I confess – I fell down a lot when I first started using clipless pedals and cycling shoes. It took me a long time to get used to them, but I felt safer and stronger on the bike once I did. I never realized just how much bike shoes can make you faster when riding.
Cycling shoes can make you significantly faster on your bike. They improve your speed by creating a better power transfer from your feet to the pedals. In addition, they keep you locked into the bike, which improves handling, safety, and muscle recruitment, making you a better, safer, and faster rider.
In this article, we’ll answer the question, do bike shoes make you faster? Then, we’ll talk about how bike shoes make you faster, more efficient, and how the stiffness and weight of your cycling shoes will affect your riding. Keep in mind that cycling shoes do need breaking in..
Do Bike Shoes Make You Faster?
Bike shoes do make you a faster cyclist in certain circumstances.
Bike shoes are specifically designed to help you ride your bike better. They offer a more snug fit and have stiff soles to help you transfer power better into the pedals.
In addition, the shoes have cleats that clip into special pedals (called “clipless” pedals…I know, it’s confusing), giving you better control and connection to the bike. This can increase your power, and therefore, your speed.
According to an article on pedalchile.com, bike shoes can give you 10% more power output over flat pedals during strenuous efforts such as sprints and climbs. The increase in power output equates to greater speed, especially on those challenging climbs and sprints.
However, no significant difference is noticed between flat pedals and clipless pedals on a flat road, riding at a relatively leisurely pace. So how do cycling shoes improve your speed if they only do so on harder efforts?
How Bike Shoes Improve Your Speed
Bike shoes have the potential to improve your speed in several ways.
They improve your ability to transfer power to the pedals, allow you to use the entire pedal stroke, reduce fatigue by recruiting more muscles, and are stiffer and lighter than regular shoes. We’ll cover all these in more detail in later sections.
Trainers or sneakers are designed to have a lot of flex and give so your feet move more naturally when you walk or run. However, this means the muscles in your feet need to work very hard to stay stable on flat pedals. It also means that you lose some energy as the shoes flex and bend under your feet.
Bike shoes will keep your feet from flexing and wasting power, focusing all your efforts into turning the pedals more efficiently.
How Much Faster You Can Cycle with Cleats
How much faster do bike shoes and cleats help you go? Manon and Hank from Global Cycling Network asked this same question in one of their YouTube videos, where they decided to test the difference between flat pedals and clipless pedals with cleats.
How Cycling Shoes Affect Sprinting
First, they did a sprint using both types of pedals. What they found was surprising!
On the sprint, Hank generated 840 watts using the flat pedals and trainers, but when he switched to cleats and clipless pedals, he gained 428 watts, an increase of 33%! On the other hand, Manon put out 704 watts with the flat pedals and sneakers and increased to 896 watts when using cleats. That’s an increase of 21%.
How Cycling Shoes Affect Climbing
The hill climb was a little more telling. Hank climbed the hill in 58 seconds with flat pedals but took 17 seconds off his time when switching to cleats. Manon took the hill in a minute and 10 seconds with flat pedals and flew up in 57 seconds with her cleats, 13 seconds faster.
Both Hank and Manon remarked that they felt much better when using their cleats because they didn’t have to worry about their feet sliding off the pedals, making cycling easier and more efficient.
Cycling Shoes Also Make Cycling Easier (More Efficient)
Your cycling shoes might feel a little awkward at first, but once you get used to them, you’ll start to notice the benefits.
Cycling Shoes Keep Your Feet In the Right Position
First of all, when you are locked into clipless pedals, your feet will always be in the best position on the pedal. With flat pedals, your feet will slide around and might not always be in the perfect spot.
Cycling Shoes Enable You to Use the Full Pedal Stroke
Second, with flat pedals, you are limited to using only half of each pedal stroke (the downward stroke), which only uses certain muscles. However, when you are clipped into clipless pedals, you can also pull up on the pedals, recruiting your hamstrings as well. You’ll also be able to better engage your core to keep you more stable on the bike.
Cycling Shoes Give You a Snug, Secure Fit
Third, your cycling shoes should fit pretty snugly, so your feet don’t slide around in them. This will ensure a better power transfer because you won’t lose energy due to your feet shifting around in your shoes.
Cycling Shoes Prevent Injury
Lastly, but just as important, you’ll be safer and less prone to injury. This is because you won’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the pedals when swerving potholes, avoiding a crash, or maneuvering a messy road. Having your feet in the proper position will improve your ability to point your bike where you want it to go and stay in control.
Do Stiffer Cycling Shoes Improve Speed?
Shoe stiffness also plays a part in riding speed. Imagine riding your bike in a pair of sneakers or trainers. They are designed to flex with your foot as you walk to keep you comfortable, with a squishy sole to absorb impact. However, when you ride with these same shoes, you lose some of your power and energy because it is absorbed by that squishy sole.
When your shoe is flexible, your foot will use energy as it works to grasp the pedal. But when your shoe is stiff, you won’t lose energy trying to keep your foot where it belongs.
A stiffer shoe will improve speed because it allows better power transfer from your feet to the pedals. You’ll be able to pedal with your entire foot, too, and not just the ball of your feet—the stiffer the shoe, the better the transfer of power, which means even more speed.
Do Lighter Cycling Shoes Improve Speed?
Lighter shoes will improve your cycling speed in the same way that a lighter bike will improve your speed, specifically when climbing. Less weight – whether on the bike, your feet, or yourself, will be easier to move uphill. It’s also easier to get a lighter weight up to speed more quickly, so you’ll be able to accelerate faster if you weigh less or your gear weighs less.
However, while taking a couple pounds off your bike will make a noticeable difference in how light it feels, removing a few ounces from your shoes probably won’t, especially if you are a casual rider traveling at lower speeds on flat roads. But it still has a small positive impact whether you notice it or not.
Other Benefits of Cycling Shoes
Cycling shoes have other benefits, too.
They are designed to allow moisture to evaporate so that when your feet sweat during a hard effort, you aren’t slipping around in your shoes.
They prevent overuse injuries as well. The stiff sole of the shoe will support your foot and your entire leg so that there is less pressure on the balls of your feet. This can prevent blisters and hot spots as well as other types of foot pain and injury.