Cycling shoes are designed with comfort and efficiency in mind. Their purpose is to enhance your cycling, keep you comfortable over long rides and ensure your power is directed into the pedals. Generally, cycling shoes come in two types. Clipless road/ XC MTB/gravel shoes, which, despite their name, do attach to your pedals via cleats. There are also MTB flat shoes that have a grippy rubber sole that bite into pins found on many flat MTB pedals. These shoes are usually used for trail and downhill riding.
Road cycling shoes have stiff soles, either made from carbon fiber, nylon or a combination of both. This ensures no power is lost during your pedal stroke, making you more efficient. If you imagine wearing regular trainers with flexible soles, much of your energy would be lost during the pedal stroke, slowing you down. Road Bike shoes have recesses for cleats, letting you clip into the pedals and be ‘connected’ to your bike. Road cleats are made from plastic with a wide surface area. Many road shoes also feature breathable uppers so your feet don’t overheat on hot days. As low weight is a higher priority for road riding, road shoes are also fairly light.
Gravel Bike and mountain bike shoes, though visually similar to road shoes, have more flexible soles for comfort over rough terrain and durable materials to withstand the rigours of off-road riding. They often have rugged rubber heel and toe pads for grip when walking, along with recesses for MTB-specific or SPD cleats, which are smaller than road cleats and are made from metal. Many off-road clipless cycling shoes are constructed from fast-drying materials so they can be used comfortably on wet and muddy rides and on multiple days.
Cycling shoes should fit closely to ensure no energy is lost during pedalling and to prevent injury. They are often micro-adjustable and can be tightened and adjusted using a variety of methods. BOA dials are commonly seen at the mid to higher end and allow you to incrementally tighten or loosen your shoes, even while you ride. High-end shoes may also feature laces, which allow a more bespoke fit. At the entry level, ratchets and Velcro straps are common.
Comfort is key. You can have the finest materials and an array of technical features but discomfort will ruin any ride. The best shoes are those that fit you best and let you ride comfortably.
Cycling shoes are durable and should last a long time. Given you don’t walk much in clipless shoes and connect to the pedals via cleats, they can last for years at a time. Off-road shoes will face tougher conditions than road shoes, so may not last quite as long. However regular cleaning and maintenance will certainly prolong the life of your equipment