Outdoors Magazine

The Quest For the Perfect Cycling Shoe

By Perry Hua

Our quest begins as any quest does. With you, our hero, embarking on a valiant quest: to find the perfect cycling shoe.

Now, it might seem like a trivial task even a peasant could pull off, but don’t be so easily fooled. Peasants actually have better things to do with their time. But you need cycling shoes and not any old pair will do. You see, cycling shoes come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments, which means you’ll be faced with a lot of choices down the line. And this won’t be some kind of Cinderalla tale where someone materializes out of thin air to slip on a perfect pair of shoes on your tootsies. I’m afraid it won’t be so easy (unless you go to a bike shop). With that being said, let’s carry on with it, the quest for the perfect cycling shoe!

The Quest For the Perfect Cycling Shoe

Chapter 1: A Shattered Heart

First off, make a quick stop to eBay. Search results for ‘the perfect cycling shoe’ might make your hopes seem bleak now, but that’s only because this pair has actually been reserved and sold to Cinderella herself already. Tough luck, you couldn’t afford them anyway. But then again, truth be told, nothing genuine can be found online nowadays. Not even love.

The Quest For the Perfect Cycling Shoe

Chapter 2: Where Our Hero Must Abandon Their Dearest Friend

Now, while you’re down and blue, let’s add a bit to the fire. First off, for cycling shoes, your street shoe size doesn’t matter. How cycling shoes will fit differs largely between brands and the type of lasts they use. Which means, one size in one brand might have an entirely different fit than the same size in a different brand. So that number you’ve been clinging to for years now, you’ll have to leave it by the wayside. It’s okay though, it doesn’t have feelings.

The Quest For the Perfect Cycling Shoe
At least, it probably doesn’t have feelings.

Chapter 3: Where Our Hero Meets New Allies

Now, you might be a little sad for abandoning your one true friend that has stuck by you for ages. But, you shouldn’t grieve for too long. Although your street shoe size can be a good starting point and has served you well in the past, it shouldn’t be a definitive marker. What matters a lot more in cycling is the actual length, width, and the fit of the heel of the shoe.

You see, cycling shoes have one primary purpose: to create a stiff platform. It’s this platform which will allow to efficiently generate power to transmit to the pedals. So, unlike in other sports, you will want your cycling shoes to fit rather tightly. You won’t be doing much walking in them anyway you bloody aristocrat.


Length Matters - The Quest for the Perfect Cycling Shoe - Athlete AuditYes, length matters.

While a little space in the toe area can be seen as beneficial for comfort, that additional space won’t be necessary in cycling shoes. Having a shoe that is too long can actually hinder your performance since your cleats won’t be aligned biomechanically with the ball of your foot.

That being said, a pair of shoes with a few millimeters of space in the front should be more than enough for your needs. Cycling shoes should fit quite tightly. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to have one foot that is a tad longer than the other. If this gap is large enough, you will need two differently sized shoes to fit each foot.


Width Matters - The Quest for the Perfect Cycling Shoe - Athlete AuditYes, width also matters.

Surprise, surprise. Since your forefoot is the driving factor for the amount of power you’ll be able to produce, you will want a shoe that is wide enough for your foot. Too much space and you will lose out on performance. Too little space and you’ll end up in a world of pain the longer you cycle. The perfect cycling shoe should have a few millimeters of room to account for your foot’s width.

Heel Fit

Last but not least is a tight fitting heel cup. A shoe that allows for too much heel lift will result in less power and also a feeling of instability. The perfect heel fit is one where there is no heel lift when cycling or walking, but also no pain or pinching.

Heel Fit - The Quest for the Perfect Cycling Shoe - Athlete Audit

Chapter 4: Where Our Hero Masters the Right Equipment

With your newfound knowledge of what makes a proper fitting shoe, it’s time to learn what makes a proper shoe itself. Now, your choice in equipment is entirely up to you, although preferences will vary between individuals. In the end, the three main aspects of a worthy pair of cycling shoes are the soles, the upper material, and the closure system.

Solid Soles

For road cycling, inflexible soles are a must. They create a better platform to transfer power to your pedals. Soles can be made out of a variety of materials. The most popular materials would be nylon, carbon reinforced nylon, and carbon fiber (the literal holy grail of soles).

Cycling-Shoe-Soles - The Quest for the Perfect Cycling Shoe - Athlete Audit

Nylon is the least expensive option, and as such are not the lightest or stiffest. However, they are good options for recreational or beginner cyclists. Carbon reinforced nylon is more expensive than nylon, but offer a stiffer sole for those who want a bit more power in their stroke. Last but not least, you have carbon fiber soles which are extremely stiff and lightweight, although they do tend to vibrate more for less comfort. They also cost a pretty penny, and are most often used by many challenge and racing cyclists.

Stiff Uppers

The upper of a cycling shoe should also be stiff in all the right places. This is important as it will make your entire shoe a weapon for generating power.

The most popular materials for uppers are leather, kangaroo leather, and synthetic leather. Synthetic leathers are easy to clean and are the least expensive, but they aren’t especially breathable and don’t form to your feet all that well. Leather and kangaroo leather are reserved for more expensive models, and they are very breathable and form-fitting.

Snug Closure System

Last but not least is the closure system. It should provide all the comfort and support your feet will need. Comfort is key here, as any pressure points or pain will throw you off your game completely. Make sure the cycling shoes you are considering are comfortable when putting on, getting off, and whilst adjusting on the fly.

Closure System - The Quest for the Perfect Cycling Shoe - Athlete Audit

Chapter 5: Where Our Hero Rides Off Into Glory

At this point, you should now know exactly what will make the perfect cycling shoe for you. Was it such a hard journey? I highly doubt it, you just sat there the entire time!

To be perfectly frank, however, your quest is not finished yet. The easy part is over (but if you’d like to learn more tips on choosing cycling shoes, click here). The next leg of your quest will have you actually going out to discover the best pair of cycling shoes for you.

But fret not, there are a wide selection of cycling shoes out there, and there’s bound to be a handful that will meet your exact criteria. And after that, fully enlightened and well-equipped, you will be able to ride your loyal steed into the sunset, or wherever you please. God speed you magnificent knight!

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