Shoes for Cycles



Shoes.  I’m one of those folks that have a bunch of these things – I’ve been a bit obsessed about them at times.  I have 3 pairs of clipless shoes, and at this point 5 pairs of sneakers that qualify as bike-first, walking shoes.  I’ve had a professional bike fit for my road bike with my SPD pedals.  There are some that say clipless is pointless for all but the most dedicated racers, but I think that there is a time and place for many different shoes on bikes.  One of my favorite pedals has been the Shimano A530.  This pedal has SPD on one side, and flats on the other.  I’ve done 300k on these pedals, and have commuted for several years in both SPD and flat shoes.

PD-A530 Pedal

PD-A530 Pedal

I’m starting to form some opinions on what shoe, what situation at this point, however, this year I’d like to do at least one ride of 200k plus in sneakers.   I was told by my fitter that it’s easier on the legs and knees to be clipped in.  The reasoning was explained to me as it makes less work for you as your feet won’t be moving around on the pedal and getting mis-aligned.  This seems counter-intuitive to me.  I feel like there has to be some give during the pedal rotation in the “play” of your shoe or your knee tendons will be slightly stretched.  I think this manifested last year on my longest ride when my right knee went out with 50 miles to go.  I don’t know how many folks have knees that are aligned in perfect planes to the pedal rotation – mine definitely aren’t.

Since I’ve been clipping in and out of pedals for 20 years now, I’m pretty comfortable with the technical points.  When you start going clipless, do it in the dirt on the hills.  It’s like learning to drive a manual transmission first.  You get the hardest part out of the way, and master it early.  You often have to get clipped in when you’re going up a 20% grade in dirt or mud with rocks and roots in the way, and you quickly learn the key ways to start pedaling and transfer your weight quickly so you can get that second pedal going before you stall.  You also learn how to anticipate and unclip (or panic unclip) when you come to a sudden unintentional stop on that rock/root in the trail.  If you don’t, it’s a softer landing in the dirt (usually).


Clipless for all seasons

Clipping in and out isn’t a problem.  It’s really just the longer rides and the stresses it introduces that make me wonder if it’s not a great idea.  I also don’t find myself using the real benefits of clipless (picking up the bike, or keeping your feet glued to the pedals when airborne) while I’m riding a road bike.  I admit it is nice sometimes when I have to make a quick curb hop, but that’s pretty rare…

VP Vice

VP Vice

VP 001 Pedal

VP 001 “Thin Gripster” Pedal

Using modern flat sneaker pedals like VP Components Vice or VP001 meant for BMX and freeride mountain biking, along with a sticky-soled shoe like a Five Ten Spitfire (current fave) or Evolv Cruzers has been really interesting to me.  It provides such a sticky grip, I find myself having to lift my foot to move it on the pedal.  This gives me nearly the feel of clipless, but at stops I don’t have to twist out or clip in, and I can walk around in normal sneakers.  This is really great for the following situations:

  1. Commuting – I have a lot of lights and stop signs on the way to work.  It’s nice to put both feet down…
  2. Errands/shopping – wearing cleats in restaurants and shopping sucks.
  3. Visiting friends/relatives – no need to clomp around  or take off the shoes.
  4. Just riding.  I don’t have to do the “uniform up” before the ride – I just jump on the bike and go.  Liberating!

There are still times I prefer clipless:

  1. Mountain biking – gotta get maximum lift to clear those bitchin’ logs – although I may just need to learn the trials tricks and pick the bike up with my arms and bounce.
  2. Long road rides – this is perhaps debatable, but it is good to have an ultra stiff shoe so the feet don’t get sore
  3. Racing?  I don’t do this, so YMMV.

On the long rides, I need to work out the trade off between foot pain and knee pain.  If I can get the balance just right on the knees, I may be able to keep going clipless, as the roads are generally smooth, and there are minimal stops and long distances involved.  We’ll see…

1/16/14 Update:  I angled the cleat on my Sidi Spyders to get my right foot out a few degrees.  This seems to have helped.  I didn’t get any knee soreness this week (yet).  I plan to start doing some longer 30+ milers going forward, so we shall see…

4 thoughts on “Shoes for Cycles

  1. Interesting. I might have to try those platforms on my commuter. I like the idea of going cleatless for utility riding. I’ve got the A530s on my tour bike and the best thing about them (and the reason I got them) is the curved shape is a lot less likely to take a chunk of skin off my legs than other dual purpose pedals.

  2. I first went clipless to eliminate toe numbness. They helped but after a while my toes would get numb on my right foot. I stopped using them when I started getting soreness in my knee tendons. The pain was mostly caused by trying to cycle with the “proper” motion. So I took off the clipless pedals and never looked back. I don’t get numbness in my toes anymore, I have certain shoes that work better others, it’s very hard to predict which shoes will work. I thought if I selected stiff soles that would be the ticket, not so. Some stiff sole shoes will actually cause numbness.

    For me running shoes, walking shoes and even my pair of NorthFace sandals work great. The key is to have a bit of a thicker sole in the area of the ball of the foot and to have a wide enough shoe so my curculation doesn’t get restricted. I use a pair of old bear claw type pedals, a set of Lyotard pedals on my townie and winter bikes. For my main bike I use a pair of Velo Orange touring pedals. I love Velo Orange pedals bc they are fuctional and super light weight.

    I agree that the bike fitters comments are counterintuitive. One of the best things about lack of foot retention is the ability to move your foot around which is easier on the the knees and the feet due to the fact that you can move the pressure points around a bit. I think Grant Peterson might be right about the “shoes ruse”.

    Of course some folks swear by clipless pedals and thats fine too, but its not a requirement for “serious cyclist”. I have been at bike shops and heard employees tell customers that they need clipless pedals for their new road bike. I had one shop employee tell me that using clipless pedals while riding up hill was like having a third leg! Talk about an overstatement.
    Signed, Happly clipless

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