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Ask Levi: What Are Good Shoes for Biking (But Not Biking Shoes?)

Today’s question is about picking out a good pair of shoes for bike riding, without plunking down the cash for a clipless pedal and shoe setup…

Coach,

I’ve been road biking for less than a year and love the fitness. But after spending a ton on accessories I don’t want to spring for bike shoes and pedals.

What should I look for in a shoe to use in the summer?

Thanks,
Shoeless Sam

Hi Sam,

Thanks for asking this question. I know what you mean! Between the shoes and pedals, you’re spending a lot of money no matter what. I do think it’s a good upgrade to keep in mind, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive, but for now, some ordinary shoes will do the trick.

I assume you have some sort of platform pedal that came on the bike originally. Perhaps with clips and straps. You want to pick a shoe that matches well with this pedal. So, what will you look for in a shoe?

The most important thing is to have a stiff, grippy sole. Grip is vital because you don’t want your feet slipping off the pedals. That’s a serious safety hazard! The stiffer sole helps to transfer power to the pedals, giving you a performance benefit. It also prevents “hot spots” which you’d probably get from soft soled shoes, so there’s a comfort benefit there, too.

osiris skate bmx shoe

The best shoes are going to be either skate shoes or hiking boots.

Skateboarding (or BMX) shoes fit the description well. Popular brands include Vans, Airwalk, DC, and Osiris – they’d normally be around $60-90, but sometimes you can find them for $20 if you go to the right store. I’ve had good luck finding deals at Ross and sometimes Marshall’s.

(There’s a brand called Five Ten that makes some awesome shoes designed for riding on platform pedals, usually aimed at mountain bikers, but they’re going to be nearly as expensive as the shoes you’d get for a clipless pedal system.)

Hiking boots can be good, as they generally have a fairly stiff, sturdy sole. And at least some ventilation. Work boots are an option as well, but sometimes they’re a little heavy and rather warm for summer cycling.

Most importantly, avoid flexible soles like you find on running and jogging shoes. Running and cycling footwear are completely different animals! And definitely no sandals!

Also, keep an eye out for deals on cycling shoes and pedals! Sometimes you can find great deals, even at bike shops. I can almost guarantee you’ll want to make the jump, sooner or later! 😉

Final tip: Whatever you do, keep your laces short or tucked in! You don’t want them getting tangled in the drivetrain!

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4 Comments
  1. I am using a very old (and torn) pair of Reebok shoes, which have nearly flat and firm soles. Those are much better then my regular running Nike shoes. I found that the Reeboks have a great grip on the pedal, while the Nikes slip constantly. I am steering clear of clipless pedals and shoes with cleats.

  2. @Bozidar

    Thanks for sharing! Just get some Shoe Goo (or duct tape) and those will last even longer!

    Reebok has some interesting new stuff too. Something like the Reebok CrossFit Nano 3.0 might even work as a riding shoe, although for $119.99, that’s way over budget!

  3. I’ve never used clip less pedals probably due to my years growing up with bmx on the street and dirt riding. I also play soccer so I always had a sturdy pair of Adidas sambas in my pack after school. Lightweight full grain leather pretty cheap 50 bucks or less. Streamlined toe for the cages on my mountain bike. Great grip for platform pedals on my 20 inch, catching air on the dirt jumps. And the look cool flying around at 100 rpm:) buy a pair with no regrets!

    Enjoy!

  4. @Josh

    Great suggestion!! I had a pair of Sambas in the past but completely forgot about them.

    Coincidentally, just yesterday I picked up a friend’s indoor soccer shoes and was surprised at how stiff they were. Heck, maybe I’m due for a new pair myself!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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