Are Cycling Shoes Worth It? Why You Need Them (Pros & Cons Explained)

Regular vs. cycling shoes (are cycling shoes worth it?)

If you recently got into cycling, you probably consider buying cycling shoes. Their price starts at around $50 and can exceed hundreds of dollars. This, of course, depends on their quality, brand, type, etc.

The question is, are cycling shoes worth it? Isn’t it better to just use regular or any type of sports shoe? In this article, you find the answer.

You also learn when to consider buying clipless cycling shoes, if they make you faster, their benefits and disadvantages, and much more.

Benefits of Cycling Shoes

There are four most discussed benefits of cycling shoes:

  1. Comfort
  2. Safety
  3. Injury prevention
  4. Pedaling efficiency

Let’s now examine them more in-depth.

Comfort

The first main reason to start thinking about buying cycling shoes is the comfort you get.

Clipless cycling shoes are designed to be lightweight, ventilated, stiff, and durable.

Depending on their type, these features differ. For example, road cycling shoes are the lightest and stiffest because road cyclists spend long hours in the saddle. On the other hand, MTB shoes are a little bit heavier and more durable.

Thanks to their predictable use on a road bike, they are designed specifically for cycling, not walking. Due to the cleats, walking in road cycling shoes is more difficult than in MTB clipless shoes that have more recessed cleats.

Ventilation is essential for hot summer months. The sense of burning feet is something you want to avoid when cycling.

PRO TIP: Buy light road cycling shoes because they will reflect more sunshine, and your feet won’t overheat as much as in dark-colored shoes. Dark-colored cycling shoes are perfect for MTB or gravel because the dirt is not as visible on them as on light-colored shoes.

Cycling shoes also have to be durable. Especially gravel bike shoes and MTB shoes have to withstand the elements (like the mud, water, rock impacts) and more frequent walking in terrain.

Safety

However contrary it may sound, clipless shoes are clipped into clipless pedals. This means your feet won’t slip off pedals and remain in place, unlike on flat pedals without pins that are often supplied with cheaper or hybrid bikes.

A fixed foot position increases your safety in some situations. For example, I can’t imagine riding a road bike without clipless pedals. I get a sense of connection with my bike, and it’s easier to control it.

The clipping in and off takes some time to get used to (more about it below). But I am sure you will master it within a few rides.

On the other hand, riding some MTB disciplines is better without clipless pedals, so you can regain stability by tapping your feet to the ground when needed. For these cases, buy mountain bike shoes for platforms.

If you don’t know where to start, read my How to Choose Cycling Shoes and How to Choose Bike Pedals guides, where I explain the selection of cycling shoes and pedals depending on your riding style.

Injury Prevention

If you have ever used flat pedals on your bike, you know your feet may slip off. But there are more injuries that flat pedals can cause. For example, shin injuries from pins are pretty painful.

Clipless pedals also keep your feet in a fixed position. So if you have the bike fit set right (saddle height, cleat position, etc.), you shouldn’t experience knee pain and other discomfort.

This doesn’t apply to flat pedals because you will always place your foot in a slightly different position that can lead to injuries.

Additionally, cycling shoes are better at distributing the forces to a larger area, so you avoid potential muscle overuse injuries, knee injuries, etc.

Non-cycling shoes have soft soles that flex and can wrap around the pedal. This may further contribute to potential injuries.

TIP: If you are afraid of knee pain caused by fixed feet position on pedals, use cleats with float. This study confirmed that larger float doesn’t affect your pedaling efficiency.

Cycling shoes also feature heel cups for protecting your heels. Mountain bike shoes (clipless and non-clipless) feature protective toe caps to protect your toes against rock impacts.

Pedaling Efficiency

The third most discussed benefit of clipless pedals is the pedaling efficiency.

Do cycling shoes with clipless pedals make you faster?

The answer may surprise you but based on multiple studies (see below), it seems that they won’t. However, these studies are limited because they didn’t test sprinting or climbing and were carried out on a stationary trainer.

*Referenced studies:

On the other hand, this study showed that stiff-soled cycling shoes combined with clip-in pedals improved the maximum sprint power by 10.2% compared to running shoes with classic aluminum quill pedals with toe clips and straps.

Therefore, serious cyclists opt for clipless shoes and pedals because once they get used to them, the pedaling feels more natural.

Furthermore, riders feel more confident when making hard efforts, thanks to the connection with their bike.


BROWSE:


Disadvantages of Cycling Shoes

Below, I explain the three main disadvantages of clipless cycling shoes.

They Are not Suitable for Walking

Clipless cycling shoes are not suitable for walking—some types more than others.

For example, road cycling shoes are the worst for walking. This is because their cleats are not recessed in the sole and cause penguin-like walking.

The MTB and gravel bike shoes are better for walking because their cleats are more recessed in the sole and make walking easier.

Cycling shoes for flat pedals are relatively comfortable for walking. Just keep in mind their insoles are stiffer than the insoles of standard shoes, so they are not suitable for long walks or treks.

Clipping-In and Off Takes Time to Get Used to

When I mounted road bike pedals to my bike and used them with road cycling shoes for the first time, I scratched my shoes against the front tire.

Another common mistake of beginners is that they forget to clip out of pedals when they need to stop. I am sure this happened at least once to most cyclists, but notably to Matt Stephens.

Clipless cycling shoes take time to get used to, and without doubt, clipping in and out is one of their most significant disadvantages. Especially if you live in a city and you have to stop often at traffic lights and crossroads.

Price

Entry-level clipless cycling shoes start at around $50, while the high-end models can easily exceed hundreds of dollars.

When you count in the costs of clipless pedals and cleats, the initial costs are pretty high.

The high price may be one of the reasons against cycling shoes. However, based on my experience, this investment pays off.

You also don’t need the latest and most expensive models. Thanks to innovations and competition, you can get good shoes with pedals for around $100 and upgrade later.

With proper maintenance, cycling shoes will last you multiple seasons.

TIP: Learn more about when to replace cycling shoes.

The following table summarizes the pros & cons of clipless cycling shoes.

ProsCons
• They improve pedal stroke efficiency thanks to the stiff soles and fixed position on the pedal.
• They improve comfort. Cycling shoes are made to be lightweight, ventilated, and comfortable.
• They improve your safety because your feet won't slip off the pedals, and you can control your bike more easily.
• They help prevent injuries caused by wrong feet position.
• It takes a while to get used to clipping in and clipping off.
• They tend to be more expensive compared to non cycling shoes.
• They are not suitable for walking.
Pros and cons of clipless cycling shoes

Cycling Shoes FAQ


Conclusion

So, are cycling shoes necessary? It depends on the type of riding you do and what cycling shoes you mean. There are two basic types of cycling shoes:

  • Clipless cycling shoes
  • Cycling shoes for flat pedals

Clipless cycling shoes are necessary, for example, for road cyclists, gravel bikers, cross country, or cyclocross riders. They hardly ever ride a bike with standard shoes.

Although the performance benefits of clipless shoes may be a little overestimated, they will improve your comfort and safety when cycling.

On the other hand, some MTB disciplines are better with cycling shoes for flat pedals because you can quickly take your feet of pedals and regain your balance.

To find out more reasons for and against cycling shoes, read the entire article. If you find it useful, I will appreciate your comment or sharing.

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