Many cyclists think little of spending $400 on the latest pair of carbon racing cycling shoes. Much less thought is given to the foot beds that come in the shoes or aftermarket inserts/orthotics. The ultimate goal is a comfortable, well-fitting setup, light weight, and efficient transfer of power from the lower extremity to the crank arms.
Poorly fitting shoes, regardless of price point, will result in compression and friction injuries – think blisters, numbness, pain under the ball of the foot, etc. Every brand uses different lasts and will therefore accommodate different foot types. If you have a wide foot type, lean toward Specialized, Northwave, Mavic, or Spiuk. Narrow feet? Try Sidi, Italian shoes, or consider shoes with a Boa closure system. These are not absolutes however, as some of these companies make both wide and narrow models. There is no substitute for trying on shoes in person. You could buy a top-of-the-line shoe but will be miserable if it is poor fitting.
Cycling shoes, especially road shoes, should fit snuggly. More snug than a pair of street shoes. This is where things get tricky and the small details have a profound impact on comfort. Some guidelines to follow when selecting shoes:
- Do not buy shoes where the longest toes are pressed or touching the end of the shoe, unless you do not value your toenails. Ideally 3-5mm past the end of your longest toes when standing and bearing weight.
- Very few cycling shoes have appropriate arch support despite marketing (this is easily remedied with aftermarket insoles/orthotics). Try on shoes with the insoles you plan to use in them. This dramatically changes fit. Make sure to remove the factory insole first.
- If you have to really crank down the closure system (laces, ratchet, boa, etc.) for the shoe to feel secure, it is probably a poor fit.
- Heels should never slip and you should never feel uncomfortable pressure while walking.
- Width – not too much, not too little. Too narrow results in hot spots, pain under the ball of the foot, and nerve compression injuries; too wide results in inefficient transfer of power. I would err on the side of too wide rather than too narrow. You can always add a shim to take up space, but there is usually little you can do to add space where there is none.