Short of hiring Lance Armstrong's trainer, upgrading your footwear is probably the single most effective way of transforming your pedalling performance. Cycling shoes have to be used with clip-in pedals (and vice versa) and there are several flavours to chose from. Shimano's SPD pedals are the most widespread, but shoes designed for, say, Look pedals can be used on SPD pedals with adaptors.
So how do clip-in pedals work? On the underside of your cycling shoe there is a plate to which a cleat – a small, arrow-shaped metal block – can be attached. This cleat clips into a cage on the pedal. There is a knack to sliding your feet on to the pedal, but once the cleat has clicked into place you are now, in a real sense, at one with your bicycle. It is initially disconcerting, but the advantages are enormous. Since your feet are securely fastened into the pedals, you generate power on the upstroke as well as the downstroke. Your feet also remain in the optimum position for delivering power, and the stiff soles ensure that little energy is wasted.
First-time users should brace themselves for the inevitable early fall – it is all too easy to forget that you cannot lift your feet off the pedals. But you will soon learn to remember to swing the heel of your foot horizontally away from the bike to twist the cleat free.
Many mountain bikers wear cycling shoes; it suddenly becomes much easier to bunny-hop over obstacles. The Vans shoes are stylish, but it was difficult to access the undersole plate. In contrast, the Specialized Pro Mountain shoes, seemingly styled to resemble David Beckham's football boots, are race-level mountain-biking shoes. Part of Specialized's Body Geometry range, they were an excellent fit, with an elasticated liner, laces and Velcro straps.
If the Pro Mountains would look at home in Old Trafford, Sidi's Energy road-cycling shoes might perhaps belong in the Design Museum. They incorporate a system to adjust the rigidity of the sole, and feature tensioning dials rather than Velcro straps to tighten the shoe with a twist.
The Italian-made Energys are as good as cycling shoes get, but need an adaptor for Shimano SPD pedals, which isn't a problem faced by Shimano's own shoes. With just a wide Velcro strap, they are a cheaper, simpler alternative.
Specialized Pro Mountain
Robust, high-quality shoe for mountain bikers. Deep, rubbery tread for muddy conditions.
For stockists: 01372 840 800, www.specialized.com
Beautifully crafted, innovative road- cycling shoes from Italian specialists.
For stockists: 020 8991 9244, www.blueridge.co.uk
Good looks, but shallow grips and hard-to-access cleats; save them for dry conditions.
For stockists: 0208 877 9907, www.vans.com
Solid performance, good fit; well- ventilated entry-level road shoes.
For stockists: 0845 603 4612, www.madisonbrandinformation.com
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