On the right bike and right commute, normal street shoes are ideal. They enable you to switch instantly from cycling to walking or vice versa. If you want to ride further or faster, however, dedicated cycling shoes have plenty to recommend them: the stiffer soles transmit power more effectively and more comfortably; your feet won’t slip off the pedals by accident; and your smartest shoes will remain unspattered and unscratched.
Most cycling shoes are aimed at road racing cyclists or mountain bikers – and look it, with an obvious sports shoe aesthetic. Some are more casual and can be worn off the bike too, even in the office if the dress code isn’t too strict. Whether you change shoes at work or keep your bike shoes on all day, mountain bike ones are better than road racing shoes for commuters.
That’s because two-bolt mountain bike shoe cleats are smaller and recessed. As the cleat doesn’t protrude any further than the sole, you can walk normally in them. Road cleats are bigger and sit proud of the sole, so you can only hobble a few steps.
Furthermore, the pedals that mountain bike cleats clip into are double-sided. So when you’re setting off from the traffic lights, you can tread down onto the pedal and ride off straightaway, rather than pedalling one-leggedly while you try to secure your other foot.
Other features that are valuable for commuting include weather protection and subtle reflective detailing. Unless your bike has a chainguard, some way of restraining or shortening the laces to keep them out of the chain is useful too.
Any two-bolt cleats will fit to any two-bolt shoes, so you can use which clipless pedal system you prefer. The cleats come with the pedals not the shoes, although you can buy cleats separately. The most popular systems are Shimano SPD, Time ATAC, and Crank Brothers Eggbeater. In all three, you tread down onto the pedal to open the sprung ‘jaws’ so that they clasp the cleat, and the twist your heel outwards to release it.
Practise engaging and disengaging your shoes from the pedals before heading out into traffic. Many pedals have a screw that adjusts the spring tension; slackening this off allows easier pedal release. Even better, Shimano offer ‘multi-release’ cleats, identifiable by a big letter ‘M’ on the bottom of the cleat. With this, you can pull your foot upwards hard and still exit the pedal, so you’re less likely to end up lying on the floor still attached to your bike.
Both Time and Crank Brothers pedals allow a greater range of foot movement while the cleat is connected to the pedal – known as float. Plenty of riders, and especially those with any knee problems, prefer this.
Polaris have designed this shoe for urban cyclists: its black synthetic suede upper easily blends in with ordinary clothes. The lack of a Velcro strap makes it look even more like a normal shoe but you’ll need to double knot the laces to keep them away from the chain. The heel of the shoe has a large reflective strip. The heel and sole are plenty stiff enough for cycling, though if you’re on your feet all day at work you can feel the cleats. Sizes 40-48.
Traditional leather cycle-touring shoes are fairly rare these days, yet they offer a good balance between weather resistance and breathability, and they look fairly smart too – just passing muster with formal clothes. The white Exustar logo is a bit glaring, so if you want something more subtle it’s worth looking for Exustar’s older Stelvio SP705 or M600, both of which are still available online. (Google them.) All have a proper heel and a rubber sole, and walking in them is fine. Sizes 37-48.
Quoc Pham Tourer
Like the Exustar but more upmarket, the Quoc Pham Tourer is a smart and durable leather cycle-touring shoe. Off the bike, only the thickness of the sole (and the cleat in it) belies its cycling credentials.
A boot-style tourer shoe is coming soon, and Quoc Pham also make the most normal looking, office-friendly bike shoe we’ve ever seen: a traditional derby in brown suede or black leather, each made to order.
The Tourer is available in sizes 41-47, in brown, black or tan.
Shimano MT42 SPD
This trainer-style shoe is aimed at both entry-level mountain bikers and commuters. The sole is stiff enough for cycling without making walking awkward, and the tread is equally suitable for off-road tracks and urban pavements. A Velcro strap over the laces keeps them out of the chainrings, and there is reflective detailing on the heel for nighttime visibility. It’s available in blue or brown in Euro sizes 36-48.
Specialized Women's BG Tahoe
It’s an on/off-road trainer shoe specifically for women, with a narrower heel and ‘toe box’ than the gent’s equivalent. It’s fine for walking, and Specialized’s ‘Body Geometry’ footbed shape is very comfortable on the bike. What’s more, Specialized also offer a range of shims and footbeds to customise the fit of their shoes. A Velcro top strap ties down the laces. Available in blank/pink, in sizes 36-42.
DZR’s tagline is ‘urban cycling shoes’. These trainers are basically indistinguishable from high-street varieties until you flip them over to reveal the cleat-ready sole. The sole is stiffer at the front for cycling but flexes further back, so you can still walk normally rather than clumping around like a Thunderbird puppet. Like the Polaris Bojo, there’s a reflective heel and no Velcro strap. It’s available in sizes 41-47. DZR have a good range other urban cycling trainers for men and women.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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