Anyone who’s ever taken a spin on an exercise bike knows that your footwear can make or break the workout. Sure, some bikes have cages you can slip your sneakers into, but it’s clipping in (when your shoes actually attach to the bike) that gives you the security to push and pull those pedals as fast as your heart desires.
“Clipping in really affords you more stability on the bike,” says Stephen Quay, the product manager for footwear at Specialized. “And what that shoe does for you is, along with providing the proper arch and forefoot support, [it] helps to align your knee, hip, and foot through the up and down of the pedaling motion.” Not only is that going to help you avoid injury, but it’s going to help you perform more optimally when you’re doing 100 or 120 revolutions per minute.
But do you need to own a pair of indoor cycling shoes? “This really depends on your lifestyle,” says Holly Rilinger, a master instructor at Flywheel. Here are a few questions to consider before buying a pair—plus, the best indoor cycling shoes to own, according to top spin instructors.
So, why should you buy your own indoor cycling shoes?
It's worth shelling out for your own indoor cycling shoes if you're 1. looking to improve your performance on your bike and 2. plan to spend a fair amount of time spinning your wheels. “People who cycle three or four times a week really need a shoe that’s been tailored to their foot so they get the proper anatomic support,” Quay says.
What's more, indoor cycling shoes are actually designed differently than sneakers (go figure!). “The insides are built taller and thicker than the outside to support the foot." This will help keep your legs in proper alignment while you're pumping them.
What are the different types of indoor cycling shoes?
There are a few kinds of cycling shoes, including road bike shoes, mountain bike shoes, and indoor cycling shoes. Since all of these are optimized for different riding scenarios, you want to make sure you choose a pair that works for where you’ll be cycling the majority of the time.
Road cycling and mountain biking shoes tend to be thicker and clunkier than shoes specifically designed for indoor cycling, says Quay. “Your feet also aren’t going to get as much air inside as you would outside, so most indoor shoes have extra ventilation around the sides and tongue,” he says. (That said, you’ll likely be fine cycling indoors in road shoes, Quay adds.)
More importantly, you want to pay attention to the types of cleats on the cycling shoes. There are two common ones: the two-hold (or SPD) system and the three-hole (Delta) system. You’ll find the SPD system in most gyms, along with the cages for people who want to ride sans cycling shoes. Some shoes don't come with SPD cleats and are sold separately, so you'll also want to make a note of whether your shoes are actually SPD compatible.
But most boutique fitness brands (think: Peloton and SoulCycle) tend to use three-hole systems, says Quay, “which tend to be a little more stable.” Shoes with the SPD system are a little easier to walk around in, because the clips are smaller, while the Delta system may be easier to actually clip in to the pedals, because they’re larger. Either is a great option—it’s just important to find out which ones match your bikes’ pedals.
What else do I need to know before I buy?
Shopping for a pair of indoor cycling shoes can feel overwhelming, since they serve a totally different purpose from any workout shoes you’ve worn in the past. But it’s not that hard! “Think of these shoes the same way you think about a running shoe,” says Rilinger. “Comfort is king.”
Pro tip: “There’s no better way to understand how a shoe feels than trying it on,” says Rilinger. “For example, some harder materials may rub against your ankle bone. You will only know that by trying it on.”
You want to make sure that the shoe feels good across the widest part of your foot, says Rilinger. "There’s less flexibility in a cycling shoe than a running shoe, so it’s not going to stretch to accommodate your foot as you break it in," she says. You also don’t need quite as much toe room as you do with running shoes, says Quay. “Your toes shouldn’t be making contact with the front of the shoe or uncomfortable in any way, but they may feel a little more fitted than your average sneaker.”
And speaking of running, check out how a WH editor gears up for the perfect run:
When you're trying out a spin shoe, don’t freak out if your heel slips a little on the back. “When you’re walking, you generate more heel force than when you’re pedaling,” says Quay. “So instead of walking around, just kind of roll up into the balls of your feet and barely lift your heels and put the pressure up in the ball of the foot. That can indicate how much of a heel hold the shoe has for you.”
What type of indoor spin shoes should you try?
These pics from top spin instructors are good go-tos to get you started.
1. Shimano RP3 Road Bike Shoes
2. Tiem Athletic Slipstream
"Not only are they super comfortable, but they don't feel or look like standard cycling shoes. Their SPD clips are set into the shoe so I don't have to do the funny duck walk around the room and they don't put any pressure on my feet." —Tammeca Rochester, Harlem Cycle founder and instructor
3. SoulCycle x Pearl Izumi Legend 2.0 Cycling Shoes
”I love the SoulCycle Legends 2.0 Cycling Shoes. The heel has a little added cushion which makes teaching in them all day long, so much more comfortable. The tightening clasp makes the shoe fit nice and snug too!”—Claire Jones, SoulCycle and Variis instructor
4. Peloton Cycling Shoes
"Everything you need comes packaged with these (cleats, hex key, washers, screws etc.). Plus, they have a HARD sole, which is the main base of support and power between you and your indoor bike." —Kendall Toole, Bike Instructor at Peloton
5. Giro Empire E70 Knit Cycling Shoe
"I love the breathable and quick-drying Giro Empire Knit cycling shoes. They have a sock-like feel, and also feature a unique lacing system that eliminates specific hot spots or high friction areas on the top of the foot from traditional straps or locking mechanisms." —Kate Ligler, cpt, cycling specialist, and MINDBODY wellness manager
6. Sidi Genius 7 Shadow Road Cycling Shoes
"I have super-narrow feet and like to feel snug in my shoe so I have a good grip on the wheel (it’s all about the pull UP of the pedal stroke to access your abs and get out of the quads #becauseabs)." — Eve Lynn Kessner, SoulCycle senior instructor, Talent Hack ambassador
7. Soul Legend Cycling Shoes
"I love the Soul Legend shoes because of how sturdy they are. Plus, the single strap around the top makes it easy to adjust and put on."
Can you rent cycling shoes?
If you’re living somewhere where spin classes are still in option and don’t want to invest in your own pair of shoes, renting is a solid choice. Plus, these days, most indoor cycling studios will hook you up with a pair as part of the price for you class, like Flywheel. Some, though, like SoulCycle, will charge you a fee, just FYI. As such, it doesn't hurt to call ahead and inquire about their policies prior to showing up.
If you're a hardcore cycler (or just don't like the idea of sharing shoes with strangers), a good pair of indoor cycling shoes can cost anywhere from around $50 to $200. Not to mention, they take up space, says Rilinger—both in your gym bag and your closet. For commuters without a car, “touting your own pair around can be a major drawback,” she says.
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