you might want to consider EVA rubber soles or VIBRAM in order to absorb the shocks.
Another important feature when choosing your cycling shoes is the shoe vamp, so the feet clothes wrapping them: the lesser disturbing elements you have, the better. Sweat and high circulation make the feet soft and sensible to extraneous elements: you definitely know the pebble in the shoe... Wrong stitching in the wrong place and that will be the feeling!
The vamp is responsible for another feature of the shoe: its transpiration. Feet need to breathe even if they have to be dry. Very good material in this direction is GORETEX, usually used on winter expensive shoes.
Comfort, of course, but also stability. Cycling shoes must remain well hooked to the feet when pushing but also when pulling (on quick-release shoes). For this reason, closure is important and you have many options here.
The most advanced models offer micrometric levers or BOA system with circular tensioners are more common on top-level road cycling shoes. These systems are more precise and allow fast closure.
The cheaper alternatives are velcro strap or laces or a combination of the two. These solutions are more practical for non-agonist riders or recreational use.
Choosing the right size
Choosing the right size is not ordinary and might be one of the first aspects to consider when choosing the right cycling shoes. Unfortunately, every company has its own parameters and a particular size from a company might be totally different when compared to the same size from another.
Don't be fooled: you don't have to consider the size as the only parameter, but the shoes shape as well.
When buying, try the shoe and take your time: the tip of the foot doesn't have to be compressed, but at the same time you have to feel the shoe hugging the foot. If you feel uncomfortable at the side, try another model: it might be that single model and not the wrong size!
The only advice I can give you is trying the shoes before buying them and feeling them: our feet are different, and even if you fit in your cousin's same size, sending him to try your future cycling shoes might not work for you. Unless you've tried this system before and you fit in his shoes perfectly, and obviously if he's keen to help. 😂
Road cycling shoes
Generally, road cycling shoes are consecrated to performance, but nonetheless, there are models offering a comfortable fit without leaving out the shoe reactivity.
The sole is generally stiff because this type of shoes is not conceived to be used for walking; in the most performing models, you might find carbon fibre. Differently than MTB cycling shoes, you must mount cleats to attach to the pedals.
The shape of road cycling shoes is tapered and very catchy aesthetically and operationally. The closure system might be with velcro, BOA or levers for very precise closure.
MTB cycling shoes
On the market you can find many types of MTB cycling shoes depending on the discipline you practise: cross country, enduro, downhill.
Among the main features of these shoes, you have a rigid or flexible ole, in order to guarantee more comfort, with more heel to perfectly help during the push-a-bike segments. The vamp will be more or less filled, depending on the seasons of use and for good resistance to shocks, the closure might be velcro, lever or BOA for higher reactivity.
Depending on the disciplines, there are different shoes with peculiar features: all-mountain cycling shoes are perfect for walking and portage, downhill cycling shoes might present the quick-release, XC shoes are stiffer and high-performance, for performance-lovers.
Touring cycling shoes
Seen the exponential interest in this sector during these last years, even the brands are adapting by providing many specific models for this branch of cycling.
I personally think that touring cycling shoes are closer to all-mountain MTB shoes, with a soft dowelled sole in order to be good in terms of power enhancer but at the same time by guaranteeing comfort during the ride AND the walking which usually come along a bicycle touring journey, for visiting places, transfers, walks in the cities.
If you're planning a journey in the Northern countries, from Berlin to Amsterdam with a final tour in the city called "Venice of the North", you'll have to consider buying a comfortable shoe appropriate for long walks along the channels of the city.
If you're used to quick-release, don't give it up! There are shoes covering completely the clamp in order to avoid it touching the ground when walking. If you're travelling during the summer, you might consider buying sandals with the quick-release system: is there something more breathable?
If you prefer release-free cycling shoes, don't despair! You'll definitely find your shoes, or you can always use your trekking ones.
My advice is, in any case, having a flat pinned pedal or a gripped surface in order to guarantee adherence to the shoes and the feet stability.
Winter cycling shoes
To cycle during the cold season you might want to buy special cycling shoes, which can limit the cold sensation or - getting worse - your feet to freeze.
The main features here are cold and rain protection. Offroad cycling models offer reinforced soles, in Vibram material, waterproof vamp and in some models reinforced with a supplementary gaiter or a filled part in order to avoid water infiltration or shocks.
About road cycling shoes: there are specific waterproof shoe-covers to fit on top of them, working as a wind-break.
In conclusion, in order to come to perfect cycling shoes, you'll have to consider many personal factors, starting from the main two.
Which discipline are you practising?
What type of cyclist are you?
Once you've chosen the discipline, you can start picking the features for your activity: stiffness and performance as a sportsman, so carbon fibre sole and BOA closure system, or touring and long rides or walks, so good habits, comfort and budget, following your travelling needs in order to find the right cycling shoes.
ITA - Ho 32 anni e sono piemontese, anche se da qualche anno vivo e lavoro in Lombardia. Dopo un inizio da totale inesperto in questo campo, mi sono avvicinato al mondo dei cicloviaggi e della bicicletta sempre più. Oggi posso definirmi "cicloviaggiatore", e assieme all'altra mia passione - il videomaking - non mi fermerei mai! Cyclo ergo sum, pedalo quindi sono, per cercare di capire perché andare in bici sia così bello, terapeutico, ricco... E ogni volta che provo a capirlo, non ce la faccio, e sono costretto a ripartire sui pedali!