The right pair of cycling shoes can make a huge difference in your comfort, and for road cyclists, comfort is a rare luxury. Finding a pair of clipless cycling shoes that can accommodate a wide toe box while still providing all the features you need as a road cyclist could mean trying on lots of shoes before settling on a pair. Luckily, a few closure systems lend themselves to comfort for women with wide feet, and understanding how each of these attachment systems affect the performance of the shoe can narrow down your potential choices considerably.
Clipless cycling shoes come in two primary variations. The "Look" cycling shoe is the preferred shoe for competitive road cyclists. The three-hole attachment system between the shoe and the pedal distributes the downward force of your pedal stroke across a wide surface, increasing efficiency and power transferral. These shoes will be ideal for you if your toe box is wider than average, since your foot is already pushing downward over a wider surface area. SPD cycling cleats use a two-hole attachment system, and are more common among mountain bikers.
Get Some Closure
Your cycling shoe's closure system is designed to wrap your foot tightly on all sides. This allows you to pull up slightly on the pedal during your pedaling stroke, which is especially useful during uphill climbs. This three-dimensional fit can be difficult for people with a wide toe box; an attachment system that extends all the way to the toe of the shoe is going to be essential for fitting the shoe properly so you can get maximum efficiency out of your pedaling stroke without compressing your forefoot.
Strap or Rachet?
Most road cycling shoes use a combination of two closure systems. A ratcheted clasp and a plastic toothed strap form the ratchet closure seen on most high-end cycling shoes. Additionally, most cycling shoes also feature Velcro straps, especially near the forefoot. For women with a wide toe box, a shoe with at least three closure straps along the top of the shoe will likely be able to accommodate the wider forefoot, since the closure strap closest to the toe can be loosened to expand the sides of the forefoot area. Laced cycling shoes occasionally extend far enough down the shoe to provide a similar expansion, but lack the convenience and quick adjustment of the ratcheted and Velcro closure systems.
You've Got Options
For cycling shoes made in the U.S, different shoe widths are occasionally available. C, D, EE or EEE sized shoes will provide a substantially greater amount of width than the standard B-width for women's shoes. In addition, converting your women's shoe size to a men's size can give you additional options, since men's shoes are usually a bit more accommodating for wider feet. Ultimately, you'll still want a closure system that lets you fine-tune the fit of your shoe, as a close fit is essential for competitive road cycling. It's better to size up slightly and use a thick sock than to wear a shoe that is too small for your wide toe box.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.