Hello to you, and a very big welcome, Dear Reader! You know, I don’t doubt that we can have one or several motivations for asking a questions like: Can I ride my road bike in regular shoes or sneakers well enough as a beginner? I think it can be so easy to feel coralled into a certain way of doing things on our road bikes that it might seem as if there’s only the one option available. But in this case, as in most, that isn’t true. Well, not entirely. I’d like to answer the question first, suggest some of my preferred options for road cycling in regular shoes or sneakers, and then explain the whole answer in more detail.
If you’re a beginner road cyclist, the chances are still that you’ve ridden a bike when you were younger, perhaps for some of us, when we were much younger. But, the chances again are that when you cycled previously, you rode in regular shoes or sneakers and not cycling specific shoes. Would that be fair to say? If so, that, in essence provides our answer: “can this be done?” Absolutely yes it can! It is entirely possible for you to ride a road bicycle as a beginner in regular shoes or sneakers.
And the winners are…
Well, not quite. But Cycling Questions preferred options for road bike riding in regular shoes or sneakers is… Giro Riddance shoes / Giro Riddance W for women, or Giro Jacket II shoes paired with DMR V12 pedals, or Nukeproof Horizon Comp flat pedals. Or… Similar!
Yes! I know I said non-cycling shoes on a road bike. And yes, these are indeed cycling shoes and mountain bicycle pedals. But wait! They offer a great combination of performance with comfort with looks (all of these are in various colorways) PLUS mountain bike flat pedal shoes look just like regular sneaks, see? I‘d go for platform pedals with replaceable pins. It’s not that road riding tends to be as harsh on pedals as mountain biking, but having lost pins from non-replaceable pedals it’s a welcome feature. So, if it’s an option for you to select your own shoes and pedals, these (or these types) would be my preferred options. If however, you’re using whichever shoe-pedal combination is available to you,please read on for general information on what to look for and how to account for any potential shortcomings.
Okay, so while we may acknowledge that we did ride when younger in non-cycling shoes, we might assert, “Yes, but that wasn’t a road bike, that was a BMX! Or perhaps that or a kid’s mountain bike, or even a bicycle with training wheels/stabilisers.” I get that. But the principle is the same and the answer stands, it is possible.
You might concede that you can ride a road bicycle in regular shoes or sneakers. But that doesn’t stop you thinking, “Yes! But I’m a bit more serious now than I was when I rode previously!” It doesn’t stop you from thinking, “I was only a child then and I’m an adult now!” Or maybe, “I have a good few more years under the bridge, and I want to take things in a more grown-up way.” I can completely understand that from a personal point of view. I’ve been cycling too in one form or another most of my days. A lot of days! I cultivate the attitude of a beginner because I’m no fan of experts! But personally I have ridden for a while when starting regular road cycling (again) in sneakers too. So maybe you’ll permit me to add some anecdotal thoughts to possibly help inform your decision.
What’s stopping us then?
If we can acknowledge that it is indeed possible to ride in regular shoes or sneakers then what’s stopping us? On what images is our thinking predicated when we talk of wanting to ride a road bike more seriously or take things in a more grown-up way, specifically with regard to not wearing cycling shoes? What personal concerns might we have? What fears or objections might cause us as beginner road cyclists to even have to ask, “Is it ok for me to ride my bike with these shoes or sneakers on?” What do you think? It could be a few things couldn’t it?
1. Could be concerns around how we’ll look or be perceived by others. For example:
Will I look odd, or amateurish, or like the beginner I am on my road bike if I wear these shoes or sneakers? Will other riders think I’m just a pretender? Will they not treat me seriously?
2. Perhaps those concerns are about not being “man/woman enough” to face our fear of being clipped or strapped into pedals. For example:
Am I just having silly beginner worries about falling off or tipping over when I’m clipped or strapped into pedals? Am I being silly for imagining cycling shoes look terribly uncomfortable or would be painful with my feet in them? Maybe you just want shoes that you can cycle in and also walk in before or afterwards.
3. Then again, as a beginner road cyclist without the data of experience, maybe the concerns we have are of a technical or mechanical nature. For example:
Will these regular shoes be inefficient for road cycling any distance or up hills? Will they be slippery on wet pedals? Will my feet get sore road cycling in regular shoes?
What are your own reasons for riding in non-cycling shoes?
I’d like us to address the above concerns in turn. But before we do, I’d like to ask you directly, Dear Reader: what are your reasons for not choosing cycling shoes – and I’ve assumed here that we’d like to rule out the kind of pedals that require clips and pull-tight straps, as well as “clipless” / SPD type with shoe cleats on the bottom. Please let me know your actual reasons in the comments, but some come to my mind right away. From my own experience and that of acquaintances I’d be thinking, cycling shoes are expensive, or I don’t want to spend any more money when I’m just starting road cycling, maybe until I’m sure I’ll stick with it. That’s all fair enough. I might also be thinking that shoes that require me to be clipped or strapped in would be yet another thing I’d have to learn or get used to when I’m still learning my way around riding a road bike. That sounds plausible to me at least. I might feel being stuck to the pedals puts me at a safety disadvantage if I need to dab my foot quickly on the ground for any reason. Again, a valid reason. And I might be thinking cycling shoes either look odd in those garish colorways, and colour schemes or that they look uncomfortable to wear. And again, that’s a potentially valid reason to want to discount them. Again, I’d be grateful if you’d consider sharing your own personal reasons for wanting to steer clear of cycling shoes.
So with those reasons in mind, we can turn our attention back to addressing the above three types of concerns. I do put importance on checking in with yourself over any underlying concerns before starting cycling like this. If you don’t, I completely understand. Feel I’d like to take the time to validate those concerns. More than that though,I hope to present the balanced, objective, just-the-facts viewpoint as a way of resolving, or at least minimising the effects of those concerns.
How will I be perceived in non-cycling shoes?
The first of the above three asks what should we do if we decide we’re going to wear non-cycling shoes or sneakers when we’re out on our road bike, and we have concerns about how we’ll look or how we’ll be perceived as a beginner by others? I guess this is really one of those decisions for the individual. Each of us regard the chances of being judged negatively as well as the impact of that imagined judging differently.
Some folk can be judgemental it’s plainly true. Some others might be cliquish or snobbish, as folk can be in any field of endeavour, over their abilities or their gear. And we can’t always take great steps to curb the tendencies of others, can we? But we can decide we’re going do our thing and ride our road bike and shod our feet however we choose. We can take focus away from reading the minds of others and focus on our own goals and efforts to make those goals happen. We’re cycling for our own reasons and benefits, not anyone else’s, right? Besides, as beginners, who have we to impress really?
Of course the flipside of that coin is that more often than not, people aren’t quite as we might perceive them. Often we might find the perception of others as being judgemental of us, actually lies tucked within our own negative views of ourselves or our abilities. Okay, you can tell I’m a psychotherapist at this point, hands up! It’s something to consider nonetheless. Cyclists can be snobbish, offhand and judgemental. They can also be kind, willing to help, courteous and gregarious. Guess what, just like every other branch of humanity! I’m being glib yes, but I can only advocate for riding your road bike your way, however you choose to ride it. If it’s a choice between worrying so much over how you’ll look in regular shoes that you don’t get out and ride your bike, then nothing has been gained and plenty lost. Fair enough?
Dangerous, uncomfortable and impractical?
The second of the above three asks if our only reason for not wearing cycling shoes is a silly safety fear, a comfort worry or a practical concern. Is it an unfounded fear to be concerned about falling off our bikes were we to use cycling shoes and pedal straps or “clipless” / SPD-type pedals? I don’t think it is at all. As you’ll have noticed, there are many articles outlining how to start riding with clipless pedals. So there is a learning curve. And in the beginning, at the zero end of that curve, yep, it’s possible for the unaccustomed cycling brain to forget it’s stuck to the pedals and – a pain to which my ol’ ass will attest – tip over, in possibly the most comedy way (for observers!) Riding along it’s no consideration for the most part you forget you’re clipped in and it’s ok. But coming to a stop, whether at junctions or in an emergency can be different! Leading to the not-so-comic fall. So no, that’s not an unfounded concern. It can be minimised with practice, but it’s definitely a sufficient reason that if you’re not feeling confident of trying, or you’re simply not of the mind to, just go with the regular shoes or sneakers. It’s all good!
About the comfort of cycling shoes, yes I think this is another reasonable point to make. While cycling shoes are made for comfort, they are made for a certain fixed type of comfort. They’re designed to have a super-stiff sole to provide a platform for pushing on pedals that have substantially less width than the shoes themselves. Your foot is very much clamped (with a certain small degree of float) into the one position. Yes, this position can be changed off the bike by loosening the cleats and repositioning them. But for road cycling beginners, the lack of freedom to reposition your foot on the pedal as you like with cycling shoes and clips can be offputting for sure. And that’s understandable.
In my personal experience, I haven’t found a wealth of shoes with reasonable room in the toe-box. I had to hunt out cycling-specific shoes that had a wide enough toe-box that my feet weren’t feeling compressed at the big toe. I think Bont shoes have a far better anatomical foot shape made for the shape our feet are naturally, rather than how they are when they’re shoehorned into what we perceive as a fashionable attractive shape. Mine are simple Shimano M089 jobs at the time of writing
And practically speaking, yes cycling shoes can be walked in. The walk you may be inclined to walk in road cycling shoes though, is not a typical human gait. It’s more of a waddle or hobble, or waddlehobble. But it can be done. With practice! Mountain bike type clipless shoes have recessed cleats so do make walking normally at least possible if not as practical on account of the stiffer soles. Road cycling shoe covers can also be bought for the shoes, or covers for the cleats (clips) themselves to facilitate walking at least without slipping, if not walking with a more humanoid gait. But it can’t be hidden, walking in road cycling shoes in particular is another skill that may, depending on where you’d intend to walk in them, have to be acquired. We might not have been planning a ride to and then a promenade around the park in the first place. But if you needed to walk anywhere in case of say an cycling accident or emergency, well, walking home, even if it’s a short way in road cycling shoes may be arduous.
So again, if any of those concerns are similar to yours, I think they’re valid concerns. More importantly, they’re concerns that regular shoes or sneakers could, in the right circumstances, go some way to address or eliminate for you.
Losses in efficiency? Slippery when wet?
Lastly of those above three regards cycling shoes as the more efficient, the more literally surefooted means of contacting the pedal. This means our concern here is that regular shoes or sneakers would be inefficient, possibly slip on wet pedals or make our feet sore. Well, there isn’t a huge weight of evidence that cycling shoes are more efficient over good quality flat pedals and shoes. Perhaps though, that’s a point worth mentioning, and that is the compromise position between cycling shoes and clipless pedals at one end, and regular shoes or sneakers with the kind of stock pedals your road bicycle may have come with. That compromise position is cycling-specific flat shoes with no clips, on flat platform or cage pedals. That’s an efficient, safe and flexible combination that I’ll expand on below.
But if we’re beginner road cyclists, doing our first rides, trying a few longer rides, feeling out our road bike and how it handles, any gains we may feel at this stage from wearing cycling shoes may be barely perceptible. In other words, at this stage in our road cycling, if we want to try cycling shoes, no problems, but if not, it’ll be no great loss.
Cycling shoes, once correctly clipped in, shouldn’t slip on the pedal. At all. Regular shoes and sneakers, if it’s dry probably not too often unless you’re really driving your feet forwards trying a sprint for example. It’s in the wet though where things can change. With stock generic plastic pedals and a wet-soled pair of running shoes, things can get a little sketchy. But, there are solutions which I’m coming to. My point is, don’t give up on the idea just yet! All is not lost.
The other final thought in this section is our wondering if regular shoes or sneakers might be uncomfortable, perhaps over a longer distance? Well, if that were true, the reason may be that running shoes for example, are designed to flex at the toe to allow the runner natural foot freedom. On pedals we kind of don’t want that. We want ideally to put all our power through the sole of our shoe into the pedal to rotate the crank. Squidgy-soled shoes permit much of that energy to dissipate. But not just that, they can allow our foot to flex downwards on down-strokes for example over a pedal that isn’t wide enough. However, to add to the confusion, a similar thing can happen with cycling shoes. Owing to the hardness and inflexibility of the sole, depending on the natural angle of our ankle we can end up with hots-pots and callouses on the soles of the foot due to our body’s inability to compensate by altering the angle at which the sole of our foot makes contact with the horizontal pedal. This would be some way mitigated by wearing softer soled sneakers. So, there’s a balance somewhere. The question is – and it’s the only question – which is best for you personally as a beginner road cyclist.
Shoes/sneakers: making it happen on our road bike
I am optimistic that we’ve addressed some of the concerns regarding wearing regular shoes or sneakers when starting road cycling. So, if we’ve decided on non-cycling shoes what other information do we need to make that happen?
Well, at is simplest, really nothing. If your road bike has flat pedals and you have regular shoes or sneakers, it can’t do any harm to at least try your choice of shoes for a few rides to see for yourself. So what might some of the things be that you’d notice riding your road bike in non-cycling shoes? Particularly if your shoe-pedal combination isn’t the best match.
• Over shorter distances, everything ought to be absolutely no problem. You’ll likely not notice anything at all. Enjoy the ride!
• Over medium to longer distances (say 90-120 minutes and up), you may experience some difficulty in getting your foot in exactly the right position with the ball of the foot /1st metatarsal joint over the pedal axle, if your shoes and pedals don’t match too well. This is more likely if your sneakers of choice have large widely spaced tread patterns – particularly some running shoes.
• When riding your road bike at high cadence (fast rate of pedalling rotation) in non-cycling shoes, there might be a tendency for the foot to lift off the pedal at the top of the stroke
• Similarly, when riding your bike at lower cadences (slow rate of pedalling rotation) for example when riding uphill, there may likewise be a tendency for the foot to slip forwards in the power phase of the stroke
So that only leaves my most preferred options in pedal and shoe combinations.
Final top preferences
Mountain bike shoes are by far the best option. Yes, I know they’re cycling shoes, but not in the vein of road shoes with cleats for clipless / SPD pedals. Have a look at any of the following for example. Great, superb grip second to none for shoes on flat pedals, ample stiffness in the soles but look and wear more like regular sneakers, some in awesome men’s and women’s swatches: Giro Jacket / Giro Riddance W / Giro Chamber MTB shoes; FiveTen Dnny MacAskill / FiveTen Freerider; O’Neal Stinger II; Specialized 2FO; Pearl Izumi have some nice flat pedal shoe options too, and there are many more but I’d hope these are (at time of writing!) decent enough start points for your own search.
I would pair any of these, or any similar shoes you find from your search, along with a nice pin-heavy platform pedal. You can get these reasonably cheap, such as Nukeproof Horizon Comp / Neutron Evo or DMR V12 or DMr V8 pedals or spend whatever you like on something fancy like Hope F20, but again, use these for ideas just for start points. A decent concave platform pedal with a nice wide surface over which to place as much of the ball of your foot as possible, with ample pins (preferably replaceable, but don’t worry if not, they’re not likely to be abused on a road bike) these would be my preferred option.
Other good options…
Skate and BMX shoes, search for anything from Vans or Etnies as a start point. Look at the sole pattern on those or something like Lotek Fader, it’s like a repeating tight waffle iron type pattern that allows flat pedal pins or the teeth of cage pedals to sit in nicely and hold on.
After this, with fitness shoes, court trainers and running shoes, it can become more about the pedal choice. I’ve found cage pedals tend to hold the sole of the shoe with more tenacity. Still some fine shoe options from the usual suspects, Nike (I’m still partial to AF1s), Under Armour Commit, there are plenty of others, again, look for a tighter sole tread pattern rather than a more open mud-shedding pattern found on some running shoes.
I actually bought the above pictured Nike ACG shoes for riding flat pedals, specially because they were Goretex lined for riding in the wet winter. But this is what I mean about the tread pattern being wide. I often found my feet would end up in the wrong position on the pedals
Cage pedals can be preferable here for mechanical grip. I don’t know if, for our purposes, road riding and cage pedals are the best match, the downward force is often distributed over fewer points with cage pedals which – while it means more grip, can also potentially mean the foot isn’t as well supported as platforms through the power phase of the pedal stroke.
Cage pedals are a perennial favourite stock pedal that manufacturers will install on many road bicycles to make them rideable straight out of the box. They’re a kind of functional addition. I don’t think manufacturers would stake their reputations on a cheap set of nylon flat “cage” pedals since most riders will fit their own preference. They work perfectly adequately, but I find personally they lack grip and don’t always hold my foot when either spinning or pushing hard. However, there are far better alternative cage pedals if that’s the route you decide to go. Some of the grippiest cage pedals I’ve ever used were trials-bike-specific pedals from trials brand Try-all, but there are many similar pedals such as the Onza Tako pedals. The bearings in these pedals ore obviously designed to take heavy impacts. I wonder would that preclude them from functioning over greater distance riding on a road bike?
In the interests of thoroughness, pedals are available which attempt to offer the best of both worlds. One side is flat, and a cleat mount is offered on the other side. These can be useful if you are thinking of testing the waters of “clipless” or SPD-typs shoes. Grip on the flat side, however, can be compromised with certain shoes.
As an aside, I know I said you can ride your road bicycle with regular shoes, but by that I mean regular as in non-cycling. It’s of course perfectly possible to ride a road bicycle with work/office/dressy type shoes, shoes with high heels and sandals or mules. I guess if you used your road bike for a short commute to work, or a lap of the park with the children, that would be totally doable.I can’t know where you’re reading this from, but in many cultures, that’s the norm.
Ultimately, it’s your ride…
It’s your ride so wear what’s best for you. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t recommend dressier shoes on the bicycle for anything other than strictly getting to where you’re going, ie. To a place where dressy shoes are to be worn! For road riding per se, in other words, riding for its own sake, for enjoyment, fitness or exercise, casual shoes have the edge in practicality over dressier shoes. I’d go so far as to say casual trainers are better than running-type sneakers. That’s for two reasons. Firstly, the soles are sometimes less flexible which generally isn’t a bad thing on flat pedals. And secondly that the tread pattern on the sole is often tighter and better suited to the pins, teeth, or cage in flat pedals. But then I’d also say, as I listed at the beginning, if you want to ride without going clipless or using clips and straps, you don’t have to give cycling shoes a miss altogether. MTB-type flat shoes are the best compromise in my opinion when paired with the right pedals.
And at that point, I’ll give you a well-deserved break. Thank you for reading. Your thoughts, comments and your own insight would be very much appreciated if you have the time to leave those below.
Meantime, have fun, ride safe,