my problem with cycling shoes


I used to make a joke about Sony when I was in the business of selling digital video systems: you can never have too many standards.

Hollow laughter. When it comes to cycling shoes, it’s the same thing. I’m just not the kind of person who wants to give headspace to a whole bunch of acronyms and variations. I managed to go almost my entire life without any awareness of the world of cycling pedals, cleats, and shoes, but lately I’ve been mired in it and I’ve been confused, bewildered, and more than a bit irritated.

Most of my life, I used standard flat pedals and toe clips, and a pair of just, you know, normal sneakers to ride in. So I wasn’t very efficient or very fast, but I wasn’t confused. The other thing, I was generally quite comfortable. I may not have converted 100% of my efforts into forward motion, but my feet didn’t hurt.

Then, like a fool, I started looking into specialist shoes and the brain-rot set in. The first problem I had was that – almost without exception – all cycling shoes are fugly. Most sports shoes are ugly, but a special kind of hideosity is reserved for cycling shoes. Bicycle Touring Pro, for example, offers its list of “23 Stylish SPD Touring Shoes”. I look down the list, and I say, ugly, ugly, ugly, horrible, ugly, hideous, and so on, up to 23 times.

Horrible colours, horrible shapes, horrible motifs and go-faster stripes, horrible materials, all for a horrible price.

If there’s something I hate, it’s paying through the nose for something that I basically hate.

The other problem I have is with that descriptor, SPD. Wha? SPD, SPD-SL, Look, egg beater, dirty cheater? Too many standards. Road people tend to use a 3-bolt design (SPD-SL or Look, I don’t know why there are two different names) and mountain bike people tend to use 2-bolt SPD clips. There’s confusing for a start. Which is before we get to the confusing issue of town bikes, triathlon bikes, touring bikes, and so on.

I didn’t understand any of this when I ordered my first shoes. Having declared a pox on all the other shoes, the only ones I thought worth having were the hipster-trendy DZR shoes, like the District, as sold by alwaysriding (see above). These look like ordinary sneakers.

(What I should have done of course was have a conversation in my local bike shop, but the same problem afflicts them as afflicts book shops: they don’t stock anything I’d be interested in buying, like the DZR.)

So they arrived and they were a bit on the snug side (perils of buying shoes on the internet), and of course were completely incompatible with the SPD-SL pedals I’d bought. Duh. So I bought another pair of shoes, ugly ones, and they were uncomfortable and hurt my feet. So I bought another pair of shoes, two sizes too big (went to a shop for those). And they were uncomfortable and hurt my feet.


So I took another look at the DZRs and bought some new pedals. Thought I was being clever, buying SPD touring pedals, which have a bigger platform and should be more comfortable than the mountain bike pedals.

Except of course the clever bigger platform makes them too big for the recessed cleat in the DZR shoes. The cut-out (refer to the image above) is too small.

So I was left with this. Get yet more shoes, or yet another set of pedals. So what did I do?

I got my craft knife and gouged out the recess on the sole of the DZRs to make it big enough. This may prove to be disastrous, but the first ride will tell. I thought I was going to slash an artery, but I somehow managed to get the shoes to engage with the pedals – tried them briefly on the rollers, but too windy to try a proper ride today.
UPDATE: I gave up on the DZRs eventually, as they were still too painful on longer rides (2+ hours). I bought instead a pair of Bontrager multisports, and they work well. They’re compatible with the touring pedals, stiffer in the sole, and more comfortable on longer rides. I bought one size larger than my shoe size. You can also get a mouldable insole for them, for an extra £25 or so.

UPDATE UPDATE: I gave up on the Bontrager Mulisports, too, eventually, when the foot pain returned with a vengeance. I’ve ended up with TIME pedals and cleats (they have the biggest platform), and a pair of wide-fit Shimano shoes in the right size. In the end, it turned out, there was a need for the wider fitting shoe. Duh. Also, the foot pain is a result of a fallen metatarsal arch, and I added some insoles with gel inserts to support the ball of my foot. The pain/numbness hasn’t entirely gone away, but it’s much better than it was.

2 responses to “my problem with cycling shoes”

  1. For what it’s worth I use SPDs on my bikes.

    They are supposed to be for mountain bikes but I find the convenience of MTB shoes – which can also be walked in – outweigh the power gain of proper road pedals/hard flat soles (at my paltry level anyway).

    I use Crank Bros Candy pedals – which come in various levels of expense (ahem – fundamentally all the same though) and they have enough of a platform to be usable with ordinary non clip shoes too.

    I also realise that my blog post titles are not very helpful for finding this kind of information.


    • Yes, I wish I’d had a conversation or two with you prior to spending as much as I have. Everything I’ve bought has been low-mid price, but I’ve made so many mistakes that I could have gone high end if I’d made one (right) choice.


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