Conditions for cycling can vary wildly throughout the year, but finding equipment that covers all eventualities is an exercise in futility.
This is especially true of cycling shoes, which not only vary according to the type of cleat you want to use, but in terms of the conditions they are designed for.
If you go down to your local bike shop you’ll be greeted by a wall of shoes. Many of them will look like trainers, other will look like smart shoes with no tread.
However, many of these will be designed for fair weather. They’ll be well ventilated for hot, sticky summer rides and that means they’ll be cold and sieve-like during the winter.
Whilst you can wear overshoes to take the edge off and keep some of the rain out, walking around on overshoes will wear them out in double-quick time.
Prices vary wildly depending on the manufacturer; the composition of the sole; and the weight. It’s possible to spend silly amounts of money on a really light, really stiff pair of shoes. Our advice is, don’t! If you feel you need a top-end pair of shoes, your team sponsor will probably buy them for you. If you don’t have a team sponsor, you really don’t need them.
Fortunately, a number of manufacturers make winter variants of their shoes, usually incorporating an overshoe-like upper to keep your feet and ankles warm and dry. Rather like overshoes they’re not infallible but they do keep the worst out.
Companies like Northwave will make shoes designed for extreme conditions, such as snow and sub-zero temperatures, but you can expect to pay close to £200 for a good pair of those.
At the other end of the scale, I’ve been using a pair of Garneau boots for the past couple of winters. They were priced closer to £80-£90. The main benefit of these is that they have a regular sole that isn’t going to wear out anywhere near as quickly as an overshoe stretched over a regular shoe. They do however hold water brilliantly, which then sloshes back and fore around your now very wet feet.
The outward appearance will only tell you so much. Each shoe will vary according to its stiffness too. A stiff shoe will transfer power to the pedal slightly more efficiently, but it’ll also make it harder to walk on. Road shoes tend to be stiffer than mountain bike shoes, but also much lighter because of things like carbon soles and a distinct lack of tread.
Some shoe manufacturers will attempt to quantify the stiffness of each shoe in their range, but the numbers are frankly meaningless. You are better off taking a trip to your local bike shop and trying them out for yourselves.
We’ve talked about cleats before in our Going Clipless post, but the system you decide to go for will determine the range of shoes available to you. Some shoes will provide mounting holes for both two-bolt MTB cleats and 3-bolt road cleats, such as Shimano’s RP5 shoes. However, shoes that provide both are unlikely to provide a recess for a two-bolt cleat, making it a bit wobbly if you don’t buy the optional stabiliser. You will also lack the tread that makes walking around off the bike a little less hairy. There are four-bolt shoes for Speedplay cleats too, apparently, but you are more likely to meet the tooth fairy…or Sasquatch than find one for sale in a shop. Speedplay cleats come with an adaptor for 3-bolt shoes, fortunately.
You can however buy winter shoes/boots in both road and MTB varieties.
First of all, ask yourself what you are planning to do on your bike. If you are planning to ride around town and do a bit of shopping, flat pedals and a comfortable pair of trainers will be ideal, particularly as you probably already have these. For the winter, a good pair of leather boots from that particularly well-educated shoe maker should serve you well.
If you plan to do a bit of touring or more serious riding as well as riding for transport, a pair of SPD shoes for the summer and a good pair of neoprene overshoes for the winter should be fine. Unless you plan on touring around the arctic circle, or we get hit with one of those winters the tabloids like to warn us about every year, there is little justification for shelling out a small fortune on a fancy pair of winter boots, particularly as most will end up letting in water anyway.
Also, if you are on the fence about going clipless, a two-bolt shoe and a pair of SPD pedals and cleats would be our bet if you do decide to give it a try, particularly as the pedals are often double-sided (therefore easier to clip into) and they are far easier to walk on.
Lastly, if you plan to do some serious road miles or to race, a 3-bolt shoe and your choice of pedal system may be the way to go. You will look ridiculous when you walk around on them, but you’ll probably only be stopping for coffee and cake anyway, not walking through fields of chest-high grass and scaling gates like we did…