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Pedal Science Blog: Choose Your Shoes!!

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week we look at the subject of CHOICE OF CYCLING SHOES and cycling performance. 

There is a huge range of cycling shoes on the market which can initially seem bewildering to the consumer. Buying a shoe shouldn’t be rushed as style and fit can have considerable effects in terms of pedaling efficiency, power output and comfort. When buying cycling shoes the choice can be quickly reduced to several models once the following factors have been taken into account:

  • Rigidity

Cycle shoes should provide a degree of rigidity in the in the foot plate to reduce unnecessary muscular activity in the lower leg and foot and transfer power from the rider directly to the bike. The more rigid the foot plate the less power is lost and the faster and more efficient the cyclist will be. Cheaper shoes tend to provide slightly more flex and rigidity gradually increases with price until there is almost no flex at all in shoes with carbon fibre foot plates.

Stiffer shoes can feel more uncomfortable than more flexible ones and it can take a while for the rider to adapt to the stiffness. Carbon fibre foot plates are really designed for the more competitive cyclists where speed outweighs comfort: for the vast majority of people a mid-range shoe will provide adequate rigidity.

  • Fastening:

There are various fastening systems including Velcro straps, ratchets and lacing. All systems have their pros and cons but the essential requirement of a fastening system is to provide a secure, comfortable fit which prevents unwanted movement without feeling restrictive.

Generally the more individual straps and ratchets there are the more adjustability you will have. This is important as the foot varies in width and height at the various fastening points. Shoes which require a lacing system to be tightened with a central dial work very well as the lacing tightens to the required amount throughout the shoe.

We’ve also recently seen the return of traditional laced shoes in the pro peloton so it proves there is no one system which works for everyone.

  • Foot shape:

Cycling shoes are similar to running shoes in terms of fit: brands fit differently and people will find certain brands fit well whereas others are too narrow or wide. A cycle shoe should provide a secure fit but there should never be discomfort or a sense of the feet being squeezed.

Also be aware of where the fastenings apply pressure as foot shape varies considerably. Pressure on a bony prominence could preclude certain makes and models and one fastening system might be much more comfortable than the others.

Also consider when you’ll be using the shoes when deciding on size and fit: you’ll need more room if you’re riding throughout the winter with thermal socks than in summer when you’ll be wearing thinner socks.

  • Intended purpose:

For someone riding sportives comfort is the overriding factor. Discomfort leads to loss of power, frequent stopping, decreased morale and a poor performance whereas in the right shoes the person can maintain a steady effort for the duration of the event. Conversely a competitive cyclist racing in criteriums could use a stiffer shoe as the events are short and the emphasis is on speed and efficiency.

For triathletes there are two options when choosing a cycle shoe:

  • Tri-specific shoe
  • Road shoe

The tri-specific shoes usually have one large Velcro strap to enable the triathlete to get the shoes on and off quickly, often while riding with the shoes still attached to the pedals. For shorter distances the ease of transition makes them a sensible option for many people but the security provided by the fastenings is often not as good as a road shoe.

For anyone competing in Ironman 70.3 or longer it’s worth considering using a road shoe. The seconds lost in transition are repaid several times over as the foot is held more securely during the bike discipline and the transfer of power is more effective.

  • Standard of rider:

Be honest with yourself! Recreational cyclists would achieve an excellent combination of efficiency, fit and comfort in a basic shoe. The faster someone is the more important it is to find marginal gains – for a competitive athlete a stiffer, lighter shoe will help them reach their potential and also provide a greater level of adjustability.

Conclusion:

A cycling shoe should fit comfortably and provide the appropriate level of rigidity for their intended purpose and standard of rider.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.



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