Learning how to choose cycling shoes can be a little tricky since they are a lot different from your average athletic shoe. Using clip-less or clip-in technology, cycling shoes connect with the pedals of your bike. This allows you to effectively generate more power into each and every pedal stroke, both as you pull up and push down on the pedals. But besides power transfer, there are a whole bunch of other factors that you have to consider. For example, ventilation, support, comfort, and weight are just a few. With that in mind, we’ll talk about everything you should consider when finding yourself a suitable pair of cycling shoes in this article. You can also find some useful tips on how to choose cycling shoes at the very bottom. Let’s continue!

How to Choose Cycling Shoes


Type of Cycling

What discipline of cycling you’re interested in will decide what cycling shoes you’ll need. Besides road cycling, there are also niche categories as well, such as city cycling, indoor cycling, and triathlon. So, let’s talk a little about each.


Road – Designed specifically for road cycling. The outsole will be smooth and blank except for the holes to attach cleats. Often vented with a closure system that can be easily and quickly tightened, they also offer good ventilation. However, off-bike wear is not recommended as they lack flex and traction with a protruding cleat, making extended walking difficult while also potentially damaging the shoes.

Closure: Ratchets, velcro, or BOA lacing
Sole: Light, very stiff, relatively thin
Compatible w/: 3-bolt mount
Ventilation Winter: minimal ventilation / All other seasons: heavily ventilated, thinner upper, mesh
Material Sole: carbon fiber, plastic, nylon, or rubber. Upper: Mesh, plastic, composites, or synthetics

Road Cycling - How to Choose Cycling Shoes - Athlete Audit


Triathlon – Similar to road cycling shoes, but with faster and easier power transfer. You should also be able put on and remove the shoes quickly, as well as adjust them while riding. That’s why most triathlon shoes have a single velcro strap and heel loop for slipping on easily. Also, BOA dials work amazingly for triathlons. Furthermore, triathlon shoes tend to be very comfortable as well.

City – Best for commuting, urban cycling, and recreational cycling. They’ll look like casual or light hiking shoes with the technology of a cycling shoe. Many city cycling shoes use clipless 2-bolt pedal systems while also being flexible, allowing you to walk easily in them. Most will use either laces or velcro.

Indoor – Typically, indoor cycling shoes (or spinning shoes) use clipless 2-bolt pedals with recessed cleat mounts. Thus, they are easy to walk in and won’t get damaged. You can use most road or triathlon shoes for spinning, although some use SPD cleats.

Types of Cycling Shoes - How to Choose Cycling Shoes - Athlete Audit


Pedal Compatibility

Now, pedal compatibility is a huge deal when you’re learning how to choose cycling shoes. Whether you call them “clip-less” or “clip-in” technology, you’ll need the correct cleats for your shoes. If they don’t attach to your pedals properly, you won’t be able to generate the power needed for maximum efficiency or speed. 2-bolt and 3-bolt mounts on cycling shoes are the most common, which is what we’ll mainly be focusing on. The 2-hole system is commonly known as the SPD system, while the 3-hole system is the Look-style system.


Cleat Compatibility Chart

This is a rough guide on which cleats and pedals work with which, so double check to make sure they are compatible.

  3-Bolt Mount 2-Bolt Mount
Works with:
  • Look
  • Time Impact
  • SPD-SL
  • Speedplay
  • Look Keo
  • Delta
  • SPD
  • Time Atac
  • Speedplay Frogg
  • Crank Brothers Egg Beater

Pedal Compatibility Chart - How to Choose Cycling Shoes - Athlete Audit


Closure System

The type of closure system a cycling shoe has is very important. It will keep your feet snug and comfortable, allow you to adjust the fit as you ride, and help you transfer power more efficiently. With that said, there are four main types of closure systems: velcro, ratchet/velcro combination, BOA or dials, and laces. What you’ll need will depend on what discipline of cycling you’re interested in.

Velcro – One of the quickest and easiest ways to open and close a shoe. Velcro has been around for a long time and lets you easily adjust the fit of the shoe, even while cycling. Perfectly suited for muddy and wet conditions and many shoes that use velcro have multiple straps to allow pinpoint adjustments. Also the least expensive closure system after laces, they are often found on road and triathlon cycling shoes.

Ratchet/velcro combination – A more expensive option than velcro but allows for a snugger fit that won’t come loose. Ratchets use micro-adjusting plastic straps (similar to what you’d find on snowboard bindings) and are often found on road cycling shoes. The ratchet strap is commonly located at the top of the shoe, with additional velcro straps on the forefoot and toes for better fitting.

BOA lacing / dialsBOA lacing is a dial system that can distribute pressure evenly across the top of shoes. It comprises of steel laces, nylon guides, and mechanical reels to ensure a snug fit. In effect, simply turn the knob for a tighter fit or quick release to loosen, this takes out the hassle of adjusting comfort. Although the most expensive closure system available, BOA lacing are most commonly found on competitive cycling shoes.

Laces – Offers the most comfort and customization on fit, although mostly casual shoes don laces. That means you’ll mostly find laces on city cycling shoes although some road shoes have adopted them.


Closure System - How to Choose Cycling Shoes - Athlete Audit


How to Fit Cycling Shoes
  • Find out your European size; most cycling shoes come in EU sizes for accuracy
  • Fit your shoes SNUG; try to fit a half-size smaller if possible
  • There should be no gaps lengthwise or width-wise; your feet should not slide at all
  • There should be a little room in the toe box area
  • Look for shoes with a variety of widths if your feet are narrower; especially for women
  • There should be no pain or restriction of blood flow
  • If you have forefoot pain, look for a sole that has a little flex to it
  • If you have forefoot pain but don’t want a flexible sole; consider adding insoles
  • There should be no pressure pain or rubbing against the foot
  • The heel should be securely locked down with no movement at all
  • There should be even pressure on the instep when standing on the ball of the foot
  • Remember that leather shoes can potentially stretch; synthetics don’t
  • Trying them in-store will have the most accurate fit
  • Use the socks you intend to wear when fitting cycling shoes


Essential Criteria:

Power Transfer – Refers to how well the foot connects with the pedal to transfer power. A number of factors contribute to effective power transfer, mostly it’s due to how stiff the outsole and upper are. However, that’s what goes into the shoe. Effective foot placement and pedaling technique are up to you.

Ventilation – How well do the shoes breathe? This is especially important in warm to hotter climates where your feet will overheat quickly. Thus, thinner upper materials, mesh, and ventilation holes help to increase a shoe’s breathability.

Support – How well does the shoe support your feet? Contributing immensely to comfort but also to power transfer efficiency, cycling shoes should lock down your heel well with a good amount of arch support. They should also provide lots of stability.

Durability – How well do the shoes hold up? Most sane people don’t want to purchase a pair of shoes that will fall apart quickly. This really applies to cycling shoes as they are often more expensive than your average pair of casual shoes. A long lasting upper and outsole are key to durability, and most cycling shoes do a good job with this since you don’t walk around in cycling shoes much.

Weight – Most high-end, pricey cycling shoes will be extremely lightweight. Just like a hiking shoe, the less weight you have on your feet, the longer you’ll be able to cycle. However, this is by no means the most important priority to focus on, weight plays a relatively small role compared to your physical prowess when it comes to performance on the bike.

Comfort / Fit – How well do your shoes fit and how comfortable can you cycle in them? Comfort and fit are arguably the most important aspects to consider when learning how to choose cycling shoes. So, a snug fit length-wise and width-wide with no abrasion are what we look for.

Value / Budget – Taking all other criteria into account, are the shoes worth the cost? As you may know, cycling shoes can either be budget friendly for low end shoes and very expensive for high end performance shoes. A very expensive pair of cycling shoes that don’t last long aren’t worth it, just as an affordable pair of shoe that don’t perform adequately aren’t worth it.


*** Tips On How to Choose Cycling Shoes ***
  • Road and triathlon cycling shoes have very stiff upper and outsoles for maximum power transfer
  • Don’t spend any more or less than you have to; depending on type of cycling and how often
  • Ensure that there’s proper ventilation for the right seasons; a must for hot weather
  • Go with waterproof uppers and insulated lining if you’re cycling in winter/rainy weather
  • Velcro is the least expensive closure system and the most easily adjustable
  • Ratchet/velcro combo offers more security and lockdown
  • BOA lacing is the most expensive but takes the trouble out of adjusting fit; on comp shoes
  • Laces offer the most comfort and customization on fit; found on casual/city/some road shoes
  • Carbon fiber is the lightest and most efficient material for power transfer
  • There are specific cycling shoes for city cycling, recreational use, and commuting
  • Cycling shoes commonly come with either 2 or 3-bolt mounts, although there are shoes with both
  • 2-hole mounts called the SPD system (see here for compatible pedals)
  • 3-hole mounts called the look-style system (see here for compatible pedals)
  • Find out your European size is for the most accurate fit
  • Cycling shoes should fit very snug; feet should not slide around at all
  • Find shoes with a variety of widths if your feet are either narrow or wider
  • There should be no pain, blood flow restriction, or abrasion against your feet
  • Less weight is more ideal although it’s not the most important measurement to focus on
  • Wear your cycling socks when choosing shoes