Help me find clip-in bike shoes!
June 3, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Where can I get good, reasonably priced, bike shoes and cleats for my SPD-SL pedals?

I have a road bike that I would like to start riding for fitness purposes. I have been told that I have hybrid pedals, and if I want to get clip-in shoes I need SPD-SL compatible shoes? This is perhaps the kind with three holes in the bottom? Also I need cleats. As you might be able to tell, this entire subject is mysterious to me. Amazon has shown me shoes that I need to cut the bottoms off of??

I have been to Ye Olde Local Bike Shop and they can (and happily will!) sell me a pair of Shimano shoes (for $150), and cleats, and also help me figure out how to clip in and out. Is this a reasonable price? Or am I being taken to the cleaners as I don't have a clue how this stuff works?

I suppose my questions are:
Do you have any awesome and cheaper shoe/cleat recommendations?
Should I go with the local guy?
Is there a road bike primer-type website that I can visit for this, as well as in the future when I inevitably encounter another thing I know nothing of?
posted by hepta to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
SPD is just a certain type of clip system, it's really common. Any shoe you buy should come with cleats, you just screw them into the holes with the bolts that come with the cleats. You can adjust them as needed, I'm not sure why any cutting would be involved.

Personally, I use Shimano mountain bike-style shoes even though I commute on the road. They have a bit more structure to the soles so I can walk around in them without feeling like I'm wearing tap shoes. You can find them for around $100 on Amazon. $150 sounds about right for a pair of decent quality from a local bike shop.

Sheldon Brown is the online bike guru, you can learn a lot from just perusing his glossary alone.
posted by Think_Long at 12:55 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are just starting out with clipless pedals for the first time, you don't want SPD-SL, which is for road dedicated purpose shoes that have very little tread and are awkward to walk on. You want regular SPD or Crankbrothers Eggbeater and mountain bike type shoes for a beginner. After you are very confident with riding and walking with mountain bike type shoes you can graduate to SPD-SL (Ultegra 6700 pedals or similar), or a competing road-only pedal type system such as Look.

edit: When you are shopping you will see shoes that have a two bolt attachment pattern on the bottom and a lot of tread. Those are mountain bike shoes you can use with regular SPD or crankbrothers eggbeater. Shoes which have a three bolt triangular pattern and no tread are road shoes. The SPD-SL uses a three bolt attachment system.
posted by thewalrus at 12:59 PM on June 3, 2013

I splurged on a pair of Sidi riding shoes and they use SPD-SL cleats to attach to the Shimano pedals on my bike. $150 sounds pretty reasonable. You can also get shoes with the cleats somewhat recessed; these are apparently favored by the MTB folks and have the bonus of allowing (I think) relatively normal walking. In the Sidis, you have to sort of duck walk around on your heels, so the furthest you want to go in them is around the garage and driveway.

I used to wear a pair of shoes with recessed cleats, and they were much more comfortable for walking in but they weren't really what I was looking for in a shoe (they were every-so-slightly small, for one reason).

For whatever it's worth, I always try to favor the local bike shop for this sort of thing. I may or may not be able to get stuff cheaper online, but the shop does a lot to support the local cycling community. They also can't really afford to hose their customers. And seconding Sheldon Brown's site. I also poke around the the bikeforums site.
posted by jquinby at 12:59 PM on June 3, 2013

I have been told that I have hybrid pedals

I'm not sure you do - you should figure out what sort of pedals you have, because that drives what you purchase.

The most common types are "platform" pedals (which don't accept any cleats and are what you get when you buy a bike from a store), SPD-SL pedals (which accept a SPD-SL cleat and are not usable without bike shoes with an SPD-SL cleat), and SPD pedals (which may be two-sided or one-sided, and require bike shoes with an SPD cleat). The somewhat less common, but still popular option, is Crank Brothers Egg Beaters. In my opinion, all other options are sufficiently uncommon that you would know if you bought them as you would have to deliberately seek them out. For clipless pedals, mountain bikes tend to use SPD or Egg Beaters, road bikes tend to use any of the above, with SPD-SL being the most common in my experience. When I hear "hybrid pedals", I think of pedals with SPD on one side and a platform on the other, which will not accept an SPD-SL cleat.

That said, I'll answer your questions anyway:

Do you have any awesome and cheaper shoe/cleat recommendations?

I started out with Shimano PD-A530 SPD dual platform pedals with Shimano SM-SH56 cleats (these release easier than the SM-SH51 cleats) with mountain bike touring shoes. All of these were cheaper than you're being quoted, quite sufficient for the average cyclist, and are actually walkable in-doors unlike almost all SPD-SL shoes. I still use SPD, but now I have somewhat less walkable shoes.

Should I go with the local guy?

The only reason would be for the cleats to be fitted to you. If you are prone to knee pain, this is a good idea (clipless pedals can exacerbate that pain). Otherwise, you can manage yourself, it'll just take a ride or two with you tweaking the position every few miles until it "feels right".

Is there a road bike primer-type website that I can visit for this, as well as in the future when I inevitably encounter another thing I know nothing of?

I like Bike Forums and Bicycling.
posted by saeculorum at 1:50 PM on June 3, 2013

All good advice above. I'll add that Sidis are worth the cash if they fit, and that Crank Bros (the Eggbeater pedal manufacturer) also makes a pedal called the Candy. It's basically an Eggbeater with a slight platform. I ride these for 80% of my miles, even on the road, and love them.
posted by kcm at 4:18 PM on June 3, 2013

You certainly can pay less than the bike shop if you look around. But if you don't know what you are looking for and don't know how to use them, they may help a lot.

If this is for anything other than pure street riding, then I recommend mountain bike shoes. It sounds backwards, but MTB shoes are general purpose and road bike shoes are good for nothing but riding.

If you bike commute, go to the store by bike or get off and walk around during a typical ride, or do anything but pedal, then road shoes might not be a good choice. They are really unsuitable for walking.
posted by jclarkin at 4:23 PM on June 3, 2013

Good advice above on pedal systems, I can't add anything new. I will mention that shoes work just like any other piece of clothing: manufacturers make little tweaks and change styles every year, and last year's shoes go on closeout. A couple of likely places in the U.S. to order cycling shoes from are Performance Bicycles or Bike Nashbar.

Summarizing what others have already said, the main thing here is that road shoes and road pedals are designed to get 100% efficient energy transfer between your foot and the pedal. What that means is that road shoes have almost no flex in the sole, the soles will be slick plastic or carbon fiber, and the cleat is bolted on to the outside of the sole, causing the "duck walk" if you try to walk around in them. If you've every walked in ice skates, it is about the same experience. Likewise, the pedals are designed to be used for road shoes, so it isn't like you can just hop on your bike to ride to the end of the street in tennis shoes. So if you are just riding for fitness, the road shoes/road pedals are overkill. The reason that people are suggesting mountain bike shoes up thread is because even good mountain bikers end up walking sections of trail, so all MTB shoes come designed for some amount of walking: they have tread, recessed cleats, and the soles flex. If you feel weird about using MTB shoes for road riding, the other option are "touring shoes", which share a lot of the same characteristics -- comfortable for walking around.
posted by kovacs at 6:36 PM on June 3, 2013

A quick shoe recommendation: if you want something casual that would look fine (even stylish) off the bike, I just got a pair of DZR that I am a huge fan of. (I got the Velcro slip-ons so I can get in and out of them quickly at work.)
posted by supercres at 7:47 PM on June 3, 2013

The price you were quoted is fair. For your first pair of bike shoes, it's really worth it to get them at a local store. Bring your bike along so you can be sure you are getting the right cleats and you can get advice on clipping in and out.

You also want to try on the shoes because it's really important that your heel doesn't slip much. A shoe that slips in back is a lot harder to clip out with since you need to turn your foot to get out of the pedal. If the heel is loose, you can find yourself turning your foot in the shoe, but not getting enough force to the pedal to get out. That is seriously no fun.

I use a mountain style pedal on all my bikes tat I clip into, even the super fancy carbon road bike. Mostly because I bought some seriously nice shoes and didn't want to have two pairs of really nice bike shoes, but also because I love a shoe that's walkable. (I have Bont Commuter 1 shoes.)
posted by advicepig at 7:04 PM on June 4, 2013

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