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Cycling Shoe Buying Guide

One of the surest ways to improve your cycling experience is to incorporate the use of cycling shoes. You’ll improve your pedaling efficiency, gain more stability while riding, eliminate unnecessary stress on your hips, knees and feet, and you’ll likely go faster exerting less effort!

This guide will walk you through the basics of how to buy the right cycling shoe and pedal system for you.

What comes first — the shoe or the pedal?

Cycling shoes, arch support footbeds, and pedals are a system that work together to make your cycling much more comfortable and effective. But when you’re ready for this upgrade remember that cycling shoes come first! 

The reason for this is that the feet are the foundation of your body and the transfer point for force from body to pedal. Shoes act as the middleman to create a synergistic relationship between your body and your bike. And while shoes can easily work with a variety of pedals – your unique feet may only work well with one pair of shoes.

The anatomy of your feet as it relates to biking

Our feet our intricately designed. Check out some of these interesting facts:

  • Each foot is comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. 
  • They are designed to walk and run but not bicycle. In fact — hip, knee, and foot stress and fatigue can result if proper shoes are not worn while biking.
  • When walking or running each foot will naturally contact the ground heal first. Then the force rolls to the pinky toe and then spreads out to the remaining toes. Finally, the arch collapses and the foot will spring forward to take a step.
  • Cycling shoes, arch supporting footbeds, and the right pedals help to adjust the foot for biking to eliminate negative body wear and fatigue (i.e. save your knee joints!)

Now that you understand how cycling shoes improve your riding experience — let’s look at how they are constructed. 

What makes a cycling shoe a cycling shoe?

Cycling shoes are constructed for the task at hand – biking! As mentioned previously, our feet were not built for bicycling. But luckily wearing the right cycling shoes can make it seem like they were!

There are two main types of cycling shoes:

1. Flat Pedal Cycling Shoes: 

These shoes are constructed for biking using flat pedals. Flat pedals are your standard bike pedal with a flat, large platform to support your foot. Sometimes flat pedals will include cages or toe clips. You tuck your foot into these add-ons to make it more secure on the pedal as you ride. 

Flat pedal cycling shoes are flexible and typically have grippy and sticky soles. They also usually have a more casual look to them. But they are far more rigid than a tennis shoe so that your foot is more supported and transfers energy better.

2. Clipless Pedal Cycling Shoes (sometimes referred to as ‘clip-in’)

These shoes are made for riding with clipless pedals — small pedals with a locking mechanism that uses a cleat to attach to your bike shoe. They are called ‘clipless’ because they don’t require the use of toe clips (cages attached to flat pedals).

Clipless pedal cycling shoes have stiffer soles than a flat pedal shoe and often a more technical, sporty look. They give riders a solid connection to their bike making their pedal power more efficient on both the downstroke and upstroke.

The remainder of this article will be focused on the technology of Clipless Pedal Cycling Shoes. Flat Cycling Shoes that don’t clip-in, however, are preferred by many riders and can provide huge rider benefits over biking in regular shoes. 

How are cycling shoes constructed?

Cycling shoes have all the same parts as regular shoes but built uniquely for the biking experience. 

Cycling shoes are constructed with four main parts:

  • Soles:

The soles of clipless pedal cycling shoes have cleat recesses made to fit 2-bolts (mountain style) or 3-bolts (road style). This is where the cleats (that attach to the pedal) clip into the shoe base.

Additionally, most cycling shoes will have a very stiff sole compared to their flat pedal counterpart. But this varies greatly depending on their intended use. The stiffer sole allows for good transfer of power from foot to pedal and provides stability while riding. 

  • Uppers

The upper part of cycling shoes has padding, reinforcement, ventilation, and stiffening in various places specific to the type of riding they will be used for. It’s always a good idea to try on cycling shoes before you buy to make sure the upper provides the right amount of comfort for your riding style. Racers may prefer stiffer uppers that provide greater stability and control, while those to enjoy day-long scenic rides may desire more comfort and less stiffness to make their feet happier for the long-haul.

  • Closures

Most cycling shoes use laces, Velcro straps, buckles, and dials (often a combination of these) for closure.

Each closure has it’s plus and minuses. For example, laces can take more time to use but they help spread tension evenly over your foot which means more comfort. Velcro is quick and easy to use but also easy to overdo it by clamping down the strap to much. Dials and buckles make it easy to refine the degree of tension but can also easily break in an unexpected crash. 

We recommend trying on all these different styles and thinking about what is most important for you, quick and easy, refinement of tension, or comfort?

  • Insoles

Inside cycling shoes you’ll find an arch supporting footbed that is made to cushion your foot and spread the load of force and weight around evenly. 

We highly encourage customers to replace the stock insole for one that is sized specifically for their foot and arch. It will improve the overall fit of the shoes and dramatically increase comfort. 

What are body geometry cycling shoes?

One example of a cycling shoe made to connect your foot to bike more naturally is the Body Geometry Shoes by Specialized. They feature 1.5 mm of angled support to support the natural varus angulation of most people’s feet. The varus wedge gives riders a stable platform to push down on when pedaling which helps to keep the hips, knees, and feet in a healthy cycling, straight line.

A rider on average will complete 10,000 pedals on a two-hour ride. Without the support of properly fitted cycling shoes — that can result in a lot of wear and tear on one’s joints!

Now that you understand how cycling shoes improve your riding experience — let’s look at the different kinds of cycling shoes available.

Types of cycling shoes

Mountain Biking Shoes:

Mountain biking shoes are made to pair with specific types of pedals (2-bolt), offer foot protection for rugged riding, and have stiff soles to enhance your power transfer and make your pedal stroke more efficient. 

Just like different styles of mountain biking call for different types of bikes, so too they require different kinds of shoes. 

Here are the primary types of Mountain Biking Shoes:

  • Trail and All Mountain Bike Shoes: Riders that enjoy every aspect of biking on dirt trails, including climbing and descending will prefer trail and all mountain cycling shoes. These shoes offer a comprehensive fit with impressive power transfer, moderate foot protection, as well as a lightweight build. And when you’re ready for a break, walking in them isn’t bad either. 
  • Cross-Country Mountain Bike Shoes: Cross-country mountain biking usually entails racing and/or riding long distances across gravel terrain. Thus the shoes that go with this sport are designed to be lightweight with a fully rigid sole to maximize power transfer from foot to pedal all the way to the finish line or destination.
  • Downhill Mountain Bike Shoes: As the name implies, these shoes are made for those that love riding the descent! They offer a solid pedaling platform, foot protection, and extra weight to make the ride down safe but also fast!

Road Cycling Shoes:

Road cycling shoes differ from mountain biking shoes in that they are made to pair with a 3-bolt pedal system with have even stiffer soles for more pedaling efficiency. They are also designed with smoothness and lightness in mind to make riding centuries an effortless task.

Road cycling shoes are a great option for triathletes, people who enjoy touring, as well as commuters looking for a speedy efficient ride to work.

Recreational Biking Shoes:

Just because you don’t consider yourself a mountain biker or road warrior doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from investing in a pair of cycling shoes

For all the reasons mentioned earlier, proper biking shoes make you more efficient on your bike, but they also preserve the longevity of your joints! Running errands, biking on Sunday afternoon with the family to the local ice cream shop, or going on a bike ride to get your cardio in all wear and tear on your body over time. This is where a good pair of cycling shoes comes in. 

Recreational riders generally prefer the 2-bolt (mountain style) cycling shoe. The 2-bolt design provides enhanced mobility on the pedal compared to the 3-bolt style that locks you in more securely. As a result, they are easier to clip on and off and they feel more comfortable to walk in off the bike.

Some recreational and even serious mountain bike riders prefer to ride without clipping in at all! These riders also experience huge benefits from riding in cycling shoes.

Cold Weather Biking Shoes / Boots.

If you like riding year-round you will benefit from having extra gear to get through the winter months – especially for keeping your feet warm. 

You could do this by simply investing in a pair of thicker cycling socks intended for cold weather riding. Or, for more protection from the elements you could try a shoe cover. Most are wind-proof, waterproof, and work to keep your feet nice and toasty. But, if you live someplace where the temperature dips into the sub-zero range, cold weather cycling shoes or boots might be what keeps you riding comfortably all winter long.

Many cold weather cycling shoes and boots include these features:

  • Special insulation in the sole and over the toe of the boot to prevent cold penetration and heat loss
  • Removeable liners that wick moisture from skin
  • 2-bolt clipless compatibility for easy clip on and off
  • Anti-slip soles so when you’re safe on and off your bike when conditions are icy.

Check out our selection of cold-weather cycling shoes and boots here. Or, for more protection from the elements you could also try a shoe cover.

Choosing the right cycling shoe

You’ll want to choose a shoe built for the kind of riding you enjoy doing the most. Luckily, there are many shoes to pick from and some are versatile allowing you to ride in lots of different ways no problem.

You can check out our selection of cycling shoes online hereor stop into your local store. Our staffers are always ready to answer any questions you may have and to help you determine which shoe will be best for you. 

Keep reading about our in-store sizing process.

How do I know what size of cycling shoe I need?

At ERIK’S we help each customer individually to find the perfect cycling shoe for them. When you come into your local shop we’ll take you through a 3-step simple fitting using our shoe bench and archometer:

  1. Sit on shoe bench, remove shoes, and place feet (with thin socks on) on the Archometer
  2. Remove feet to review the Archometer profile for your arches
  3. Stand on Archometer to measure length of feet to determine shoe size (by standing the feet press out flatter which gives a more accurate impression of the foot length that will be similar to when the foot presses down on the bike pedal)

Based on the information gathered we will help you select the right size of cycling shoes that are made for the style of biking you do. We will also show you the appropriate Arch Supporting Footbed which replaces the stock arch support to make the shoes you’re purchasing YOUR shoes. 

After our basic fitting you’ll have a new pair of cycling shoes that will provide comfort, joint support, and help maximize your riding performance.

Why do cycling shoes vary so much in price?

Just like anything else, there are sometimes great differences in prices of cycling shoes. This is due to the vast differences in materials used, construction methods, closure devices, etc. The higher the technology, the better the experience will be! But at the same time, the price will also be higher. 

Those that race bicycles, commute to work everyday, or ride centuries every weekend will often find that investing in a high-end pair of cycling shoes is worth it. The increased comfort and pedal efficiency makes riding that much better. 

But, even the lower-priced cycling shoes can deliver awesome results – especially if they fit right! They are a great choice for the casual rider or someone who wants to try cycling specific shoes for the first time. 

Next time you visit your local ERIK’S, let our expert staffers fit you for your cycling shoes and assist you in trying on a few pairs. Explore the lower and higher price points and settle on a pair made for your style of riding, that’s comfortable, fits right, and within your budget. We definitely will have a pair that will be perfect for you.

Before we move onto bike pedals to complete your cycling shoe system, let’s talk socks!

Do I need to wear cycling socks with my bike shoes?

You’ve found your perfect cycling shoes. They fit like a glove and you know they’re going to make your riding experience way better… unless, your socks don’t play well with them.

That’s right. Socks matter when it comes to biking!

Sure, you can wear your regular socks with your new bike shoes, but your feet will likely be less comfortable inside your new shoes and you’ll be missing out on some other key benefits that cycling specific socks provide.

Let’s look at the primary features that bike socks offer:

They’re thin:
Cycling socks are designed on the thin side so they fit into your already close-fitting bike shoes. Regular “gym socks” will likely be too thick making your shoes feel too tight and uncomfortable.

They’re snug:
Cycling socks mirror the snug-fit of cycling shoes to promote efficient pedaling. Some even offer compression bands to enhance arch support.

They’re moisture-wicking:
Pedaling requires some effort, even on casual rides, thus you’ll likely work up a sweat. Cycling socks wick the sweat away and dry quickly. This means less chance of getting blisters or hot spots from damp socks irritating your skin and obviously your feet will just stay more comfortable (who likes to wear sweaty socks?)

They’re breathable:
Due to the fabrics they are constructed of and specific design features, cycling socks let your feet breathe!!! Some even have mesh ventilation panels along the tops enhancing breathability — which is crucial to overall comfort on those long rides.

They’re just the right length:
Cycling socks come in a variety of lengths — choose which you prefer! Maybe you’re working on your tan and want your socks to rest right in line with your ankles? Maybe you’re mostly mountain biking and want socks that come up below your knees to offer some additional protection from the elements when you’re out riding in the woods. Luckily cycling socks come in all lengths to accommodate all types of rider’s preferences.

Shop cycling socks now!

Next up — pedals! 

Once you’ve invested in new cycling shoes it’s recommended to upgrade your bike’s pedals to complete the cycling shoe and pedal system.  

Most cycling shoes are made to work with clipless pedals. Clipless pedals allow you to lock your shoes into the pedal. This provides many benefits like greater stability and more pedal power! With clipless pedals you can generate power not only on the downstroke of the pedal but also on the upstroke by pulling upward on the pedal.

Kinds of pedals

There are two main types of clipless pedals:

  • 2-Bolt Cleat System or Mountain Style System
    • Works with Mountain or Recreational Cycling Shoes
    • The lugs are recessed on the bottom of shoes for easy walking off the bike 
    • More mobility for ease of use 
    • All spin bikes (except the Peloton Indoor Cycle) feature the 2-Bolt Cleat System (these bikes use the SPD style cleat)
  • 3-Bolt Cleat System or Road Style System
    • Works with Road Cycling Shoes
    • Provides riders a more precise connection to their bike (wider platform from the 3-bolt style cleat)
    • The lugs are not recessed meaning walking in them is more difficult 
    • Gives bicycle fitters more options for adjusting to fit the pedals and shoes to the rider’s position

And, don’t forget the Flat Pedals…

  • Flat Pedals
    • The biggest platform to pedal on
    • Riders aren’t mechanically connected to their bike
    • Many riders simply prefer to ride flat pedals

Whether you choose 2 or 3-bolt pedal systems will depend upon the type of shoes you select. You can view all of our pedal options online here or talk to any of our knowledgeable staffers at your local shop to learn more which pair will work best with your cycling shoes. 

Now that you are versed in the cycling shoe and pedal system take a look online at our available shoes and pedals. While you’re at it — don’t forget to check out our cycling sock selection too!

If you’re ready to buy right now, online – check out this video to be guided through the online cycling shoe buying process.

If you want to shop in person, just swing by your local ERIK’S. Soon you’ll be feeling a brand new level of pedal power and wondering why you waited so long to upgrade your ride with the simple addition of cycling shoes!