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In the mailbag recently was this note from a reader:

I recently started riding a hybrid bike. I'm mostly doing shorter rides on pavement, some off-road. And I don't lock into my pedals (just straps). I was wondering about the advantages/disadvantages of cycling shoes. How do they improve the ride? Should beginners invest in a pair? What should you look for in a pair of cycling shoes? Are they really necessary for fitness riders?

Thanks, Amanda

I know what I'd tell Amanda, but I'm curious as well as to what sort of advice you'd offer, particularly based on your own experience. Got any opinion on this? Comment below.

Related article: What kind of pedals are right for you

Image: Nashbar road shoes with cleats - David Fiedler


August 27, 2008 at 3:51 am
(1) David says:

Amanda, it’s not clear whether you are new to cycling altogether or just to your hybrid. But assuming you are a relative beginner/amateur, I reckon you are better off staying with your clips’n'straps. As you are still getting into this riding stuff, we want you to learn to luv using your bike, so much that you start going everywhere on it, not just out for training runs to get fit.
That way you’ll stick with riding, rather than see it as a chore. You’ll not only get fitter but stay that way too, getting lots of fresh air and exercise for life. (To say nothing of what you’ll save on your gas bill.)
But for that sort of riding you’ll be commuting to work and/or shops, etc, etc, forever having to stop at intersections and the like. Clips make that sort of urban riding much easier. If you read David’s ‘What kind of pedals are right for you’ article, you’ll see that cleats are a lot more difficult to use and a real hassle for urban riding – clips will give you most of the efficiency gains without all that bother.
Leave cleats (and the special shoes to go with them) to the hard-case semi-pros and racers who are after every last grain of efficiency. After all, if you want to get fit, having to work that odd 1 or 2% harder will be working in your favor!

August 27, 2008 at 7:52 am
(2) D. Kathalon says:

I ride for fitness, pleasure, errands & bike adventure trips. I wear biking shoes that do not have a cleat (or its optional), the reason is the bottom of the shoe is very stiff and makes pedaling much more efficient. There is a difference – see if you can find a modified biking shoe in sport stores. Hope this helps.

August 27, 2008 at 9:27 am
(3) Corrie Rosetti says:

Cleats take a bit of getting used to, but once you are comfortable they are far easier than toe-clips which have a habit of being on the underside of the pedal just when you want to slip your foot in.
Another solution is to keep the clips and have that flat platform attachment on the otherside.
Finally, for a cleat solution look at a good mountain shoe with recessed cleats. This gives you good walking as well as the advantages of the cleat. Pearl Izumi makes a shoe witha built in crease at the toe box so that the shoe walks just like a pair of tennis shoes and yet retains the stiff last for efficient pedaling.

August 27, 2008 at 4:35 pm
(4) Randy Davis says:

I believe you’re already hooked on cycling and you know the right answer. You just need some support. You can do it! I like the previous comments. I would add that toe clips / straps can be a little dangerous. Sometimes the tread on your shoe hangs up when you’re trying to pull it out to put your foot down. Toe clips are also a little questionable unless you’re a messenger on a fixie trying to make a statement or keeping it real man!

I would suggest you try a peal that is both a platform and spd compatible (allows you to click in). Then, as the previous comment suggested, maybe get a mountain bike style shoe that is kind of a cross-over (could be used for both road/off road) and is easy to walk in. If you use the platform pedals that have the option of “clicking in”, then you can ride on the platform normally and only “click in” when you feel comfortable / maybe practing in a soft grassy soccer field or something safe like that. Then, when you feel comfortable with the pedals, you can start to mostly “click in” when you ride and the mountain bike style shoes are good for hybrids that go off road and are more comfortable / useful than road shoes for your type of riding.

Rock on and click in!

August 27, 2008 at 5:51 pm
(5) Doug says:

Even for the casual rider cycling shoes give the rider two big advantages–1. the stiffer sole distributes the force over a larger area and, over time, will help to fight fatigue and/or pain in the foot, 2. clipping in gives a better and more efficient connection with the pedal

August 28, 2008 at 10:28 am
(6) Chris P says:

I second the notion of getting shoes that are comfy and have a recessed cleat. They are best for walking around and most are comfy. The change over to getting used to it is only a few days at most and after a week or 2 you will never think otherwise. I do recommend pedals though that have adjustable tension and set it low and work it up.

August 28, 2008 at 2:10 pm
(7) Mike says:

Try reading this article by Grant Petersen on Rivendell Bicycleworks http://www.rivbike.com/article/clothing/the_shoes_ruse

September 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm
(8) Andrew Porter says:

The issue of chosing between toe clips and straps, or clipless pedals is determined, in part, by the time of riding. For example, toe clips and straps are still used on sprint bicycles used for velodrome racing, often with two straps per pedal. This is to really lock the shoes on to the pedals and overcome the maximum pulling forces being applied during racing, as speeds of 40mph or faster, there is a desire to never accidently twist the shoes off the pedals. However, to release the shoes requires the cyclist to either reach down and undo the straps whilst still pedalling, or after they have stopped against a barrier so that they can grasp barrier to stop the bicycle from falling over.

Clipless pedals allow the shoe to lock on to the pedals, with only a twisting action required to remove the shoes, in other words no hand action is needed. However, the risks include setting the tension too high on the pedal release so that as the rider fatigues, on a long ride, they can find that when they stop, they cannot remove the shoes and fall over. In addition, the cleats on the shoes wear, therefore it becomes easier to accidently twist the shoes out of the pedals when riding.

As I am not a track sprinter, I prefer clipless pedals with a small amount of freedom to twist the shoes slightly, but to reduce wear on the shoe cleats, I use cleat covers whenever I get off the bicycle so that the cleats are protected whilst I walk. This minimises the risks to the cleats, and by setting the release tension on the pedals correctly, getting stuck has never happened after many years, and no accidental shoe removal when riding has happened.

September 4, 2008 at 3:02 pm
(9) Colleen says:

It depends on what kind of riding Amanda is doing. I have clipless on my road bike and would hate to do long bike rides with out them.

But for my commuting around town, I use clips. For the short, frequent rides that I do during the typical day, putting on and then taking off special shoes just isn’t practical. I wear whatever shoes I have on (though I do notice that the lack of a stiff sole on some shoes can cause foot cramps on even fairly short rides.)

Special equipment might enhance effiency but it should never be forgotton that riding in basically a low demand activity. Have bike will travel sort of thing.

So the answer should be what ever will encourage Amanda to continue riding and enjoying it.

September 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm
(10) David Fischer says:

I have been riding (long rides, short hops to the store, to work, and mountain biking) with clipless pedals and cleats for about a year. LOVE IT! So much better acceleration and climbing! Now it fees weird when I ride without them . . .

September 4, 2008 at 6:28 pm
(11) Kelly says:

I have two sets of clipless SPD pedals on a hybrid bike and a road bike. I have two pair of shoes with cleats – one pair is a Keen commuter sandal which I wear all summer long; the other is a Lake I/O (indoor/outdoor) shoe which are as comfortable as a pair of worn-in running shoes. I’ve been biking clipless less than a year. It’s pretty easy with a short learning curve. You’ll love it!

September 4, 2008 at 11:43 pm
(12) Jerry says:

I have been riding for over fifty years. You will be safest to learn just using platform pedala with NO straps or clips or cleats or cycling shoes. A pair of comfortable cross training shoes will work just fine, and cost much less than all the cycling specific parahenalia. Later you may want to advance to cycling specific shoes and clipless pedals as you gain comfidence and improven your technique. I still use tennies and platforms on a hybrid just to run errands or ride about the neighborhood with the wife and grand children. Of course, I use the best and latest equipment I can afford to try and best my times on training and century rides.

September 5, 2008 at 1:29 pm
(13) Charlie Johnson says:

As a lifelong biker I agree with Jerry. The worst spills I have had was partly due to pedal straps and not being able to catch myself on the way down. I am 71 years old now and still love to ride my hybrid. I worked as a Security Bike Patrol Officer until retirement at age 65 and spent many 8 hour shifts on a Police Trek that I took the straps off of with my pocket knife, one day after a spill.

September 9, 2008 at 10:05 pm
(14) Trish says:

My toes kept falling asleep when I biked with gym shoes. I’ve worn cycling shoes for years (prolly need to replace them soon!) and they make a huge difference.

The other things to consider with clips (sorry if I missed mention of this above) is how your leg moves when you pedal. I had a bike mechanic check my stroke and they actually suggested that I not use clips, as my one knee “floats” as I stroke. It was their opinion that a clip would hinder the natural movement and likely cause some pain.

The good news is that no matter which type of pedal+shoe combination you prefer, it’s relatively easy to swap back out if your choice doesn’t work out. =)

September 13, 2008 at 8:27 am
(15) Fred of Baltimore says:

I am a rider with wide feet. I have searched every bikeshop in Baltimore to no avail. I would like to go clipless but a 13EEEE isn’t even a specialty shoe. I love to ride and I would like to go the next step with better shoes, but I am stuck in sneekers.

September 15, 2008 at 10:08 pm
(16) Lundy says:

I am a mid level rider and have been told that I need to move to cycling shoes and what I thought was clipless pedals. When I read all the posts, I now understand that there are cleats, clips, clipless, and straps. Would someone explain the difference in the 4? I think I know straps are sort of like harnesses that fit over the shoe. Let me know– many thanks.

September 20, 2008 at 12:43 pm
(17) bicycling says:

Several of these terms mean the same thing.
Platform pedals are what your feet rest on. Toeclips and straps are basically the same thing – either a hard shell that you slide your foot into (mostly older style) or a strap/harness set-up (more current now) that help hold your foot onto the pedal. Clipless pedals are ones that use a special shoe that click onto the pedal (using the cleats on the bottom of the shoe) to attach your foot directly to the pedal.

This article talks more about them and has photos.

October 30, 2008 at 10:35 am
(18) Frank from Florida says:

I’m 62 and have had my share of slow-falls using clipless pedals. I’ve found the combo pedal, which is clipless on one side and platform (flat) on the other side, works well for me. I also recommend the recessed cycling shoe so walking isn’t a problem. The combo pedal allows me to ride short stop and go trips using the platform side and clipless when on a long ride. You can find all of these items on sale at various internet cycling merchants or at your local bike shop.

October 30, 2008 at 11:50 am
(19) Linda says:

1. To answer Amanda’s question, yes, you should get cycling shoes. They are stiff on the bottom, which transfers power to the pedals, as opposed to sneakers, which “squish” while you are pedaling and you lose some of your effort to the cushioning.

Since you are a beginner rider, I would recommend Mountain Bike shoes, because you can walk in them after you get off the bike. What you want to look for (as a beginner) is comfort and price. The sizing on bicycling shoes is usually European, but sometimes it is not, so I wear anywhere from a size 37 to 39, depending on the manufacturer. Also, different brands have differing ideas of width, so you are better off going to a bike shop (like Performance) or an outdoor shop (like REI) and actually trying them on and walking around in them. You can probably find a beginner pair in the $40-$60 range (on sale).

Lastly, if you use orthotics, make sure you try them on with your bike shoes. Otherwise, you may find your toes jammed against the top of the shoe when you ride.

2. To reply to Trish’s coment (#14), I have a problem with my knees as well, they don’t line up with my feet. They were so bad that riding with toeclips was causing a bone in my knee to stick out. I now have Speedplay Frog clipless pedals. They have an enormous amount of float (I think it is 21 degrees), and I can adjust it so my lower leg is not twisted. Plus, they are mountain bike pedals, so I can wear mountain bike shoes, which I really prefer.

October 30, 2008 at 5:57 pm
(20) Tony says:

Go cleats/clipless, with a mountain-bike style system (e.g. Shimano SPD), with recessed cleats. Team that with a platform/cleat pedal (e.g. Shimano A530) and you’ve got the best of both worlds.

Having used clips/straps as a teenager, I find that cleats are much easer to get into (no rotating the pedal around, because they always hang upside down), and also easier to get out of again. If you’re really concerned, you can get cleats that allow multiple ways of releasing your foot, but I’ve found the standard type to be easy enough to get out of.

Nothing new in any of the above, but for practice, take your bike inside and sit in the middle of a doorway and practice clipping in and unclipping.

June 24, 2010 at 8:34 am
(21) Deb says:

I have used my sneakers to ride for about 3 months (no falls), just decided to move on the cleapless and guess what … yes, falls. The first time I used them I got very frustrated and stressed, but I do have to say that I notice the difference. I can climb hills better, toes don’t get numb anymore and Im able to ride more miles than before. It’s been 2 weeks and Im still very nervous when I use them but I will keep practicing because I refuse to give them up! 8)

July 28, 2011 at 11:26 am
(22) Michael H. says:

If you’re going to put in any serious time on the bike, you may want to go with stiff-soled cycling shoes. I know of a few cases where people developed PF problems from wearing soft-soled running shoes on a bike.

Clipless pedals and shoes will also prevent your foot from slipping off of the pedals, which can happen frequently on platform pedals.

March 13, 2014 at 1:39 pm
(23) Sharon says:

On my hybrid I have pedals that are clipless on one side and underneath they are the regular pedals. I use the clipless side almost 100% of the time as it feels insecure to have no toe clips and no cleats locked in. However, if I were going from one place to another in town, I’d bring some non-cycling shoes and change into them and then use the platform side to ride those short trips with stops. On my vintage ten speed I still have toe clips. Have no problems with either system; I just find that it wastes energy to not have your feet attached in some way unless you’re on a very short ride indeed.

If anything, it is even easier to get your feet out of the clipless pedals than it is to get them out of toe clips. However, I only take one foot out when I must make a brief stop. It’s all habit. You use the toe of your shoe to spin the pedal around with the toe clips and also to access the cleated side on the combination pedals on my hybrid.

March 20, 2014 at 10:34 pm
(24) Richard C Beck III says:

Been using bike shoes/cleats since ’71 for the typical conventionally stated reasons. Just to experiment about the “need” for bike shoes I just rode 196 miles in one day with one SPD shoe on the left and one Crock on the right. After 17 hours, including stops, the right leg and foot fell off, and I had to call 911. Not! There was no difference in physical comfort, in fact my right foot felt a little better since the Crock is a lot lighter. The Crock weighs 246 grams and the Shimano sandal weighs 552 gr, That’s only one shoe’s different weight. The sandal’s 306 grams per pedal revolution times 85 revs per minute is and extra work of 26,010 grams per hour for just the one sandal. The Crock was on a wider and flat pedal with a Power Grip strap. I believe It would also work with the older style toe cleat and strap.

It is indeed safer to have the footgear fastened to the pedals. I like the Power Grips. Used the toe cleats and straps for 35 years then switched to SPD cleats and pedals 14 years ago. Now I’m thinking about switching to soft shoes, platforms, and wide straps.

Riding on the open road while wearing a bike racer costume distinctly signifies (to motor vehicle users) you are using the public’s official right-of-way for recreational fun.

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