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Legs of a cyclist on a bike, wearing blue socks and white cycling shoes

3 Key Parts of Your Cycling Shoes (And Which Should Be Replaceable)

Cyclists can be meticulous about planning their wardrobes. They might invest in an array of jersey and jacket colors to sync up for rides, even picking gloves to match. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t give quite enough thought to the one wardrobe piece that might matter more than others: their cycling shoes.

Your shoes are critical for your comfort on the bike, and a cheap pair won’t do you any favors. You’ll end up with sore feet and shoes that have to be replaced after only a few thousand miles. Instead, it’s better to put some thought into your cycling shoes — and a few extra dollars to match that extra effort.

For longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie, that extra thought comes down to a few critical components of the shoe. To make sure you get the right kind of cycling shoes, give careful attention to these three parts.

Your Sole

By far the most important shoe feature to consider is the sole. Unlike your tennis shoes, which you want to be comfortably flexible, cycling shoes should be stiff — almost as stiff as a board. It may feel awkward for walking, but it’s essential for pedaling.

“The more flex there is, the more likely it is you’ll have problems with your feet,” says Coach Darryl.

In fact, soft soles are one of the most common reasons his bike-fit clients complain about foot pain and discomfort. That’s because soft soles concentrate the pressure from your pedals directly on the spot where your feet meet the pedals. Stiff soles, on the other hand, spread out that pressure evenly over your whole foot. 

To ensure you get cycling shoes that are stiff enough, Darryl recommends doing the accordion test before you buy them. With one hand on the toe and the other on the heel, try to push the two together, attempting to bend the shoe in middle. If it bends more than an eighth of an inch, it’s too flexible.

Heel and Toe Pads

No two places on your cycling shoes see more wear and tear than the heels and toes. They touch the ground every time you walk, and they frequently hit and scrape on the pavement when you come to a stop and rest your feet on the ground.

Without added protection, these two parts of your shoe will quickly wear down until your socks are poking through. That’s why you need to make sure your shoes come with replaceable heel and toe pads. These are standard on SIDI shoes, which are Darryl’s preferred brand, but you may find them on others, as well. 

These pads attach to the heel and toe of your shoe, and you can easily remove and replace them when they wear down. This simple feature can extend the life of your cycling shoes threefold.

Buckles and Straps

Finally, there are your straps and buckles, which are obviously essential for keeping your shoes on. If these break on a ride and you don’t have replacements or an extra pair of shoes with you at the ride start, your ride is over.

On older cycling shoes, you’ll typically find a few Velcro straps, along with a buckle at the top with a plastic strap that ratchets down. Again, all of these parts should be replaceable, or you’ll have to get a new pair of shoes anytime one breaks.

On newer shoe models, you’ll usually have a cord that runs seamlessly over the top of the shoe with two or three dials you can use to ratchet the shoe tighter in different spots. The top dial always needs to be tight, but the other two can be adjusted to fit your preference. Most importantly, though, you should always keep an extra cord or two with you on your ride so you’re prepared to swap in a new one if a cord breaks.

Your Cycling Shoes Are Worth the Upfront Investment

Buying cycling shoes with these features will drive up your upfront cost. But they’ll also save you in the long run by significantly reducing the number of shoes you have to buy over the years. It may even help you ensure you have a long and happy riding career.

“Those who buy the cheapest of shoes usually regret it,” says Coach Darryl. “It’s sort of a ‘pay me now or pay me later’ proposition.” 

In other words, you’ll spend a little more cash now or pay for it later with discomfort and, ultimately, fewer hours on the bike. The tradeoff isn’t worth it.

Curious to learn more about cycling shoes? Check out our complete guide on the subject.


As always, you can find more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Rehook Bike at Pexels