Cycling shoes

Nine cycling shoes ranging in price from $50 to $180 are evaluated. Information is provided on the type of cycling each shoe is best suited for. The Look AP-166 is rated highest for comfort and performance.

Riding a bike is easy–you’ve done it since you were a kid. You didn’t need special shoes back then; your Keds were just fine. But today, plain old sneakers won’t do–not if you want to make the most of your mileage.

Cleats or clips?

When you buy cycling shoes, you not only have to decide on a shoe, but on a pedal system as well. The most basic system is toe clips and conventional pedals, used with touring shoes that have stiff, flat soles (not reviewed here). Touring shoes are good if you want a shoe you can ride and walk in, but they don’t have the holding power of cleated cycling shoes and may slip out of the clip during an out-of-the-saddle sprint or steep hill climb.

For fitness training or racing, where both comfort and performance are needed, your best choice is a cleated shoe–its stiff, curved sole efficiently transfers power from your leg to the pedal and crankarm, and the cleat screwed into the sole attaches the shoe securely to the pedal.

All new balance shoes for plantar fasciitis reviewed here come with a small circular or oval cleat designed to be used with toe clips. The horizontal indentation on the cleat fits over the rear of the pedal, and the toe clip strap secures the shoe to the pedal.

This system works, but toe clips can cause pain or numbness on long rides and can be hard to get out of in an emergency. For these reasons, many serious riders have opted for clipless pedal systems. Usually purchased separately from your bike, the systems cost $90 to $200 (not including shoes). Triangular plastic cleats are included with the pedals, and attach to the three-hole pattern drilled in the bottom of the shoes (each shoe reviewed here comes with drilled holes). To engage your foot in the pedal, hook the front of the pedal under the front of the pedal and step down. The rear hinge then clicks over the back of the cleat. Turning your heel to the outside lets you click out; once you get the hang of it, it’s easier than slipping out of conventional cleats with toe clips.

Touring cyclists who want a performance shoe they can both ride and walk in can try the shoes for people with bunions and recessed-cleat pedal systems from Shimano and Time. These shoes have soles that extend a half inch beyond the cleat, so when you step on the ground you contact it cleanly.

Fit first

Because the cycling shoe’s sole must be stiff, the correct fit is vital for comfort, especially in the heel, toe box and across the ball of the foot. As far as sizing and proportion go, though, it’s still a man’s world–only Nike makes cycling shoes on a woman’s last. To find the men’s size that fits you best, subtract 1 1/2 sizes from your normal size (American sizing); you’ll need to be measured to determine the right European size.

Even if the length is right, you might have trouble with fit: Men’s feet are usually wider through the heel and the ball of the foot than women’s. That means fastening hardware may be too big, the sole may curve in the wrong place or heel counters and tongues may cut into your ankles. Lots of padding may make a wide shoe feel better, but padding absorbs energy and holds in heat, so it’s not a good solution if you want a high-performance shoe or take lots of long rides.

When you try on running shoes with arch support , wear your cycling socks. Stand up and alternately put all your weight on each foot. You shouldn’t feel any tightness across the ball of the foot. Leave enough room to wiggle your toes–feet swell during rides–but not enough to freely move them up and down or curl them; this extra play makes pedal strokes inefficient and tires your feet and legs.

If your heel isn’t snugly supported by the shoe or if your foot slides from side to side because of insufficient lateral support, blisters and cramping can develop. Try shoes out by cycling for several minutes on the store’s indoor trainer or on a test bike outside. If you have a choice among several shoes that fit well, consider a shoe with Velcro straps, which let you tighten or loosen the shoes as you ride.

Avia AC60

Best for

* RECREATIONAL RIDING

* NARROW TO AVERAGE WIDTHS

* FITNESS TRAINING

At $50, the AVIA AC60 (9.2 oz.) is a good cleated shoe for the entry-level or recreational cyclist. The well-padded heel cup accommodates narrow heels; laces offer a more adjustable fit and slip under toe clips more easily than the Velcro closures found on the other test shoes. A plastic loop snaps over the loose end of the laces, keeping them safely away from the chain’s teeth. Serious cyclists will notice the heavier weight of this shoe and may find that its synthetic leather construction causes heat discomfort on long rides.

Diadora Ergo

Best for

* RECREATIONAL RIDING

* AVERAGE TO WIDE WIDTHS

* FITNESS TRAINING

The DIADORA ERGO ($120; 11.2 oz.) uses a moldable insole and Lycra-covered foam tongue to offer a custom fit. You can wear the insole as it comes, or for $25, an authorized shoe store will take an impression of your foot, heat the hard plastic insole and shape it to fit.

The Ergo offers good lateral support for average to wide widths, and its leather/nylon mesh construction keeps most feet cool. Tow Velcro strips that extend the entire length of the closure give maximum adjustability.

Look AP-166

Best for

* FITNESS TRAINING

* NARROW TO AVERAGE WIDTHS

* RACE TRAINING

The LOOK AP-166 ($89; 8.5 oz.), drew the highest marks for comfort and performance. The shoe is cut low around the ankle and instep to eliminate cutting or chafing, and its intelligently placed padding makes the AP-166 feel like a custom fit. Two Velcro straps secure narrow feet without binding.

Nice touches include a soft leather liner that covers the tongue and a reflective heel patch to catch the eyes of drivers behind you.

Nike Access

Best for

* FITNESS TRAINING

* NARROW TO WIDE WIDTHS

* RACE TRAINING

Nike’s women’s ACCESS ($75; 9.5 oz.)–the only cleated cycling shoe built on a women’s last–is lightweight and well-cushioned for the entry-level rider. The heel cup is snug enough to hold a narrow foot, but the padding compresses comfortably to accommodate a wider heel as well. A notch at the back lets the Achilles tendon flex freely. If you use toe clips, molded Phylon padding on the outer edge of the shoe prevents numbness by alleviating pressure from the cage without interfering with fit. The closure system consists of two Velcro straps.

Shimano A100

Best for

* TOURING/CENTURIES

* AVERAGE TO WIDE WIDTHS

* COMMUTING

With the A100 ($85; 11.1 oz.), Shimano has brought its popular off-road recessed cleat pedal system to the road. Because the soles of these shoes extend beyond the cleats, it’s as easy to walk in them as it is to ride. Two Velcro straps keep each shoe snugly cinched.

To use the A100, you must also buy Shimano’s pedals ($90). The pedal assembles easily, but you may need help from your retailer to insert the cleat into the shoe. Clicking into the pedal is initially tricky because the cleat is so small, but it gets easier with practice. The Shimano pedal lets you increase or decrease the tension it takes to release your cleat, handy if you’re not sure how tightly you want to be secured to the pedal.

Sidi Revolution

Best for

* FITNESS TRAINING

* NARROW TO AVERAGE WIDTHS

* RACE TRAINING

The SIDI REVOLUTION ($149; 10.1 oz.) is a lightweight, high-performance shoe for serious training and racing. Competitive cyclists will appreciate the positive contact offered by the unpadded natural leather insole, and once broken in (give it about 1,000 miles), the insole conforms to your foot. The lack of padding also improves breathability. Women with narrow to medium feet will appreciate the snug fit around the heel and under the arch. A double Velcro closure adds extra support.

Specialized Pro Dog

Best for

* FITNESS TRAINING

* AVERAGE TO WIDE WIDTHS

* RACE TRAINING

Specialized’s PRO DOG ($90, 7.9 oz.) is the lightest cycling shoe on the road market. It’s designed for serious training and racing; its stiff sole offers good support, and padding in the heels adds comfort without compromising performance. Mesh and leather construction makes the shoe breathable, and double Velcro closures secure the foot well.

Fit may be a problem for some women, however, in smaller sizes (under size 37) the shoe doesn’t come in half sizes. EVen in the correct length shoe, testers felt that the toe box was extra roomy and that the shoe’s high cut over the instep could be uncomfortable without socks. In smaller sizes, the bottom of the shoe is curved to the point that the cleat does not lie flush against the shoe. The company sells adapters ($4) that lie between the cleat and shoe to resolve this problem.

Time Century

Best for

* TOURING/CENTURIES

* NARROW TO AVERAGE WIDTHS

* COMMUTING

Like Shimano, Time offers a recessed-cleat pedal system with shoes that are easy to walk in; the price of Time’s system, however, is nearly double Shimano’s.

It may be worth it: Our testers were impressed with the TIME CENTURY’S ($165; 13.6 oz.) comfort, fit and performance. Like the Shimano, the shoe has a stiff sole for efficient pedaling, but the last is narrower than that of the Shimano, so it may fit some women’s feet better. Nice touches: The brass cleat engages and disengages from the pedal with an audible “click,” and the recessed-cleat pedal ($180) stays upright when it’s rotating, so it’s easy to step into.

Vittoria 900/TS

Best for

* FITNESS TRAINING

* WIDE WIDTHS

* RACE TRAINING

The VITTORIA 900/TS ($90; 10.5 oz.) is a lightweight mesh and leather shoe for serious cyclists. Although the sole is very stiff and the shoe is sparsely cushioned, the insole has enough give that the 900/TS is comfortable without a break-in period. A Velcro side strap is not as adjustable as other closure systems; its high-cut ankle and instep could prove uncomfortable to some women.

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