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Cycling shoes buyers guide

Cycling Shoes Buying Guide

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.

What are cycling shoes?

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.

Different cleat systems

The most common type of cleat systems are two or three bolt so it's worth knowing the difference before doing any more research.

2 bolt cleat systems

2 bolt cleat system

Often found on MTB cycling shoes with recessed cleats that make walking easier. The most common type of 2 bolt cleat systems are Shimano SPD and Crank Brothers.

3 bolt cleat systems

3 bolt cleat system

Often found on road cycling shoes where the cleat protrudes from the shoe making walking difficult, but gives a firm platform for maximum pedalling efficiency. Shimano SPD-SL, Time, Look and Speedplay are the most common 3 bolt cleat systems.

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.

Types of cycling shoes

Road cycling shoes

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.

See our full range of road cycling shoes.

road cycling shoes

MTB cycling shoes

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'.

See our full range of MTB cycling shoes.

mtb shoes

Flat cycling shoes

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.

See our full range of flat cycling shoes.

flat cycling shoes

Women's cycling shoes

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.

See our full range of women's cycling shoes.

womens cycling shoes

How to prevent numb feet

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.

See our full range of cycling shoes.