Bike Shoes And Clipless Pedals-Are They For You?

Shoes are the power transmitting devices on your bike. Cycling shoes are stiff so that the feet are protected from the strain of pedaling. This stiffness also allows more of your power to be transmitted to the rear wheel. Whatever shoes you decide to go for, be sure to have compatible pedals. Several systems are available that allow cycling shoes to more efficiently connect to the pedal.

Are Bike Shoes For Me?


You can ride a bike in just about any shoes, and that may be fine for someone that rides only minimal. But anyone who rides distance or for competition can benefit from shoes specifically designed for bicycling. The more comfortable your feet are while you ride can only benefit your over-all riding experience. Shoes with cleats referred to as “clipless” provide continuous power to the driving wheel.

Compared to typical athletic shoes, cycling shoes are designed with stiffer soles to provide more efficient energy transfer to your rear wheel as you pedal. These stiff soles also protect your feet while riding and support the full length of each foot to reduce cramping and fatigue. The uppers are also relatively rigid for extra support.

Cycling shoes can be “clipless” or not. The clipless shoe pedal combination offers unmatched control and greater transfer of power to the rear wheel. If you are a casual rider or prefer shoes without cleats, the typical platform pedals are all you need. Another choice is the combination clipless/platform pedals that gives you the option of clipless or platform.

Choosing Bike Shoes


While deciding on the right bike shoes for you, keep in mind proper shoe/pedal compatibility. There are many different types and styles of cycling shoes designed for all categories of biking and rider preference.


Which Pedal system is Best?


Each type has pros and cons. There is no "best" system - simply one which works best for you. Take some time to decide the ones that are right for you.


 Protruding Cleats
Can Make
Walking Difficult.
Out-soles are available in smooth and lugged patterns with rigidity ranging from stiff to very stiff. Casual riders and commuters do fine with basic rubber soles while mountain bikers require aggressively lugged soles for maximum traction while walking. These soles offer grip on rocky or unstable surfaces. Road cyclists typically prefer shoes with smooth soles for minimum weight and wind resistance and some offer carbon-fiber soles to maximize power transfer. Clipless style out-soles come with 2 hole(SPD-style), 3 hole(Look-style) and 4 hole(Time-style) with cleats protruding from or recessed into the sole.


Hybrid Cycling Shoes


An emerging category is the so-called hybrid cycling/casual footwear. These look like casual shoes and allow easy walking, but their soles offer compatibility with clipless pedal systems. This versatile style is a great option for the casual rider or road bike commuter.

Mountain Biking Shoes


Mountain biking shoes have a fairly stiff sole for efficient pedaling, but with enough flex and a rubber-lug outsole to allow good traction for walking on slick or rugged trails. They have a lacing or hook-and-loop strap system to adjust the fit of the shoe and offer some protection for your toes. Clipless mountain-bike shoes use the 2-hole cleat system so you’ll want to match it up with a compatible pedal.

Additional features are available such as stiffer soles, lighter weight, enhanced foot and/or ankle protection, waterproof liners, additional hook-and-loop straps or a buckle-and-ratchet strap for an improved fit and foot protection. Some shoes also offer removable toe spikes for superb traction when dismounting your bike.


Road Cycling Shoes


Road-biking shoes have exceptionally stiff soles to ease power transfer to your pedals. These performance shoes accompanied with cleats are uncomfortable to walk in due to their inability to flex. This is a performance feature which creates the most efficient power transfer possible while on the bike.

All road shoes offer lightweight construction and good ventilation. As you look at higher-priced shoes, fit systems allow greater customization and materials such as carbon fiber are used to further increase sole rigidity. On many styles, a little rubber pad on the heel provides the only traction.

Most clipless road-bike shoes use either a 2-hole or 3-hole cleat system. Some Speedplay and Time models use a 4-hole cleat system.


Triathlon-specific footwear called”Tri Shoes” are made for speed performance and can be quickly put on or removed at transition areas of a triathlon. Read my article on Training For A Triathlon.


About Clipless Pedals


 Shimano Clipless Pedals
Proper positioning of the cleat on the shoes is necessary for the correct functioning of the clipless pedal system. An incorrectly positioned cleat and/or pedal-release tension can cause release issues and knee pain.

Some road bike shoes are drilled to accept both 2-hole and 3-hole cleat designs, but most will accept only one or the other.Shoes made for use with 2-hole systems can not be modified to use a 3-hole cleat. The 4-hole Speedplay pedal system can be adapted to fit many style shoes.

The 2-hole system is commonly known as the SPD system, short for( Shimano Pedaling Dynamics), which was the first such system and the industry standard. This smaller cleat size offers a solid connection to your pedal. The cleats are recessed into the sole giving you the ability to walk around with some level of comfort. It is used on most mountain bike shoes and some road bike shoes as well.


 Time RXI 3 Hole

The 3-hole system is sometimes known as the Look-style system. It grants you the ultimate in stability, stiffness and energy transfer while riding. The downside is that it compromises your ability to walk normally due to the large cleats bolted to the sole of your shoes.

Other cycling shoes have the stiff soles for increased pedaling efficiency but come without cleats. These are intended for use with flat (platform) pedals.


Shoe Sizing


Please don’t miss this. Cycling shoe sizes are very important. Bike shoes should fit comfortably. All shoes should allow your toes enough room to wiggle slightly. Your arch should be snug and supported and your heel should not slide up and down. Be sure they fit well from the start since the stiff sole leaves little room for breaking in.

When trying on cycling shoes, you may feel some slippage in your heel when you walk. This is due to stiffness of the soles which is designed to support your foot in a stable position while cycling. If you feel that a poor fit is causing the slippage, try a smaller size or a different model shoe.

Straps or Laces


Laces offer the most customizable fit. They deliver great walking comfort due to the flexibility of laces. They can, however, become fouled with water and grime in inclement conditions. When using a shoe with laces, be sure that the ends are short enough or are tucked away to prevent them getting caught in a chain without a guard.

Hook-and-loop straps offer quick closure and remain usable in muddy, wet conditions. Straps stretch less than laces and are more likely to stay on securely during the course of a ride. Most cycling shoes have either 2 or 3 straps. Keep in mind that the more straps on the shoe, the more you can adjust the fit.

Notched cam straps with buckles are more expensive but they offer the greatest clamping power and security.

Bike Shoe Care


To get the most use out of your cycling shoes keep them clean and dry as much as possible. In wet weather or muddy conditions consider bike shoe covers. Cleats can wear out or become cracked after extended use and should be replaced. Your local bikeshop professional can match you with the proper cleats.

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