By Doris Thews
Over the last year, many of our favorite fitness routines have moved from in-person gyms and studios to our own living room studios. And while some of us are eager to get back to that brick-and-mortar gym experience, the at-home fitness boom is here to stay. The Washington Post reported in January 2021 that home health and fitness equipment sales more than doubled to $2.3 billion from March to October. Additionally, from January to November of 2020, approximately 2.5 billion health and fitness apps were downloaded worldwide, according to data from Sensor Tower.
The demand for "pandemic safe" fitness created online-savvy consumers who research equipment thoroughly and have high expectations for their gear and equipment. While indoor cycling is one of the most in-demand fitness categories right now, little information and personalized knowledge can be found online about equipment and the benefits of specialized indoor cycling gear.
One of the most important and straightforward pieces of gear that you can invest in to boost your indoor cycling performance is a pair of cycling shoes. These shoes are specially designed to increase power transfer from you to your bike while supporting your feet and keeping them cool and comfortable, even when the workout heats up.
Comfort Starts at Your Feet
If you’re comfortable on the bike, you’re more likely to ride longer and more often, and comfort starts with foot position. Cycling shoes are designed to stabilize your foot in a biometrically advantageous position in relation to your bike. The shoes feature a stiff sole with a cleat fixed to the ball of the foot. The cleat then connects with the bike pedal, providing precise foot placement with the ball of the foot over the pedal axle.
Cycling shoes help prevent your foot from slipping around on the pedal, unlike the "tennis shoe in a cage" set-up. Riders with small feet who use tennis shoes often push their foot to the front of the cage, causing the pedal axel to line up under the arch of the foot. When riding in and out of the saddle, this creates extra force on the arch and has been the culprit of many sore feet, "hot spots," and possible development of plantar fasciitis. On the other hand, riders with large feet who wear tennis shoes often experience plantar flexion of the foot, cause the soleus and gastrocnemius to contract and cause calf cramps while pedaling.
Stiff-soled cycling shoes change how your weight is distributed over your foot, especially when out of the saddle, helping to keep the foot flat. This helps promote proper knee and foot alignment and helps avoid foot, ankle, knee, and hip injuries.
Power Up Your Performance
Every cyclist wants to hit a new PR or improve their performance on the bike, and cycling-specific shoes can help you get there. The cleat-pedal interface between your cycling shoes and pedals provides a secure connection with the bike, promoting good cycling biomechanics and increasing power transfer.
The flexible sole of tennis shoes creates an inefficient foot flex or bend around the pedal. You'll feel better power transfer from the leg to the pedal with cycling shoes, reflecting in your increased power output number (or watts) that are calculated and displayed with some indoor bikes or by using a power meter.
The stiff sole of cycling shoes also helps improve your balance and stability on the bike, especially when riding out of the saddle. By reducing foot and body movement, your pedal stroke will become more balanced, and you can direct more energy and effort toward your performance rather than trying to keep yourself upright.
Proper foot placement and a stiffer sole help improve your power output on the bike. This leads to a more efficient workout, so you can ride farther and push harder with the confidence that your foot is secure and stable on the pedal.
Biomechanics are at the heart of increased performance, and cycling shoes, along with a proper bike set up, promote good alignment of the foot, ankle, and knee during the pedal stroke. If you want to ride strong, you have to have strong biomechanics, and the right cycling shoes are a big part of that.
Enhance the Experience
Cycling shoes improve comfort and performance, and therefore, enhance the overall experience. High-end boutique cycling studios know the value of indoor cycling shoes and often invest in a fleet of footwear for their customers to use during classes. Having the right shoes during these classes helps deliver a better member experience by enhancing comfort and confidence and ensuring these customers will be back for another class.
For the at-home cyclist, you can bring some of that boutique experience home with you by finding a pair of cycling shoes that are right for you. Once you experience the benefits of these stiff-soled shoes, you'll never want to go back to tennis shoes again. In fact, it’s not uncommon to witness a mini-meltdown when someone forgets to pack their cycling shoes for class. Some people will not ride at all without their cycling shoes!
Look Good, Ride Hard
Let’s be honest, looking and feeling like a pro matters. Over the years, studies have shown that simply owning specific workout apparel, like cycling shoes, makes people more likely to exercise regularly. These studies reveal that owning quality gym apparel is an important first step for people in accomplishing their fitness goals. Simply putting on that gear helped motivate them to work out, even when they weren’t feeling up to it.
Cycling shoes not only help boost your performance through key technology and design features. The shoes also help you look and feel fast, which goes a long way when it comes to personal motivation. Shimano’s indoor cycling shoes deliver bright and fun colors to choose from and offer different features to help you hit your PRs.
Ventilation is another critical component of indoor cycling, so all Shimano IC shoes are made with breathable materials such as reinforced mesh designed to increase airflow around the foot. The shoes are also designed for off-the-bike stability and better walkability, so you can go from the bike to any fusion class like rowing, resistance, and balance training. Shimano's IC3 shoes even offer a casual look and comfortable, sneaker-like fit that makes them perfect for post-workout trips to the juice bar or coffee shop with your crew.
Now that you're convinced of the performance benefits of cycling shoes, there are a few more things to consider. First, make sure the cleats you attach to your shoes are compatible with the pedals on your bike. The most common options are two-bolt SPD or three-bolt SPD-SL cleats.
Second, give yourself a little extra time before your next class to test out your new shoes. If you can go to a gym, go early and have an instructor guide you in and out of the pedals a few times before class starts. If you are riding at home, practice before pressing start on your On Demand class or before hitting the open road for an outdoor ride.
The future of indoor cycling for many of us will likely be a mix of at-home and in-the-studio classes. You may even want to try riding outdoor this year too. Regardless of where or how you ride, though, a quality set of cycling shoes will help you ride longer, push harder, and enjoy the experience.
Doris Thews is a fitness industry veteran and an internationally award-winning fitness educator, including World IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. She is a Senior Master Trainer and Global Mentor for Schwinn. In addition to training fitness professionals and lecturing internationally, she is also a keynote speaker well known for her motivational and athletic coaching style. She finds joy in completing triathlons and her memories of running four of the six world major marathons with her husband, Bob.