Footwear Suggestions? Other gear?

First-time rider here. I have a trekfx2 hybrid bike with just normal pedals. I ride it very often for pretty good distances, but obviously nothing like RAGBRAI before. I ride more for recreation rather than competition, so I have never really had any “serious” gear or footwear. I was originally planning on just buying some cages for my pedals and wearing tennis shoes for the ride. However, I have been told by some that I NEED cycling or clipless shoes. Since RAGBRAI will probably be my only serious long ride each year, I don’t really want to invest a lot of money into gear and footwear. But I will do what I have to in order to not have a horrible week!

Does anyone have any suggestions for footwear or pedal situations? I have heard a lot about sandals and things like that. Is there a non-clipless shoe that is more suited for bike riding?

Also, if there are any other gear suggestions, please let me know of those! Thank you!

31 Replies

Bluestreelguy ., March 10, 2019 at 5:00 pm

just use your sneakers.
there’s nothing special about “clipless” shoes or “cleats”
if you want to dive deeper into the addiction of cycling by all means dive into the equipment pool.
I’ve been riding for 40+ years both with and without clips. Either way hasn’t affected my enjoyment of riding. I fall over less without them. However I have never feared getting out of them in an emergency. I never ride with open toes, too risky for me. you will see many suggestions for gear, follow your gut in what you want to do. Bottom line is HAVE FUN OUT THERE!

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PHIL LANZAROTTO, March 10, 2019 at 6:03 pm

Because of the fact that every 15-20 miles you will be walking your bike for a quarter to a half a mile through a pass thru town, you’ll be glad your wearing tennis shoes.

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Groeny82, March 10, 2019 at 7:34 pm

I like two sided pedals. One side is SPD and the other side is a flat pedal. I’m clipped in on the road and when there is a traffic jam or going through town I unclip and flip the pedal around to ride on the flats so I don’t have to worry about falling over. SPD shoes are much easier to walk around in in comparison to the SPD-SL. Last year was my first year in sandals and I really liked them. I rode in them all week long.

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SFC JKL 2, March 11, 2019 at 1:15 am

Cages or straps like power grips will make you more proficient without costing very much. One advantage of cycle specific shoes is they have a plate in the bottom that reduces foot fatigue over a long period on the bike. I’ve never ridden a week in tennis shoes, so I don’t know how much of a difference it really makes. I know with my crappy feet, a week without my sandals would kill me at this point. If you decide to get clipless pedals, get something with recessed cleat that is easy to walk in. Carbon fiber soles are great for time trialing, but almost impossible to walk around in.

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kicks9, March 11, 2019 at 7:25 am

I do think that if you splurge for cycling shoes and pedals, that you won’t want to go back, once you get used to them. You might fall over a couple times before you figure them out. Unclip early on RAGBRAI!

If you do ride them on RAGBRAI I would say go with the mountain shoes. They close in around the plate in the shoe to make it easier to walk on. As mentioned already you will be walking quite a bit.

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KenH, March 11, 2019 at 7:57 am

I started out on flat pedals and then clips because there was no such thing as clipless back then. When I got serious about riding again I went with clipless because it was the cool thing to do and deep down inside we all want to be cool. Then two years ago I switched to pinned platform pedals and 5-10 shoes, which are basically sneakers. Ok, they have more exotic materials that supposedly optimize them for cycling and for gripping pinned pedals but they are basically sneakers.

My advice is to do what you want to do. Having tried both I prefer platforms and I do not find that either my power or efficiency has suffered from not being clipped in. You should have no trouble at all riding RAGBRAI on platforms. But if you want to do the clipped in thing, I know from experience that that works very well too. When you are pushing yourself and your bike to the very limit then there probably is a small power advantage from them. That is not how most of us ride RAGBRAI however. If you want to go clipless then I strongly suggest that you go with the SPD system. The shoes are easy to walk in (you can even get SPD sandals if that is your thing) and whatever problem the various more exotic road clipless systems are intended to solve is not a problem that most of us have.

When I was using clipless pedals I could count on getting “hot spots” on my feet at about 60 to 70 miles. I use that term because others have used it and I can think of none better. I am not talking about pain, just a vague discomfort from applying pressure at the exact same point all day long. My feet were always very happy when I pulled up to the campsite and ditched those shoes! Now that I ride in “sneakers” I have none of that, sometimes I forget to change shoes at all in fact. Your foot position naturally varies slightly throughout the day when you ride on platforms and if any discomfort does begin to develop you can squash it instantly by simply making an intentional foot position adjustment. Just as you fight hand discomfort by moving between positions on your handlebars.

So, do what you want to do and either way you will be fine. Obviously my experience teaches that no matter what you decide to do this year, you can change that decision in the future if you feel the need or desire to do so. I think it is somewhat common for mountain bikers to use SPDs for some types of riding and platforms for others so “both” is also an acceptable position to take!

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mootsman, March 11, 2019 at 9:51 am

Tennis shoes are a problem. The soft soles absorb some of the energy your putting into each pedal stroke. And depending on your pedals can create hot-spots of pain in your feet.

But going all out with clip-in pedals isn’t a must either. I ride flat-pedals (platform pedals that do not clip in) mountain biking for safety. The stiff-soled hiking shoes I use give me plenty of grip to the pedal but have stiff enough soles for pedaling efficiency and are still very walk-able. Also bike shops often carry cycling shoes designed for flat-pedals.

But stay far away from tennis shoes for RAGBRAI. Who wants to waste energy compressing the sole all day long.

Ken’s right about that SPD’s. Because of the small contact point with the pedal they can also cause hot-spots. That’s why most road riders use road clip-ins instead of SPDs. But Shimano’s road pedals are called SPD-Ls so know the difference if you do go clipless. Road clip-in shoes though do not walk well. Its a bit of an acquired skill, wlking in them.

This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by mootsman.

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Roy Trent, March 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

All the above have good points. Much like Ken, over the years I have worked my way thru flats, clips and clipless(sdp-Ls: “Look” type pedals). Having done 100 milers in each type, I much prefer the efficiency of a stiff shoe and clipless pedals. While tennis shoes are fine for a 5 miler to go get ice cream:), I can’t imagine doing 60-70 miles each day in a soft sole shoe.
I am a relative new comer to RAGBRAI as this will be my third year. Having to deal with the walk thru towns in SPD-Ls the last 2 years, I have decided to put mountain bike pedals on my road bike for this year’s event. The particular pedals were purchased at Performance (going out of business sale for $25) and have a cleat side and a flat side. Found a pair of Mt bike shoes on sale with recessed cleats. This will make it MUCH MUCH easier to walk around. While not as stiff as a carbon fiber road shoe, the Mt bike shoe will be efficient enough for the week.
Keep your feet and rear end in good shape and you will have a great week!

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Chris Harbaugh, March 11, 2019 at 12:15 pm

I suggest a flat pedal (like Raceface Chester) and a comfortable pair of Vans.

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Wendy Fedler, March 11, 2019 at 1:51 pm

I did RAGBRAI with a hybrid and tennis shoes when I was 19 and could do anything. Never again! Like Groeny82, I recommend the 2-sided pedals so you have the option to be unclipped, especially in big crowds. If you want to get started without too much sticker shock, check out 6pm.com. I just bought a pair of Louis Garneau cycling shoes for only $40. They came without the cleats so you would have to buy those separately. Another good brand you would find on that site is Pearl Izumi or Shimano. Make sure to get a size or 2 larger than you normally would because they tend to run small. Either way, if you do buy bike shoes & clips, make sure to get some good training in with them before RAGBRAI, and know that EVERYBODY falls at some point! Just get over the fear of falling and you’ll be fine. Have fun!

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rjjensenia, March 11, 2019 at 2:03 pm

I rode my first ragbrai in 1975 with tennis shoes. That is what I still wear, and have NEVER had a problem.

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Jboz, March 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm

My son did a 1400 mile ride from Maine to Michigan. He owned several pairs of cycling shoes, but for whatever reason he and his buddies they did their research and ended riding with Converse sneakers. They did fine, but of course they were 16 & 17 and in great shape.

Personally, I use cycling sandals with recessed cleats which work great for riding as well as just walking around in town. I really prefer the efficiency of being clipped in, plus the feeling of foot stability when spinning fast.

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pbot2004, March 11, 2019 at 7:02 pm

Last year was my first Ragbrai. I have spd pedals and just stuffed flip flops in my jersey pockets. At each pass through town I took off the shoes and wore the flip flops. Once it was time to ride, I put the shoes back on and hit the road. Was a nice break for the feet throughout the day. I just left my shoes sitting next to my bike while wandering through the towns.

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Geoff Butland, March 11, 2019 at 9:11 pm

Plenty of options and good advice above. Can you wear sneakers? Of course you can! One advantage I can see to their lack of rigidity is if your feet swell on a ride like mine they will have somewhere to grow. Hard shell bike shoes…not so much. I ride soft sided Ragster clipless sandals bought on the advice of this very forum a couple of years ago. They are comfortable, easy to walk in, and so far have lasted several thousand miles. Whatever you decide though I’d be sure to put plenty of pre-RAGBRAI miles on them to work out any bugs.

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Nico ZZZ, March 12, 2019 at 7:55 am

I wear mountain bike shoes (MTB) and ride a sexy Trek Domane road bike. Sacrilegious to the purists – MTB shoes while riding a road bike, but for me the MTB shoes make sense for all the walking done at RAGBRAI. Shimano has two different SPD cleats: the SH-51 and the SH-56. I recommend the 56’s, as they allow for quick release of your foot in multiple directions, the 51’s not quite as easy to unclip. You will want to have your pedal adjusted as loose as possible to start with, and perhaps adjust from there.
Practice unclipping in your soft, grassy lawn. It has been stated before, as you are coming to a stop for that Beekman’s ice cream or Mr. Pork Chop unclip BOTH feet early, so you have the flexibility to dismount left or right. My first RAGBRAI in 2014 I didn’t unclip early, and a young rider pulled out in front as I was coming to a stop for my daily Bloody Mary. I ended up doing a slo-mo flip into the gravel shoulder, ending with a bit of road rash on my elbow and knee, and a (discovered 10 miles later) bent derailleur. The Bloody Mary was delicious, by the way.
Go to your local bike shop to get fitted properly. Also, read up on proper cleat placement, as you can tweak your feet, legs or knees if not in the right place.
Welcome to the delicious (great food everywhere!) madness that is RAGBRAI. I will put a fiver down that it won’t be your last!
Ride On!

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