I mostly used conventional sneakers for cycling and never wore bicycle shoes in my life. At this moment of my life I decided to level up a bit. I've built myself a road bike and now I'm looking into proper footwear. It's a whole new world for me and I'm completely lost. My first impression is that there are several types of pedals, cleats and shoes and you have to choose the right ones in order to fit them all together.

I'd really appreciate a brief consultation on how to choose a proper footwear gear. Which pedals play good with which shoes and/or cleats and how to buy the right combination?

Thanks guys! You're the best!!

  • 1
    This is a very broad question, actually. Most cleat systems will be compatible with most shoes. Your best bet is to find shoes that fit and are comfortable, then see which cleat system will fit. My personal preference is Speedplay pedals, as you have a wide range of "float" (foot angle) available, and you can get custom length spindles as well.
    – JohnP
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 17:53
  • I think this is quite a bit too broad. For one, systems marketed as road (e.g. Look, SPD-SL) aren't necessarily good for anything other than road racing. If you have to get off the bike, you have to waddle on those systems, versus recessed cleats on some SPD shoes.
    – Batman
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 23:21
  • @mattnz Maybe I didn't put the question well ... I wanted to know of different kinds of combinations of pedals/shoes/cleats and how do they play together and how to choose the right combination properly.
    – LoomyBear
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 7:41

2 Answers 2


Assuming that you're talking about cleats on your shoes, there are three main attachment systems.

Left: 2-bolt, Middle: 2 or 3 bolt, Right: 3 bolt.

Cycling shoe cleat attachment options.

Notice how the one on the left has a chunkier sole. The two-bolt option is used for SPD which are popular with MTB, commuting and touring cyclists. I use 2-bolt SPD shoes on my audax bike because I'm able to walk in them without slipping over or damaging the cleats.

A comparison of the different pedals has already been covered thoroughly on bicycles.SE, and Wiggle also provide some friendly explanations.

  • good answer, good pics, I do exactly the same on my audax bike. How did I not see that question before I wrote my answer? [rhetorical]
    – PeteH
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 22:08

Yes there are lots of different options with pedals (it's a bit easier with shoes), but they can be summarised quite briefly.

Types of pedals:

  • Flat - a standard pedal on many bikes
  • Flat pedal with toe clips. So you can still use any shoe, but the toe clip holds your shoe in place on the pedal.
  • "Clipless" pedals - where both pedal and shoe have a some kind of mechanism, common to both, which binds the shoe to the pedal.

These days, using clipless pedals is very common, although there is still debate as to whether it is the most efficient setup. Terminology is also confusing here - strictly speaking this type of pedal is called clipless, yet we talk about "clipping in" and "clipping out". It sounds a bit silly at first, but something you soon get used to.

Clipless pedal systems use a special pedal, plus something called a cleat. The cleat is is attached to a special shoe, designed specifically for road cycling, using some bolts, and the pedal and cleat basically bind together to secure the foot. For the most part, cleats will fit any road-cycling shoe, but there are exceptions here so it is something you need to check.

Where the options come in here are as regards the pedal/cleat combination. As you might imagine, several companies have come up with different takes on this. I will not give an exhaustive list of these companies, but to name a few, the mechanism was first developed by the French company Look (as soon as you take an interest in pedals, this name is unavoidable and they are still big players). At some point later, the world's largest cycle component manufacturer, Shimano, got in on the act with their SPD-SL mechanism. As I say, there are several others.

But to stress, these mechanisms are much of a muchness in terms of what they do, so choosing one over another is mostly down to personal preference. As you might imagine, though, one manufacturer will deliberately make their cleat/pedal tech different to other manufacturers, so in general you can't mix and match brands. (Although there are exceptions here too, you see some "Look Keo compatible" cleats on the market). But generally, this incompatibility also applies to different ranges within the same brand. For example, Look have two ranges (Delta and Keo) which are totally incompatible with each other. So you can see, you do kind of get sucked into a particular choice....

Beyond this, still with clipless pedals, you can control how much you allow your foot to move on the pedal whilst riding. SPD-SL and the Look Keo range support this, possibly others too (as @JohnP says, this is called float, and there are other questions on this site that give you an idea why you might choose one float over another).

So, yeah, a complicated issue. My own history was that I first bought into the clipless idea, then just plumped for SPD-SL on the grounds that most of the components on the bike were also Shimano! Nothing more scientific than that. I've since changed to Look Keo (because I bought some special pedals that required me to do so) but have noticed no practical differrence whatsoever. So, take your pick!

  • 2
    Yes. The only thing I'd add is the ability to walk in shoes with Spd cleats. Unless you're racing I'd recommend them; they're so much easier to use.
    – andy256
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 20:45
  • 2
    My only addition to @PeteH answer is find a shoe that fits before choosing a brand or type. Some brands are much better suited to certain foot shapes than others. Also sizes may not be the same between brands.
    – mikes
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 21:22
  • 1
    @andy256 yeah, good point, it's probably another area the Op should look into. Personally, I dislike SPD (I'd agree they're easier to walk in, but not that they're easier to ride in), but again it should be driven by how you'll ride. From a purely practical point, the shoes that you'd need to use the SPD system are different to the shoes you'd need for other systems - the soles are different.
    – PeteH
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 21:48
  • 2
    I probably should also have said that the use of clipless pedals has to be learned, in particularly unclipping sufficiently quickly so you don't fall right over when you come to a halt! But maybe that's a bit beyond the scope of the question.
    – PeteH
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 22:04
  • 6
    Using shoes you can't walk in is just plain silly unless you're racing and therefore won't be doing any walking. If you haven't found yourself 20 miles from home with no option but to walk then you haven't (yet) found out why racing shoes are silly if you're not racing. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 3:28

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