How to choose cycling shoes: improve your pedalling skills


April 20, 2023


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How to choose cycling shoes

Putting on cycling shoes for daily rides may not be a necessity – simple sports shoes widely do the trick. That being said, a good pair of cycling shoes does become essential if you’re road, mountain, or gravel biking, and it can improve both comfort and performance.

Unless you are an experienced cyclist, terms like “cleat” and “clipless pedals” may sound a bit obscure. Still, from riders with thousands of kilometres under their belt to amateurs who just bought their first bike, choosing the right shoes is crucial. Comfort, better power transfer, energy savings, and so on… There is no better way to conquer pavement and trails than with a good pair of cycling shoes.

In this article, you will learn how to choose the perfect pair of cycling shoes for your needs:

  1. Built for pedalling: cycling shoe features
  2. Cycling shoes for every type of bike
  3. Choosing the best cycling shoes for your practice
  4. Finding a compatible pedal system
  5. The fit, size, and closure system of cycling shoes
  6. Caring for your cycling shoes
  7. A few last cycling shoes pro tips
  8. FAQ

Built for pedalling: cycling shoe features

Bike shoes are often part of a trio well-known to cycling enthusiasts: shoes, cleats, and pedals. Keep in mind, however, that your choice of shoes depends on the type of cycling you do; mountain bike shoes, for instance, may not be appropriate for gravel.
As a rule, cycling shoes have much harder soles than regular sports shoes. The goal is simple: provide the best possible energy transfer. Your whole foot is pushing on the pedal, not just the sole, so your pedal strokes are more efficient. Your feet are also better supported, which is much more comfortable on long rides.
As you shop for cycling shoes, work with what you already have; your new shoes should form a perfect pair with your cleats and pedals. Whether you are looking for your first cycling shoes or a pair to fit your new bike, pay attention to compatibility. Here are some basics to bear in mind: road biking shoes have three “holes,” while shoes for other types of bikes have only two. Make sure you look at the sole and product label when you are shopping. Of course, none of this applies if you only need flat-soled shoes to use on platform pedals.

Cycling shoes for every type of bike

The generic term “cycling shoes” includes several options. Simply put, there are three main types of cycling shoes:

  • Clipless shoes for road biking
  • Clipless shoes for mountain biking
  • Flat-soled shoes (made for platform – or flat – pedals) for everyday bike rides.

Clipless shoes are used with clipless pedals. Cleats are attached to their soles to secure your feet to the pedals and connect you to your bike. It is mostly road cyclists that use these types of shoes. However, some trail riders also like them for the power they offer on long, flat stretches of trail. There is a distinction here:

  • Two-holesshoes : built-in recessed cleats make them easier to walk around in – a practical feature for cyclists who push their bike up steep hills or have obstacles in their way.
  • Three-holes shoes : cleats stick out from their sole, which makes them harder to walk in, but they are generally lighter and more aerodynamic. See our selection of LOOK’s pedals and cleats for reference.

Some cycling shoes are also compatible with two-hole and three-hole pedals.
Shoes made for platform pedals have no cleats; they are similar to sports shoes, except for the fact that their soles are rigid, like those of clipless shoes. This is an interesting alternative between clipless shoes (more restricting when you get off your bike) and sports shoes (which lack rigidity).

Choosing the best cycling shoes for your practice

“Performance” road cycling shoes

Road Bike Shoes

Regardless of your level, if your bike has clipless pedals, you will need clipless road biking shoes. Most of these are designed for performance and are not very comfortable for walking. They will never keep you from getting off your bike to grab a cup of coffee, but you probably won’t want to go much further than that.
For road cyclists, maximizing pedal stroke power is key. Rigid soles with a three-bolt cleat system are a sound choice as they allow for optimal energy transfer. Weight also plays a big part: the lighter the soes are, the more performance improves.
Choosing the right road cycling shoes is about more than just performance. Some models of shoes, for instance, have mesh inserts for added ventilation.
Consider also the shape of your feet as you make your choice.”Where your arches are can influence your choice of shoes,” says Winston Endall, cycling specialist at SAIL. “The more forward your cleats are, the more you’ll be on your toes, which puts greater pressure on your calves. For a more consistent push, look for a model that fits snuggly and has good adjustability. The farther back your cleats can be, the more you’ll use your gluteal muscles and the less strain you will put on your calves.”

Gravel biking and bicycle touring shoes

If you’re an occasional cyclist, there is nothing to stop you from pedalling with basic sports shoes. Once you increase your riding frequency, cycling shoes are preferable, especially if you like to go on long-distance rides. Consider clipless mountain biking pedals, for example. Remember that in the long run, cycling shoes improve your comfort and pedalling power.
Flat-soled shoes are versatile and let you go about your life as normal when you step off your bike. If you would rather your feet be attached to the pedals, go for recessed cleats; they will allow you to get on and off your bike easily and walk short distances without discomfort.
If you are into bicycle touring and long rides with multiple stops along the way, take a look at brands like GIRO and Garneau.

Mountain biking shoes

Mountain Bike SHoes

Mountain bike enthusiasts looking for a secure connection to their bike can opt for clipless shoes – that is, of course, if the shoe is equipped with two-holes. Mountain bike shoes of this type usually have smaller holes (for smaller cleats) to prevent any contact of the cleats with the ground. They are part of a two-bolt cleat system, which means you can walk across rough terrain if needed and maintain maximum pedalling power.
If pedalling efficiency is not your priority, you can turn to flat-soled cycling shoes, which provide a good grip on the pedals without binding your feet to them; this will save you precious time in the few seconds leading up to a fall… Even this type of shoe will seem a little stiff at first. This is only logical: keep in mind that the purpose of cycling shoes, even for mountain biking, is to help you pedal more efficiently.

Urban cycling shoes

If you are mostly using your bike for your daily commute, there is no need to invest in cyclocross or clipless cycling shoes. Just choose a simple, comfortable pair that make for optimal pedalling. You can also treat yourself by adding some fresh cycling clothing to your outdoor wardrobe!
Whether it’s for making their way through traffic or stopping to get a coffee, people who travel by bike must be prepared to stop often. That makes using clipless shoes rather tiresome. Instead, aim for a pair of flat-soled cycling shoes that will fit the platform pedals on your bike. Their rigid soles will still help you pedal better, but they will not be as restrictive for walking. Prioritize comfort, especially if you intend on wearing these shoes every day
You should also know that there are double-sided pedals that are flat on one side and compatible with SPD shoes on the other; this allows you to alternate between SPD and flat-soled shoes.

Finding a compatible pedal system

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the shoes that need to fit the pedals: it is the cleats. Winston, our cycling specialist, recommends starting with a compatible pedal and cleat combo – and then focusing on selecting the right shoes. The cleats you choose should attach easily to your cycling shoes, which have standard mounting holes (assuming you go for a two- or three-hole system). Cleats usually wear out faster than shoes, and replacements are easy; you just need to change your old cleats for new ones, which beats having to buy a new pair of shoes.

The fit, size, and closure system of cycling shoes

Cycling shoes should be comfortable, especially when the kilometres and hours of pedalling pile up. They should also fit your feet perfectly.
Road cycling shoes should fit snugly without being too tight. They should hold the heel in place to prevent slippage. Narrower shoes generally provide excellent power distribution, but they are not suitable for all feet. It is also important that the toes have enough room to move, especially for long rides; you really don’t want them to go numb from being pressed too hard against the front of your shoes.
In terms of closure systems, the more adjustment points you have, the better: you can fine-tune the fit to a maximum. Depending on your needs and the model, the closure system can be either straps, buckles or a BOA system.
Remember, the first time you try on a pair of mountain, road, or gravel biking shoes, they will probably feel stiff and tight. This is normal, and it is the best way to optimize pedalling and maintain maximum comfort after hours of cycling. Also, think about having a nice cycling clothing collection so that you’re always ready to go riding!

Caring for your cycling shoes

You can easily clean your cycling shoes using a clean cloth and soapy water. If they are made of leather, follow the instructions to treat it properly. Be sure to keep your shoes dry and take the insoles out frequently to eliminate any moisture. You should also check your cleats from time to time; if they show signs of wear – they don’t work as they should, the edges are wearing down, or they look a little damaged – then it is time to replace them!

A few last cycling shoes pro tips

  • If you ride (or commute by bike) during transitional seasons, keep your feet warm by investing in a good pair of overshoes.
  • Mountain bikers should also buy shin guards, as the pedal can (and will!) sometimes hit the shins.
  • When mountain biking on muddy or soft terrain, remove the bolts from your shoes and screw on spikes in their place. These will help your shoes bite into the ground and allow you to climb slippery hills more easily.
  • You may also want to consider buying good cycling clothes that are adapted to your riding style.

A good pair of cycling shoes can always make a difference, whether it’s for cruising along the bike paths near your home or for long rides on challenging trails. This gets even truer when the kilometres start to add up. Cycling shoes maximize each pedal stroke, improve pedalling efficiency, and provide overall comfort for your feet… Everything (or almost everything) seems easier when you have the right shoes for your road, mountain, or gravel bike rides. Take your time to find a pair that suits you and your goals.


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