How to Choose the Best Cycling Shoes

Person putting on cycling shoes

Getty Images / xavierarnau

When it comes to cycling, whether road or stationery, the bike is often the showstopper. But don’t overlook one important factor: the shoes! Investing time and money for the right pair of cycling shoes can help improve your performance and comfort—plus, the proper shoes work to keep you safe and injury-free. At the end of the ride, your cycling shoe could be the deciding factor for a good or bad workout.

Why You Should Get Cycling Shoes

You wouldn’t run a marathon or play basketball in your everyday shoes—similarly, cycling requires footwear that is unique to the activity. But compared to running or basketball shoes which get frequent upgrades and updates, cycling shoes still have a ways to go in development, says Dr. Alex Kor, podiatrist and spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Despite the lack of variety, he recommends incorporating a cycling shoe into your cycle workout, as cycle shoes provide more stability and structure, making your ride smoother and more efficient.

What to Consider When Purchasing Cycling Shoes

Compared to athletic shoes, cycling shoes are built to be sturdier and less flexible to provide stability and support during your ride.

Whether you’re on a 45-minute ride or two-hour ride, you’ll want shoes that are comfortable and durable. There are many brands and options, plus a list of things to consider, including: fit, purpose, price, and of course, style.

How Your Cycling Shoes Should Fit

The fit for your cycling shoes, similar to buying the right running shoes, might take some trial and error, as styles are constantly evolving in function and physical appearance.

Along with the structure, cycling sizes are not comparable to your regular athletic or running shoe, says Dr. Kor. “The fit is so important, and everything varies. So the best thing to do is to go in and get fitted. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

He also recommends getting fitted later in the day, when your feet have been strained and might be swollen, which can mimic how your feet would be in competition or activity. Other factors to consider are breathability and mechanical connection to a clip on the pedal.

In general, cycling shoes are meant to conform to the shape of the foot for greater comfort. They feature stiff soles that transfer more power to the pedal, which provides a better connection to the bike. The upper part of the shoes is important to provide security. For beginners, this may range from laces to Velcro. For performance athletes (like triathletes), this can range from Velcro to ratchet-style buckles.

Road or Racing Cycling

If you're a more serious cyclist partaking in races or simply hitting the open road regularly, you should look for shoes that are stiffer and are not recessed. This means the shoes can easily and firmly be clipped in the pedal. While you'll want to change out of these shoes as soon as you're off the bike, the stability will help your overall performance.

Mountain and Recreational Cycling

For individuals doing more recreational cycling, shoes that are more flexible with a recessed cleat provide stability and versatility. This fit makes it easier to walk in cleats on a mountain trail or after a casual bike ride. You'll still be receiving additional support and comfort without the stiffness of a racing shoe.

Indoor Cycling

For indoor spin classes or solo time on a stationary bike, there are a variety of shoe choices. These include toe cages for your regular athletic shoes to slide into. There might also be clips so you can snap your cleat into the pedal.

If you’re cycling indoors, you’ll likely be warmer than outdoors in the open air with a breeze to cool you down. Take this into consideration and look for an ultra-breathable shoe. Popular indoor cycle shoes include Peloton, SoulCycle, Schwinn, and Bowflex.

If you don't have your own cycling shoes don't worry—you can still take that spin class you've been thinking about! Many cycle studios provide indoor cycle shoes or charge a small rental fee for you to borrow shoes for a class.

Cycling Shoes for Flat Feet

If you’re prone to foot issues, you might want look for cycling shoes with more stability and allow for custom insoles. Cycling, in general, is a low-impact activity, but the more stability you have, the better your feet will feel.

Since most cycling shoes are on the stiffer side, there is more energy being conserved in the shoes and vibrations of the foot, which can worsen already aggravated foot issues, says Dr. Kor. Common foot issues include those who experience flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or even bunions. Pain and swelling from these foot issues can increase with activity, but choosing the right cycling shoe may help ease these issues.

Flat feet and plantar fasciitis generally affect the middle area of the foot in various (and painful) ways. Both of these conditions can benefit from cycling shoes with removable insoles. This will allow you to customize or modify the shoes to be orthopedically optimized for your ride. If you go into a cycling shop to get your feet fitted for shoes, ask them about their insole options.

For extensor tendinitis, which affects the tendons in the top of your foot, you don’t want a shoe that is too tight. Dr. Kor suggests looking for a lace cycling shoe over Velcro. Laces can be loosened and do not bind down the top tendons, he says.

If you have a bunion, choosing flatter shoes can help give the toes enough room to move.

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  1. Burns AC, Kram R. The effect of cycling shoes and the shoe-pedal interface on maximal mechanical power output during outdoor sprintsFootwear Science. 2020;12(3):185-192. doi:10.1080/19424280.2020.1769201

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