Do Cycling Shoes Break In? (Cycling Power Secrets)

When I put on my first real pair of cycling shoes, I was surprised by how they felt. They were stiff, rigid, and difficult to walk around in. They didn’t hurt, but they weren’t exactly comfortable like my favorite pair of Converse sneakers, either. Are they supposed to feel this way, or would they get more comfortable as they broke in? 

cycling shoes breaking in

Do Biking Shoes Break In?

Cycling shoes do break in, but only to a certain point. Cycling shoes are designed to have very stiff soles for better power transfer to the pedals, so they won’t break in like an athletic shoe. However, there are parts of the shoe that will break in over time and conform to your feet to make them more comfortable. 

The shoe ‘upper’ on many types of cycling shoes can soften and conform to the shape of your foot. As a result, the upper part of the shoe will become less stiff over time. While this part of the shoe will become more comfortable, starting with a pair of good-fitting cycling shoes is essential.

Your cycling shoes should fit snugly but not be too tight, because there is only so much give to the uppers. If they hurt a lot right from the beginning, it’s unlikely they’re going to feel significantly better over time. It’s better to make sure you’ve chosen the right size from the get-go.

As all brands tend to fit a little different, I’d recommend trying a few different ones to see which feels the best on your feet.   

Do Cycling Shoes Stretch Out?

Cycling shoes should not stretch out. Cycling shoes need to fit your foot snugly so they can efficiently transfer power from your feet to the pedals. You’ll be able to tighten them with Velcro straps, laces, or boas so that your feet stay in place at all times…but not if they’re way too large to begin with!

You don’t want your foot sliding around in your cycling shoe. If your foot is moving around in your shoe, it will make it harder for you to pedal and could even be dangerous. At the very least, you will lose power as your foot slips around. 

If you feel like your shoes have stretched out, they may be too big or need to be replaced. 

Are Cycling Shoes Supposed to Hurt?

Cycling shoes are not supposed to hurt your feet when you wear them. If you are experiencing foot pain while cycling, something is definitely wrong. The most likely culprit is that your shoes are the wrong size or fit for your feet. 

If your shoes are too small, you will experience foot pain, cramping, and possibly even numbness. On the other hand, if they are too big, you might get blisters and chafing. You also might need a different brand of shoe if your foot is especially narrow, wide, or you have foot problems. 

If your cleats are in the wrong place on your cycling shoes, you could also experience foot and leg pain as you try to pedal with your feet in an unnatural position for your unique structure. Just one of the many reasons a proper bike fit is a good investment! 

Cycling Shoe Stiffness May Be a Little Uncomfortable

That being said, you might find the stiffness of the shoe’s sole a bit uncomfortable at first. This slight discomfort is because cycling shoes are intentionally made to be stiffer than athletic shoes. Athletic shoes are meant to absorb energy to reduce the jarring you might feel when you perform activities such as running on pavement, for example. 

breaking in cycling shoes

However, cycling shoes are created to do the opposite. Cycling shoes have stiff soles so that you can transfer energy from your leg to the pedal without the sole absorbing it. 

If you find the stiff soles are uncomfortable, try adding softer inserts. Some high-end cycling shoes come with multiple inserts so you can find the right softness and insole thickness to give you more comfort when riding. 

How Long It Takes to Get Used to Cycling Shoes

If you are new to wearing cycling shoes, it might take a few wears before you get used to their feel. For example, when you walk in cycling shoes, the shoe does not flex like a pair of trainers would. This means you have to walk a bit flat-footed or even tiptoe to avoid falling. This stiffness is one reason you don’t want to walk far in cycling shoes. 

Mountain bike clipless pedal shoes (like the Five Ten Kestrel) are much more flexible than gravel or road shoes. If you have trouble getting used to the feel of stiff cycling shoes, you might want to try these instead. Mountain bike clipless pedal shoes will give you the flexibility for walking, but they will still have cleats so you can clip into your pedals. 

Beginner and lower-end cycling shoes tend to be a little bit roomier and won’t fit quite as snugly. As a result, these types of shoes make it easier to get used to the feeling of stiff shoes when you are new. However, race-fit shoes or very high-end shoes have a much tighter fit, which can be harder to get used to. 

How Comfortable Should Cycling Shoes Be? 

Despite their snug fit, your shoes shouldn’t feel uncomfortable when you wear them. If you try on a new pair of bike shoes and they hurt or are very uncomfortable, they’re probably the wrong fit for you. Over a long ride, this discomfort will be magnified and could cause you a lot of pain. 

To find the shoes that fit you best, you should visit your local bike shop and have your feet measured. Then, try on a few different brands of shoes to find the one that fits you best. Hopefully, your bike shop will have a stationary bike that you can use to test out the shoes and see how they feel. 

Additionally, it can take some time to get used to clipping in and out of your pedals. So if you’re making the switch from flat pedals, don’t worry. Just take the time to practice somewhere safe, like on a grassy surface or even with your bike on an indoor trainer.

How to Break In Cycling Shoes (3 Tips)

Part of breaking in a new pair of non-cycling shoes has to do with the shoe conforming to your feet and the way you walk. Cycling shoes, however, are not designed to be flexible or conform to your gait. Therefore, your shoes should be comfortable and fit correctly right out of the box. 

The sole of the shoe is typically made of nylon material or carbon fiber, making them lightweight but stiff. The exception might be mountain bike shoes, which are designed to flex a bit and have rugged soles for grip when you need to hike-a-bike. Keep in mind that you can fix cycling shoes that rattle/squeak too.

However, parts of the shoe can be broken in to some extent. Try these tips to tweak the fit and feel of your cycling shoes. 

Use Heat Molding

Similar to roller blades or ice hockey skates, some companies provide guidelines for baking your cycling shoes in the oven to help them mold to your feet better. Warming the shoes’ synthetic material makes it more pliable and speeds up the break-in process.

Just be sure to to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid damaging your shoes. And let the shoes cool before you put your feet in them!

Add Arch Support

You can’t really break in the sole of the shoe or add flex to it because it was designed to be stiff. However, you can add an insole to the shoe to better support the arch of your foot. You may want to try different insoles to find the one that gives you the right amount of support in the right spot. 

Adjust the Cleats

Cleat adjustment is less about breaking in your shoes and more about helping the shoes interface correctly with your bike. While this doesn’t change how the shoe fits or feels, it will change your pedaling efficiency and overall alignment on your bike…which may be the source of your pedaling discomfort in the first place.

Feel free to play around with the cleat adjustment on your new shoes to get them to fit just right. It will take some time to get them into the most comfortable position, but once you do, your rides will feel so much better.

Liam Chen

Bicycle Touring Ambassador and Environmental Advocate Liam has pedaled across continents, documenting his journey to promote cycling as a means of eco-friendly travel. He's an expert in long-distance cycling and bicycle touring, providing our readers with comprehensive guides on planning, packing, and sustaining multi-day cycling trips. His passion for sustainability is reflected in his recommendations for green cycling practices.

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