Cycling Shoes by Joe Self

So… today we’re going to talk a little about shoes. “Like, oh my God, Becky. Look at her shoes.” No. Not those shoes. We’re going to talk about cycling shoes. (And yes, I know that wasn’t the correct quote.) So I see numerous riders on $5,000 carbon fiber state of the art bikes with wheels that cost more than a 16 year old boy’s first car, they’ve got the best looking coach in the state, and a computer on their stem that will tell them good things about wattages and sorts. However, their shoes seem as though they were bought at a garage sale from an old women’s home. What they don’t realize is they’re giving up precious energy into a flexible outsole and risking injury from an improper setup. That’s like going to your wedding and showing up with a ring from a Cracker Jack box and saying “That ought to do it.” (**Can of Bud Light to the face from the bride** Hey, we are in East Texas) Your shoes are one of 3 contact points with your bike, they’re one of the main sources of power transfer from your Schwarzenegger quads to the ground, and they’re mass at the end of a lever rotating around an axis (Google “rotational mass”). These little puppies are more than just a fashion statement while your sprinting for the town line, they’re one of the most important components of a rider/bicycle system.

I’m not going to write a full book on this, yet, so let’s just hit the main points we’ve mentioned earlier. As one of the 3 contact points with your bike it’s very important to make sure your shoes keep you comfortable on your ride. A nice cycling shoe will normally have a advanced upper shell to keep your feet comfortable and well ventilated, it will normally have a fancy buckle or dial system to get the tension correct, but mainly it’s going to have a stiff outsole that is generally carbon fiber. The stiff outsole will distribute the power your applying more evenly across the sole of the shoe, thus aiding in less pressure on a concentrated location on your forefoot.¬† There are several factors we can get into on cleat placement, proper sizing, and setup that can have a drastic effect on comfort, but that’s a completely different animal. The main thing to realize here is that a stiff sole can play a major part in overall comfort of the shoe.

On to powa (that’s “power” but with Arnold’s voice, kind of like “we have to get to the choppa!”, ok now you’re just distracting me from my article, who am I even talking to right now?) Right. Powa. The thingy that makes us go fast. The force that everyone wants to know how to get more of. Well, let’s cut the crap. Pedal harder. With a flexible sole you’re depositing energy into the flex of the shoe rather than applying the energy to the pedal, to the crank arm, to the chainring, to the chain, to the rear cassette, to the wheel hub, to the spokes, to the rim, to the tire, and to the ground propelling yourself forward. Now, that was half of a pedal stroke. You’ll do that a few thousand more times on your next ride. No? Let’s do the math. Let’s just use a 20 mile ride at 17 mph. That will come out to roughly 70 minutes of riding. At an average cadence of 90 rpm you’ve rotated the crankset 6300 times. Now calculate that you apply power twice every time you have a full rotation of the crankset and now you’ve applied power through the drivetrain 12,600 times. Obviously this assumes you were pedaling at 90 rpm for the complete 70 minutes. This is not the case most of the time so you can adjust numbers accordingly. Bottom line, if you’re giving up 5% of your power 5 to 10 thousand times every single ride it adds up to a substantial number.

Go grab something fairly heavy. Go ahead, I’ll wait….. Ok now that we’ve determined you can’t follow directions we’ll just move on. What’s the point of a lightweight shoe? Well, when dealing with rotational mass the further away the mass is from the centerline the more substantial of an effect it will have on stored energy. So if you take something heavy and tie it to the end of a 2 ft rope and it will require more energy to spin it than if you did the same with something lightweight. There are other physics involved, but this is one of the reasons light weight wheels have such an advantage on a bicycle. Since we are, in a sense, constantly accelerating on a bicycle due to fighting gravity, wind, and friction, reducing rotational mass will have a massive impact on efficiency. If we were riding downhill all day on smooth tarmac with a tailwind, a heavier set of shoes and wheels would have more of an advantage. If we just take a look at our Strava accomplishments it will show we tend to “climb” a lot. ¬†Along with aerodynamics, decreasing rotational mass is one of the best ways to make the bicycle/rider system more efficient assuming rider condition is kept at a constant.

Alright so now we’re at the end of the article where I’m supposed to summarize all the points and make a conclusion. Blah, blah, blah. This isn’t English Class from high school. I didn’t do well there anyways. <did you just see that horrible grammar? If you want to buy something and you want to see substantial gains, get a nice pair of shoes. Don’t get caught up with what’s “on sale”, a mid 90’s Kia is probably “on sale”. Are you going to want to drive it?


Uhhh…. The end? Quit reading this and go do something.