How to Choose Cycling Shoes: Finding the Best Bike Shoes for You
Cycling shoes can make riding a bike easier, more efficient, safer, and more enjoyable. You can ride your bike in any shoe, but dedicated cycling shoes can improve your cycling experience.
Choosing the right cycling shoes depends on the type of riding you plan on doing. There are biking shoes for activities ranging from road racing, mountain biking, and commuting around town.
Do Cycling Shoes Make a Difference?
If you’re new to cycling, you’re probably wondering if cycling shoes are worth having. Gone are the days when we threw ourselves on a bike and just pedaled without thinking about comfort or efficiency.
Technology has evolved in every aspect of biking, ensuring you can ride better, faster, and more efficiently without discomfort. Biking-specific shoes ensure your feet stay straight on the pedal while you cycle. It keeps your feet properly placed and glued to the pedal.
Why do we need to keep our feet straight? When we cycle hard, we might end up squeezing and bending our feet. When we do that, we lose power that could have been directly applied to pedaling instead.
Clipless cycling shoes ensure that your feet stay “stuck” in place. You don’t have to work harder to physically cling to the pedal. It also saves power and time you would have wasted due to your feet slipping and you needing to frequently reposition them.
While it may seem like the slightest change in efficiency, it can add more mileage and save you time during cycling.
Features Of The Best Cycling Shoe
You can separate cycling shoes into many categories. Different cycling disciplines require different features, so you must find the ones that adhere to your cycling needs.
What features you will benefit from can depend on your cycling style and the climate you live in. Here are a few essential features that you will find in the cycling shoes currently available online or in Local Bike Shops.
Cleats and Pedal Systems
Pedal systems are a crucial aspect to consider when you buy cycling shoes. Your bike’s pedals will determine what kind of shoes you need to buy.
There are mainly three types of bike pedal systems. Each of these systems suits a different type of riding style, helping you ride better with efficient power transfer and stability. They can also make using your bike easier so that you can ride comfortably.
Flat pedals or platform pedals are the traditional forms of pedals used in cycling. They are common in casual bikes, and if you started cycling at a young age, you probably had them on your first bike.
Platform pedals have a wide surface that provides stable support to your feet and can be used with almost every shoe, save for clipless ones.
Some forms of mountain biking can also benefit from flat pedals. A few mountain biking shoes are designed with grippy soles so that you have more confidence, especially when descending.
Flat pedals can offer better power transfer to the cranks and expand your foot rotation and positioning range. They put you in a better body position and increase your capacity to move and angle.
The most useful aspect of platform pedals is being able to get on and off quickly from the bike. This is why urban bikes, comfort bikes, and fitness bikes often have flat pedals. You can also use almost any shoes with these pedals, meaning you can wear shoes that are easier to walk in.
Clipless or clip-in pedals are the most common choice for high-end commuters, road bikes, and some mountain bikes.
These pedals allow your cycling-specific shoe cleats to get affixed in them so that your feet stay on the pedal, eliminating slippage and the need to put pressure on the pedal.
The clipless system can be split into two categories; two-bolt cleats and three-bolt cleats.
Two-bolt cleats pedals are also called recessed cleats or SPD cleats. These pedals allow two cleats to be clipped into them. Recessed cleats pedals are also easier to unclip from and allow more foot movement.
Three-bolt clip pedals or non-recessed (SPD-SL) cleat pedals allow clipping in three cleats. They give more grip to the shoes, enhancing performance as needed in competitive races on smooth terrains, like road biking.
Clip pedals or toe clips pedals are an outdated design of pedals. These pedals would have your foot attached to the cranks in a cage, tied in with a strap.
While these allow you to wear any type of shoes, they can be dangerous as your feet can get trapped during emergencies when you need to get off the bike quickly.
As a result, these are not at all recommended for mountain biking. You might find these pedal designs in some commuter or indoor fitness bikes.
Design is essential when it comes to bikes and bike gear. Just as bike geometry can completely change the feel of the bike, gear design can enhance the gear's performance and efficiency.
At Specialized, we prioritize design for our bike shoes. Body Geometry is an R&D project by Specialized that has developed a more effective design for our shoes.
Specialized created the very first ergonomically designed and tested saddles, which helped solve erectile dysfunction issues for male cyclists.
But body geometry is not limited to saddles, and our patented shoe and footbed designs can enhance performance and comfort. Our shoes are designed to increase blood flow to your feet so your feet and legs don't go numb.
Body Geometry for Foot Gear
There are three different technologies at work in our shoes that help make you efficient and ensure that you ride safely.
The human body may not have been designed to pedal, but our shoes designed with Body Geometry technology can prepare your feet for better performance and protect it from foot injuries.
Constant cycling paired with the wrong shoes can cause your foot arches to collapse. It can also give rise to misalignment of your feet, knees, and/or hips.
We developed the following technologies to help prevent certain foot problems that you might acquire while cycling.
Varus Wedge: Varus wedge is a built-in feature that stabilizes the natural movement of your forefoot. It also helps improve foot, knee, and hip alignment. Having a varus wedge can increase your power output, especially when you need it the most.
Longitudinal Arch: Our feet are not built for running, not pedaling. Our patented Body Geometry molded arch support in the outsole creates a solid structure that supports your foot's natural shape. This, with the customizable footbed design, help increase power and prevents foot arch collapse.
Metatarsal Button: Getting hot feet is an issue frequent riders face. This is caused by the compression of nerves and arteries, leading to damage. To solve this issue, we created the metatarsal button that lifts and separates the forefoot bones, elevating pressure and removing hot spots and numbness.
Some structural features can enhance your cycling shoe experience by increasing efficiency. Here are a few features that might be added to your biking shoes to make them more functional.
Footbeds: Footbeds are insoles that can be placed inside the shoe to provide varying levels of support to the feet' arches. These inserts can help increase comfort while cycling and make pedaling more efficient. Footbeds also help reduce nerve compression and hot spots.
Heel Cups: Heel cups are a premium feature that is often built into the shoe. This feature provides a solid grip for your heel ensuring your feet don't slip. It fits snuggly around your Achilles tendon, ensuring your feet stay in place through the cycling session.
Toecaps: Toecaps are either built into the shoe or can be added to your shoes externally. They work like steel-capped boots and are often added to or worn with off-road shoes. Toecaps protect you from obstacles commonly found in rough terrains such as rocks and tree roots, ensuring that your toes don't suffer any damage.
Reflective Outer Body or Markings: Visibility is a big deal, especially in urban biking. Your bike needs to be visible in the dark or difficult weather conditions. This is why many bike shoes are made of reflective materials or have reflective markings to make them more visible.
The material your shoes are made of can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to comfort. A shoe’s body is essentially divided into two categories - its upper and its soles. The upper is made of softer, breathable material, and the bottom is made of hard, tough material.
Cycling shoe uppers are made of a few types of materials. You can find cycling shoes made of anything from real leather/suede to synthetic leather/suede.
Starter shoe uppers are often made of nylon mesh fabric, which is cheap, durable, and breathable.
Some of our high-end shoes use Dyneema, the high-performance composite material fabric. This super strong, non-woven fabric is made with UV-resistant polyethylene gel, which is forced through a spinneret.
This patented process creates a fabric that is fifteen times stronger than steel while being extremely lightweight and durable. Dyneema is also waterproof and breathable.
However, it is not the easiest to work with, and being ultra-durable also means that the material is not biodegradable.
This is why a few of our S-works models use a material developed in our own labs that is supple and adaptable, giving more comfort and specifically tailored support where needed.
Cycling shoe soles need to be stiff so that they don't bend or flex as much. Stiffer soles allow you to efficiently transfer force from your foot directly to the pedal so that no energy is lost while your feet grip the pedal.
Stiff soles can make you go faster during sprints or short periods of full-power cycling, as optimized energy goes directly into pedaling.
The sole of the shoes is often made of either nylon, rubber, or carbon fiber. Nylon or rubber soles are used in lower-end road cycling shoes, as they tend to be heavy and flex more. Top-end shoes use carbon fiber soles which are super stiff and lightweight.
Shoes used for mountain biking often have rubber treads on the soles. These treads make the shoe more grippy, making them easier to walk in and giving you more traction on rocky or muddy trails.
Similar to bike helmets, your cycling shoes need to ensure maximum ventilation and breathability for your feet. Well-vented shoes will ensure your feet don't become too overheated and sweaty.
You will feel uncomfortable if your athletic shoes are not ventilated and breathable, especially during long rides.
Besides being made from breathable materials, your shoe upper may have tiny holes punctured all over its surface to increase ventilation.
Closure systems are a crucial aspect of not just biking shoes but any shoes. There are a few fastening systems common with cycling shoes, some of which are specifically designed to help you tighten your shoes easily, even when you are cycling.
BOA dials or wire retention systems are lightweight closure systems that can be easily adjusted at the turn of the dials situated on the upper of your cycling shoes.
The wire retention systems are not like shoe laces and work as a threaded system that may run in any combination all over the shoe upper, giving you a snug and comfortable fit.
Shoelaces are one of the oldest shoe fastening systems. Laces are cost-effective, give you a tighter fit, and are aesthetically extraordinary. However, the two biggest drawbacks are the inability to adjust on the go and the risk of the laces suddenly coming undone.
Velcro closure systems are easy to use and can be easily adjustable. Velcro straps are cheap and lightweight but are prone to wearing out and can’t really be replaced, making your shoe unusable.
Velcro straps also attract a lot of dirt and debris, especially when you are on a mountain bike. The mud and build-ups need to be cleaned often, making it inconvenient.
Ratchet and Buckle
Since wire retention systems came into the market, ratchets and buckles have become outdated and inefficient. They make the shoes heavier and are a bit more difficult to adjust while cycling. But they provide a secure fastening, which the cycling community appreciated and embraced for a while.
What Cycling Shoes Should You Wear?
The right cycling shoes for you are the ones that fit you well. You must get a pair that matches your shoe size so that it can fit you comfortably. You can refer to a size chart to find the right size.
Our latest biking shoes are unisex and can be worn by both men and women, as long as you get the fit right.
Each type of cycling discipline requires different functions from your shoes, which is why your cycling shoes will be purpose-driven. Let’s take a look at what kind of shoes each cycling discipline needs.
Casual Cycling Shoes
Casual cycling shoes are pairs you can use with any bike that has flat pedals. You can use casual cycling shoes with your starter, comfort, or touring bike.
The uppers of casual cycling shoes are often made of mesh fabric or leather, and the soles are made of either nylon or rubber. They have treads to make them easier to walk in, and they are often quite affordable.
Specialized casual 2FO Mountain Biking Shoes can work great as casual cycling shoes that you can use for off-road terrains and for walking.
Road Bike Shoes
Performance-driven road riding shoes are often the most high-tech cycling shoes. When riding road bikes, you want to increase your pedal strokes and go faster.
Road cycling shoes are designed in such a way that you don’t lose any power while you are clipped into the pedals. These shoes are meant for SPD-SL cleat system pedals that have three cleats, which keep your feet affixed to the pedal, preventing slippage.
Road cyclists don’t need shoes that need to be walked in. These shoes often have the hardest sole and are designed to keep your feet straight and snugly in place.
City Cycling Shoes
Urban and commuter bikes often have flat pedals, which are compatible with almost every shoe. City cycling shoes are similar to casual cycling shoes, but visibility is crucial.
If you ride urban bikes, you will need your bike and gear to have reflective and bright features that get attention in dark conditions. So you need to opt for shoes that are more visible in the dark.
On top of that, you will need to walk while commuting, so proper tread on the shoe soles is also crucial. The soles need to be more flexible, and the upper needs to be designed based on comfort so that, even if you want to wiggle around your toes, you can.
Mountain Bike Shoes
Mountain bikers use two kinds of pedals, either flat pedals or two-cleat SPD pedals. While you can use any shoes on flat pedals, you should seriously consider MTB shoes because they are sturdy and give your feet more protection. In addition, they have rubber treads that give you more traction on difficult, off-road terrain.
Specialized Recon Series provides multiple mountain biking shoes in varying price ranges. Recon is a series of clipless mountain bike shoes which give you more mud clearance on the trails.
Lower range recon has heavier rubber treads to give you more traction, while the S-Works models are more compact and sleek. The starting Recon 1.0 has a velcro closure system, but all the higher models have wire retention systems.
Specialized 2FO Series
Riding a flat pedal bike? Opt for the Specialized 2FO Moutain Bike Shoe Range, which has both flat and clipless models. While these shoes don't have much tread, they have super sticky soles that stick to your bike's flat pedal.
Indoor Cycling Shoes
If your indoor cycle has platform pedals, you can easily use casual cycling shoes while you train on them. However, some indoor cycling machines need three-cleat pedal shoes, which are often called spin shoes.
Some of our road shoes are indoor cycling-compatible shoes. Try using Torch 1.0 or S-Work Vent for superior performance while training.
Final Thoughts On How To Choose Cycling Shoes
Cycling shoes are about comfort and performance so you need to look at all the characteristics of the shoes you are interested in and make sure that they can give you those things.
As you already learned in this blog, pedal systems are crucial when looking for cycling shoes and so you need to select a pair that is compatible with your bike’s pedals.
Cycling disciplines are also deciding factors when it comes to cycling shoes. Road cycling shoes need to have stiff soles and breathable uppers. Whereas, mountain biking shoes need rubber treads and more mud clearance
Finally, now that you have all the knowledge at your disposal, choose a pair of cycling shoes that serves your purpose, aiding you to handle your choice of biking and terrain.