Shoes and pedals are an important decision for your commuter bike. Do you go for flat pedals so you can use your ordinary shoes or trainers, or do you prefer the control and power of riding clipped in? If you are riding clipped-in, do you go for a sporty road shoe or a practical mountain bike shoe and pedal, or even a leather shoe you can pass off as office wear?
Flat pedals are the easiest – you can use virtually any shoe, but particularly in wet weather, your feet can slip on the pedals and you may not feel you have as much control compared to when you are clipped in. However, they are the easiest solution for short journeys where you don’t want to carry a change of shoe with you.
If you are riding a road bike, instinctively you might think you need road shoes and pedals, but that’s not necessarily the case. The benefits are that road pedals allow you to clip the cleats on your shoes into the pedal where they are held securely by the pedal mechanism. This allows you to both pull up and push down on the pedals, minimising energy loss. The large platform of the pedals increases your stability and ensures great power transfer whether you are climbing or sprinting.
Road shoes are designed purely for road cycling. They feature lightweight stiff soles (often carbon) for excellent power transfer, comfort and performance. Designed to be used with single sided larger platform road pedals, these shoes are exclusively for use on the road with very little or no grip on their soles, which can make unclipping at lights and marble floored reception areas a high-risk situation!
An alternative is the recessed cleats and rugged soles of mountain bike shoes, which can make for quicker unclipping and easier walking, and are useful in urban as well as mountain environments. Mountain bike shoes still offer excellent power transfer to the pedals but have a grippy rugged sole that works well both on and off the bike. Mountain bike shoes also make a great choice if you are commuting or cycle touring – even on a road bike, when you might need to unclip frequently or walk a distance. For city riding, some manufacturers are even making shoes that resemble smart casual office wear to ease your transition from the bike to the boardroom.
Another thing to consider is that many road pedal systems use plastic cleats, such as Shimano or Look. Plastic cleats wear easily and run the risk of you accidentally pulling your foot out of the pedal, so will need checking and replacing frequently. If you do walk in your shoes, consider buying cleat covers to protect them.
All manufacturers have slightly different cleat systems, so check your shoes have the correct drillings and are compatible with your chosen pedal system before you buy. Make sure you set up your cleats correctly before you ride to avoid knee pain or injury. Most pedals offer customisable tension, so if you are new to riding clipped in, reduce the tension until you are confident with the action of clipping in and out.
Regardless of which style you go for look for shoes that are well ventilated and have plenty of room for toe movement, particularly in hot weather when your feet often swell. If you already have a preferred pedal system, make sure the shoe you are interested in is compatible and has the correct cleat drillings as not all shoes suit all pedals.