Top 10 things to remember when choosing your road cycling shoes
Perhaps it's a recent revelation, or maybe you're a wily and well seasoned club rider - whatever stage you find yourself at, road cycling shoes are one of the biggest and one of the best investments you can make in your kitbag. With this in mind, we've gathered together the most common questions we get asked about road shoes, and tried to answer them in a whistle-stop tour of our guide of top things to consider before taking the plunge on those Italian leather lovelies...
1. Cleats and Pedals
Okay, we realise how silly this sounds, but, the first thing is to make sure that your cycling shoes and the cleats they take will match up with your pedals. If your shoe's cleat and sole has three bolts, getting it to partner with a traditional two bolt style SPD pedal will be as effective as pinning jelly to the ceiling. To avoid disappointment and mess then, read up on the sole of the shoe and make sure it fits your pedals. If you're going to go for toe clips, make sure you go for a shoe with a strong leather upper that's going to deal with the wear.
Perhaps the best advice if upgrading is to consider pedals and cycling shoes simultaneously as one homogeneous entity - After all, that's how you want them to work. Whatever you do though, put in the legwork to avoid that horrible round peg into a square hole moment.
2. Fastening and fit system
When we say fit system, we're talking about closure. When we're talking about closure, we're not talking about coming to terms with your old shoes no longer being fit for purpose, we mean how you do your shoe up. High end road shoes will often tend to favour a boa or rotor closure - a circular dial that tightens a wire to provide an even and secure fit across the entire upper. This closure system is micro adjustable, meaning you can hone the feel of your shoes to the point of perfection in an instant. Mid range shoes tend to favour a mixture of buckles and strong Velcro, both allowing for small adjustments.
This having been said, there's much to be said for the good old lace up, which, we have to say, we're rather fans of. With a classic look and a decent pair of laces, a fantastic fit is certainly possible. Coupled with the fact that your laces are always readily replaceable, and you can pedal on without fear for the future.
Cycling shoe politics tends to revolve around the sole. With carbon the material of choice for just about everything, it's no surprise to see that once again it comes up trumps here. Offering ultimate stiffness at a minimal weight, the carbon sole makes road cycling shoes the waddle fodder of coffee shops around the land. On the bike however, this makes for a more comprehensive power transfer on that downstroke, with no impetus lost trough flex. With the top models from most ranges now boasting ventilated carbon soles for added comfort and weight savings, if performance is your goal, you're probably after a carbon sole.
If however, you prefer a degree of spring, nylon soles are widely available, and provide a good degree of stiffness for only a little extra weight, making these sorts of shoes better for touring than ragging it on a club run.
4. Getting Uppity - Leather or synthetic?
Choosing your upper immediately forces a divisive question - natural or synthetic? Leather shoes are seeing a resurgence, and done well can be some of the most beautiful and supple cycling shoes you've ever worn. Perfect for that retro project bike or that Eroica ride, leather cycling shoes look good when used with toe clips for that fifties feel, but, with an increasing number boasting modern cleat fittings, work just as well with modern pedals. The Vittoria Legend is a great leather cycling shoe made from premium quality Australian kangaroo leather which sports a road style cleat fitting - the laces are more fluro-80s retro than proper classic cycle shoe though so you may want to swap them out if you're going for a truly 'classic' look.
Alternatively, as a halfway point and a nice compromise between these two worlds, the Vittoria range also includes shoes with microfibre uppers which have the looks of a classic leather cycling shoe but with a more modern performance - a winning formula by our reckoning.
The larger part of the market though tends to stick with synthetics for performance and weight considerations. The use of these more technical fabrics can offer better elemental protection, or indeed, better ventilation.
Mesh, perforated leather, aerated sole technology, get the air rushing through your toes certainly won't stop you from hot footing it up the climb. In fact, making sure that your feet comfortably ventilated is fairly vital on hot summer days, as there's nothing quite so uncomfortable as a clammy foot. Making sure you have ventilation then is pretty important if you're likely to be going all out all day long.
6. Replaceable parts?
With road bike shoes costing a pretty penny, you'll want them to last you a long while. By checking in advance which parts are replaceable, you'll best be able to make sure that you can modify, revamp, or simply refresh your shoes to boost their lifespan. This is increasingly seen across the board now, with brands like Sidi, Giro and Vittoria offering a rather comprehensive range of shoe spares.
The most common and readily available replaceable parts you'll find will tend to be heel or walking pads, these thin rubber beauties having been exhausted after numerous cake stops. Additionally, spare rotors, cables, straps and buckles are becoming more widely available, meaning there's quite a lot of customisation on the cards.
Less is more, that's the time tested adage when it comes to where your cycling shoes tip the scales. With the lightest racing shoes out there feathering the 250 grams per pair mark, the performance end of the market is akin to a scale based limbo competition. That said, there's nothing wrong with a heavier pair of shoes, they'll be a bit more rugged and perhaps sturdier, but they should stand up well to a frenzied spin. If the kudos of making it under the mark set by your fellow riders matters to you however, start counting the grams.
So, there's a lot that a pair of overshoes can do to make your road cycling shoes winter proof, but, if you're going to be stamping out mile after mile in the winter, you might want to consider a pair of shoes that takes that into account. With some shoes offering sock liners for comfort and other shoes extending further up the ankle to accommodate for that bitterly cold ride. Equally, if you're going to be riding during high summer, you'll want as much ventilation as you can get.
Now, style. We know that regardless of what you think is true, whether you actually click the button or not is often determined by whether you like what you see, and, the chances are, if you're one way inclined, you'll know within a second of your coveted shoes flashing up on screen by virtue of the saliva pooling in your mouth. So, lust over leathers, and be spirited away by that sleek carbon styling. After all, the coolest shoe isn't the one that Chris Froome's using - it's the one you're happiest wearing.
So, you've got your heart set on a pair of shoes. Now comes the tricky part - Where do you stand against the size chart? Well, happily, many brands offer half sizes from EU 39s right through to EU 47s, so, you'll surely fit somewhere on their spectrum. We're currently updating our size charts, with a view to having every pair measured in each size, but, in the meantime, measure the insole of a well fitting cycling shoe and get in touch via our web chat (you can also leave your email for us to get back to you so you're not hanging around waiting for a reply) - we're always willing to whip out the tape measure for comparisons!
Voilà! Your new Road Cycling Shoes
So, if you've successfully followed our pointers, you'll now be reading this in your new coffee stop tap dance kicks, but if not, hopefully this little guide will help ensure that you make an informed decision on those dainty pedal pushers. Feel we've missed something? Leave us a comment and let other riders benefit from the collective experience of the Always Riding peloton! Allez! Au debout!