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What Are Cycling Shoes Made Of?

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black and white road shoes with laces

Wearing the right cycling shoes can contribute significantly to an athlete’s performance. Lately, the market has witnessed a surge in brilliant designs that really assist cyclist in every way.

There are cycling shoes that are specially made for road races, mountain trails, touring, commuting, women’s sports, and technical racing. These shoes are quite different from running or hiking shoes, as their main job is to transfer power to the pedals.

Understanding what are cycling shoes made of will let you make better choices when the time comes for buying a new pair. Each part of the shoe adds a specific feature, and the different materials certainly contribute to the overall performance of the shoe.

Read on to know how cycling shoes are made, and why this should matter to you.

The Structure of Cycling Shoes

Back in the day, sports shoes meant a single model that was made from rubber and didn’t resemble dress shoes. As the times progressed, and competitive sports became more popular, footwear design developed exponentially.

The differences in how the uppers were stitched, and which materials were used for the soles, marked the difference between winning a race and coming in second.

Let’s explore the structure of cycling shoes in more detail, and see which features would be most beneficial to you.

The Uppers

The uppers make up the better part of the shoe. They’re actually made from a number of pieces sewn together to wrap around the foot without forming creases or sharp edges.

Sewing these pieces together matters a lot in their overall quality. Always look for double stitching and a clean finish.

These important parts, the uppers, should be sturdy, comfortable, light, flexible, and made from durable materials.

The uppers of cycling shoes are often made from:

  • Leather
  • Canvas
  • Suede
  • Faux leather
  • Nylon mesh
  • Other synthetic materials

Each material comes with specific characteristics regarding thermal insulation, waterproofing, durability, resistance to scratching, and breathability. Naturally, the combination of lightweight, strength, and durability is the best option and the one with the highest price tag.

Leather and canvas are particular favorites, though wool is quickly gaining popularity as well.

The Soles

Racing shoes are designed to be attached to the bike pedals all the time. The cyclists rarely take walks while going through these races. Thus, being bendy and comfortable isn’t a requirement for these shoes.

Road racing shoes typically have stiff soles to guarantee a full transfer of power from the foot to the pedal. Carbon fiber soles are often perfect for this type, but they’re also quite pricey. A good alternative material is nylon, and it gives a bit more flexibility in the sole. It has a nice mix of rigidity and a fair price.

Contrary to the specs of racing cycling shoes, the ones made for mountain bikes should be flexible, bendy, and quite rugged. The soles should also provide some grip on the rough trail.

The Insoles

The insoles are liners for the shoe that prove extra padding and comfort. They often look less complicated than the soles or uppers, but in fact, they serve critical functions in sport’s shoes.

Insoles are inserted inside cycling shoes for the following reasons.

  • To provide extra support for the foot
  • To align with the natural curves and arches of the foot
  • To act as a shock absorber and add comfort
  • To minimize wiggle spaces and stabilize the foot inside the shoe

High-end brands often make insoles specifically for cycling shoes. They’re thinner, but still, provide the same benefits as the generic ones. There’s also the option of thermally molding the insoles to a cyclist’s foot.

The Closure Mechanisms

The main function of a closure mechanism, besides keeping the shoe in place, is maintaining a perfectly snug fit. This used to be achieved by just lacing up the shoe, but nowadays there are more options.

The most popular cycling closure mechanisms are:

  • The traditional laces: These give an even and accurate fit by simply tightening or loosening the straps. However, they could become undone during pedaling or racing, and that wouldn’t be good.
  • Velcro straps: Are far more practical than laces, but they don’t provide the same accurate fit. Also, the sticky part of the velcro straps eventually catches dust or dirt, and then it loses its adhesive powers.
  • BOA straps: These have wires attached to a tightening dial. BOA straps give the accuracy and snug fit of the laces, without the messiness of the undone straps. They’re a bit more expensive, and the mechanism tends to slack a little after a while.
  • Ratchet buckle and velcro: This more sophisticated system has a buckle to provide a better fit, along with the practicality of the velcro.

Extra Structures

Every brand adds special features to its products to make them more attractive to athletes. Many of these additions are patented, so, each manufacturer can produce unique footwear.

As a cyclist, this plays to your benefit, as you can pick and choose what you need the most. Here are some of the most popular extras in cycling shoes.

  • Toe and heel padding is an excellent addition as it gives instant comfort as you move around with the shoes. Whether you’re pedaling for hours or walking a bit off-road, this padding should offer the right amount of protection.
  • Stiffening and reinforcement structures work best around the toes. This is especially important if you’re riding a mountain bike.
  • Molded slip-resistant heel cups: the vertical/circular movement of the feet could pull out the shoe if it’s not fitting properly, or if the cyclist has narrow heels. These slip-resistant heel cups ensure that the shoes stay in place.
  • Mesh cut-outs provide extra breathability, which adds to the overall comfort of the shoe.
  • Abrasion-resistant layers placed in strategic places inside the shoe minimize the probability of laceration or soreness after long hours of cycling.
  • Reflective elements are essential safety options for cyclists who hit the roads after dark or early in the morning. This visual stimulation makes them more visible to vehicles even at a distance.


Understanding how cycling shoes are made can let you make the best choices of materials and design. These shoes are often quite pricey, so it’s best to get the right one from the get-go.

The basic factor you should consider is your own usage. Road racing is quite different from pedaling a mountain bike on a rough trail. And both are a far cry from regular touring or commuting.

Selecting the correct cycling shoes based on your actual usage and requirements would feel more comfortable and help in boosting your performance.

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