By Robbie Ferri, Cyclist, Personal Trainer, and Group Exercise Instructor.
I love cycling, and if I’m not riding my bike, I’m usually looking for things to help improve my riding. The cycling world is full of fabulous accessories, and you can end up wasting thousands on getting the suitable kit if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Cycling shoes are a minefield, and getting the wrong shoes can cause you a world of discomfort.
So, what you should look for before buying your pair of cycling shoes?
Types of Cycling Shoes
- Road Cycling shoes: These are shoes which are made for Road Riding. They are very challenging to walk in as they have a cleat that will sit on the bottom. They are made to be stiff and light and connect you to the bike. The float range is between 0 to 7 degrees.
- MTB Shoes: These are Mountain biking shoes and they will have a cleat on them as well, but it will flush with the shoe as it’s quite often you might need to hike a bike. The float range is normally 9 degrees.
What Do We Look For When Buying Shoes?
It’s very easy to start by looking for the loveliest color and design you like the most, but in my opinion, this is only half the battle. You want to be proud of what you’re wearing, and yes, we want to look good. You can get away with uncomfortable shoes on a night out, but cycling you can’t. We need our shoes to function to stop us from feeling uncomfortable and help us perform to the best of our ability, so what do I look for in a cycling shoe?
- Design: You have to like how your shoes look to feel entirely comfortable in them. I recommend getting shoes you think match your personality and ones that you think look amazing. It would be rude not to tie them into the color of your bike or the rest of your kit
- How they tighten: This is much more important than you think. For years I had Velcro strapped cycling shoes, and I would spend a lot of time fiddling about getting them to feel snug. I upgraded to lace shoes and realized that wasn’t much better and took five times as long to get them on. I eventually used Boas, and now I slip my shoe on and twist the dial, and they feel perfect every time. I wish I had invested in these much earlier.
- Cleat Compatibility: As a Spinning instructor myself, I have lost count of the amount of time people have come to my classes and said my shoes don’t clip in. There are two main types of cleat fitment on a shoe. SPD, these are the little metal clips and attach with two bolts about 10mm apart, commonly seen on Mountain Bike and Spin bike Shoes. Then you have SPD-SL. These have three bolts in a triangle. These are for road bikes and bikes such as the Peloton. Make sure you know what you’re buying. They do make shoes which do both as well, but they are not very common.
- Ventilation: Getting shoes with decent ventilation will go a long way. I always go for shoes with lots of air holes to keep my feet cool. Feeling too hot can lead to all kinds of issues, such as your feet heavily sweating mid ride. If you’re worried about your feet getting cold in winter, invest in overshoes.
- Weight: Many people stress about the weight of a cycling shoe, and honestly, it doesn’t make much difference. Let me be honest in saying you are not getting PB’s from a light shoe. If something heavier is more comfortable, use that.
- Quality: You get what you pay for. If you buy $20 shoes off amazon, something will bug you about them. If you buy $150 you will get a much better experience. I remember riding an Ultra endurance race in cheap shoes when I first started cycling. My feet hurt so much after the first day, and I would have paid near hundreds of dollars to take the pain away. I ended up leaving the race early, and this was one of the factors why.
Related: How SPD, Delta & Toe Cleats Compare
Should I add padding to my shoes to make them more comfortable?
It’s common that your feet can hurt when riding long distances, how do we avoid this? Having extra cushioning in the form of a memory foam pad is often used, but I’d try to avoid this as it can actually make your feet feel worse by pushing them too high into the top of the shoe. The best way to go is to buy some cycling shoe insoles to match your foot shape.
Is a Lightweight Shoe Better for Long Distance?
Normally a lightweight shoe will be less padded. The weight loss will be so small it won’t make much difference to performance. If the shoe is comfortable then go for it. If it isn’t, find something with more support for your foot which might be heavier.
How Much Should I Spend on Cycling Shoes?
It’s personal for everyone as it does come down to budget more than anything. If you can afford it, spending $200 compared to $50 will make a vast difference to the way a shoe feels to use.
Is There a Type of Shoe That Bike Riders Should Avoid at All Costs?
If it’s very cheap and the plastic doesn’t have much give in it on the top of the shoes then this is a big red flag for me.
Before buying a set of cycling shoes, it’s vital to know what you’re buying. Check your cleats and make sure the shoes are of decent quality because if not, there’s a good chance you will regret it later. If you can try the shoes on in a shop first, do it!