Buying your next(or first) pair of cycling shoes.

  If there is anything about cycling that stands out to me is the amount of specialized gear there is for riding your bike.  Whether it is the type of bike you use to the clothes you wear to ride in.  It’s all unique.  The choices can be overwhelming at times and many question themselves whether they really need/want/will use it but shoes as near the top of my list after a good helmet and lights.  This time we will talk about shoes, their features, different styles and why they cost what they cost.


The three main styles of shoes

 There are three main styles of cycling shoes sold right now.  They are

  1. Road
  2. Mountain
  3. Fitness

 Road shoes have

  • Hard soles that are stiff for good power transfer
  • Velcro, buckles, dials or a combination for a snug fit
  • 3 hole bolt pattern for most road pedal systems,note there may be a option for 4 bolt pattern shoes in the future these will be speedplay specific
  • Worst for walking,
  • Best choice for road only riding,usable but not recommended for spinning, poor mountain biking shoe.

Mountain shoes have

  • Hard soles that are stiff for good power transfer but covered with lugged soles for walking off road helps with muddy terrain
  • Velocro,buckles or a combination for a snug fit
  • Two hole bolt pattern for a universal fit for mountain bike pedals
  • Toe spikes good option for cyclo cross run ups
  • Best choice for mountain bike riding,acceptable for touring,acceptable for spinning

Fitness/ spinning shoes

  • Fully rubber covered soles
  • Moderately stiff soles compared to sneakers
  • Best choice for indoor spinning and touring.  Acceptable on the road,acceptable for light mountain biking.


How the shoes should fit

 Once you are past what type of shoe you are looking for the fit comes up next most common question I get is “How should the shoe fit?”.  This is a tough one.  I have been to numerous fitting seminars both by fitters and shoe companies.  Here is what I have taken away.

  1. Start by measuring your feet- both of them with a Brannock device.  Generally you will need to size the shoes for the larger foot.  Brannock devices will also give you a width measurement.  Hint cycling shoes run narrow-look for wide shoes if you need that.
  2. Pick a shoe that is the size of your foot and start there.  The shoe should feel snug in the forefoot and the heel cup of the shoe should be snug against your ankle.
  3. The distance of your toes to the end of the shoe isn’t a reliable way to get the best fitting shoe.
  4. The volume of the shoe(how it fits over your whole foot not just length) can be adjusted with the closure mechanisms but if you are at the limits of those you should look for a higher volume shoe.  This means you may not have full contact with the velcro, the ratchets may not close etc.
  5. Arch support in cycling shoes is pretty minimal.  Consider an insole with an adjustable arch support or a custom insole.  


Why are the shoes so much Amos?

 Next up on the list of questions is price.  Shoes for cycling start around $100 and go up depending on the brand.  There are a few reasons for the expense of shoes, they are a very specialized product with a small market.  They last a long time especially the better ones -your feet sweat a lot and that breaks down the shoes.  That adds up to most shoe companies not selling very many shoes.  Huge brands like Nike for instance have been off and on again in the market and when they were they didn’t make their own shoes and then they left.  So why pay more?   Good question.  Let’s go into that.


 More expensive shoes have a number of advantages over low priced shoes.  The first is comfort.  The comfort comes from two main areas- higher end shoes come in more sizes including half sizes and the shoes use more flexible but still robust enough to hold your foot in place materials in the upper.  Better shoe design is worth a notice- I’ve seen shoes with great materials but then didn’t fit that well- again some of that is individual but it is a big thing to consider.  


 Low end shoes tend to break down from use much faster.  You feel this in some obvious ways like the shoe breaking and some not so obvious ways like the shoe losing it’s shape after riding it for a short time.  Better shoes just plain hold up better and often they have parts that can wear out but there are also replacement parts available to keep them going.  


 The sole material has a big affect on the price.  Lower end shoes tend to be fairly flexible which is a bad thing for power transfer but can be a plus if you are doing some walking in the shoes so sole stiffness is a big plus on road or mountain shoes.  Brands use a plastic or mix of fibers (sometimes carbon) in their entry level shoes- these are far stiffer than the average shoe you are walking in.  As brands move up the price ladder they switch to carbon soles.  Just like carbon frames carbon soles add to the price of the shoe quickly.   


  My advice is to get the best shoe you can afford since it will last longer but when they start to break down replace them.  I’ve seen shoes that in any other situation people would throw them away long ago.  2-5 years is a good life span for them.  What’s that I hear you have  had them for 10 years…get new ones.


Specialty shoes- Winter

 Okay the last thing I am going to write about is Winter shoes.  Hands down this is one of the better investments you can make.  One of the first things to stop cyclists from going outdoors is being uncomfortable not like from the effort involved but more from the feelings of being cold/ hot etc.  Winter shoes are the best money you will spend to get comfortable.  There are road and mountain versions.  Own some.

Coach’s Corner- Go fast then steady Using high intensity efforts on the bike to improve your pacing

As I write this the tour of Spain is on and the race is super exciting with Alberto Contador making his final race appearance one of his typical aggressive affairs.  Attacks at both short and long distances and generally shaking up the top 10 riders in general classification along the way.  Very enjoyable racing to watch since there is a big element of unpredictability on what the final results will look like.  You ask yourself  “Will Froome have a bad day?” or “Will Contador blow up ad go backwards?” or similar questions but Contador’s attacking riding style is something to emulate.  Froome though a great rider as a individual along with team Sky a true powerhouse on the road and successful don’t bring drama to a race, more like reading a really predictable story- not fun or good at keeping your attention.

How to ride like Contador-be bold!

Before you get straight into what to do for a workout you want to break down what makes Contador’s rides so inspiring to us as cyclists.   To do this let’s work backwards from the finish.  The thing we all love is that at the finish Contador makes up time on the race leader, moves up on G.C. and gets lauded as a great rider.  Deep down most believe he was “successful” which we then see that only one way-he too a risk and it paid off.  As cyclists who want to emulate this style need to do something first; before we get to far  need to redefine what success is when it comes to being bold.  I will say that it isn’t getting to the line first but rather the act of taking up the challenge and attacking that you want to see as the way to start your journey.  Most people never really take up challenges where they may not succeed; you need to break that mold.

Start with a plan-see the future; attack and build fitness

Starting with a plan; know what you are going to do before you do it.  So before you start your next ride with Contatdor on your mind you need to plan what you will be doing.  Say to yourself “I will attack here and I will go until I get to the finish.”.  Having a plan that has a start and a finish is key.  Be deliberate with your riding and you will improve, if you get all wishy-washy your commitment level won’t be high enough and you’ll likely back down.

After the attack- Keep going!

So you made the attack now for the hard part- you have to keep going!  Making the attack was the first step but only the first step.  The bulk of your effort will come after the attack.  Lots of time the attack will feel “good”.  You’ll attack when you are ready and feel powerful.  Once that part is over you have to go all the way to your finish and this part is usually a grind.  It’s a mental battle, you won’t feel powerful like when you started and there will be lots of times where you actually feel and do go slow.  Mentally weak riders throw in the towel and successful ones “double the power” you want to become strong so resist the urge to call it a day.

Reward yourself along the way and at the finish

Sticking to the plan over time requires a series of goals and rewards all along the way.  You must master this skill.  When you make the attack be happy you did, as you grind along the rest of the way keep positive even when the feedback you get (sensations in your legs, speeds you go power output you produce etc.) are not everything you had hoped for.  Here is the secret- you are looking for a reasonable excuse to quit, you will take a small negative thought and turn it into a bigger one and the whole thing will crumble in an instant don’t let it happen!

Sample workout

  1. Warm up- I normally start with a very easy pace and then gradually raise the pace over the next 5-10-15 minutes or more.
  2. Attack- a good solid attack lasts 2-5 minutes depending on terrain and objectives.
  3. Attacks need to be long enough that when you settle in you have a gap over another rider or for learning pacing you have expended all of that surge of nervous energy.
  4. Keep going for a good 20-30 minutes at a high effort to your finish.
  5. Ride easy the last few miles
  6. Begin your recovery immediately after you arrive back.  Stretch, eat drink etc.

The other benefit you get-better pacing

One of the other things I do as part of the shops business is provide one on one coaching for riders.  This means actual on the bike instruction.  The most common request I get for coaching is to get faster, even when people don’t race-ever.  Lots of people want to improve their cycling.  I find that the best way to improve is to go after the easiest problems to solve and pacing is near the top of the list.  By asking yourself to go to your limit with a sustained 2-5 minute effort you will pre tire yourself out and the next part where you are riding steady will actually be much more steady since you won’t have the energy to make the little surges that riders so commonly make.  Those surges feel like the right thing to do but overall they make you slower as the ride continues.  During the longer steady effort after the initial attack you will get a real sense of what riding steady really is and what you can actually maintain.

So even though most of my customers don’t race they do dream about riding better than they do now.  Perhaps even in our thoughts we like to see ourselves bounding up the climb and then riding fast all the way back home.  Workouts like this turn those thoughts into real riding.

Become a better group ride leader

Group rides can be a source of both great fun and also frustration.  Rides that flow well depend on many factors, but people know when it is working well and when it is not intuitively.   Great group rides leave you feeling energized and excited to come again, bad rides leave you never wanting to come back.  Group rides can be one of the funniest ways to enjoy cycling.  Everything from the social connection you get from riding together and hanging out to the motivation of people around you to keep pushing when you might otherwise slow down makes it so appealing.  From here on out we will be talking about what you can do as the ride leader to create a great experience for as many as possible.


As a ride leader what you want to achieve are rides that flow well and are safe for everyone.  If you have read past the opening few sentences than you might be thinking about how you could improve your own group rides.  But first you should know one thing-as the leader of the ride you will have a new dynamic to contend with-instead of passively enjoying the ride you will now be actively engaging in have the ride go well.  This will mean you will now be dealing with all of the complaints about how the ride went/is going etc instead of being one of the many people who do the complaining.  You will need thick skin and the attitude that the people are trying to “help”.  You need to acknowledge  these complaints, determine if they have a basis and then take action when needed.  Sorry no time to feel hurt!

Factors to look at when you want to improve the ride

1)    Rider current abilities both physical and skill.  With a wider range of abilities the ride will have more trouble staying together when the intensity of the ride changes.  Riders with less skill will work harder in a pace line or when there are corners.  Weaker riders will have more trouble when it is hilly or the speed is high.  Riders who are of lower skill level need to be made aware of what skills they need to have prior to the ride.  Weaker riders need to be encouraged to show up and improve.  Tip-no ride will be perfect for every rider.  Establish as ride pattern and skill level and encourage everyone to get to the same point.  

2)    Number of riders likely to show up.   Larger groups tend to become disorganized and cause trouble with other road users.  Consider breaking up into smaller groups.  Split groups based on skill, physical ability teams etc.   Tip-smaller rides of 2-6 riders are easily managed, break up a large group and have a key person in each group who knows the route and the overall plan.

3)    Terrain, route selection and road conditions.  The more corners and hills the harder it will be to keep the ride organized.  Bigger groups need roads that are less traveled or have wider shoulders.  Poor road conditions cause riders to move erratically as they maneuver around road hazards inviting crashes.  Fewer turns allow the group to flow more naturally. Tip-state roads work better for larger groups and allow for easy route following, caution they can be “boring”.

4)    Short and long term goals for the ride.  Having a clear objective for the ride and expectations on what will happen turns the ride from a disorganized event to a structured one.  Think spin class, who wants to show up and just pedal around when that may mean something different to each rider.  Tip-establish a “language” to communicate intensity of the ride and any other relevant information to the group.  Average speed if basically useless if someone hasn’t ridden with the group.   

5)    Social aspects of the ride.  One core concept to understand is the sense of community that comes from group rides.  Make sure to spend time communicating before, during, and after the ride.  Having a clear expectation from a social standpoint is key to people making a habit out of showing up.   Tip-post ride have a place where you can group together for a few minutes or more to recount the ride in a good way.  Save the how to fix the ride for later.

6)    Time available.  Respect others time.  Having laid out the ride plan, including start time, ride length in hours and what people have available to them.  Make it so people can participate in what fits in their schedule.  Offer options to get back for their own schedule.  Showing up late can be disrespectful of others time, many people have limited time available to them.  Tip-people who are chronically late or ill prepared can ruin a ride, feel free to leave without them.

7)    Have a plan for dealing with common problems encountered on group rides.   Such as

  1.  Mechanical problems such as flats.  Will the whole group wait, will the rider be left on their own, will the main group continue on and then turn back, will one rider stop to help while the rest of the group continues on to a specific location such as the next turn?  Make certain riders have what it takes for tools to fix a flat and that the bike is in good working order before the ride starts. Tip-large groups of riders milling around on the side of the road waiting for one person to fix a flat is dangerous, have two riders get the flat fixed and the rest of the group should ride ahead and loop back in 5 to 10 minutes to pick them up.
  2.    Crashes.  Two main factors in crashes are skill and communication.  Little or no warning when road hazards come up, these can be turns, potholes, sand etc.  Skills, overlapping wheels, choosing to high a speed to take a turn etc.  Set out expectations on how to ride safely before the ride.  The ride should stop for a down rider to help.  Tip-crashes are a rare occurance but can happen, be firm in letting people know what they are doing could cause a crash.    
  3. People who fall rapidly behind due to tiredness.  The ride is clearly beyond this person’s ability.  Will someone lead this person home, will someone give them directions back and they will ride on their own or will they be left to fend for themselves?  Tip-when a rider’s fitness is not up to what the ride is doing need to be directed back to the start point and encouraged to improve fitness and keep showing up.
  4.  People not following the plan.  This can be caused by people not knowing the plan or they simply want to ignore the plan.  If they don’t know then communication is what needs attention.  If they ignore the plan and cause the ride to break down ask them to either fall in line or not show up. Tip-want my best advice?  These people are like a cancer for the ride they can kill a ride in just a few weeks with their actions whether they are on purpose or not, get rid of them.
  5.    Lost riders.  Will the whole group turn back or will just a few look for the person?  Can they be called?  Do they have GPS?  Did they turn off and let someone or no one know?  If a rider cuts off they should let someone know so the others do not have to look for them unnecessarily.  Tip-as the leader you may feel more responsible in this situation due to your role.  Establish that people need to be self sufficient prior to the ride start, including getting back on their own.
  6.   Wrong turns.  Here again look at communication and clear direction from someone who knows the loop. Tip-either be able to ride at or near the front or have multiple people who can lead the group on the route.

  Now go out and lead a better ride!