I love cycling shoes. I feel that I need to be completely forthcoming- I delight in fancy road shoes and Lorica Microfabrics and heel security systems. I admit that I enjoy the aesthetics of cycling shoes, and I also believe that the utility of employing a clipless system for regular bike commuting is substantial. However, it absolutely is possible to ride a bike without clipless pedals and shoes, and I can assure you that Ive been spotted riding on flat pedals in flip flops on more than one occasion. There are many instances when flats and non-cycling specific shoes are more practical and more comfortable. And for cyclists who use their bikes for multiple purposes, you can have the best of both worlds with a double-sided pedal.
Toe Clips and Flat Pedals
Toe cages or toe-clips are designed to secure the feet to the pedals to allow the rider to gain efficiency and stability while riding. When your feet are one with your pedals, you not only gain the advantage of each foot staying firmly in place on the top of its pedal, but you also have the ability to pull up as well as push down, greatly increasing the amount of power that you can put into each rotation. Toe cages are pretty common, but one issue that toe cages can create in urban riding is getting in, and more importantly, getting out.Flat pedals dont have the efficiency benefits of toe clips or clipless pedals, but they are simple, safe and work with nearly any pair of shoes. For the commuter that doesnt want to carry or leave shoes at the office, flat pedals allow for dress shoes. For delivery services and emergency and patrol services, flat pedals may be necessary to accommodate the appropriate shoes that these services require once the rider has reached his or her destination. And for bike weddings, flat pedals allow the bride and groom to enjoy their dream wedding without compromising style (have their wedding cake and eat it to, if you will).
Clipless pedals are pedals without toe-clips that still allow the rider to be one with the pedals as the cleat, attached to the bottom of the shoe, clips into the pedal. There are a multitude of different brands and styles of pedals and cleats. For commuting or utility cycling, generally a smaller, two-bolt SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) style system like the Shimano Click’R Commuting Pedals is the most beneficial. Other styles include larger platforms that are designed to maximize power transfer for performance-oriented cyclists, but the larger cleats generally fit only on a smooth, tread-less road-style shoe that makes walking into the office or the grocery store a bit cumbersome. The smaller SPD cleats are often recessed into the tread pattern of the shoe, making walking much more enjoyable. The pedals also have double-side engagement, whereas many road-style pedals are single-sided. Pedals are sold with cleats, and cleats must be compatible with your shoes. Clipping in requires landing the cleat on the pedal, and clipping out is a simple sideways snap of the heel. It takes a bit of practice, and I have experienced the slow motion fall at a stop light in my early riding days, but anticipating stops is the key to success.
The Good Stuff: Shoes!
For flats or toe clips, almost any shoe can work. Toe cages come in different sizes, so a utility cyclist working in search and rescue or fire rescue can wear more substantial shoes and still ride a bike comfortably. Dress shoes also work with flat pedals or toe cages, but be careful with a very smooth-soled shoe, as traction helps you grip the pedal as you ride. For everyday errands, shorter commutes, or delivery services, an athletic shoe with a slightly stiffer sole, like a Merrell, is very comfortable and durable.There are also a lot of good cycling-specific shoes on the market. Shimano makes everything from custom-molded road shoes to all-weather commuting shoes with a Gore-Tex lining to SPD-compatible sandals. Cycling shoes are designed with a very stiff sole, which not only allows for better power transfer from your body to the bike, but also helps to minimize hot spots that can occur from the pressure of the pedal on the ball of your foot. Velcro is also a common feature of cycling shoes. Some models have a single Velcro strip at the tongue to secure the laces and the ankle, some use Velcro strips in conjunction with a buckle system at the tongue, and some use two or three strips of Velcro to secure the foot. I prefer a buckle system with Velcro, as the buckle can be replaced if necessary and tends to last a bit longer than Velcro in the elements, and I never have to worry about a shoelace swinging loose into the moving parts of my bike. Finally, the sole of the shoe can be constructed from carbon fiber, plastic, rubber or any combination of these elements. A sensible commuting shoe will generally be a combination of plastic (which provides the stiffness) and rubber (which allows you to drop in on a friend with hardwood floors with the confidence that you will be invited back). There are other considerations, such as the seam and toe box construction that can influence your choice of shoe depending on your riding needs, and finding the proper fit is as important as finding the right features.Cycling shoes are designed to look like sneakers, like dress shoes, like hiking shoes, and like space-age athletic shoes. With the seemingly infinite combinations of form and function, a pair of shoes and pedals exists to suit your unique cycling and style needs.