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Cycling Shoes and Clipless Pedals

How to Buy Cycling Shoes and Clipless Pedal Systems

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Updated April 18, 2011

Shimano Mountain Bike Shoes

Shimano Mountain Bike Shoes

photo courtesy of Pricegrabber
Cycling shoes are becoming increasingly specialized and come in a huge variety of styles with very specific functions. There are cycling shoes for road racing, mt. biking, spinning, cyclocross, touring and now, even cycling sandals. Choosing a cycling shoe may seem confusing, but there are some simple ways to narrow down your selection and get the best shoe for your riding style.

Cycling Shoes and Pedal Systems

Entry-level bikes generally come with standard platform pedals. This type of pedal is will work with any shoe and you simply place your foot on the pedal and push down as you ride. Simple.

Today, however, most high-end bikes don't come with pedals, and your first decision may include the type of cycling shoe and pedal combination you intend to use. This combination is important because the type of pedal you purchase is designed to work with a specific cleat that attaches to the bottom of your cycling shoe. A cleat allows you to "clip into" your pedal with a snap, and release your foot from the pedal with a twist. This set up dramatically increases your pedaling power and efficiency because you can pull up as well as push down through the entire pedal stroke. Although cycling cleats take a bit of practice to feel completely comfortable, they are well worth it if you plan to ride any distance over varied terrain.

Cycling Shoes for Walking

If you plan to do any walking in your cycling shoes (think of mountain biking, cyclocross, touring or commuting) you will want to consider a cycling shoe with a recessed cleat. These shoes have the cleat set deep in the sole of the shoe so it doesn't touch the ground as you walk. This makes it far easier to walk, and helps the cleats last longer.

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Cycling Shoes for Road Racing

If you never plan to walk very far in your cycling shoes and want an efficient, stiff-soled, light weight shoe consider a road racing style of cycling shoe. This is the choice of most elite road and track cyclists. In theory, the stiffer shoe allows a greater transfer of energy to the pedal and creates more power in sprints and fast accelerations.

Cycling Shoes for Triathlons

Cycling shoes designed for triathlons offer the same stiffness and light-weight features as a road racing cycling shoe but add two or three Velcro straps in place of laces which allows for faster and easy transitions.

Foot Pain and Cycling Shoes

A stiff-soled cycling shoe can lead to foot pain and numbness because of the extremely rigid and inflexible foot bed. If you have pain or numbness while riding, you may want to consider a softer shoe or adding padded shoe inserts or an orthotic to decrease pressure on the feet.

Try Before You Buy

No matter the type of shoe you decide to buy, it's important to try on a variety of brands, and styles to see how they fit your foot. Be sure to try them on with the socks you intend to wear while riding. If you plan to ride in cold weather, make sure your shoes have enough room for a thicker sock, as well.
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