4

Edit: everyone who's answered has been very helpful -- I tried to select all 3 answers as "the" answer but in the end it only let me choose one. Thanks to all!

I'm interested in purchasing my first pair of clipless bike shoes, principally in order to get the bike fitted properly, but also for performance reasons. I've put it off until now because I've been a bit nervous about getting stuck and falling over.

I'd welcome your recommendations on what to look for, how they should fit (in comparison to regular shoes, as well), whether there are any types or brands that are 'safer' (easier to unfasten from the pedals in an emergency), and whether there are any tips you can offer from your experience.

For what it's worth, I have a Giant gravel bike which I'm riding solely in asphalt at the moment, but am thinking of moving to a road bike one of these days.

Thanks in advance

3
  • 1
    I suspect you'll probably want MTB shoes, but you should probably be clear in your question if you're not interested in road shoes.
    – DavidW
    Apr 1 at 21:58
  • 4
    I would highly recommend buying them in person at a shop where you can at least try them on. Wear the same type of socks you plan on wearing while riding. Wait until later in the day for your fitting. Most peoples feet will swell a little by the end of the day. If possible bring your bike with you so the shop can help you get proper cleat position on the shoe.
    – mikes
    Apr 1 at 22:27
  • 2
    Aside from good fit, you need to be sure that the shoes will accommodate the type of cleat you will be using. This is mainly a matter of 2-bolt vs 3-bolt mounting. Some 3-bolt shoes will accommodate 2-bolt cleats, but some won't (very well). And obviously 2-bolt shoes do not accommodate 3-bolt cleats at all. Apr 1 at 22:40
1

I'm interested in purchasing my first pair of clipless bike shoes, principally in order to get the bike fitted properly, but also for performance reasons. I've put it off until now because I've been a bit nervous about getting stuck and falling over.

Don't be nervous. You'll learn the unclipping motion instantly. I have never crashed due to not being able to unclip quickly enough. Actually what is hard with clipless pedals is clipping in, sometimes it takes a second or two. But unclipping is easy.

The most important feature you want to look for is that you must be able to walk on the clipless shoes like you walk on regular shoes. An unfortunately large fraction of clipless pedal systems has protruding cleats that prevent walking. So you can't stop and buy something to drink at a grocery store ... unless you like to walk like a duck.

Fortunately, Shimano sells SPD pedals (regular SPD, not SPD-SL) that has the cleats embedded in the shoe in a manner that allows walking on the shoes.

With SPD, you can select single release and multi release cleats. Single release cleats allow unclipping only for the intended unclipping motion. With multi release cleats, you can basically unclip using any motion. I recommend single release cleats. It's not that hard to learn the unclipping motion. With multi release cleats, there's the problem that regular forceful pedaling can cause an unintended unclipping event, causing you to crash.

The Shimano SPD pedals have a tension adjustment screw so you can set the tension really loose for training clipless pedal use but you'll want to tighten it later when you have learned how to clip in and unclip.

My recommendation for the pedals is PD-T8000 because they have the mandatory pedal reflectors required by the law in many jurisdictions, and they also have a regular side that allows you to ride on any shoes, not just clipless shoes. You might think having clipless side on one side only would be bad because you never know which side is up, but these PD-T8000 pedals have a heavy side and a light side so when stopping they are in a well-determined position. So this allows you to time putting your feet on the pedals in such a manner that you always repeatedly hit the side you want to hit.

You can select shoes from Shimano or from some other brand, but do ensure they have the two-bolt attachment for SPD cleats. At least Shimano shoes are sized such that a given size is sold with a bit larger number so the usual advice is to select one size up. For example, my regular shoes are size 43 but I use size 44 Shimano shoes.

Also if you ride at 5 degrees Celsius or colder, you'll want to buy a separate pair of shoes that are intended for cold weather, and if you ride at arctic temperatures you'll need a third pair of shoes for extreme cold.

7
  • I like the idea of a pedal that offers a "normal" side as well, like the Shimanos you mentioned. They're 2 holded. Do you know if they offer a similar model but 3 holed? I didn't find it. By the way, will any pedal fit any bike? That is, if I order a Shimano pedal, do I need to check it fits my bike in some way?
    – Cerulean
    Apr 2 at 9:22
  • 4
    The "advanteage" of one sided clipless pedals is a disadvantage at the same time and potentially a very annoying one. Being able to clip from all four sides is a great advantage of the Crank Brothers system. Also, the ability to walk or run is common to all MTB system, one does not need Shimano SPD for that. One can easily run Shimano shoes with other types of cleats and pedals. Also, you did not even touch the tile - how to buy clipless bike shoes.
    – Vladimir F
    Apr 2 at 11:22
  • 2
    @Cerulean: I bought two sided pedals when I first got clipless shoes thinking I might ride the bike in regular shoes. After five years I never had. When I got a new bike I got pedals that clip in both sides. The only advantage to the ones with a platform side is when you want to loan the bike to a friend who doesn't have clipless shoes. It is very nice not to worry about getting the right side up when you clip in. Apr 2 at 14:21
  • 4
    "The most important feature you want to look for is that you must be able to walk on the clipless shoes like you walk on regular shoes." that's a ridiculous assertion to this question as stated (even if true for the answerer and the questioner). Apr 2 at 15:15
  • 3
    "Don't be nervous." That's always a good idea, but most people I've talked to have crashed several times while getting used to the clipless system. Myself included, I think I crashed 3 times because of being clipped in, at least two of which were in traffic where I was falling towards the middle of the road so even though I wasn't hurt, it was still kind of dangerous.
    – Nobody
    Apr 2 at 16:42
9

You need shoes, cleats and pedals all to be compatible.

(There's also an implication that you have two feet, and nothing unusual there.)

Shoes have to fit your feet comfortably, with a close fit around the rear and across the instep. Personally I find a slight roominess around the toes to be ideal. You can get shoes with laces, velcro, ratchets, elastic and weird string systems, none of which makes a big difference.

The shoe has to fit the cleat, and there are two main interfaces being 2 bolt and 3 bolt. Some shoes have 5 holes to fit both styles, but they're relatively uncommon. 2 bolt shoes often recess the cleat into the sole a bit, so that walking is mostly normal, whereas 3 bolt cleats are totally below the sole and walking in the shoes is unpleasant, and only for short distances.

The pedal you choose has to match the cleat - most new pedals come with a starter pair of cleats in the box.

3 bolt cleats tend to be made of plastic and are good for 3-12 months of usage, depending on how much you walk and how often you put your foot down. I found my left foot wore twice as fast, mostly due to my habit of rotating onto the bike.

2 bolt cleats tend to be made of metal, and they last much longer. However the walkable shoes tend to be softer and less "efficient" at transferring power. So fast roadies still go for the cloppy 3 bolt road cleat. 2 bolt cleats are reputed to cope better with mud, so are more the domain of the MTB and the cyclocross runner.


You can ride a road clipless pedal while wearing flat shoes, provided the sole is stout. There's less platform so its a lot more slippery, but it can be done. You can also slip some old cleats into the pedal to make it better, or purchase some "platform adapters" in case you want to ride the road bike to work/shops but wear normal shoes.

It is totally okay to ride road 3 bolt pedals on a MTB, or 2 bolt pedals on a road bike. Noone changes their shoes between the different sorts of cleats regularly, instead they'd buy two pairs of shoes and leave them set up. Given pedals are cheaper than shoes, it is acceptable to have several bikes with the same style of pedal.


I got some clipless shoes ~5 years ago, and I have never fallen due to the shoes. That you have to fall a couple times is a myth. While it might happen from a moment of inattention, just learn to unclip while coasting up to a stop and you're generally fine.

I've had minor slips (not a fall) when walking in cleats, and sometimes while stopping because the cleat didn't give great traction on the road surface especially when wet.

5
  • 1
    I wouldn’t recommend riding road pedals for actual MTB usage. Riding on the road, sure, but not trails. For one, the cleats would wear out real quick, but the lack of mud clearance, awkward droopy single-sided clipping in, and possibly weaker construction are also all issues.
    – MaplePanda
    Apr 2 at 6:37
  • @MaplePanda well I do, mostly because I don't want to own two separate pairs of shoes. There's no technical reason stopping someone from using one on the other, though as you rightly observe, road cleats are better for road, and MTB cleats are better off-road. That said, I've even ridden on the road while wearing gumboots (it was raining really hard :)
    – Criggie
    Apr 2 at 7:14
  • 1
    Thanks. I suppose I'd want road cleats, since I'm just riding on asphalt at the moment and interested in transfer of power. So that would be 3 bolts? Are they easier or harder to clip and unclip than 2 bolt shoes? You say the 3 bolts wear out between 3 and 12 months. Is this a thing you'd notice, so you can replace them, or suddenly while riding some part breaks or unclips? When the clear is worn out, can you replace that part, or the whole shoe had to be replaced?
    – Cerulean
    Apr 2 at 9:09
  • 4
    I'm not sure I agree that walkable shoes tend to transfer less power than equivalently-priced road shoes. First, you can get MTB shoes with very stiff soles if you want - many of the major brands make parallel versions with the same sole stiffness. Second, leaving aside running shoes, I'm not sure that sole stiffness makes an enormous difference in power transfer. As long as the sole is stiff enough, you may be fine. Third, it may be placebo, but I've heard some people say that extremely stiff soles can be uncomfortable.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Apr 2 at 11:41
  • 1
    @Cerulean plastic 3 bolt cleats wear out from the bottom because of walking around on them. When they get thin, the corners snap off and then your foot isn't retained in the pedal very well. Metal 2 bolt clears tend to last for many years. Both kinds of cleats can be replaced by unbolting the old ones and bolting on new ones in the same place - its quite easy. For you I'd probably recommend 2 bolt MTB style cleats - the conveniences outweigh the downsides for anyone who's not racing.
    – Criggie
    Apr 2 at 11:53
6

One minor thing may be worth mentioning: different brands tend to make shoes that fit differently. From your other footwear, you may have got the sense that your feet are relatively wide or narrow, or you may have got the sense that they're relatively high volume (aka high instep). If you have feedback like this, ask someone at the bike store for help. However, be aware that not everyone at the store may be knowledgeable about this, because bikes and human bodies are complex and not everyone may know everything. If your feet are especially hard to fit, ask for someone knowledgeable.

My impression is that Specialized, Shimano, and Lake have tended to have slightly wider toe boxes, i.e. the front of the shoe. Sidi shoes in general and most Giro models tend to be narrower. That's not a comprehensive list, it's just what I recall. Many brands make wide or high-volume versions of their shoes if you want to go that route, but bike stores may not have those versions in stock.

If you fall or crash, my experience has been that you come unclipped in the process, even if you have set the release tension relatively high. I realize that a non-cyclist might think that this sounds oblivious to danger, but I can attest that it is so.

A last minor point: there is absolutely nothing wrong with 2 bolt shoes on road bikes if you want them. If you're with a serious roadie group, you will be going against convention, but you can decide if that matters to you or not. I subjectively feel like my road pedals are a bit more stable than my MTB pedals, but the difference isn't large. I'm not sure it would be detectable in a lab. I don't believe that an XC mountain bike shoe is more flexible than a road shoe of the same price point, although I have no experience with non-XC shoes. On my smart trainer, I've done functional threshold power tests on both road and MTB shoes pedals, and performed pretty closely. My off-road shoes have a nylon sole, vs the mid- to high-end carbon sole on my road shoes to boot. I also don't perceive a huge difference between power transfer in each shoe.

3
  • 3
    A wider toe-box is definitely a good thing - the toes do little while riding, but many people find their toe swells slightly while the ankle shrinks, so have to tighten the bindings after an hour or so.
    – Criggie
    Apr 2 at 11:55
  • 1
    While some hard-boiled purists make a fuss about road shoes on road bikes and MTB shoes only on MTB bikes, use whatever you deem practical and fitting you style of cycling. If your cycling implies a number of walks, use MTB shoes unless you'd like to include acrobatic shows on slippery stairs with plastic cleats.
    – Carel
    Apr 2 at 17:34
  • Writing from the trail. My rear wheel skidded and I fell. I definitely did NOT become unclipped in the process. With neither foot.
    – Vladimir F
    Apr 3 at 13:48
5

Your shoes should fit quite snug. That means that the heel should not move up and down when you are trying it. Later when riding you will want to pull the pedal with your foot.

On the other hand it should not restrict your blood flow or otherwise painfully press on any portion of the foot.

Be aware that for a gravel bike you typically want an MTB system (SPD, Crank Brothers,...) while on road bikes most people use road bike cleat systems (LOOK, SPD-SL, Speedplay,...) that are very uncomfortable for walking or running. The choice is on you, really. I use one type of shoe and cleat for all my three bikes - MTB, road, gravel.

I do NOT recommend any beginners cleats that would enable you to unclip by pulling your foot up. You would just get bad habits. Instead, just accept that you will fall once or twice after stopping. Try to stop safely out of running cars.

Some pedals enable you to loosen them so they release earlier (e.g. SPD). Other may be set up with different (beginner-friendly) release angles by choosing the cleats (e.g. Crank Brothers). But do not buy those that will release when pulling up.

The choice of cleats may also determine the float (how much you can turn your foot freely) - that is very personal. I like loats of float, some other people do not want any float at all.

10
  • 3
    Please don't spread the meme about everyone falling. It's not difficult to practice clipping and unclipping leaning against a wall before going out for a ride.
    – ojs
    Apr 1 at 23:41
  • 4
    @ojs practice is good, and avoids most falls, especially the more severe ones. Unclipping a couple of seconds early in traffic is a good idea too. But while not completely inevitable, some falls are likely, even if for silly reasons. E.g. clipped back in accidentally as I came to a stop; blown over because I only unclipped the kerb side/upwind foot (twice); already stiff cleat got worse when I was going up a 25% slope and had to emergency stop, which was instant and my unclipping wasn't.
    – Chris H
    Apr 2 at 6:24
  • 3
    @ChrisH my nearest to a fall caused by a cleat was when I was scootering my road bike across the bike-room at work, and my right foot clicked into the left pedal. Was fine until I steered right and almost overbalanced to the right. Still didn't fall though.
    – Criggie
    Apr 2 at 7:17
  • 4
    @ojs all cyclist I know personally did eventually fall - without any injuries except those to their ego, despite learning how to unclip - but did fall nonetheless. It does NOT normally happen on the first ride. Bt it happens to almost everyone, usually at some traffic stop. It is quite possible that some people here did not ever fall, but I do not know these superheroes in person.
    – Vladimir F
    Apr 2 at 8:43
  • 3
    One minor counterpoint on the heel. Heel lift when you are trying the shoes on in the store often doesn't translate to heel lift when you are pedaling. I've had a number of shoes that have had this phenomenon - I can get heel lift when I stand up on my toes on the floor, but heel lift doesn't present on the bike. On the performance road side, I think a number of shoes do pay attention to heel retention in their top of the line stuff, especially Specialized and Shimano.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Apr 2 at 9:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.