How to Choose Cycling Shoes in 10 Minutes or Less? [GUIDE]

How to Choose Cycling Shoes

In this article, you find out how to choose cycling shoes depending on your riding style other preferences. It is focused mainly on beginners, but even experienced riders will learn valuable information.

If you don’t have enough time to read everything in detail, feel free to skip to Summary, where you find out the most important tips for choosing cycling shoes.

However, I recommend reading the whole article. You learn what types of cycling shoes and fastening systems are there, their benefits and disadvantages, and much more.

Why Should You Get a Pair of Cycling Shoes?

Cycling shoes can get costly. They cost tens to hundreds of dollars. When you add the price for clipless pedals, the overall price for a set is even higher. So is this investment worth it?

The short answer is yes, it is.

I summarized the long answer in the following table. It shows the main advantages and disadvantages of 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.
• 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.

Source: Richard’s 21st Century Bicycle Book

This study shows that using 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.


How to Choose Cycling Shoes?

If you are a beginner, choosing cycling shoes may seem complicated and overwhelming. But trust me, it is pretty easy with the following tips. So let’s dive in.

Cycling Shoes Type

Depending on your bike, eventually riding style, you can choose between 3 basic types of cycling shoes:

  1. Road cycling shoes
  2. Mountain bike shoes (for platforms or clipless pedals)
  3. Hybrid shoes

Let’s take a look at their main features, benefits and cons more in detail.

Road Cycling Shoes

Road cycling shoes are designed with stiffness, comfort, and lightweight in mind. Their main goal is to provide you with an effective connection with your bike that will be comfortable during long hours in the saddle.

Unlike MTB bike shoes, road cycling shoes usually feature a 3-hole configuration (see the picture below). This allows you to attach cleats compatible with road bike pedals like Shimano-SPD SL, Look Keo, Time Xpresso, etc.

Speaking of cleats and pedals, road bike pedals have a larger surface area than mountain bike pedals to distribute the force you put into every pedal stroke and prevent hotspots during multi-hour rides.

Cycling shoes cleat hole configuration (2-hole, 3-hole, 4-hole)
Cycling shoes cleat hole configuration (click to enlarge)

A separate category consists of 4-hole configuration cycling shoes that are designed specifically for Wahoo Speedplay pedals. You can use 3-hole configuration shoes too, but you need special adapters.

Mountain Bike Shoes

Mountain bike shoes can be separated into 2 categories:

  1. Clipless mountain bike shoes are also designed to be stiff (not as much as road cycling shoes) and comfortable. But their weight is not as important as with road cycling shoes. Their third main feature is durability.
    The MTB clipless shoes come with a 2-hole configuration. They are compatible with MTB cleats, which are much smaller than road cleats (Shimano SPD, Crankbrothers, …) and compatible with the MTB clipless pedals.
    Clipless MTB shoes are perfect for cross-country, gravel, cyclocross, or casual riders who are not afraid of clipping into pedals. Some road cyclists prefer them too because of their versatility. They are better for walking, and you can clip into SPD pedals from both sides.

    NOTE: Gravel bike shoes are very like MTB shoes but they are often more stylish. They are lighter and more comfortable for long rides. On the other hand, they don’t have as good toe and heel protection, because they are not designed for use in as difficult terrain as MTB shoes. I recommend using them with gravel bike pedals.
  2. Mountain bike shoes for platforms look like skate shoes but have different features. They are stiffer than normal shoes but much softer than road cycling shoes. Their insoles are flat and usually have a honeycomb structure perfect for platform pedal pins, so you get a pretty good grip.
    These shoes are also suitable for walking, and you can take your feet off pedals quickly when needed.
    Due to their flexibility and energy losses, they are not good for long rides because you will get tired more easily than with MTB clipless shoes or road cycling shoes. They are perfect for riding on trails and more in challenging terrains that require quick reactions.

Hybrid Cycling Shoes

Hybrid cycling shoes are also pretty comfortable. They allow you to clip into the MTB pedals, but you can also use them with special hybrid bike pedals (platform + clip).

They are ideal for trips where you know you will have to get off your bike. They allow easy walking and are stylish at the same time. For example, if you stop for a meal or drink at a local restaurant, you will not get strange glances as road cyclists do due to their silly penguin-like walking.

Their disadvantages are the higher weight and flexibility that causes energy losses, so you get tired during long rides quicker. Your feet can also slip off pedals more easily, so their safety is also questionable.

NOTE: Some people prefer cycling in standard shoes. Feel free to check this selection of the best non cycling shoes for cycling where you all find out more.

Take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of individual types of shoes compared with each other in the table below.

Type of ShoesProsCons
Road cycling shoes• Very stiff
• Well ventilated
• Very comfortable for long rides
• Very light
• Not suitable for walking
• Can be clipped from one side of the pedal only (does not apply to Speedplay pedals)
Mountain bike shoes (clipless)• Very stiff
• Well ventilated
• Durable
• Can be clipped from both sides of the pedal
• Suitable for a short walking
• Not as comfortable for long rides as road cycling shoes due to smaller pedals
• Heavier than road cycling shoes
Mountain bike shoes (platform)• Suitable for walking
• Allow you to take off your feet from pedals when necessary quickly
• Softer than clipless MTB shoes
• Poorly ventilated
• Not very comfortable for long rides
• Your feet may slip off pedals
Hybrid bike shoes• Suitable for walking
• Durable
• Softer than clipless MTB shoes
• Not very comfortable for long rides
Non cycling shoes for cycling• Very suitable and comfortable when walking
• Allow you to take off your feet from pedals when necessary quickly
• Poorly ventilated
• Very soft
• Your feet may easily slip off pedals

Price Range

Based on my market research, I distinguish 3 basic price ranges of cycling shoes. Please note that the following categories apply to the road and MTB clipless shoes.

  • Budget (Under $100) – these shoes are suitable for beginners and hobby riders. They feature velcro strap fastening (learn more about fastening systems), but there are models with a ratchet buckle + velcro strap. Cycling shoes from this price category are heavier and not as stiff compared to more expensive shoes.
  • Value for money ($100 to $300) – these shoes form an ideal compromise between cheap and high-end cycling shoes. They are suitable for the vast majority of riders because they provide a good price-performance ratio. They are relatively light, stiff, and comfortable. They use a combination of velcro straps and ratchet buckle, velcro straps + dials, dials only, or laces.
  • Performance (Above $300) – this price category offers high-end shoes for racers and demanding racers. These cycling shoes are usually very stiff and lightweight, thanks to carbon soles and quality materials. They feature mostly dials (BOA, Tecno…) or laces.

Fastening System

Cycling shoes use one of the following 4 fastening systems.

  1. Velcro straps
  2. Laces
  3. Ratchet buckles
  4. Dials (BOA, Tecno, or their alternative)
cycling shoes fastening systems
Cycling shoes fastening systems (click to enlarge) | Product images credit: Giro, Vittoria

Velcro Straps

Velcro is used on the cheapest models of cycling shoes. My first road cycling shoes had 3 velcro straps – not too user-friendly, but I was happy for having my first pair of cycling shoes.

Velcro straps are simple and inexpensive, but they are not as convenient as other fastening systems.

On the other hand, they are lightweight durable. So, if you crash (hopefully you don’t!), for example, you don’t have to buy a new pair of shoes because your fastening system will break.

Laces

Giro introduced the first modern cycling shoes with laces in 2012. Although we know laces from our day-to-day shoes, they are popular among cyclists too.

Cycling shoes with laces are stylish, cool-looking, lightweight, and prone to damage. Their main disadvantage (and this one is a no-go for many people) is that it is almost impossible to tighten them while riding.

Ratchet Buckles

Ratchet buckles are a compromise between velcro straps and BOA dials. They are often used in combination with velcro straps. You can tighten them while riding to get a relatively good fit.

On the other hand, they are heavier than other fastening systems and are also prone to damage if you crash. It isn’t easy to replace them because they are attached to the shoe.

From my experience and discussions with fellow cyclists who used ratchet buckles and dials, I recommend saving a little bit more for shoes with dials.

Dial(s)

High-end road cycling shoes are almost always equipped with either BOA dials, Tecno dials, or other unbranded dials.

This technology is considered the most effective and convenient fastening system on the market. But it comes with its price. The good news is that if the dial breaks, you can replace it easily.

Did you know that every BOA dial ‘click’ adjust the fit by 1 mm? This feature makes BOA dials one of the most precise fastening systems on the market.

The following table shows pros and cons of individual fastening systems.

Type of Fastening SystemProsCons
Velcro straps• They are cheap and you can fasten them while riding.
• They are not as prone to damage when crashing as ratchet buckles or dials.
• They don’t provide you with as precise and comfortable fastening as BOA dials.
Laces• They look cool.
• They provide you with effective fastening.
• It is the lightest fastening system.
• It takes time to tie them.
• It is almost impossible to tie them while riding.
Ratchet buckles• You can fasten them while riding.
• They provide you with relatively effective fastening.
• They are heavier compared to other types of fastening systems.
• They are prone to damage when crashing.
• The buckles are hard to replace.
Dials (BOA, Tecno...)• Quick, effective, and precise fastening also while riding.
• They are easy to replace.
• They are lightweight.
• They are more expensive compared to other fastening systems.
• They are prone to damage when crashing.

Comfort, Fit & Ventilation

Cycling shoes have to provide you with enough comfort so you can enjoy your bike rides. Demands for comfort are high, especially for road cycling shoes, because road cyclists spend several hours in the saddle.

The shoes must be light, well-ventilated, and fit you. They should not push you anywhere or be too loose.

Proper ventilation is important, especially during hot summer days. The ventilation helps to cool your feet so you won’t sweat as much.

You will also feel much more comfortable, and you will perform better because you won’t feel like your feet are burning.

Size & Width

It is always better to try shoes in person to make sure you buy the right size and fit. But with some preparation, you can buy them online too. Just make sure you measure your foot before ordering and also follow the manufacturers’ sizing instructions.

Should you buy larger size cycling shoes?
Cycling shoes usually run true to size. So feel free to buy your normal shoe size. If you are between sizes, I recommend getting the larger size. You will avoid discomfort (too squeezed feet) that can discourage you from cycling.

Shoes Width

Cycling shoes come in 2 general widths – narrow/standard and wide. The standard cycling shoe width will fit most riders.

If you have wide feet, you should look for ‘wide cycling shoes.’ For example, Shimano calls them ‘WIDE,’ Sidi ‘MEGA,’ etc.

Wide cycling shoes have a wider heel box and larger toe room to avoid squeezing your feet and prevent feet numbness.

Shoe width is also sometimes indicated with letters, e.g. 44E means the shoes come in a wide width.

Browse cycling shoes:

How Your New Bike Shoes Should Fit?

The shoes should feel ‘just right.’ This means you should not feel any excessive pressure, your heel should be fixed, and the toe room should allow you to slightly wiggle your toes.

According to Steve Hogg, a professional bike fitter, up to 98% of cyclists also need arch support. To find out more about this topic, read my other article dedicated to cycling insoles.

Cycling insoles will support your arches and improve your comfort. They are a worthy investment.

Sole Stiffness

Cycling shoes, especially those for road cycling, have much stiffer soles compared to non cycling shoes. The stiffness is important—the higher the stiffness, the lower energy losses with every pedal stroke.

Did you know that during a four-hour road ride, you do 21600 pedal strokes in total if you pedal at an average cadence of 90 RPM?

Riders that experience painful or inflamed balls of their feet (metatarsalgia) or lack of oxygenation of the toes due to blood shortage (ischemia) should be careful when using stiff shoes. The study showed the shoes with carbon sole increase peak plantar pressure, which may aggravate these foot conditions.

Every bike shoe manufacturer uses its own stiffness index. It is difficult to compare them, but you can take a look at this Shimano stiffness index chart for illustration.

The following table shows a relative stiffness of different types of shoes.

Type of ShoesRelative Stiffness
RoadVery stiff
MTB (clipless)Very stiff
MTB (platform)Stiff
HybridSoft
CasualVery soft

Summary

When choosing cycling shoes, consider the following:

  1. Where and how do you want to ride, so you get a pair of cycling shoes ideal for your riding style (MTB, road, hybrid, gravel, or casual shoes).
  2. Set your budget – cycling shoes can get costly (hundreds of dollars), so I recommend setting a budget in advance to avoid spending too much money. If you don’t have clipless or platform pedals yet, you will have to buy them as well.
  3. Depending on your budget, you can choose between various fastening systems. More expensive shoes come with convenient dials, entry-level shoes with less user-friendly Velcro straps, or ratchet buckles.
  4. Width – if you have narrow or normal feet, you will be fine with standard shoes. If you have wide feet, look for wide cycling shoes to maximize your riding comfort.
  5. And last but not least, choose the right size. Cycling shoes tend to run true to size. If you are between sizes, choose the larger one to ensure good fit and comfort.

To find out more about every aspect of cycling shoes, read the whole article that explains in detail, what are the benefits and disadvantages of MTB, road, and hybrid cycling shoes, what to expect in various price ranges, and much more.


Cycling Shoes FAQ


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