The two young girls were standing outside the door. They were looking into the room where all of the indoor bikes were set up. My friend was walking up behind them and heard their quiet conversation.
It was evident that they were considering joining the class but they were hesitant to walk in, seeing everyone else sitting on the bikes, chatting away while waiting for the class to start.
“They’re all wearing special shoes.”
My friend smiled to herself and said, “You dont need special shoes to start. Not everyone wears them.”
My friend and fellow spinner is right. You don’t need special shoes to start out. However, if you fall in love with the class, you’ll probably realize soon enough that the right shoes will help you find more power in your pedal stroke and alleviate some of the nagging stiffness in your back.
Why Buy Indoor Cycling Shoes?
The difference between cycling shoes and regular fitness shoes is like night and day.
The same flexibility that allows you to practice the Jumping Spider or run up the Warped Wall in the gym actually hinders your performance on a bike. Think about your foot placement on the pedal. When you’re strapped in, your heel actually drops off the back of the pedal. The more flexible the sole of your shoe, the more your heel will drop below the pedal. That means every time you push down, you have to use more effort just to keep your foot in alignment.
If you think about how you stand during class, you’re essentially doing a toe raise on every downstroke. That’s a LOT of toe raises! If you feel an aching or stiffness in your lower back after class, a flexible shoe could be a big reason for that. Perhaps what this really means is we need to rethink the pedal itself, but that option isn’t available so we need to look at the sole.
If you’re thinking at this point that you don’t want to invest in special shoes for your classes, at least consider wearing a trail running shoe. Those are some of the best options to keep your foot stable on the pedal. However, if you are considering making the jump to a cycling shoe (if you’re spinning three times a week or more, you really should), then read on to find out what you need to look for to get the most comfort for your money.
Know Your Bike
Okay, I know it isn’t your bike (although some pushy spinners will try to intimidate you if you accidentally sit on their bike at the beginning of class), but you do need to know what kind of pedals your studio uses in order to match up the proper cleats and shoe sole. The two most common types of cleats are the three-hole and the two-hole.
While there are other popular cleat profiles used in mountain bikes and road bikes, we’ll focus on what you’ll most likely find in an indoor cycling studio.
Commonly known as LOOK Delta Cleats. LOOK developed the three-bolt system and they are most often found on road shoes. The three holes provide a larger platform for the ball of the foot, helping to alleviate “hot spots” which can occur on longer rides.
The biggest drawback in the studio is that the cleats protrude from the sole, leaving you unstable on a studio floor (and besides the liability concerns of you taking a dive, gym owners are not really jazzed about the scratches and scuff marks left on their floors, either). When using these types of cleats, it’s best to invest a few dollars in a couple of sets of cleat covers, giving you traction and protecting the cleats (and floors) as well.
This is known as the SPD mount. This should not to be confused with the SPD-SL which is Shimano’s version of the three-bolt LOOK mount (but not interchangeable). SPD (Shimano Pedal Dynamics) is the type of mount most commonly found in a cycling studio. While road cyclists will use this type of cleat system, it’s most commonly found on mountain, cyclocross, and commuter bikes. It’s loved on the roads because the pedal is double-sided, meaning you can clip in on either side. In the studio, this will not usually be possible as one side of the pedal is modified to accommodate a toe cage.
The advantage in the studio is that the mount and cleats are recessed into the sole, giving you more traction when walking across a tiled or hardwood floor.
The biggest drawback is the heavier lugged sole. This allows a mountain biker to unclip and step on rocks, etc., without damaging the shoe. Unfortunately for the indoor spinner, it also makes for a heavier shoe overall which will tap your legs and energy more quickly when trying to amp up your RPMs (Revolutions per Minute) during a hard sprint in the studio.
If the SPD pedal is your choice, ensure that the shoes you buy allow for cleat adjustment. Instead of holes, the cleats will fit to slots that will allow them to slide forward and backward to ensure that the cleat lines up with the ball of your foot.
Universal Mount – Two Profiles in One
What if you hit more than one studio a week and they have different types of pedals? The Universal Mount sole covers both types of mounts. There are holes strategically drilled into the soles to accommodate both SPD and LOOK cleats.
The biggest drawback is that you will have to keep changing out the cleats, making the original fit and adjustments made to fit your feet vulnerable to deviations which can lead to discomfort and over time, even injury.
Cycling Shoe Uppers
So, you’ve determined the what kind of cleat system you need for your favorite spin class. The next consideration is the shoe “upper” – how it fastens, and the types of materials it’s made of. For instance, leather is a popular choice but will be very hot in a spin class but man-made materials will not do a lot of stretching which means they’d better fit a little looser than a glove to allow for foot expansion after riding hard and heating up. One of the pricier options is carbon fiber. It’s lightweight and the better models are well ventilated.
Some of the latest spin shoes feature shoelaces and a fabric upper. These look less like a spin shoe and more like a walking shoe. They’re more ventilated than the man-made uppers. The only danger is shoelaces can (and often do) get caught in the drivetrain crank of the bike, causing the shoe lace to snap and can possibly damage the eyelets. If you choose a shoe with shoelaces, be sure and tuck them into the tongue area of the shoes prior to the start of class.
Cycling Shoe Fasteners
The fastener is more of a consideration when riding a lot of miles outdoors but is still something to think about.
Velcro is an old standby for fastening all types of cycling shoes.
Popular because it is infinitely adjustable, the biggest downfall is that it is usually the weakest point of the shoe. When you are pulling up on the shoe, the hook and loop fasteners will take a lot of strain. Once the fasteners give out, you no longer have any way of fastening the shoe, rendering it useless.
Ratchet Systems are commonly used in conjunction with hook and loop fasteners. Located at the top end of the shoe, it allows for high strength with less chance of releasing than a standard Velcro system.
BOA Fit System – Popular with professional road racers, this is a simple lacing system that uses a knob to tighten and loosen a steel lace that weaves it’s way through a ratchet system. The lace can be adjusted as finite as increments of 1mm.
Which is the Best Shoe for Indoor Cycling?
The beauty of spin classes is that it’s popularity has never wavered. This, along with the popularity of indoor trainers, has prompted some of the biggest names in athletic footwear to create a shoe that’s designed specifically for the indoor cyclist.
Instead of having to choose between a road shoe or a mountain bike shoe, indoor enthusiasts now have the option to choose a hybrid shoe. Indoor cycling shoes are a cross between mountain and road shoes. They have the safety and convenience of the recessed cleats of a mountain bike combined with the lighter weight of a road bike. Usually well-ventilated, this new line of athletic shoe will undoubtedly grow along with the continued rising popularity of indoor cycling.
With so many options available to make your indoor cycling class more enjoyable, there’s every reason to invest in a pair of indoor cycling shoes.