Whether you are purchasing your first pair of cycling shoes or you want to upgrade your existing pair, I am going to walk you through the process of how cycling shoes should fit you as an individual. Also, we’ll look at some of the features of modern shoes available to us today and things to consider before you purchase your pair of cycling shoes. There are three main areas of a cycling shoe; the toe box, the heel cup, and the mid-foot. No matter how fancy or costly they may be, the most important factor is the shoe compatibility with your foot.
Measure your Foot
Firstly, the two basic sizes you’ll need to know are the length and the width of your foot. One quick way to find the length is to stand against the wall or a flat surface. Place the ruler or tape measure from that surface along the length of your foot, measure from the longest part of the foot, and add 0.5cm to it. For example, if your foot length is 27.5cm plus you add 0.5cm, then it is 28cm. Now go to the shoe chart and you’ll find that your size is around European 45. The reason I use European sizing is that it is traditional and still is the most used reference for cycling shoes.
To measure your foot width, stand on a piece of paper and just mark either side of the ball of your foot and just identify the widest point of your foot on both sides. To get an accurate measurement in this way, you must stand with your weight on the ball of your foot. This will widen the foot in this area just like when you’re riding the bike and you’re pushing down on your pedal. You can do the same thing by standing on the ruler or tape measure. If you are considering sizing up, use cycling socks on your feet and if you haven’t gotten a yet, grab a couple of pair at least while you’re there at the shop.
Try your Shoes
Now you have your sizing, it’s time to try the range of cycling shoes. With your neutral thickness sock on, put a shoe on your foot and just loosely attach the Velcro buckle, the wires, or laces whichever it is because we’re just going to have a look at the length first. Get a general feel of the shoe and just check that your heel is right back. Make sure there are no gaps.
A lot of people ask me this question: “How much toe room is enough in cycling shoes?” Well, you don’t want your toe (or whichever the longest) to be coming up right against the end of the shoe. Because in this case, you’ll be pressing in on your toe and it is very uncomfortable and will cause blisters. Your toes should fit nice and comfortably, not waddling around having lots of room and not squashed up. You don’t want them being pressed in on any one of the sides. You need to sit them naturally with just a little bit of wiggle room.
For racing, you want your heel to be held in nice and firmly and without any lift. You also don’t want your heel to move side-to-side and waddling inside the heel cup area. But you don’t want it too tight either because that’s going to annoy the skin.
Stand upright in the shoe and your heel should be nicely tucked back into that heel cup. Now with the Velcro, buckle or wires done up more firmly, grab the heel of the shoe and try to pull the foot out of the heel cup. With a racing shoe, you should not be able to pull out. With a triathlon shoe, it should be difficult, and a recreational shoe, you probably will be able to pull out. Try this with both your left and your right foot.
Things to Know Before Choosing Cycling Shoes
If you’re thinking about buying a pair of road bike shoes, there are a lot of options to choose from. Cycling shoes typically range from 50 to 350 pounds. Huge range in price and features can be confusing so here is my guide on what to look for and what you get for your money.
There are four types of retention systems found in the cycling shoes:
- Velcro straps: In most entry-level shoes, this is going to be Velcro straps. The Velcro has the advantage that it’s very lightweight, easy to open and close, and very quick. Although it’s quick to put on, it doesn’t necessarily hold the foot as securely as some of the systems.
- Ratchets: Shoes become more expensive when you start to see ratchets. Now ratchets offer more precise adjustment than Velcro straps and they also can hold the foot tighter. They are also really easy to tighten whilst you’re riding too. However, they are not as easy to loosen while you’re on the bike and generally require two hands to do this. Ratchets are often found on mid-priced shoes and also usually combine the ratchet with a Velcro strap.
- Dials: Premium shoes have dials. Now dials use a cable to tighten and loosen the shoe and this allows for really precise levels of adjustment and fit. Dials are quick to operate and easy to dial in. However, there are differences between the different brands of dials. Boa dials such as the one found on Shimano shoes are currently regarded as the gold standard of dials. They allow precise one-click adjustment for tightening and loosening.
- Laces: The fourth type of retention system on shoes is laces, which have made a bit of resurgence within cycling shoes in the last few years. Laces offer the advantage that you can fine-tune the fit throughout the entire length of the shoe. But the disadvantage is that you can’t adjust it while you’re riding and also they take a little bit longer to put on.
Most entry-level shoes come with a plastic sole. As you get more expensive, you get carbon composite soles, which are a mixture of carbon and plastic. At the top of the tree, on the most expensive shoes, you have a full carbon fibre sole. As shoes increase in price the soles will get stiffer and lighter. A lighter sole has lower inertia when you’re peddling and a stiffer sole is important for power transfer.
Another detail that I like on the soles of a shoe is replaceable pads. Some shoes offer a rubber heel pad that protects the carbon sole. This is just held in place by two bolts and once it wears out, you can easily replace it to prolong the life of your shoes.
One final thing to be aware with on soles is that some people can find stiff carbon fibre soles a little bit unforgiving on longer rides and therefore a little bit uncomfortable. For most beginners, plastic sole shoes are absolutely fine.
What you’re looking for is whether or not the shoes are a 3-bolt system or a 2-bolt system. The type of cleat system you choose whether it’s 2- or 3-bolt, largely depends on the type of riding that you’re planning on doing. If you’re going to be going off-road or simply think you’re going to be walking a lot in your shoes then I strongly suggest that you go for a 2-bolt system such as Shimano’s SPD or Crankbrothers Eggbeaters. However, a road riding you’ll want to go for a 3-bolt cleat system. The reason for this is that they offer a wider platform for improved power transfer through the pedals. It’s for this reason that most premium road shoes only come with a 3-bolt pattern in the sole.
Uppers can be made from a variety of materials. Lower entries tend to have more meshes and synthetic covers while premium shoes are lighter and more sophisticated materials. It can also be more comfortable and breathable too. The most expensive shoes often have kangaroo leather, which is light, supple and it’s not bouncy. One of the important things to consider about the upper is how stiff it is. A stiff upper is great for sprinting because when you pull up on the shoe, it doesn’t give much but this can be less comfortable. So, a supple upper is less good for sprinting but can be comfortable especially for long rides.
If you’re thinking about doing some triathlons but also enjoy cycling, it might be worth getting a triathlon-specific pair. The key difference with triathlon shoes is that they’re designed so that you can take them on and off whilst riding your bike. The reason for this is it makes the transition between the run, the bike, and the swim faster. Because of this, they often have a more simplistic retention system, which might not grip your foot as well. Also, they have big loops on the back to help you pull the heel cup on and off. They often feature big holes so if you’re going to be riding a lot in winter your feet might get a little bit cold. The reason for the holes is that it’s designed to let water out after the swim.
Something else you should be aware of is heat moulding. This is found on a number of brands including Bont and Lake Shoes. This is great because it allows you to customize the shape of the shoe and the sole in order to perfectly fit your foot and give you maximum arch support. If you have flat feet or arch related problems, heat mouldable shoes could be the solution to your problems.
Do Cycling Shoes Require a Break-in Period?
Most cycling shoes do not require a break-in period. They are designed rigid and supposed to stay that way. However, the upper might stretch a little bit with time but it might not be enough to give your foot the room it needs. Also, new shoes are going to feel a little different than your old pair and it is advised that you shouldn’t take your new shoes on longer rides.