What are indoor cycling shoes and do you really need them?

by Ronan Mc Laughlin


Indoor cycling has been booming of late. Platforms such as Zwift and Peloton have experienced huge growth in recent years. We have also seen some of the best-known global brands from other sports return to the cycling shoe market recently with cycling offerings from Nike and Adidas

This got us thinking: while we have reviewed a huge number of cycling shoes through the years, and reviewed the best indoor trainers, we have never looked specifically at the best shoes for indoor cycling.

As I started researching this I was repeatedly hit with explanations of why cycling-specific shoes are so important, but little in the way of why indoor-specific shoes are needed. I began to think maybe this was a waste of time — perhaps outdoor shoes are perfectly suited to indoor usage.

There are considerations to be made when choosing a shoe regardless of the environment. Ventilation and breathability are key for foot temperature regulation and, as such, comfort. A stiff sole is better for power transfer but that often comes at the expense of comfort. Well-fitted shoes and how a shoe closure system affects fit is also highly important and can even relate to a host of injuries.

Still though, we have seen a raft of brands release indoor-specific shoes. So why buy indoor-specific cycling shoes? Surely if the shoe fits then it’s case closed?

What I hadn’t initially considered was the variety of indoor training options and how this could affect shoe choice. I was purely thinking about my own Zwift experience, riding solo, in my own home. Most CT readers will have the same experience – you likely have your own personal pain cave and quite possibly use the same bike and gear as you do outdoors. However, there are those who Zwift in a group environment in studios, those who have other indoor setups at home, and there will also be those who choose traditional spin class environments for the social and motivational benefits they provide.

Maybe that is where the true benefit of and demand for indoor-specific shoes lies?

Cycling shoe rental?

Before delving into the specifics of indoor cycling shoes, I want to touch on a shoe service I didn’t know existed prior to writing this article – bike shoe rental. On the face of it this may seem like a cost-effective option for those who train in group indoor environments, the idea being that you only pay for the time you are using the shoes. But the thought of this literally turns my stomach.

All indoor rides I have done invariably turn into a sweat-fest. The trainer and bike are always surrounded by a puddle of sweat. My shoes the same, and often they need washed and left out to dry. As nasty as this sounds, imagine you put your feet into the shoes I had just used. I think I have made the point sufficiently without having to go into the benefits of having your own fit preferences and the importance of cleat positioning.

What to look for in an indoor cycling shoe

This depends alot on the type of indoor riding you will be doing. If you are planning on going to indoor classes the pedals on the bikes may vary quite significantly from most home setups. With some indoor shoes, you are limited to two-bolt-style cleats for mountain bike pedal styles only. While this will be fine for some (SPD pedals are often found on traditional spin bikes) your home setup may well be more suited to pedals using road-style pedals which require three-bolt cleat mounting.

Some indoor shoes are compatible with both two- and three-bolt systems and this added functionality could give you options in future if you look to change the way you train indoors.

The sole

Some indoor-specific shoes are also designed to be easier to walk in. Without the weight or aero considerations that sit high on the priority list for designers of outdoor shoes, an indoor-specific option can be much more accommodating for walking. If training in your own home this might not be overly important as you are likely to put on your shoes near your bike. However, for those training in a group environment at a gym or studio when you need to walk to and from the changing rooms, this will undoubtedly help with making a much more graceful entrance.

Mountain bike shoes have treads which are taller than the cleats making the shoes easier to walk in. The same could be advantageous for indoor shoes but is only compatible with two-bolt-style cleats.

Sticking with the sole, manufacturers of indoor-specific shoes point to the use of nylon in a bid to increase comfort while pedalling on the spot. Many outdoor performance shoes now feature stiff carbon soles which are designed for maximum power transfer and lighter weight. It is claimed that when fixed in one position on an indoor bike, too much sole stiffness can lead to foot discomfort. Nylon is claimed to be more comfortable as it is somewhat less stiff, yet still offers comparative levels of performance.

Nylon soles will inevitably result in a heavier shoe but this is not a consideration for most indoor cyclists. By using Nylon, manufacturers can also keep the costs of indoor-specific shoes down and this could be the main factor in the choice of Nylon soles on indoor shoes. Most riders will already have cycling shoes and will be looking for a cheaper option to be used specifically for indoor training. As such the budget for these shoes is usually lower. A Nylon sole and simpler closure mechanism can help manufacturers keep the cost down on these shoes.

It’s getting hot in here

Given the reduced ventilation and complete lack of natural wind cooling while riding indoors, things can get very hot. While at least one good fan is essential for indoor riding, it is still very difficult to maintain temperature regulation. Your feet can be one area that really struggles when things start to heat up. Foot swelling can be a major issue for some, and as such extra ventilation in shoes is great for indoor riding.

The sole of the S-Works Vent shoes has extras vents to increase air flow.

Keeping this in mind you will want to see an array of vents on the sole of the shoe to allow as much air in as possible. A lot of modern shoes come with multiple vents on the sole to increase air circulation around the foot, but quite often more vents correlate closely to more dollars at the checkout.

Some manufacturers are now creating venting channels running through the sole of their shoes which is another attempt to deliver much-needed cooling to more of the foot. While not always possible if shopping online, it is also a good idea to check the insole of the shoe. A well-vented outer sole can easily be rendered obsolete if the inner sole has very little breathability. Some supermarket insoles with gel padding and other claimed comfort-increasing properties often do little for airflow and can end up resulting in quite a bit of heat build-up.

Moving to the shoe upper and breathability is key here. Ideally, for indoor riding, you want a shoe with added breathability and lighter upper material. Outdoor shoes must provide some level of protection and robustness against the elements, even for warmer and drier climates. With indoor shoes, manufacturers can strip back this protection.

Look for lightweight mesh panels on the upper which should be designed to allow maximum ventilation. More durable-feeling, heavier materials are unlikely to provide the breathability needed here and if the ventilation resembles an empty pin cushion it is unlikely to provide the airflow needed to keep your feet breathing.

The Giro Prolight Techlace and the newer Empire SLX are designed to be lightweight but also highly breathable and well-ventilated. All of this is very desirable for indoor training.

If the shoe fits

Sizing should be another consideration. While getting the right shoe size is always important, the likelihood your feet will swell in an indoor session is much higher and as such you should ensure your feet have space to grow into. This should also be a consideration for all shoes, especially if you live in an area with a warmer climate.

A lot of shoes used for indoor training tend to have simplified closure systems. Single Boa dials, velcro straps and laces are the most commonly used rendition systems indoors. While this does make for quicker setup when rushing to make the next event on Zwift, this is more likely a budget restraint rather than an actual tangible benefit for indoor riding.

For most riders, indoor training will supplement their outdoor activities. As such the budget for dedicated indoor shoes might be much less than they are willing to spend for their main outdoor kicks.

The RC3 features a single Boa dial in the mid-foot, which draws in an upper that wraps around the foot generously.

Looking the part

Last but by no means least, we also need to consider style. There is a good reason why Rapha has a range of indoor training clothing items because it is just as important to look the part indoors as it is outdoors. For those of us training alone at home, style is important, but for those choosing to train in gyms, style is paramount. With MyFace likes and Snapstagram stories of as much (or arguably more) importance than the actual workout, having a shoe that looks the part can be crucial.

Do we need indoor cycling shoes?

Personally, I am a non-believer, at least for those who use indoor training to supplement their outdoor activities. I have always used the same shoes for both my indoor and outdoor training. While it does mean some extra care after an indoor session to clean and air my shoes, it also means I am getting continuity in both cleat placement and shoe fit for indoors and out.

Looking back at the guide above and pulling out the key considerations further confirms my belief. I suggest if you are looking at a second pair of shoes specifically for indoor use, you may find better rewards in adding that money to a budget for a new pair of outdoor cycling shoes when the time comes. New shoes that offer you a good fit, increased breathability and ventilation, and a sole that matches your needs will offer you more comfort and performance on all your rides.

If you’re a racing cyclist you will want a stiff sole regardless of where you are riding. For leisure riders, maybe a more comfortable nylon sole will be perfect for both indoor and outdoor activities, rather than the latest and stiffest carbon option. By spending more on your main shoes you should be able to get a shoe with lighter, more breathable materials, better-vented soles, and an overall better experience.

However, that all said, if you’re reading this and you don’t use clip-in pedals with your outdoor cycling or solely train in a gym or studio environment, then sure, do consider some indoor cycling shoes.

Below is a list of a few indoor-specific models which continually came up during my research. I have also listed a few outdoor shoes that tick all the boxes and should work well indoors.

Nike SuperRep Cycle

The SupeRep cycle is part of Nike’s family of gym workout footwear and shares styling cues with its HIIT class, endurance, and cardio dance class siblings. The SuperRep cycle gets an upper specifically designed with breathability in mind and velcro straps intended to give a secure fit. Despite being Nike’s first indoor cycling shoe offering, the SuperReps appear to have ticked a lot of the requirements for indoor riding and have the versatility of both two- and three-bolt cleat options.A gym’s floor walkability score will only be increased by the studs on the sole of these Nikes, however somewhat confusingly, Nike’s website states both that the studs are builtin and not included.

The SuperReps are available in a series of colours and both men and women’s fit.

Price: US$120 / AU$170 / £104.95 / €119.99

Nike.com

Nobull

I know what your thinking here: Is it a shoe? Is it a sandal? Have they even finished making it? With a “deconstructed” upper and vented sole, breathability certainly shouldn’t be an issue with this offering from American gym apparel brand, Nobull. I would be interested though to actually try these on for comfort – something about all those holes on the upper just looks uncomfortable. While offering plenty of colour options and with a somewhat retro style, I can’t help but wonder how perfect these shoes would look without all the cutouts.

The Nobull cycling shoes are available in a range of colours and both men’s and women’s fit.

Price: US$179 / £165


Nobull.com

Peloton have its own range of shoes, supplied with cleats but photographed on the wrong side.

Peloton

Information on these shoes is extremely light on the Peloton website. Peloton has not published any information on the sole material or fabrics used. Neither is there any mention of performance features or benefits of choosing the Peloton shoes. Perhaps there are none? On a positive note, these shoes do come with cleats and are the only shoes on this list to do so.

Price: US$125 / £119 / €129

Onepeloton.com

Spiuk Motiv

The Motiv shoe from Spiuk offers a rubber sole said to be for indoor cycling and gym workouts, a velcro strap, a mesh surface for breathability, and a sole compatible with two-bolt cleats. Perhaps most notably though, according to Spiuk, with the Motiv shoes “you’ll be free to walk around the gym without looking like an astronaut”. I’m not sure what this means but it seems important.

Price: £72.34 / €79.90 (international pricing TBC)

Spiuk.com

Shimano IC1

Shimano has been offering indoor-specific shoes for more than a decade now and the IC1 is its latest offering. With an almost entirely mesh upper, breathability shouldn’t be an issue. A single velcro strap looks after the fit of the shoe and a stabilizing heel pad on the sole should make for easier walking. The IC1 is compatible with both two- and three-bolt cleats and seems to be a well thought-out spin shoe. The IC1 is only available in both men’s and women’s fit but black is the only colour option in both fits.

Price: US$90

Outdoor shoes we think will work well (the shoes I’d pick)

S-Works Vent

With seemingly as many vents as a lightweight helmet, these S-Works shoes from Specialized have one job: to keep your feet as cool as possible in hot conditions. Ports in the toe box, vents on the sole, perforated insoles, and mesh uppers all appear to help achieve the breathability needed to keep feet cool. With the same fit as the standard S-Works 7 shoes, the Vents should offer the same comfort as their massive popular sibling. As these are in no way indoor-only shoes, the performance should also be on a par with what many have come to expect from Specialized S-Works road shoes.

The S-Works Vent is available in black or white and for a not-so-cool US$425 / AU$550 / £380.

Specialized.com

Pearl Izumi Pro Air

Although the design goal for Pearl Izumi was to create a super-light road-going shoe, it appears the brand has ticked most of the boxes for a good indoor shoe also. Retaining comfort is said to have been a key goal for the Pro Air shoes and all the weight-shredding has also created quite a breathable-looking shoe. The partially mesh upper and incredibly ventilated sole should combine to keep feet cool.

Despite having a lofty price tag, only being available in black, and with the added fuss of laces, the Pro Airs could still prove to be quite popular given their low weight and stylish appearance.

Price: US$400 (international pricing TBC)

PearlIzumi.com

Indoor riding is often about finding the motivation. Surely looking like Eddy Merckx is motivation enough?

Adidas Road Cycling Shoe

Adidas re-entered the cycling shoe game in November with its “Road Cycling Shoe”. We have yet to try a pair, they don’t look particularly breathable, and there are no vents on the sole, but does any of that matter when they look this good? In other good news, the road cycling shoe is made, at least partially, from Adidas Primegreen which is constructed from recycled materials.

The Road Cycling Shoe is available in black or white and is compatible with three-bolt cleat systems.

Price: US$150 / £130 / €147.56

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