When you first get into road cycling, the choice of suitable shoes to wear is a bit bewildering. Not only that, but there’s also the slightly unnerving prospect of wearing clipless shoes, which attach your feet to the pedals. So, what are your options?
If you really can’t face the idea of fixing your feet to the pedals and potentially falling over as a result, you can always start off with flat shoes. This is basically a normal trainer, except perhaps with a stiffer sole. You’d wear these shoes with flat pedals, ideally, though it’s not impossible to ride on some clipless pedals without actually clipping in.
Well-known brands like Five Ten make flat cycling shoes, but you can also find other flat-soled “touring shoes” if you look around. As well, you can improvise with other shoe types like indoor football trainers, which may work out cheaper.
Clipless MTB Shoes
Many road cyclists wear mountain bike (MTB) shoes with Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) cleats because the cleat is usually recessed into the sole of the shoe. This design makes it easier to walk when you get off the bike, whether you’re stopping at a café or marching to the nearest train station after a mechanical disaster.
Another benefit of MTB shoes is that their 2-bolt cleats will usually clip into either side of the matching pedal. This is often not the case with any road shoes. The latter usually only fix to one side of the pedal, so you have to flip it over to the correct side when setting off.
Clipless Road Shoes
Road shoes usually have 3-bolt cleats that protrude more from the base of the shoe. The cleats and the pedals tend to be broader than MTB equivalents, spreading the load on the pedal across the foot more. This, together with a stiffer sole, prevents “hot spot” problems on longer rides, though many cyclists never experience this. The broader platform also theoretically aids power transfer.
The possible benefits of road shoes are performance and comfort, but you’ll find plenty of people that deny any appreciable difference. Road shoes are awkward to walk on, and their plastic cleats wear more quickly than the metal cleats of MTB shoes, but you can buy cleat covers to address this.
Carbon or Nylon Soles
Most cleated cycling shoes have carbon or nylon soles. The former is stiffer and lighter, which theoretically means better power transfer and performance. However, reinforced nylon shoes are plenty stiff enough for most riders and tend to be much cheaper.
Practice Clipping In and Out
If you’re buying your first pair of clipless cycling shoes, it’s a good idea to practice clipping in and out in a quiet area before you take to busy roads. You only need to extract and attach one foot when you stop and start. Give yourself plenty of time and aim for a prop like a lamppost or a garage door where you’re going to stop. That way, if you don’t manage to unclip, you won’t necessarily topple over. Good luck!