Why Wear Cycling Shoes? Does It Make A Noticeable Difference !


Choosing which cycling shoes to wear can be almost as overwhelming as choosing the bike itself, especially when you’re new to the world of clipless shoes.

It can be easy to stay on a comfortable footing with flat shoes, but you may be missing out on some major benefits.

Cycling shoes are made to maximize your efficiency on the bike and there are different styles for different kinds of riding.

We’ll go over the different types of cycling shoe platforms, why they can make a difference to your riding, and some additional things you can do to increase your overall speed on the bike.

What Is the Point of Cycling Shoes?

Cycling shoes are made to maximize your efficiency on the bike and there are different styles for different kinds of riding. Broadly speaking, each type can be split into multiple subtypes. And that’s before we get into clipless (or SPD) and flat.

This means there is a nearly endless amount of cycling shoes to choose from, which can be overwhelming for beginner and experienced riders alike.

For now, let’s look at the two main categories: flats and clipless.

Flats

Flat shoes sound exactly like what they are – flat on the bottom, typically with a really thick and sturdy sole. These are used almost entirely for mountain biking as they allow for excellent grip on the pedal while still giving the freedom to set a foot down. These can be used with any kind of flat pedal.

Clipless (“SPD”) Shoes

These are what people tend to think of when they think of cycling shoes. The term “clipless” can seem a bit misleading because they do, in fact, clip to your pedals. However, the name comes from the removal of the toe clips and straps that used to be used to hold the shoe in place (Source).

“SPD” stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics and is a specific design of clipless cleats.

Clipless shoes can be used in all types of riding, including mountain biking and road biking. For mountain biking, you’re most likely to use these for cross-country riding as they allow more power transfer to the pedal.

They’re also used for almost all styles of road biking, unless you have flat pedals to commute around town or are riding a leisurely cruiser bike. If you’re using clipless pedals, you’ll need to make sure your shoe cleat matches the pedal style on your bike.

Does Wearing Cycling Shoes Make a Difference?

Yes, wearing cycling shoes can make a noticeable difference in your riding. Having the right flat shoes for biking (paired with good pedals) means less slipping every time you hit a bump. And the benefits are even greater for clipless shoes and pedals, including greater power, better control, and the ability to utilize the upstroke. (Source)

Greater Power

Using clipless shoes will provide for greater overall power on the bike. Your feet will essentially be locked onto the bike so there is (literally) less wiggle room, meaning more of your leg strength is directly translated into power. This can result in greater overall speed and less fatigue.

Better Control

Because you’re so connected to the bike, you’ll also have better control. You don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the pedals or flimsy shoes losing their grip. While clipless shoes and pedals can be a bit difficult to get used to, the effort is definitely worthwhile.

Utilize the Upstroke

If you’ve only been wearing flat shoes with flat pedals, you’ve been missing out on using the full power of your leg stroke. This is because flat shoes result in a constant downward motion – you can’t pull up the pedal when wearing flats.

Being able to take advantage of the upstroke will save your quads, and you’re sure to notice the difference when you start climbing.

How Much of A Difference Do Cycling Shoes Make?

Cycling shoes can certainly make a difference in your overall riding, but the amount of that difference can vary. Cycling shoes are designed to make riding your bike even better, which can translate into greater power and speed. The snug fit and stiff soles paired with a clipless setup helps you get more power out of each stroke.

But how much of a difference can it actually make? Well, that part depends.

According to one estimate, wearing clipless cycling shoes can increase your power output by 10% during hard, 30 second efforts like climbing and sprinting (Source).

The results of this test can be seen in the graph below.

Comparing Power Output Cycling Toe Strap Vs Clipless Vs Flat
  • Toe Strap Watts: 572
  • Clipless Watts: 627
  • Flat Watts: 566

However, there doesn’t seem to be a measurable difference between flat shoes and clipless shoes when it comes to riding down a flat road at a moderate pace.

While shoes can certainly help, you’re always going to be better off by focusing on your training if you want to increase your speed and overall power.

Here are some ways you can work to increase your speed on the bike (Source) :

Pedal More

It may sound obvious, but increasing your cadence will increase your speed. But just because it’s simple doesn’t make it easy. You’ll likely need to be in an easier gear while you build up the stamina and endurance to increase the amount of pedal strokes you can do.

Get More Aero

You don’t need to go out and buy the latest and greatest aero gear to take advantage of basic aerodynamic principles. Instead, focus on getting close to the bike and limiting the amount of wind resistance you face.

Do Interval Training

Interval training is a great way to increase your max output. This is best done in indoor training where you can control all of the variables and focus solely on pushing out as much power as you can in short increments. This can also be referred to as HIIT or high-intensity interval training.

Things to Keep in Mind

Wearing clipless shoes can be a strange experience for a beginner. It can help to first practice near a wall so you can easily maintain balance while you master the motion of clipping in and out.

Once you have the basics down, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of having such a solid connection to your bike.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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