For touring, centuries and walkability, try mountain-style bike shoes

Credit: Brian Bahr/Allsport
How would you like to improve your pedaling style, get more power into each revolution of the cranks, become a better hill climber, ride with more comfort and fewer injuries, and feel that the bike is really part of you all in one easy step?

Just step into a pair of cycling shoes.

Next to light wheels and a good saddle, nothing else will make more of a difference in your cycling comfort and performance than a good pair of cycling shoes.

But it's critically important to find shoes that fit right, stay comfortable for hours of riding, and help you pedal efficiently. Two main considerations are stiffness and ventilation, but these don't come into play until you're certain that the fit (length, width, toebox, and heel counter) is ideal. Here's how to tell.

Most riders will find advantages in stiff soles. Stiff soles disperse pressure from the pedals and protect your feet from feeling uncomfortable edges. By inserting a thin, resilient insole, you can add cushioning for more comfort.

Stiff soles also maximize power transmission into the pedals. Softer soles, especially those that don't have a rigid shank through the cleat area, waste some energy as they flex and compress. As your feet eventually feel this pressure, you'll tend to reduce pedaling force to ease the discomfort. Guess what happens to your speed then?

This is why shoes made for running or tennis aren't suitable for serious cycling. As biomechanist Peter Francis, Ph.D., of San Diego State University notes: "Cycling maintains a fairly constant tension on the plantar fascia [the major ligament in the arch of the foot]. The last thing you need is the middle of the shoe sole flexing and putting additional stress on this ligament."

Generally, competitive road cyclists go for light and stiff racing shoes. Century riders, tourists and recreational cyclists should took into so-called "mountain bike" shoes with two features that make them better off the bike.

First, they allow a more natural walking gait. Second, the soles have recessed pockets for the cleats, keeping them out of contact with the ground during strolls at convenience stores or rest stops. This makes walking safer and quieter on hard surfaces, and it spares cleats from wear or damage. If this shoe style is your choice, make sure your pedals can work with recessed cleats.

This past year I have tested two high-performance mountain bike shoes that are excellent for road riding, because of their excellent fit, aesthetics, light weight and walkability.

Pearl Izumi Vaper Mountain

Recently I tested the Vaper Mountain. The Vaper Mountain shoes feature Pearl's carbon fiber I -Beam sole and a seamless air mesh upper. This shoe is designed to be light, fast, breathable and stable for high-performance cycling.

The sole of these shoes utilizes the new Pearl Izumi "I-Beam" design, allowing for a lightweight and stiff performance cycling shoe. This I-Beam technology is similar to the concept of a construction I Beam: By increasing the surface area of the main plate on the outsole, yet keeping it hollow internally, they increased the rigidity and strength of the entire sole.

Also incorporated into this design was the tri composite outsole. The tread is a unique material that functions well in wet and unstable conditions where hard plastic fails.

The uppers utilize a mesh material for optimal breathability. The three ergonomically curved, no-snag Velcro straps and the thin, pre-formed canopy closures allow for an enhanced fit on the top of the rider's foot. By staggering the D Rings on the closure system, they eliminate bunching and hot spots.

The Vaper has a suggested retail price of $179.99. The lower price point Vagabond mountain shoe features the nylon I-Beam design and a suede and cordura upper. The suggested retail is $74.99. For more info, check out www.pearlizumi.com.

SIDI Dominator 4

Sidi has been a leader in cycling performance shoes for the past 20 years. The Dominator 4 is the latest addition to Sidi's line of high-tech cycling shoes. It features a refined and improved Micro-Lock buckle design, Lorica upper, stiff sole and light weight.

Of course, if a pair of shoes doesn't feel good on your feet, there's not a feature on the face of the earth that will make it worth owning. In that respect, the Dominator 4 is among the best I have tried.

Sidi attributes the good fit to two things: the materials used and the shoes' adjustability. The Dominator's Lorica uppers are supple and breathable, yet won't stretch as much as natural leather. The Dominator features three straps positioned to eliminate pressure points while offering a good range of adjustment.

The two front straps use Velcro. Pull them tight or reach down and loosen them during long rides as your feet swell. The buckle closest to your ankle is attached to a wide strap and uses Sidi's Ultra-MicroLock design. The ratcheting lever from the old design is still there, but this time it's made from aluminum to improve durability. The release lever can be used to adjust strap tension in small increments or all at once to take the shoes off.

The Dominator 4 retails for $179. The Dominator also come in women's sizing with smaller heel cup, and in mega sizes for those men with larger feet. For more info, check out www.sidiusa.com.


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