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How to Choose your Perfect Cycling Shoes

How to Choose your Perfect Cycling Shoes

Daunted by the vast array of cycling shoes on offer? If you don't know where to start, fear not. I will guide you through this potential minefield.

When choosing your first pair of cycling shoes, first open your cupboard and get out your trainers.

How many pairs are we talking? Is it: 1 ‘old faithful’ – do anything and everything, go anywhere from the gym to mowing the lawn to walking the dog? 

Easy. You need 1 multipurpose pair.  Cycling shoes designed for mountain biking with Shimano’s SPD MTB cleats* are ideal, something like Shimano’s M089 or M065s. Done.

If you opened the cupboard door and a cascade of trainers rained down on you – your road running pair, your trail running pair, gym pair, squash, tennis, the old pair that you can’t throw away as they will be collectible (like my original pair of Reebok Pumps) and the super clean ones you wear to the pub - then we have a more complicated situation.

Where to start?

First question: road or mountain biking?  That's divided the universe of cycling shoes roughly in half.

Let's do road first. You absolutely, definitely, 100% want cycling shoes with cleats or ‘clip-ins’? If the answer is not 100% yes, or if these are your first pair, then set a budget of £50-60 to get the feel for cycling with your feet attached to your bike just in case toppling over sideways and hitting the deck in front of a long line of cars at the traffic lights because you can’t get your foot down quick enough is not for you (we’ve all done it!).

Don’t worry, you'll get the hang of it quickly enough. Try some Shimano R088 or Specialized Elite Road Shoes.

If you're comfortable with cleats then you can spend anything from £50 to £300 plus. A lot of pros wear Sidi and S-Works get good reviews, just be careful in emulating the pros – top end cycle shoes are lighter and flimsier, the pros get theirs replaced whenever they want a new pair from their sponsor. Yours won’t. 

Before you drop £200, read the reviews and see what ones fall apart and maybe sacrifice space aged lightness for a little robustness.

If anything, this applies more to MTB shoes as they will get trashed very quickly by mud, stones etc. If you’re not racing then fit and comfort is going to be more important than weight and absolute stiffness of the sole (the stiffer the sole the greater the power transfer).  Shimano, Mavic and Northwave all make well regarded MTB shoes – for trail or cross-country riding.

Which brand is best?

Like all shoes, every brand varies in sizing, particularly width. A too-narrow show can be excruciating painful in a ride.

There are also lots of fastening systems. Top-end are Boa Snap Dials, very adjustable, more so than a ratchet style system. Entry level shoes will use 3 Velcro fasteners, quick, easy but likely to stretch and lose their ‘stick’. Often you will get a combination of dials, ratchets and Velcro. So whilst your trying on sizes try different fastenings, try on as many as you can and you’ll probably stick with a brand you like. I prefer the dial system – works best with cold gloved hands.

Then the question is how many pairs do you need?

This is dictated in part by the number of bikes you own as swapping pedals over can destroy an evening! 1 pair for commuting (see general purpose pair), 1 pair for mountain biking (well 2 pairs: winter / summer), 1 road pair, strict you only need 1 pair all year round as you can overshoes in winter but let's go winter/summer as well (you’ll want a need nice light airy pair for hot summer rides). What about a cool casual pair for family rides or ride to the pub? 

Stop, enough. Anymore and you're going to have to throw out some of your trainers to make space.

*The shoes are only half the story. Your cleat system is important and again down to individual preference. SPD MTB cleats are a good way to get started and practice clipping in / out – and best for commuting) and the standard for my mountain biking.  

For the road there is a mind boggling choice, starting out Shimano's SPD SL - or time tested Look Keo's are a safe bet to get into the groove of clipping in or out.


the author

Ben Walder

Ben is a keen cyclist, road and mountain biking, runner, skier and even enjoyed a brief flirtation with boxing. He’s cycled John O Groats to Lands End, London to Paris in 24 hours, 5 countries in 3 days and ticked off some legendary climbs from the Tour de France. When he’s not dragging his mates out on cycling adventures across Europe he’s being dragged around by his 2 young daughters to karate, ballet, gymnastics, tennis and swimming..