Cycling shoes are an improvement on trainers as the soles are more rigid allowing better power transfer. There are as many shoes as there are types of cycling, from numerous manufacturers and a with number of means of attaching you to the pedal if required.
Historically and still available are toe straps. I used straps for years and while OK, in the winter I suffered from cold feet. No amount of socks and overshoes would keep my feet warm. Straps, properly adjusted, restrict blood flow to some degree ending with cold feet in winter and pins and needles after long rides. This, for me, is history post clipped pedals. If you’re happy with them, fine, I’m not knocking you but they have bonuses and draw backs. The main bonus is you don’t need specific cycling shoes you can scoot out in a pair of trainers.
The clipless pedal as with many things in cycling was invented in the late 19th century, for those of you interested there is a very nice timelinehere. Nothing really changed until Cinelli’s M-71 in the early 1970s and then in 1973 LOOK turned the pedal world upside down with their patented clipless pedals. Two years later Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France using LOOK pedals and in 1976 they went on sale to become the first commercially successful clipless pedal. Twenty five years on LOOK pedals are still up there as a road and racing pedal, but they have rivals.
There are two main types of clipless pedal system. Road are usually bolted to the shoe with a three bolt system a la LOOK originals. Speedplay road pedals have a four bolt system.
MTB/Leisure pedals use a two bolt system a la Shimano SPD. The big players in the market are as follows;
Road, LOOK, Time, Shimano and Speedplay. Campagnolo have a road system as well but the first four are the big guns.
All the big four are well represented in the pro peleton and not having used them I can’t really comment on plusses and minuses. The nature of these systems means walking comfortably is not high up the list of features as efficient power transfer and weight are the primary objectives of a race pedal and associated shoes.
MTB/Leisure, Shimano, Speedplay and Time. LOOK and Crank Bros. are also in this market which is dominated by Shimano’s SPD system. SPD is cheap, hugely available and in marketing terms this means the best. This is arguable. There are thousands of Rover 75s on the road this doesn’t make them the best car. There is no comparison of Shimano’s build quality in the last sentence just price levels. The sheer numbers tell their own story but for my mind there are too many moving parts for not enough float (left right rotation) with SPDs.
There are a myriad of MTB/Leisure shoes available and everyone has a different needs list.
Suffice to say my oldest cycling specific shoes are a battered pair of Specialized Sonama used both with toe straps and clipless pedals, mine are the old laced ones. Demoted to turbo training shoes we have ridden tens of thousands of miles and they’ve been great. I succumbed in middle age to a pair of Italian leather floozies who keep an old man very happy.
There is a degree of learning in any clipless pedal system. Some time spent riding around an empty car park getting used to clipping in and out without looking is time well spent. Most people have an unplanned dismount when learning and it just reminds the rest of that it wasn’t just us.
When I decided to go clipless I already had shoes so the two bolt MTB system was a must. The Sonama already fitted the “Able to wear off the bike” criteria so cleats needed to be fairly low profile as the shoes had little in the way of tread to conceal cleats. I’d tried SPDs and didn’t like them so looked at Speedplays’ Frog MTB pedals. The male part of the cleat is on the pedal so the shoe part was nearly completely recessed in even the Sonamo’s smooth sole. The ease of clipping in and out was what sold it to me. Locating the round male pedal into the V shaped shoe cleat is very easy and unless you pull the cleat off the shoe you cannot disengage with normal pedal action. As with all systems moving your heel outboard unclips you, but the Frogs action is so light there is no restriction of any kind in unclipping. Only Flanders mud has ever clogged them and as it had already ground the bike to a halt clogging mudguards and brakes the so wheels wouldn’t turn I don’t call that a fail. You don’t walk on the male cleats so you aren’t buying new cleats every so often or skating on smooth floors. I use them on the tourer, fixed and everyday/commuter/club bike without issue. I love them. Downsides? They aren’t cheap but good things seldom are.
This entry was prompted by a customer enquiry and I am beholden to none of the manufacturers mentioned.