Whether you're a casual bike commuter, a road rider, an off-road rider, or a combination of the three, good cycling shoes can increase your pedalling performance, decrease fatigue, and make riding your bike more enjoyable.
Commuting shoes generally incorporate the comfortable fit of a street shoe with the stiff sole of cycling shoes – think of a good day hiker with a very firm sole. The goal is to strike a balance between pedalling efficiency and off-bike comfort. Many shoes in this category can also be used with a clipless pedal system. Most are suitable for light trail riding and cycle touring on paved roads. Dedicated trail riders would be better off with true off-road MTB cycling shoes.
Worn in conjunction with a good clipless pedal system, road shoes are standard equipment for virtually all roadies, whether recreational riders or racers. Designed for speed, road shoes have a narrow profile that holds your foot (specifically your heel) in place, with the help of Velcro® straps and locking buckles. Road shoes are designed to be lightweight and rigid. Unfortunately this combination does not make them very comfortable to walk in – except, perhaps, for quick pit stops and ducking into coffee shops.
Cross-country cycling shoes resemble road riding shoes in many ways. Like a road shoe, cross-county MTB shoes have a very stiff sole designed for a clipless pedal system. In addition, they may have a combination of laces, hook-and-loop straps, or buckles. They're also styled like road shoes. The key difference is that off-road shoes have aggressive outsoles that make walking on steep, muddy, or otherwise unrideable terrain much easier. High-end shoes may also have removable toe studs for even more traction.
Freeride/downhill shoes look, fit, and feel like soft, flat-bottomed skateboard shoes. Many free-riders have adopted this style to make riding off, over, and around stunts much safer. Flat-bottomed shoes allow you to get your feet off the pedals a split second faster than clipless pedals. When a fall is imminent, a split second can be the difference between a sweet recovery and a horrible crash.
You may still see downhill racers opting for clipless pedal and shoe systems. Clipless pedals offer added control and pedalling power. Also, being "locked" in to the bike prevents a racer from losing their footing on the pedals, or worse, being bounced right off the bike.
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