Cycling shoes are specialist shoes worn by cyclists.
But not everyone wears them. You can wear running or training shoes, but cycling shoes are worth considering if you're riding over rough terrain or across long distances.
Cycling shoes have stiff soles and are more rigid than trainers, and because of this, some people find them too uncomfortable to ride in. Others find that this rigidity helps them perform better over longer distances.
On the bottom of the shoe are cleats. These are small nub-like protrusions attached to the sole of the cycling shoe. The cycling shoe clips into the pedal, securing the rider's foot. Compare this to wearing a regular pair of trainers where the foot rests on the pedal and can easily be lifted off or moved. Cycling shoes vary between the different cycling disciplines. Road cyclists usually prefer shoes with larger, more prominent cleats to better connect with the pedal. Mountain bikers will usually wear shoes with recessed cleats. You'll also see cycling shoes for triathletes and indoor cyclists.
Unclipping cycling shoes from the pedal can take some practice, especially if you're a beginner.
Beginners may also be confused about clip-in and clipless, but the two terms are interchangeable. Clipless refers to the lack of a top clip (popular decades previously) rather than a lack of cleats. They're the same thing.
Many cyclists swear by cycling shoes, although some of the benefits may be unsupported by research. We'll share them all below to help you decide whether they could help you become a better cyclist.
What are the benefits of cycling shoes?
- Cycling shoes secure your feet to the pedal. Road cyclists will find this helpful when riding in wet weather, as regular trainers can easily slip against the pedal. Off-road cyclists will appreciate the added stability and control over rough terrain. Indoor cyclists can focus on maintaining the appropriate speed and cadence without needing to concentrate on the position of their feet. Proponents of cycling shoes (regardless of the discipline) often say that it makes them feel more connected and responsive to the bike.
- Some riders also believe that as cycling shoes have stiffer soles, more power is transferred from the foot to the pedal, making each stroke more efficient. Several studies, however, have disputed this, including one from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado. Researchers there found no definitive proof that cycling shoes with rigid soles benefited the speed or efficiency of each pedal stroke.
- Another widely reported benefit is that cycling shoes help riders actively pull up on the pedal during the upstroke, although opinion is divided on whether this is actually true. This may work for sprint cyclists surging towards the finish line, but many people argue it's not sustainable for anything but a very brief period. We'll link to some external websites below so that you can read the research and opinion for yourself.
- The British Cycling website recommends riders use "stiff-soled cycling-specific shoes" because they help prevent repetitive flexing of the feet against the pedals, which can cause fatigue and injury. Over long rides, pressure points can develop, so the stiffer soles on cycling shoes can help keep your feet feeling fresher better than wearing trainers.
- Cycling shoes also have mesh ventilation designed for riders, making them more comfortable to ride long distances.
What are the disadvantages of cycling shoes?
- It takes practice getting in and out of cycling shoes. You're clipped into the pedal, making it more challenging to put your foot down when you need to stop. Most road cyclists wearing cycling shoes do so for long-distance rides when they know they'll be in the saddle for extended periods. Wearing cycling shoes in urban environments is generally not advised because you often need to stop quickly without sufficient opportunity to unclip.
- Some cycling shoes (notably road bike shoes) can be challenging to walk in. According to Trek Bikes, road cycling shoes have the stiffest soles and widest cleats and probably won't be suitable for riders looking to keep jumping on and off the saddle. If you plan to break your ride up with some walking elements, you may need to carry an additional pair of shoes. Mountain bike shoes have a much shallower cleat and are easier to walk in.
- Many people already own a pair of trainers, but few of us will have cycling shoes lying around. It's an added cost and one which you may not need. Given that there are different types, it will require some research, too, including finding the right size and fitting. Buying the wrong pair could impair your ability and enjoyment of cycling.
Clearly, the most significant advantage of cycling shoes is keeping your foot secure to the pedal. This is especially advantageous in certain conditions — including wet weather, rough terrain or during indoor cycling classes. Focusing on something other than the position of your feet could make the difference for a personal best, placing during a race or event or smashing that indoor instructor-led class.
A lot of cyclists swear by cycling shoes. Whether you choose to wear them depends on your preferred cycling method and whether you think they'll benefit you more than trainers. Of course, they're not suitable for everyone, most notably urban riders.
And yes, before we go -- the RE:GEN has reversible pedals so that you can ride with trainers or cycling shoes. It's ideal for anyone looking to generate clean electricity as they stream on-demand classes, play games against others, or race on Zwift.