Cycling Shoes & Pedal Systems

Cycling shoes are special shoes designed to attach to the bikes pedals via a clip-in system. Attaching shoes to the pedals improves the efficiency of the pedal stroke, by allowing the cyclist to pull on the upstroke, as efficiently as they push on the downstroke, resulting in a constant application of force through the entire 360 degree pedal rotation.


Beginning cyclists don’t need a clipless pedal system, and special cycling shoes. However, as you begin to ride longer distances, more frequently, most cyclists will begin to appreciate the added efficiency clipless pedal systems will provide.

Almost all clipless pedal systems work the same. There is a cleat attached to the sole of your bike shoe that fits onto, or into, a part of the pedal on your bike. To snap the shoe cleat into the pedal, the cyclist applies downward pressure. To release the shoe, the cyclist twists their heel outwards.

Understanding how the clipless pedal system works will provide a better understanding of what to look for in a cycling specific shoe.

Remember: You need to buy cycling shoes that are compatible with the pedal system that you purchase. 
More Info on Clipless Pedal Systems

How Cycling Shoes Should Fit

Speaking in very general terms, there are two basic types of cycling shoes… shoes designed for road biking, that usually have exposed cleats, and are difficult to walk in; and shoes designed for off-road cycling that always have recessed cleats, are are easier to walk in. Each catagory of shoe also contains style and price differences based on the type of riding the shoe is designed for, and the materials used in the shoe.

A properly fitting cycling shoe should be comfortably snug. The heel cup should fit snug enough to hold the heel in place through the entire pedal rotation. There should be even pressure on the instep when the shoe is laced and/or buckled up. You should have a little toe room at the end of the shoe, and the shoe should hold your forefoot stable without pinching. There shouldn’t be any large areas of gapping or folds in the material. The ball of your foot should lie at the widest portion of the shoe to allow for proper cleat positioning.

Men’s Fit -vs- Women’s Fit

The female foot is not just a scaled down version of the male foot. In general, a women’s foot has a higher arch, narrower heel and a shallower first toe. The ball of a women’s foot has a smaller circumference than a males. The circumference on the instep of a women’s foot is also smaller. Both the ankle length, and the instep length are shorter than their male counterparts.

The anatomical differences in the male and female foot should be taken into consideration when purchasing cycling shoes. Women should look for shoes designed specifically to fit the anatomy of the female foot.

Shoe Width

Cycling shoes come in three widths… narrow, standard and wide. If you have extremely narrow, or extremely wide feet, look for manufacturers that offer shoes specifically designed to fit a narrow or wide foot.

Design Features of Cycling Shoes

The Sole of the Shoes


The material used in the sole of the shoe is a reflection of the quality of the shoe. Most lower end cycling shoes have an injection-molded plastic sole. Injection-molded plastic soles are more economical to produce, but are heavier, and not as stiff as the carbon fiber or fiberglass that is used in higher end shoes. As such, they are more flexible.

Remember: The stiffer the sole of your shoe, the more stable the platform to transmit power.


The material used in most mid-range cycling shoes is a combination of plastic and carbon fibre, plastic and fibreglass, or an all carbon fibre sole. Adding carbon fibre, or fibreglass to a shoe is more expensive, but is makes the sole stiffer and lighterweight.


All high-end competition level shoes use carbon fibre soles. Carbon fibre is lighweight and very stiff, providing a stable platform.

Materials In the Upper Part of the Shoe

Soft supple materials such as leather provide greater comfort and less break in time. Higher end shoes usally have a real leather upper, while lower end shoes have a synthetic leather, or plastic uppers.

Front Closure Systems

There are many different ways to fasten cycling shoes… laces, buckles, straps. The main concern is to make sure that there are no pressure points when the shoes are securely fastened. Pressure points can restrict blood flow to the feet causing them to become numb. You also want to make sure that there are no loose laces, or other loose parts that could get caught in the bicycles chainwheel and cause an accident.


You’ll see many shoe manufacturers using Boa Technologies “Boa Lacing System” in their higher end cycling shoes. The Boa lacing System tightens shoes laces using a dial which pulls laces with even force across the eyestays and into a reel. Because laces wind up inside the reel, there is no loose shoe laces that can get caught in the chainwheel while cycling. Because laces are pulled uniformally, pressure points are eliminated.
More info on the Boa Lacing System


The toung of the shoe should be padded for comfort, and should not bunch.


You do not want any slipage in the heel. When you try on any cycling shoes, stand on your toes. The heel should stay firmly in place.

Cycling Shoes Designed for Specific Types of Riding

Road Biking Shoes

Road biking shoes are designed for speed. In general they have a very narrow profile designed to hold the foot, especially the heel, in place. Road bike shoes are lightweight, areodynamic, and have extremely stiff soles.

Almost all shoes designed for road biking have an exposed cleat system. This is so the entire sole of the shoe can be made from a very stiff material, such as carbon. The stiffer the sole of your shoe, the more stable the platform to transmit power. The downside of having a very stiff sole, and exposed cleat is that it is very difficult to walk in these type of cycling shoes. Some companies are now adding a rubber heal tip to the shoe, and offering rubber cleat covers that can be put over your cleats for those times that you need to get off your bike and walk. See Kool Kovers

Mountain Biking Shoes

Mountain biking shoes have recessed cleats, and a slightly more flexible rubber sole designed to let the cyclist walk when needed. The rubber soles have large tread patterns that make walking on steep, muddy, or otherwise unrideable terrain much easier. When purchasing mountain bike shoes and a compatible clipless pedal system always consider how mud and debris are cleared from the shoes and cleats during clip in.

Touring Shoes

Bicycle touring is all about taking a trip on your bike. That means that you need to be able to carry all the stuff you intend to bring with you, on your bike. The amount of gear that you can carry is limited. As such, most touring cyclist carry gear that is multi-functional. Touring cyclists ride a lot of miles on their bikes each day, and will benefit from the performance of a clipless pedal system. However, they also need to be able to walk comfortably when they are not cycling, and have a pair of shoes that doen’t necessarily look like a cycling specific shoe. The choice is to carry several pairs of shoes, or to find a cycling specific shoe that looks like a normal street shoe, but is also comfortable to walk in. Shoes designed for touring should have recessed cleats, and a more flexible rubber sole so that the cyclist can be as comfortable walking while off the bike, as they are efficient when riding the bike. There is an amazing selection of shoe options available to the touring cyclist. From tennis shoes, to hiking boots and even sandles- all designed for style, comfort, and performance both on the bike and off.


Downhill racing is a true test of nerve, and one’s ability to control their bike under extreme conditions. The concept is to get down the mountain as fast as possible. Downhill courses usually contain a succession of big jumps and drops over rocks, trees and other obsticals. The ride is all about controlling your bike at high speeds- breaking… cornering… riding to the edge of one’s ability.

Downhill apparel is all about protection… “body armor”.

Downhill cyclists use a large platform pedal. Clipless versions of downhill platform pedals are similar to a mountain bike clipless pedal, except the platform shaped exterior has a larger pedal area designed to allow your feet come on and off the pedals easier while planting turns.

Downhill shoes are similar to mountain bike shoes but have greater ankle support and reinforced toe caps. The soles of downhill shoes are designed to provide increased grip on the large flat pedals.


BMX shoes look, and feel like soft, flat-bottomed skateboard shoes. Most models come with or without clipless pedal compatibiity. Flat-bottomed shoes without clipless pedal compatibiity make stunt performance much safer because they allow you to get your feet off the pedals faster than clipless pedals. However, some riders still perfer the added performance of being connected to the bike with a clipless pedal system.


Triathlon shoes are predominatly road bike shoes with some special features. Many Shoes designed specifically for Triathlon have a lined inner that can be worn sock-free for a quicker transition between the bike and run. Most triathlon shoes will have a heel loop for faster transitions.

Indoor Cycling Shoes

Indoor cycling shoes are a recent development. With the growing popularity of organized indoor cycling classes, these shoes are a hybrid of road and touring shoes. They have a firm sole and limited traction. The material of the indoor cycling shoe is lighter and thinner, to maximize comfort, coolness and breathability for the hot, conditions found in most indoor gyms.


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One Response to Cycling Shoes & Pedal Systems

  1. I own a pair of shoe covers for my mountain bike shoes and also another pair for my cycling shoes. They are great to have so that your feet and toes can stay warm on…

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