Their are many variations of cycling shoes, but the two primary categories are flats and clipless shoes. The question of do you need cycling shoes comes up often. Any serious cyclist will tell you the answer is yes.
The debate between clipless shoes and flats is another hot shoe topic. If you don’t know about clipless shoes they are the opposite of what the name implies. With clipless shoes you have a cleat on the bottom that clips into a clipless pedal. Flats on the other hand are similar to traditional shoes. There are no clips and they simply sit on top of a flat pedal.
One key similarity between both clipless shoes and flats is the firm sole. A running shoe has a flexible sole because as your foot moves on the ground it needs to flex so you can run efficiently. With cycling shoes that flex creates a loss of efficiency in your pedaling stroke. The firmer the sole the better when it comes to biking.
Benefits of Proper Cycling Footwear
There are many benefits to cycling shoes. While not the best for walking or hiking, the proper shoes provide a lot more comfort while riding. Bike shoes are specifically engineered for the motion your foot takes during a pedal stroke. Cycling shoes are no different than running shoes providing more comfort while running, and hiking shoes providing comfort (and durability) when hiking.
Eliminating Hot Spots and Numbness While Increasing Efficiency
1. If you have taken a long bike ride you may have noticed a burning sensation in your feet. The burning sensation is known as ‘hot spots.’ Cycling hot spots can be reduced when wearing the proper shoe. Your foot will swell while riding causing increased pressure inside your shoe. That pressure compresses nerves and creates that hot spot sensation in your foot. Cycling shoes won’t eliminate hot spots completely, but they will dramatically reduce the effect allowing you to ride farther and faster.
2. Another benefit to cycling shoes is their ability to reduce or even eliminate numbness in your foot. While my feet suffered from hot spots before I started wearing cycling shoes, my wife’s feet would go numb. Numbness in the foot from cycling is another common side effect from long rides. Having the correct footwear for your ride will greatly reduce those side effects. My wife’s feet would go numb around the 20-30 mile mark before cycling shoes. Now she is able to ride twice that distance before numbness takes place.
3. The biggest benefit to cycling shoes is the increased efficiency of your pedal stroke if you are clipping in. A running shoe or tennis shoe puts a lot of strain on your quadriceps during the upward portion of your pedal stroke. When clipped-in the pedal pulls up with your foot. Without clips your foot is left “floating” on the pedal.
4. The clipless system also keeps your feet and legs aligned with the proper mechanics. Your feet are forced to stay in the correct position over the pedal axle. That means more power and less energy loss with each pedal stroke. Having the proper posture or mechanics in your legs also means less strain on your joints which reduces the likelihood of injury.
Reasons People Don’t Like Cycling Shoes
The biggest complaint I hear about cycling shoes is the expense. Bike shoes are expensive and are made for a specific purpose. There is no versatility. Unfortunately, your shoes for your bike cannot double up as a hiking shoe. There are many pairs that cost several hundred dollars. Even the cheap entry level pair of clipless shoes will cost $100. On the surface its easy to understand the primary reason people don’t like cycling shoes.
Another reason people will avoid clipless shoes is because their lack of versatility. They are hard to walk in when your cleats are in. This is especially true for road bike shoes. There are some mountain bike shoes that have enough tread to cover the cleat, but the stiff sole doesn’t make walking around all that comfortable.
There used to be an issue with style, but now shoe makers are finally providing multiple styles to suit a broader market of customers. I personally prefer the mountain bike style of shoes. I ride wearing the black and red Five Ten Men’s Kestrel. (Check Current Price on Amazon) They have some pairs that look like traditional tennis shoes. While those traditional tennis shoe styles look great, they still aren’t the most comfortable shoe for walking around the grocery store.
Being comfortable on your bike will always come down to the three contact points. Shoes/pedals, saddle and grips. Wearing the proper footwear is just one step towards increased comfort. Cycling shorts and ergonomic grips will also help. If you need a good pair of cycling shorts, check out my bike shorts review on the Pearl iZUMi Escape Quest shorts.