What Is the Purpose of Cycling Shoes?

Cycling shoes can make your rides more comfortable.
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If you've done any indoor or outdoor cycling, you may have noticed some people wearing special bike shoes that clip into their pedals. Folks often look awkward and clumsy walking around in them off the bike. The shoes may not look as comfy as your sneakers, but they serve a purpose and offer some great benefits. You might want to consider getting a pair if you ride fairly regularly.

Pedal Efficiency

    The main purpose of bike shoes is to increase pedal efficiency, especially during the upstroke. The shoes are made with stiff soles that maximize the energy transfer from your legs to the pedal. You're able to use your hamstrings to a greater degree when pulling the pedal up because your foot is attached to the pedal. The stiff sole also keeps your foot from flexing, which reduces foot fatigue and cramping.


    Safety is another reason to consider bike shoes. When your foot isn't attached, you run the risk of your foot slipping off the pedal during motion. If you're pedaling at a high cadence, you may not be able to get your foot out of the way before the crank swings the pedal around and hits your leg. Cycling shoes also provide added safety at lower cadences when there's a lot of torque on the pedal. For example, if you were climbing out of the saddle on a steep incline and your foot slipped off the pedal, you could crash or end up slamming down on the horn of the saddle.

What to Look For

    If you're a road or indoor cyclist, opt for road shoes. If you're a mountain biker, go mountain. Choose a shoe with a rigid sole and a durable and pliable upper. You'll also want to make sure the shoe has bolt drillings on the sole that are compatible with the pedal system you intend to use -- either a two-hole or three-hole system. Choose a shoe that will give your foot a little extra room to swell to avoid discomfort on long or hot rides.


    The outer cleat on road shoes can make them slippery and hard to walk in. For example, if you were going to wear them to ride your bike to the market to shop, you would need a shoe with a recessed cleat. Mountain and special touring shoes offer this. The second consideration is the learning curve. It isn't hard to learn to clip in and out of the pedals, but it takes a little practice. You may fall in the beginning, until unclipping at a stop becomes second nature.

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