Pushing down on your pedals is how you make a bike go. Being able to push the pedals more efficiently will make you go faster. This is what cycling shoes are designed for. They give you a better contact to the pedals, more efficient power transfer and increased comfort on longer rides.
Switching to proper cycling shoes can transform your riding and it’s often one of the first upgrades we recommend to new cyclists. There are three main reasons why using cycling shoes will improve your cycling
Cycling shoes have much stiffer soles than normal shoes and on professional level road racing shoes the sole will be almost rigid. This stiffness has two main benefits, to support your feet and to improve power transfer.
You should be pushing your pedals using the ball of your foot. The rest of your foot will not normally touch the pedal. Having a stiff sole lets cycling shoes support the rest of your foot and reduces fatigue. More importantly having a stiff sole on the shoe means that every time you push down on the pedal less of your power is lost to your foot flexing and more of it goes into making your bike go.
On entry level and mid-range cycling shoes the sole will normally be made of some kind of plastic resin to give it stiffness. On higher end cycling shoes, and especially on road cycling shoes, the sole is normally made of carbon fibre. As well as making the sole of your shoe super stiff this also makes them super light and, as always in cycling, light = fast.
Contact to the pedal
Having a good contact between your foot and the pedal makes you more stable on the bike and improves your power transfer. There are two main types of cycling shoe which take different approaches to pedal contact:
Flat shoes – mainly used by mountain bikers, BMX riders and leisure cyclists, flat shoes look like trainers. They will have a relatively stiff sole to support your foot and the sole will be designed to grip onto your pedals through a combination of the tread patterns and the type of rubber used. If you are new to cycling this is the easiest type of shoe to get used to.
Clipless or SPD pedals – Clipless pedals are ones that all you to clip into your pedals. That sounds confusing because it is. All you need to know for the moment is that a clipless shoe, or SPD, shoe will have a special cleat attached to the bottom which allows you to clip into compatible pedals in a similar way to a ski binding. Once clipped in your foot is effectively locked to the pedal which gives you a much more positive contact and makes you a lot more efficient. This is the system used by almost all road cyclists and by most mountain bikers. Clipless pedals take a bit of time to get used to but once you have got the hang of them it is weird to ride a bike without them and they will make you a lot faster.
Your feet are one of the 3 main contact points between you and your bike (the others being your saddle and handlebars). Having proper cycling shoes with stiff soles helps to support your feet which will make you more comfortable on the bike. Most cycling shoes will also be quite close fitting. To get maximum power out of each pedal stroke you don’t want your foot to move inside your shoe. Every time it does you are wasting energy and increasing the chances of your foot rubbing.
Cycling shoes also have an important role to play in regulating the temperature of your feet. In the summer your feet will get hot and this can make it quite painful to push the pedals. Most cycling shoes will come with a lot of ventilation to stop this from happening.