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Basic Guide To Cycling Shoes And Pedals

Whether you’re strolling the mall, running a marathon, or riding your bike, having a properly fitting pair of shoes is critical. If you’re feet aren’t happy, neither are you. In the case of cycling, there’s also a substantial performance benefit to be had from a good pair for shoes. A well-fitting, light and stiff-soled pair of cycling shoes will literally help you roll up hills faster by increasing pedaling efficiency.

But which shoes are right for you? The selection process depends both on the intended use (for example, hard core road racer  or casual mountain bike enthusiast) and what kind of pedals you are using. Here’s a basic guide to pedals and shoes that will get you spinning in the right direction.

Because road rides are typically longer than off-road adventures, and because you’re clipping in and out less frequently, road pedals are one sided and have a larger cleat, which distributes pressure more evenly across your foot for increased comfort and stability.


Also known as mountain bike pedals, off-road pedals are typically two sided and interface with a recessed cleat that is usually smaller than its road cousin. Having two sides means it’s easier to clip in quickly; the recessed cleat makes it easier to walk when the trail gets too technical or steep.


Something you’ll always have to consider when choosing shoes is whether or not they’re compatible with your pedals.  Different brands of road shoes have proprietary clip-in systems with different bolt patterns for different cleats (cleats are the attachment to the bottom of the shoe that actually clips into the pedal). Shoe manufacturers will produce shoes that are sometimes compatible with only one type of pedal cleat, or often with 2 types. Off-road shoes generally use a 2-bolt system, while road shoes can be compatible for 2-, 3-, or even 4-bolt systems.  Most commonly, road pedal cleats use a 3-bolt system. Again, it all depends on the brand/type of pedal.

Bottom line…before shoe shopping, knowing your pedal clip-in type is very helpful.




Think of these as comfort oriented shoes that are just as suitable for walking as they are for pedaling. Most shoes in this category have a semi-flexible sole with ample tread, making them a truly hybrid piece of footwear. To be sure, some efficiency is sacrificed with this category of shoe, but if you’re not competing or going for a personal record, they are certainly a preferred alternative for many cyclists. Most shoes in this category have a recessed area for a two-bolt cleat that will interface with an off-road pedal. However, the soles will be flat enough that they’ll also work just fine with a pair of flat pedals.

Uppers: Features to look for include nylon mesh panels that improve breathability and speed drying time. Also look for an upper that’s easy to clean. Synthetic materials are usually easy to sponge off even if they get coated in mud.

Closure: Depending on model, the mechanism of closure may be any of the following:  laces, laces with a single Velcro strap, or no laces with two Velcro straps. Laces are easy to adjust, but make sure they’re tucked away so they don’t get tangled in your bike’s drivetrain. Shoes with Velcro straps are easier to get on and off, and are generally easy to dial in a fit.



If you’re looking to take on some singletrack or cross-country trails, you’ll want a good pair of mountain bike shoes. Depending on make, model and intended use, they’ll have either a stiff sole similar to a road shoe or a more flexible sole like a sport shoe.

Soles: If you’re a dedicated cross-country rider, or are planning on jumping into the local race scene, look for a shoe with a stiffer sole. These aren’t the best for walking, but the rigidity will translate into more efficient power transfer from body to bike. If downhill or freeriding is your thing, opt for a pair with a softer sole. They’ll be more comfortable whether riding or walking around an obstacle. Either way, expect a fairly aggressive tread pattern that will provide plenty of traction if you do have to get off your bike. Entry-level models may have a cover over the cleat-well that must be removed before a cleat can be installed.

Uppers: Mountain bike shoe uppers are all about durability. Look for shoes with rubberized sections on the toe, heel and mid foot. Easy-to-clean materials are also a must they’ll hopefully be covered in dirt and mud at some point. Also expect less breathability, as these shoes will be designed to keep water and mud from getting inside them.

Closure: Entry level models typically have two straps, while higher-end pairs will have three. The extra strap makes it easier to fine tune fit. Top-shelf models go one step further, mating two straps on the mid foot with a buckle or ratcheting mechanism at the top of the foot. This allows for further fine tuning of fit, and provides a failsafe in adverse weather conditions when Velcro’s effectiveness may be compromised.




Here efficiency is the name of the game. Road shoes have a stiff sole made of nylon, composite plastics, carbon fiber or a combination of the three. While not uncomfortable, these shoes are definitely not made for walking long distances. Instead, it’s all about transferring power to the pedals.

Soles: The No. 1 goal is efficient power transfer, which is accomplished through a combination of stiffness and light weight. Top shelf models have carbon fiber soles, which are the lightest and stiffest. Road shoes also have less tread than sport or mountain shoes, making it possible to accommodate the larger surface area of road pedal cleats. Off the bike, it’s best to take them off as soon as possible. They’re not made for walking around.

Uppers: Well designed uppers will be comfortable on long rides, but stiff enough not to compromise power transfer. Nylon mesh panels improve ventilation. A stiff heel cup and thin tongue provide support and enhance comfort.

Closure: Just like mountain bike shoes, entry level models typically have two straps, while higher-end pairs have three. The extra strap makes it easier to fine tune fit. Top-shelf models go one step further, pairing two straps on the mid foot with a buckle or ratcheting mechanism at the top of the foot. This allows for an even more precise fit. The strap and buckle configuration is also easy to cinch tight for a more secure fit during climbs and sprints.



Today’s cycling shoes are built to last, and with a few simple steps you can make sure you get the most out of yours. For starters keep them clean by giving them a quick wipe down after each ride. Dirty shoes have particles of grit and grime that eat away at stitching and seams, shortening lifespan.

If your shoes get wet, instead of breaking out the hair dryer, open the closures, pull out the tongue, and remove the insoles. Then gently stuff crumpled newspaper inside and set them in front of a fan. The newspaper will absorb the moisture, leaving your shoes dry in just a few hours no matter how soaked they were. And remember, especially in the case of road models, these are cycling — not walking — shoes. Even a short stroll across a parking lot can leave the soles scuffed and gouged.

Finally, make sure to keep cleats clean and lubed. Cleats have a limited useful life to begin with, but neglected cleats wear out even faster. If your pedal-shoe interface begins to behave erratically, check the cleats for wear and replace as needed.



No two feet are exactly the same, so shoes that fit one cyclist perfectly may be too narrow for another. Try on as many shoes as it takes until you find a pair that’s comfortably snug like any athletic shoe. Many cycling shoes run narrow (about an American "B" width). If you have wide feet, look for "wide" or "mega" designations. Synthetic leathers and Poly-coated leather does not stretch very much, so shoes should fit well right out of the box. On the other hand, real leather and Lorica® will break in some, so size accordingly.

We hope this information has been helpful to you. And remember, we’re always ready to hear your comments and answer your questions either at your local Performance shop or via phone, Facebook, or email…we’ll get you an answer in a flash.


Shoes and Pedals