Finding the right cycling shoe is tougher than ever

Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport
Each year we see more and more companies entering the market with cycling shoes. Each company claims new research has led to improved performance because newer and better materials and designs have been incorporated into their product to produce the "ideal" cycling shoe.

This does not mean, however, that selecting the proper cycling shoe for you is an easy decision. Because of the broad range of shoes (and pedal systems), picking the right shoe reqires extra care and planning.

All feet are different

The first rule of common sense is to realize that just because your favorite Tour de France cyclist wears a particular type of shoe, it may not be the best for you. Each person and each pair of feet have different requirements.

Be prepared to spend some time shopping around, and do not buy the first pair of cycling shoes you try on. Bring along the socks you normally wear while riding, so that you will get a truer fit when sampling shoes. Once you have the shoe on, stand up and put weight on the sole.

If it feels comfortable, about like your everyday shoes, it's too big! Try another pair about a half size smaller or one that feels snug. Remember that leather shoes will stretch and conform to your foot after several riding sessions.

Nylon mesh, on the other hand, does not stretch at all, so it is imperative to make sure you buy the correct size. Shoes should be tried on later in the day or after you have been on your feet for a while. Feet tend to swell during the day, and this will better replicate the size of your foot after an hour of more of cycling or running.

The sole of the matter

Make sure the sole is contoured to the shape of your foot. The sole should hug your foot snugly when new. Some soles will fit better depending on whether you are flat-footed or have a high arch. If you are flat-footed, shoes with less curvature in the sole will fit better, while a high arched foot will feel better in a shoe with a high heel.

Today the soles of most cycling shoes are composed of nylon, lexan, carbon or multidensity materials. A stiff sole insures that the force of the pedal stroke will be directed into the pedals but can lead to "hot feet" in century rides or long training rides.

If you experience "hot feet," that numbness or burning sensation in the ball of the foot, there are several remedies to consider.

First, check to make sure the forefoot of the shoe is wide enough to accommodate your foot. You may also consider using a thin replacement insole in your shoes. They should be put into the shoes that you are trying on to insure proper fit.

The type of shoe closure you decide upon may also add to your cycling comfort. Closures can be Velcro, laces, or a combination of both. Velcro closures are popular among triathletes because they make the shoes easy to get in and out of in the transition area.

Another advantage of Velcro is that the tension can be adjusted during long rides - loosened as your foot swells after about fifty miles of riding on a hot day.

Other things to consider

If you are one of the majority of cyclists who now use a clipless pedal system, you will have to purchase a shoe with reinforced uppers.

Make sure the shoe includes a built-in strap that is anchored to the sole and then connected to the lace, ratchet or Velcro closure system. These are necessary to resist the upward pull on each pedal stroke. Without this additional support, the uppers will become stretched and may even separate from the sole.

Cyclists often neglect to make sure the shoes they are purchasing have heel counters. The heel counter provides a better fit around the heel and prevents your heel from rolling inward during the power phase of the cycling stroke.

The need for heel counters is made more important by the increased use of clipless pedal systems. As well as providing better rear foot support, they prevent the uppers from breaking down as quickly.

In addition, cyclists who use orthotics while riding will get better performance from a shoe with a stiff sole and firm heel counter. Finally, check your cleats every few months and replace them when the cleats or the fastening bolts become worn.

A new product on the market called "Kool Kovers" can be purchased if you do a lot of walking. They are covers that fit over LOOK, Time, or Shimano cleats, protect them and improve walking traction. After a crash, it is best to check cleat alignment, since a cleat out of position could lead to knee or foot problems.

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