There are a few sports you can do barefoot, but bike touring isn’t one of them. Comfortable, well-fitted footwear along with pedals that fit your cycling level and style are important to ensure safe and enjoyable riding.
The type of pedal you have is first in determining the kind of shoe you should wear. Like any sport, the vocabulary for specific equipment and accessories can be overwhelming, so here is a quick tutorial on what’s what in terms of shoes and pedals.
Flat pedals: Also called platform pedals, these pedals are pretty much what they sound like: a flat surface on both sides that require no special shoes or accessories. Flat pedals come in a variety of styles. Some have pins, or elevated bumps, that help keep your foot from slipping. Others are metal with ridged edges to sink into the sole of your shoes.
Shoes to wear with flat or platform pedals: A well-supported sneaker or hiking shoe is ideal and should supply enough grip on the pedal surface to keep your foot in place.
Clipless pedals: Though contrary to what the name implies, these are pedals that you clip into with a shoe that has a special cleat on the bottom --- kind of like ski boots and bindings. In fact, the idea for the first widely used clipless pedal was borrowed from skiing. Having your foot secured to the pedal not only keeps it from slipping off in any direction, it also can help make pedaling more energy-efficient as the power of your leg is transferred to the pedal. To release your foot from the pedal, you need to learn how to quickly twist your ankle outward to snap out of the clip before you need to stop. The tension on clipless pedals can be adjusted to make it harder or easier to release. Clipless pedals require practice, so if you haven’t grown accustomed to them yet, we recommend not trying them for the first time when you are on tour with us.
Shoes to wear with clipless pedals: Clipless road bike shoes have very stiff, no-tread soles, and the cleats protrude from the bottom, making them very efficient for pedaling but difficult and even dangerous to walk in off the bike (you end up walking like a duck, so add "silly-looking" to the list of risks). Racing cyclists prefer these shoes as they are super light and efficient -- carrying even a few extra ounces on the bike in a race matters. (On a WomanTours cycling tour, your enjoyment, not speed, is what matters.) If you do like to ride with clipless, we recommend bringing your walking shoes along. If you like the idea of clipless shoes and pedals, there are other options. Clipless mountain bike shoes as well as more casual clipless biking shoes have recessed cleats on their soles so you have the benefit of having your feet clipped in while riding and have a flat surface when walking. Many of our guests use this type of shoe as they are practical both on and off the bike. Clipless shoes also have a variety of closures, from Velcro and buckles to dials and laces. (Below left is a clipless pedal and shoe with a recessed cleat. Below right is a close up of a clipless road bike shoe with a protruding cleat.)
Toe cages: Toe cages (also called toe clips) were used by racers before clipless pedals and shoes with cleats became the norm. They can be attached to a flat pedal to help secure the front part of the foot to the pedal, and have an adjustable strap around the middle section of the foot. While they are easier to learn how to use than clipless pedals, they still require practice to get in and out of safely, so again, don’t wait until you are on tour with WomanTours to learn how to use them.
Shoes to wear with toe cages or toe clips: Again, sneakers or good walking/hiking shoes with solid soles and a decent grip will do the trick.
All of WomanTours’ rental bikes come with flat pedals. We have a few SPD brand clipless pedals and toe cages for our road and hybrid rentals – let us know if you want your bike outfitted with them. If you bring your own pedals to a tour, our guides will put them on your rental bike for you. If you are renting a bike from us and wear clipless shoes, bringing your own pedals is a good idea since pedals and shoes wear down differently depending on the rider.
We recommend using flat pedals with e-bikes as it’s safer, especially if you’re not used to the added power. In addition, you don’t need the extra efficiency of clipless pedals. The electric assist takes care of that.
Come to your bike tour with the shoe style that you are already accustomed to using. We want to make sure you can concentrate on having fun, not on learning how to navigate new shoes and pedals.
If you are shopping for new shoes, the priority should be fit: the shoe needs to be snug enough to keep your heel from sliding and the arch should feel supported. How your feet feel in the store will be a bit different than after a three-hour ride as your feet will swell with exertion, so consider buying a shoe slightly on the larger side. Spend time riding with new shoes beforehand so you know how they respond to your cycling style.
Good socks are also essential for happy feet. They lessen friction and absorb moisture, which can help prevent blisters. Keep an extra pair on hand and change in to fresh socks if the ones you are wearing get too soggy from rain or sweat.
If your feet run hot and you want to cycle in sandals, consider a sport-style sandal with good sole support that has a covered toe to protect those tootsies. Sandal cycling has become so popular that you can now buy clipless cycling sandals with recessed cleats. Be aware, however, that your feet are less protected in sandals in case of a fall.
And let’s talk about what to wear when you are off the bike. Really, anything that is comfortable for outdoor walking is perfect: sport sandals, walking shoes or sneakers. All of our after-ride activities are casual, so dressy footwear is unnecessary. You shouldn’t need more than two pairs of shoes with you on tour.
The most important factor in choosing a shoe (and pedal) for cycling is comfort and safety. Don’t worry what your fellow tour mate is using—what feels right for your level is riding is always your best choice. This is where the words of fantasy romance author Martina Boone come in handy:
“It doesn’t matter how great your shoes are if you don’t accomplish anything in them.”
Write on, Martina. And ride on, WomanTours riders!