You can ride your bike in trainers, however, nothing beats a pair of proper cycling shoes in terms of comfort and performance. With so many types on the market, we've created this cycling shoes buyers guide to help you choose the best pair for you. Once you ride with a pair of cycling shoes you'll never look back.
Cycling shoes come in two types – Clipless and non-clipless/flat shoes. Clipless cycling shoes fix to a cleat which then clips into your pedals. The benefit is you get a firmer, more stable contact with your pedal to improve cycling efficiency. You'll also be able to generate power on the upstroke as well as the down stoke – something which feels strange to begin with, but becomes second nature.
Compared to casual footwear, cycling shoes come with stiffer soles. By flexing less, more of your power is transferred directly through the pedals, rather than wasted through the sole – so you ride faster, for less effort.
Buckles, straps and laces are all designed to keep your feet firmly in position. A closer fit than usual ensures your feet don't slip around as you ride which can chafe and cause blisters. These shoes offer on-the-fly adjustability so as your feet heat up and expand, you can loosen the fastenings a touch for comfort.
When buying clipless shoes, you’ll need to choose shoes that are compatible with your pedal cleat system.
The most common type of cleat systems are two or three bolt so it's worth knowing the difference before doing any more research.
Other cleat systems
There are a number of other cleat systems we haven't touched on, including the 4 bolt system for Speedplay pedals. These are often found on high end shoes with key benefits such as improved power transfer, lighter cleat, a great range of adjustment and improved aerodynamics. You can also get shoes which are compatible with both 2 and 3 cleat systems.
Cleat compatibility – 3 bolt cleat system
You can spot road cycling shoes by their low profile and streamlined design. They come fitted with stiff nylon or carbon fibre soles to improve energy transfer. They'll also be no grips on the sole – found on MTB shoes – with the exception of a heel pad.
You'll find Velcro and ratchet style fastening on entry-level road shoes. Premium road shoes come with BOA dial fastening. With BOA you can micro adjust the fit to conform to your precise foot shape for a close fit without creating pressure points.
These shoes are designed for maximum performance so weight and efficiency are everything. The more you spend the lighter and stiffer these shoes get.
Cleat compatibility – 2 bolt cleat system
MTB cycling shoes are studier, chunkier and come with lugs and grips on the sole so you can walk on muddy conditions when you're forced off your bike. Unlike road shoes, these have recessed cleats that are built into the sole. This makes them more comfortable to walk in while being designed to keep mud and debris out. Compared to road shoes, MTB soles are more flexible as a compromise between efficiency and comfort off the bike.
MTB shoes are also built out of tougher and more water resistant materials such as synthetic leather due to the nature of off-roading. MTB shoes come in two main types – XC racing and clipless skate style shoes.
XC racing shoes often have a very lightweight and stiff carbon sole for performance. Minimal tread on the soles keeps weight down. They look like chunkier road cycling shoes and are also great for cyclocross racing.
Clipless skate shoes are much loved by gravity riders thanks to their casual style, comfort off the bike and a cleat positioned further back on the sole that offers more 'feel'.
Flat shoes have a skate inspired look with a stiffer sole than you find on casual shoes and use extra grippy rubber for traction. These shoes are designed for flat pedals with no cleat. You'll often find more internal padding for comfort.
Flat cycling shoes are great for off-roading as well as commuting and casual riding thanks to easy off-the-bike walkability and stylish aesthetics.
You can buy women's cycling shoes in all the types and disciplines discussed above. They are built for a better fit with a narrower heel and shallower height between the sole and the upper. You'll find women's shoes in smaller sizes too.
The most common cause of foot numbness is improperly fitting shoes. Check the size guide for sizing and if you're between sizes go for the next size up. This is because your feet will swell slightly so a tight shoe will contrict blood vessels, making toes and feet go numb.
Another cause could be improperly aligned cleats. You could consider positioning cleats further back towards your heel to offer more even pressure across your foot.
A pair of cycling shoes can make all the difference to your comfort and performance in the saddle. They’re lighter and stiffer than causal shoes with a better fit. If you plan on riding regularly then a pair of shoes should be high on your wish list – you'll never look back.