If you saw some recent twitter or Instagram posts you would have noticed talk about shoes – my latest dilemma. So let’s go over some of the things I have learned through this process shall we.
When I bought my bike some months ago I also went ahead and picked up a new pair of shoes. Seeing as how the shoes I had were as old as my previous bike, I figured it was time to give them a little upgrade. I sat down at the bike shop and tried on a bunch of different shoes and sizes, but keeping my eye on the prices of the shoes, of course. I did stay away from the higher priced shoes because I didn’t know quite what I would have been benefitting from them. At the time the shop was having a sale on Shimano shoes so that is where I kept my focus. Working with the idea of a comfortable and not tight feeling shoe is the goal I found a pair that seemed to suit my needs and off I went.
After a few hundred miles I found that not all that glitters sale price is gold. I discovered that when riding for more than an hour my left foot would start to have numbness and issues, not a good things to have happen. I tried different cleat placement and seat adjustments* and still no reprieve from the foot issues. Ok, that was it, no more of this, it was time to talk to someone at a different shop and get some input and see if what it was my shoes or my cleat placement. Off to Spokes I went to see what the hell is going on.
For starters my placement was off so one of the guys there made the right adjustments. I figured that while I was there I might as well ask abut my shoe sizing and see what they would recommend. Standing on their little foot measurement thingy (technical terms) he was able to see what kind of heel support and size would be a good starting point for me. An hour or so later I walked out the door with a new pair of shoes – Specialized Comp road shoes – not what I walked in wanting to do, but if comfortable shoes means I am more jazzed to get out on the bike, then I’ll take ’em.
These new Specialized shoes felt a bit more snug than the Shimano did so I thought ‘ok, tighter fit means no foot movement/sliding around.’ This is important because if your foot slides around too much in the shoe then it will start to get pressure in all the wrong areas and can cause numbness or pain. Excited to have the shoes I went out a couple days later for a longer than my 15 mile commute route. Getting about 30 miles in I was feeling great. I thought these might be the right shoes for me, they were smaller than the Shimano so I will be good to go moving forward, or so I thought. When I went out a couple days later for a 30+ mile ride I noticed the last 6 miles or so the numbness had a return. Great, this meant one of two things: (1) the shoes needed to be broken in longer before they would be ride comfortable. Sure they were off-bike comfy, but I’m not straining and using my feet the same way. Or (2) I am back to the drawing board in regards to finding the right shoe.
You see it wasn’t just the numbness on my foot hindering my enjoyment of the ride. The longer I rode that day the more I felt my foot was being squeezed tighter and tighter into the shoe. There is fitting like a glove and then there is feeling like something was just shrink-wrapped on the foot and it was getting tighter. This was also a sign that things weren’t quite right in shoetown.
Back to the shop I went.
I talked to the same guy from my previous visit and we set out a new game plan in trying to find a different pair of shoes. While trying on some others from Specialized and looking at the Bontrager on the wall I asked if I just needed a ‘breaking in’ period. The response I got back was yes breaking in did need to happen and it would take more than 60 miles or so. So was I wasting his time by trying on different shoes and not being patient? Apparently not. Yes there is a breaking in period but the sensations I was feeling meant that looking into a different fit shoe might be the better choice, after-all, if you don’t want to go riding in uncomfortable shoes then how do you expect to break them in? And it wouldn’t hurt to at least give the other brands a try as they have different cuts and fits.
Side note, now I understand what my wife means when she says that just because a pair of pants is labeled as the same size across brands doesn’t mean they will all fit the same way.
So we went on another hour long hunt of shoes and I ended up sliding on a pair of Bontrager Circuit shoes that felt fantastic. Ok, so I thought that the Specialized shoes felt fantastic so I tried to approach this feel cautiously. That said, the areas of the previous shoe didn’t feel too constrained or like I was busting at the seams. The shoe also didn’t feel like my well worn tennis shoes (much like the Shimano shoes did) either so I am getting the best of both fits with these. I hopped on a bike they had connected to a Waho Kickr (oh my god I want one of those so badly!) so I could sit and just pedal it out for a bit to see how they did. The longer I spun on the bike the better and more natural things felt. Fine, I’ll give these a shot. So I returned the Specialized for the Bontrager.
I still haven’t been out on the bike in these shoes yet, unfortunately, so there still needs to be a ‘real world’ test. However, I have a higher confidence level than the others. We will see what happens, but if they don’t work right then I’ll just turn right back around because the guy at the shop (newly titles manager I believe) told me we can spend all year dialing in just the right shoe for me if that is what it takes. I really hope it doesn’t take more trips to the shop for a damn pair of shoes. I don’t like shoe shopping for regular shoes as it is – the work shoes I have have been the same for the past several years because I go and buy the exact same brand and model despite what my wife hopes and after trying on others, bike shoes is just a little more of a hassle because of how these get used versus walking around shoes.
So a lesson here is while my current shoes cost a little more than the ones I picked up at a different shop on sale, working with someone to try and get a proper fit and going through all the ins and outs of the how and why of shoe fit not only adds to my knowledge base but also allows me to make a more informed approach to the gear. These shoes are not the most expensive shoes they had in the shop, thees were mid-range shoes honestly. I could have tried on the top shelf shoes but I asked what I would be getting with them, come to find out, nothing that a non-racer such as myself would need.
What are the benefits of the more expensive shoe? Let’s briefly talk about that.
With the shoes that were twice what I was paying you do get a finer construction material for starters. What does that material do for you? You have less of a break-in period with the shoes and they are more ‘ride ready’ in terms of comfort. Another difference that is common is that the shoes tend to be narrower than the ones which are less expensive, certainly not something I was looking for. These tend to get narrower because you start to get into the racing shoe realm and so aerodynamics and weight are key areas. So if you aren’t racing and the lower priced ones aren’t wide enough then these high dollar ones get even further away from where you need to be. This is not to say that all the expensive ones are super narrow. There are many of the models that can be ordered in a ‘wide’ which would probably end up being more like a ‘normal’ in the world of regular shoes. But, like anything that tends to need to be special ordered, their price increases. I’m thinking these are the shoes for people who have to make sure that when they are regular shoe shopping they have to make sure to grab the “W” even there.
So I learned a lot about shoes, most importantly being going to a shop where you can get fitted for a shoe is worth the extra few bucks the shoes might end up being if it means you can avoid headache and hassle of trying to pick out shoes on your own. Sure, if you know that a certain brand of shoe and style fits you perfectly then by all means, shop around to find the best deals on it. But if you aren’t 10% sure then find your way to the closest local bike shop and get some help, you won’t regret it.