This is the first post in my new blog series, Q & A Friday’s. Every Friday I will choose one comment I received, either in the comment section of one of my blog post or on my social media platforms. This week the question I will be answering is, “What are the best cycling shoes for bicycle touring?” I have used almost every type of cycling shoe on the market in the past 5 years, from the stiffest and lightest road racing shoe to the heaviest, most flexible bike touring shoe you can imagine. It has given me a good perspective of what is the best shoe for bicycle touring.
Do I really need cycling shoes?
First, you may be wondering if you really need cycling shoes? If you are going to be CYCLING, then my answer is always yes. Cycling shoes make such a huge difference that I could not imagine not using them. In fact, I even find it an inconvenience to ride a few kilometers to my local grocery store without wearing my cycling shoes. That is how accustomed to them I have become.
Clipless shoes VS Flat shoes:
When choosing your cycling shoes, you have a choice between clipless or flat styles. A clipless riding system is actually the opposite of what it sounds. Riding clipless means your shoe (cleat) clips into your bicycle pedal, whereas a flat pedal is the standard bicycle pedal that is a flat surface, compatible with any shoe. I recommend clipless cycling shoes for the following reasons:
Clipless shoes are great, because they allow for a smoother transfer of power between your leg and the pedal. Clipless cycling shoes allow you to “clip in” to a special type of cycling pedal using cleats. This allows you to exert power not only when you are pushing down on the pedal, but also when you are pulling up. It ensures that your leg and foot muscles work in harmony with one another, and avoids the scenario where you put more strain on one muscle group than the other.
Clipless shoes are not just better for performance! They are also far safer to use than flat shoes. Sure they may take some getting used to, but once you are comfortable in a pair of clipless cycling shoes you will feel why they are superior. Cycling shoes that clip in to your pedals will keep your feet and legs stable. This is important, as it allows you to have a greater control of your bicycle. If you are cycling on bumpy roads, especially at a high speed, then clipless cycling shoes will keep your feet connected to your pedals at all times.
Now that we have established that you need a pair of cycling shoes (and clipless at that), you still have to decide what TYPE of cycling shoe you are going to choose from.
Different types of cycling shoes:
Cycling shoes can be split into 3 categories. They are…
Mountain Bike Shoes (SPD) –
Mountain bike shoes are designed to be more flexible than road cycling shoes, while still being better for performance than Hybrid shoes. You get a wide variety of mountain bike shoes. Some MTB shoes look more like hiking shoes than cycling shoes, while others closely resemble the appearance of a top of the range performance road shoe. What I like about mountain bike shoes is that, unlike road cycling shoes, cleats on mountain bike shoes are recessed into the soles making it easier to walk in. The cleats on MTB shoes are made of metal and since they are recessed into the soles of the shoe, it is difficult to damage them while walking. Road cleats on the other hand, are made of plastic and need to be replaced after a month or two of use. Finally, mountain bike pedals have a greater ability to shed mud and dirt that would, on a road pedal, prevent you from clipping in.
Road Bike Shoes (SPD-SL) –
Road cycling shoes are great if your only goal is to ride as fast as possible on the road from point A to point B. They are purely performance based. Because they do not require the same ability to shed mud and dirt, road pedals have a large interface surface with the cleat. The advantage of a larger cleat is that it is able to spread the force being applied to the pedal over a wider area. This increases power output, while making for a more comfortable ride and reducing the possibility of hot spots.
The down side of road bike shoes is that they are a nightmare to walk around in. They make a horrible “click-click” sound, because you are stepping on the cleat and the heel of the shoe. Not only that, but they are not safe to walk in. I wonder how many accidents have occurred at the coffee shop from people walking in unstable road shoes? I am just joking, the answer is probably not many but you get my point. Road cleats also do not last as long as MTB cleats. They need to be replaced constantly! If you do not replace your road cleats when they are worn you risk “clipping out” while riding at a high power output, which could end badly. Lastly, if you plan on doing any type of off-road riding then road bike shoes are a bad idea, because road pedals are not good at getting rid of mud and dirt. I know from personal experience how annoying it can be when you cannot clip in with your road cycling shoe because of a dirty pedal.
Hybrid Bike Shoes
Hybrid cycling shoes are similar to mountain bike shoes, in the sense that they are versatile and suitable for both cycling and walking. Just like with MTB shoes, the cleats on hybrid bike shoes are recessed in the sole of the shoe. On the outside, hybrid bike shoes look like casual shoes. You actually get some very stylish hybrid bike shoes, that you would not even know are cycling shoes unless you looked at the bottom and saw the cleat! While hybrid bike shoes look great and are extremely comfortable, they are not good for performance. The flexible nature of the shoe means that you will lose power. This may or may not bother you. If you are used to road or MTB shoes, then I do not recommend switching to hybrid shoes in the future.
What type of cycling shoe is best for bicycle touring?
The best type of cycling shoe for bicycle touring is without a doubt Mountain Bike Shoes. They offer a perfect combination between a good performance cycling shoe and a shoe that is comfortable to walk in.
If you use mountain bike shoes, you never have to worry that your shoes will slow you down. This is especially true if you are conducting a bicycle tour! In fact, some of my most impressive cycling performances on the road were achieved while wearing mountain bike shoes. If you are conducting a bicycle tour, you will undoubtedly be walking around in your cycling shoes more than if you were doing a normal training ride. You always have to stop at grocery stores while touring to buy food and water. Also, what I found while touring is that I often had to climb over fences or push my bike across tricky sections of road. It happens when you are cycling in a new place and you do not know what to expect! That is when mountain bike shoes come in handy. Even while bicycle touring in Europe, which has an endless variety of smooth tarred roads… I still found MTB shoes to be superior to road shoes.
Mountain bike shoes are low maintenance. You do not have to worry about replacing your cleats while touring. They are also practical. Say for example you are doing an off-road bicycle tour and it starts raining… you do not need to worry about your pedals filling up with mud and preventing you from clipping in. There are literally 100 benefits to using mountain bike shoes while bicycle touring and not a single con!
Cycling Shoe Closure Types
We have already discussed the bottom of cycling shoes, and the benefit in having recessed cleats, but the top of a cycling shoe is important as well. You need to be able to adjust the tightness of your cycling shoe quickly and efficiently; this is where closure types come in. Cycling shoes have three main closure types, namely:
Laces are by far the most impractical closure type you will find on a cycling shoe. Laces on cycling shoes are a terrible idea, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to adjust them while cycling. I adjust the tightness of my cycling shoes during almost every ride. If you are riding, your feet will often swell and you will want to loosen your shoe. Alternatively, you may also feel that your shoes are too loose and want to tighten them. Laces take minutes to redo and will require you to get off your bike to do so. The closure type I use (which I will talk about soon) takes only a second to adjust. Secondly, in wet and muddy weather laces get dirty and pick up a lot of water. Lastly, if your laces become undone during your ride they could end up getting stuck in your chain!
Velcro straps are a quick and easy way to open and close a shoe. I like velcro straps, because they will allow you to adjust the fit of the shoe, even while cycling. One disadvantage of velcro straps is that they get dirty easily, especially if you ride in the mud, so you will have to clean them more often.
BOA lacing is a dial system that can evenly distribute pressure across the top of shoes, creating a more snug fit. To adjust them, you can simply turn the knob for a tighter fit or quick release to loosen. On newer model shoes with boa lacing, it is possible to tighten or loosen your cycling shoes by turning the boa dials either way, instead of using the quick release. For this reason, boa dials are now used on all top of the range road and mountain bike shoes. Cycling shoes with boa dials are my favorite, because of how easy they are to adjust and the snug fit feel they create.
What shoe closure type is best for bicycle touring?
If you are on a tight budget, velcro straps will be cheaper than boa lacing. If you do have a bit of extra cash to spend, I strongly recommend boa lacing. You will appreciate the comfort and convenience that boa dials provide. I also recommend that you look for a boa dial shoe that can be adjusted both ways.
What about cycling pedals?
The type of cycling pedals you use will depend on the type of cycling shoes you buy. For example, if you buy mountain bike shoes you will need mountain bike pedals. With that said, there are a number of different mountain bike pedals you can choose from. The good news is that MOST mountain bike pedals are dual-sided – that means you can clip into either side of the pedal, which makes starting from a stationary position a lot easier.
For a bicycle tour, it is a good idea to choose a pedal with a wide platform. Here is a example of what I am talking about:
You can see that the pedal on the left is small and designed to fit mountain bike cleats only. The pedal on the right is designed to fit mountain bike cleats, but also has a wide platform around it for if you decide to commute with casual shoes. This is perfect for someone who is conducting a bicycle tour! If you are staying somewhere for the night and do not want to put on your dirty and sweaty cycling shoes to ride to a restaurant, you can use your casual shoes instead.
What cycling shoes are best for bicycle touring?
To summarize, the best cycling shoes for bicycle touring are mountain bike shoes that use a boa dial system that can adjust both ways. I also recommend dual-sided pedals with a wide platform. This is the best bike packing shoe and pedal setup I can imagine. It also offers a good combination between what is practical and convenient, and what is good for performance.