Shoe Buying Guide
Cycling shoes come in a multitude of styles and designs with many of the designs being specific to the riding for which the shoe is going to be used. It is always worth first considering exactly what the shoe is going to be used for and selecting accordingly and then ensuring you have a comfortable, snug fit. Finally, what the shoe looks like is important in our fashion conscious world, but it’s not as important as ensuring you have the right shoe for the right job and it that it fits properly. In our shoe buying guide we explain the key factors to take into account as well as the differences between different brands.
Types of Shoe
Cycling shoes can be split into two very distinct groups – Clipless and Non-Clipless.
The term ‘clipless’ confuses many people because the word clipless derives from the fact that you can dispense with those slightly terrifying toe clips or straps and simply ‘clip in’ to a cleat binding system that locks the sole of the shoe to the pedal. At first it probably sounds a bit mad to be locked to the pedal and we totally accept it takes a little bit of getting used to.
However, it is worth it because there are very good reasons for clipping in. First, it’s very efficient. The faster you turn the pedal (cadence) the harder it is to keep an unattached shoe on the pedal whereas it’s pretty straightforward when you’re clipped in. You do want to increase cadence by the way because higher cadences are essential for efficient pedalling. Second, it’s really comfortable. Riding a bike on flat pedals means your feet tend to move around a lot whereas if they are attached via a cleat, they stay in one place. This is good news for all those tasks you will need to focus on (handling, climbing, descending) without being distracted by whether your feet are staying on the pedals as well.
If you do opt for Clipless then it is really important to make sure your pedals are compatible with Clipless shoes.
These shoes are much more like traditional shoes though with design features that make them far more suitable for riding a bike than wearing your favourite pair of worn out trainers. Some Mountain Bikers prefer not to be clipped into a pedal for technical descending and cornering. Used in conjunction with a large platform pedal and a high grip sole on the shoe, the foot can be lifted off the pedal and used for balance but then quickly reapplied for pedalling.
Types of Cleat
Road Bike Cleats
Road Bikes utilise three bolt cleat systems such as Shimano SPD-SL, Speedplay and Look. The cleat stands proud of the sole of the shoe making it pretty difficult to walk (in fact, we don’t recommend trying too to walk too much in them) but they do give the best platform for delivering the most efficient pedalling action.
It is particularly important with road bike cleats to fit them correctly and ensure they are properly aligned and set. In particular, it is important that the centreline of your cleat is at least 1cm behind the 1st metatarsal head for fore and aft alignment. If you don’t do this, you will find the nerves in your feet (of which you have plenty) suffer undue pressure and become sore, reducing your pedalling efficiency and increasing your discomfort.
Mountain Bike Cleats
These are two bolt systems such as Shimano SPD and Crank Brothers. They have cleats that are recessed into the tread pattern making it easier to walk over tricky terrain. Set up of mountain bike cleats is equally important to get right as for road, offering the same fore and aft and toe in / toe in positioning.
How to Select the right Shoe Size
Shoe Sizing can be a bit of a challenge not only because there are so many systems in use around the world, but also because manufactures often take a different approach from each other in how they interpret sizing systems. Shoes are manufactured from moulds or ‘lasts’ which is the sole shaped template from which the shoe is made. The size of the last takes no account of manufacturing tolerances nor does it guarantee to result in a shoe size that is guaranteed to fit a particularly foot size.
In the UK for instance, we use a system that calculates an adult shoe size using the following formula:
Adult shoe size = (3 x last length in inches) – 25
So the last length may be slightly variable and different manufacturers may use a different constant (the 25) to calculate the actual shoe size. Confused? Well it is a bit which is why we have produced the following table to help convert the various sizes. However, it is definitely for guidance only – we can’t guarantee the conversion. What we have done though is add a few helpful hints underneath the tables, both general as well as for the shoe brands themselves, to help make the choice as informed as possible.
Mens Shoe Sizing
Womens Shoe Sizing
The Mondopoint measurement in mm is the nearest thing the shoe world has to an international standard. It measures the distance between your heel and the end of the toe that protrudes the most, usually your big toe. Make sure you stand against a wall or similar and measure to the end of your big toe but along a line that is perpendicular to the wall.
Carbon Soled Shoes
Some cycling shoes in the Criterium Cycles shop have carbon soles or part carbon soles. These are very easily scuffed or scratched and if you do that by mistake, we won’t be able to accept the shoes back even if you haven’t worn them riding out on the bike. So when checking to see whether the carbon soled shoes you have purchased fit you properly, it is always a good idea to do it when stood on smooth carpet or similar so the sole of the shoe remains in pristine condition.
Brand Specific Tips
SiDi hand builds its shoes from 3 ‘lasts’ or moulds – Standard Men’s , Women’s and Mega (wide fit). Traditionally, the shape of SiDi shoes provide feet with a ‘snug’ toe area. SiDi call this Pro Fit which means the toe will be close to the end of the shoe and the shoe itself will be snug fitting around the whole foot. The focus of the SiDi shoe design is therefore to provide riders with shoes that do not move once they are on your foot.
For people with wider feet and / or higher arches, SiDi has designed the Mega size for every standard shoe size. The SiDi Mega size provides about 0.5 cms extra width along the axis where the foot is at its broadest.
As a rule, however, because the shoes are snug fitting from heel to toe, we tend to find going up an EU size from what you would normally wear makes sense.
We tend to find that Bontrager cycling shoes follow EU sizing pretty accurately and with reasonably generous fit parameters. However, you also have the benefit of the Bontrager 30-day Unconditional Guarantee. This means that if you buy them but don’t love them you can send them back, guaranteed, and exchange them for another pair of Bontrager shoes.
A bit like SiDi, our experience has been that Shimano shoes are normally a size up from the EU size. So for example, if your normal shoe size is EU40, then you may find Shimano EU 41 will be a more appropriate fit.