Gear Prudence: What do you think about cycling-specific shoes? Are they beneficial for bike commuting or only for serious recreational cyclists? —Currently Lacking In Pedal Power, Efficiency Diminished
Dear CLIPPED: Of the few key differences between cycling shoes and their non-cycling equivalents, the primary distinguishing feature is that cycling shoes attach to the bike’s pedals. The idea is that this leads to more efficient pedaling and allows you to draw power from both pushing down on the pedal and the upstroke. Also, having shoes that attach to your bike is useful if you’re the kind of person who is always misplacing his shoes.
While this extra efficiency might be a plus, having shoes attached to the bike takes some getting used to, especially when stopping. Many a bicyclist new to cycling shoes has found herself toppleing as a result of not being able to detach from the pedal in a timely manner. This happened to me once at at a stop sign during dismissal time in front of an all-girls high school. Sadly, the oncoming rush of long-suppressed teenage anxieties provided no cushion to either my mortification or my fall. Nevertheless, with minimal practice, one becomes quite adroit at freeing a foot and forestalling disaster.
Cycling shoes might be best for commuters who are riding a fair distance on uninterrupted trails and roads with few occasions to stop. They also work well for the person who wants to dress the part of a bicyclist and wishes to be festooned head-to-toe in cycling-specific attire. They’ll complement your pro kit much better than would a pair of topsiders. For those riding through an urban environment dotted each block with stop signs or red lights, the benefits might be outweighed by the hassle of clipping and unclipping and the subsequent wear and tear. And for short trips or trips during which you don’t aspire to any speed records, you might find any increase in efficiency and power totally negligible.
Furthermore, some people just don’t want a unitasker shoe. Commuting in shoes you don’t plan to wear at work means you’re either hiding shoes at the office (check the bottom drawer in the filing cabinet) or bringing them with you each day. There are a few pairs of cycling shoes that almost look like regular shoes, but they still might not be office-appropriate. What about toe clips instead?
Ultimately, though, as usual in all matters sartorial, there’s no right or wrong. So wear what makes you happy. Even if they provide no real benefit in your ride, far be it from me to get in the way of your shoe selection. They’re your feet. —GP