Cycling Shoes

Can we talk about shoes? I’m just getting back into riding after several sad, sad years away. I’ve been nervous about clipping in, so have used platform pedals and tennis shoes. Now that I’ve put some miles in and am feeling more confident, I’m wondering if/what type of shoes and pedals I should switch to? Thoughts? What seems to work the best on RAGBRAI? Thanks!

16 Replies

Geoff Butland, June 6, 2017 at 12:56 pm

I switched to a recumbent bike this year and I was also nervous about clipping in. But after having my sneakers slide off the platform pedals on a couple of missed shifts I decided to install clip-in pedals. With RAGBRAI in mind I was a little concerned about slow speed navigation in heavy bike traffic and my ability to get in and out of the clips so I went with a Shimano pedal that has a platform on one side and clips on the other. To be honest cleats on the platform isn’t ideal, but in a pinch it works. And I can just jump on the bike in sneakers for a quick ride to the store.
For shoes I bought my first pair of biking sandals this year and I cannot say enough good things about them. This from a guy who has worn traditional “bike shoes” for 20+ years. You can skip putting cleats on them and get the benefit of the comfortable upper and stiff sole on a platform pedal, and if you decide to go with the clip-in pedals just install the cleats! On long rides these sandals are just incredibly comfortable. Ventilation is better, and there are four straps to adjust for swelling feet. Highly recommended!
EDIT: RAGRAI virgin here, so a large grain of salt recommended if taking any of this “advice”.

This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by Geoff Butland.


sisyphus321, June 6, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Other benefits of biking sandals:

1. They’re better when it rains. Your feet will dry faster than they would with wet socks encased in shoes.

2. You don’t need socks.

3. biker sun-tan cred.

4. All of the sandals I’ve ever seen are designed so that the cleats are recessed in the soles. Walking in bike sandals isn’t nearly as awkward as trying to walk in bike shoes with un-recessed cleats.


Charlie S, June 6, 2017 at 3:26 pm

I’m a pretty casual cyclist (less than 2k per year), so comfort and walkability are more important to me than pedaling efficiency. My suggestion is to go with SPD pedals and specifically models that are cleated on one side and flat on the other (e. g., Shimano PD-A530).

The SPD cleats fit in recesses in your shoes (or sandals if you choose), so you can walk more or less normally in them. The flat side of the pedal gives you the option to dispense with cycling shoes altogether for a quick trip to the store to get a six-pack.

Many of the Shimano pedals are very reasonably priced (under $50 and sometimes way under that), easy to mount and use and come with cleats. You can use virtually all MTB shoes with SPD pedals and most road shoes as well, These too tend to be reasonably priced compared to other cycling shoes – I just bought an extra pair to have in reserve for RAGBRAI for under $20.


cyduke, June 6, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Plenty of different shoes out there. A cycling shoe-sandals will be 1000% better than tennis shoes. Your feet will thank you. Recessed cleat shoes work great, and you’ll have an easier time walking in them too. You can use them with our without clips or clipless pedals. If you want to get into clipless pedals, check out something like the Shimano M324 pedal. has a cleat on one side, and a regular platform on the other so you get the best of both worlds. If your local bike shop doesn’t have the exact one, I’ve seen other brands out there. If you do get clipless, try them out well in advance before the ride, and you’ll be fine.
Have fun, and enjoy the ride.


ppayne1959, June 6, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I agree with the above, unless I’m riding with my serious face I use recessed cleats to make it easier to walk around. I have mesh tennie style shoes by Shimano that are very cool and comfy. I only chimed in to say I am a big fan of Crank Brothers pedals. The cleat is very similar to the SPD and fits all brands of recessed shoes or sandals.


Brian Wallenburg, June 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Be sure to get quality sandals or shoes with a solid platform. Your feet will appreciate it. You’ll find out not all footwear is created equal. There is a reason that expensive shoes cost what they do. A lot of it has to do with ease of clipping in and out, and the overall weight of the shoe and pedal it clips into. Similar to tires, rotating mass should be considered more than stationary mass i.e. the bike frame, a bag, your helmet etc.


Zeb S, June 6, 2017 at 8:12 pm

This will be my 17th RAGBRAI. Of the previous 16 that I’ve ridden, I’ve ridden 14 in exclusively Shimano sandals and SPD pedals. Screw the three strap model, find the newer two strappers.

Time was, you’d see 8 out of 10 riders in Shimano sandals, then Shimano screwed the pooch and released a horrid three strap model. This outrage lost them some market share.

The last 6 years or so, road shoes have become very popular but I don’t get this; most of the time on the RAG, if you’re doing it right, is out on the road off of your bike and ya gotta carry sandals if you’re rocking road shoes.

If you don’t have sandals, any type of shoe that will allow a recessed cleat will work wonders over a road shoe. But, my vote is for Shimano sandals. Gonna be hot this year!


Bruce Woodrow, June 6, 2017 at 9:00 pm

I ride a ‘Bent Trike, which came with pedals that had straps. Pedaling a ‘Bent uses a very different motion compared to an upright, and my feet slipped out and off the pedals a few times. I switched to Bontrager shoes with SPD recessed cleats. Generally very happy (I had to walk a couple of miles once and it was fine).

For my first RAGBRAI I have ordered a pair of Shimano sandals, also with the recessed cleats. Should get them soon. My cousin (40 or more RAGBRAIs) swears by them.


SFC JKL 2, June 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm

Something with a recessed cleat to make walking easier. I prefer Crank Brothers myself. Sandals are preferred (Don’t forget the suntan lotion on the tops of your feet). Even if you don’t change to clips, some type of cycling shoe will be much better than tennis shoes. Cycling shoes have a plate on the bottom the cleats attach to. Over long distances. that plate protects the bottom of your foot from getting sore from standing on the pedals for all those miles.


Luv 2 Ski, June 6, 2017 at 10:28 pm

My first RAGBRAI in 1999 I used road shoes with road pedals. The others I used mtn shoes with Crank Brothers pedals.

I also have MTB shoes that I have used with Shimano SPD’s for mountain bike riding only. I also have an MTB shoe that I have used with various Crank Brothers pedals over the last 14 years. Most of the riding with the Crank Brothers was captaining my tandem with my son’s. Over the past couple of years I got back into riding my single road bike again and up until a few weeks ago was riding with Crank Brothers road pedals with mountain shoes. Two weeks ago one of the pedals went bad so I switched them out for my Speedplay road pedals using my road shoes, so I could continue riding while rebuilding the Crank Brothers pedals. I have to say the road set up is likely to stay on my road bike, even for Ragbrai. The overall set up is so much lighter, more solid connection, smoother, more float, and easier on the feet. Much better than before. For long rides the stress on my legs is definitely less than with my mtn set up.

Even though there is walking on RAGBRAI most of the time is spent in the saddle pounding miles over 7 days. I will probably be one of the geeks that has a pair of lite sandals in the jersey pocket. A few of the guys on the team I ride with do that. I think I now know why.

Just another perspective from someone that has used both types.


mootsman, June 7, 2017 at 7:28 am

Lots of good advise here and certainly recessed SPD cleats with a walk-able flat sole are a great choice. I have heard some way they can develop a hot spot on their foot from them as the load isn’t spread out as evenly as a road shoe and pedal.

Some suggest road shoes and a pair of sandals. I’d like to mention one more option for road shoes that works well for me. Cleat covers. They snap on easily and provide a stable walking platform. There is a trick to getting them back off easily but its simply to pull the tab towards the heal instead of away from the shoe. She Shimano SPD-L cleats or Look cleats are also very easy to get clip in and out of. The only thing that is a little annoying is I sometimes forget they are on and try to pedal away. My bad though.


KenH, June 7, 2017 at 8:10 am

I’ve used mid grade Shimano SPD pedals and Specialized shoes since mid 2010 and they work great! Easy to get in and out of, easy to walk in, no complaints of any kind except the common one immortalized in this “Burma Shave” poem I saw at RAGBRAI a few years ago:

Those new Lycra shorts
sure make you look hip,
until you fall over
because you forgot to unclip!

Contrary to what a lot of people here recommend I got the dual sided SPD pedals, no platforms, so that I could clip into whichever side of the pedal happened to be up. If you want to ride your bike short distances with normal shoes you can do that with SPDs. They work great for me.

However, this year I have gone to pinned platforms. I’m currently running Nashbar Verge pedals with replaceable/adjustable pins. I’d been reading online materials from a minority subculture that advocates platforms over clipless for non-racers. And the older you get the more serious and less humorous those clipless pedal spills become. I’m not old enough yet to worry overly much about that but if God grants me the grace to continue this sport those days are not so very far away. To be honest the platforms seemed to grip the tread of an old pair of Nike running shoes I had lying about just fine. I really can’t imagine your feet slipping off of pinned platforms on a normal bike, maybe the recumbent geometry is different. But I purchased a pair of Five Ten Freeriders anyway and they do work a bit better.

I’ve been riding with the new pedals and shoes all this year, about 750 miles to date. I’m not a racer, I don’t do time trials, and I don’t monitor my performance in any scientific way at all. So I can only tell you that I feel as connected to the pedals and as efficient as I was with the SPDs. I could be wrong about that although even if I am I don’t think the difference is enough to fret over. Just this weekend I did a 73 mile ride in 90 degree heat and everything about the shoes and pedals was great. Walking around in the Freeriders is like walking around in any good normal shoe.

I’ve never had any trouble with foot pain using the SPD shoes. On long rides my feet will get fatigued, for lack of a better word, from the pressure being applied in the same spot all the time. It is neither painful nor debilitating yet when I get to camp and switch into normal shoes my dogs are happy, happy puppies! So far this seems to be less of a problem with the platforms and shoes, in part because I can vary my foot position on the pedals now much as you vary your hand position on your bars to combat hand fatigue.

So that’s my story. Clipless pedals, SPDs in my case, are a great way to go and highly recommended by the majority. Platforms are great too and passionately defended by a minority. Personally I think the time has come for me to go to platforms and I may try Pedaling Innovations’ Catalyst pedals with their longer platforms now that I feel confident about the platform option in general. There are good options out there for whatever style of pedal/shoes you want to try and any of them will get you through RAGBRAI.


Sandaltan ., June 7, 2017 at 9:09 pm

The new Shimano two strap with SPD cleat is my choice.



hnschipper, June 8, 2017 at 10:16 am

When my husband and I bought our current road bikes with SPD pedals, the bike shop put our bikes up on trainers and had us practice clipping and unclipping with the bike stationary. These are first bikes with SPD pedals, so it was a good way to help us get comfortable clipping in and unclipping before we were in a situation where we could potentially fall.


Carol Prudencio, June 8, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Wow- thanks everyone! Guess it’s time I went shopping and tried on some different models to see what fits and feels the best!


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