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Biking in Everyday Shoes? You Can Do So Much Better

A bike fit expert reveals what you're missing — and easy ways to get significantly more comfortable, efficient, fast and safe.

rear view of businessman riding bicycle on bridge in city
MaskotGetty Images

Last year, I started wearing a not-so-technical-looking pair of flat-pedal mountain bike shoes as everyday footwear, and something maybe not that surprising happened. When I hopped on my everyday bike to casually run errands around town, every pedal stroke felt smoother and faster. That’s right, the shoes did more than simply boost protection and traction; they actually made my pedal strokes more efficient.

While I have since switched over mostly to clipless pedals (and their attendant footwear), the performance benefits (and attendant euphoria) of those flat-pedal shoes stuck with me. It’s gotten to the point where I cringe when I see folks in floppy sneakers or sandals laboriously pedaling a bike. (I’m weird.)

dr andrew pruitt
Andy Pruitt, Ed.D.
Andrew Pruitt

So I decided to find out how much of a difference such a footwear swap can actually make. All it took was a Zoom call with Andy Pruitt, Ed.D. to discover the answer and so much more. Dude is not only the founder of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center. He is also the holder of three patents for the development of Specialized Body Geometry shoes and saddles, a working member of the Board of Directors for SpokeSafety and a two-time Paralympic road cycling world champ. In other words, he knows a thing or two about maximizing comfort, safety and performance on two wheels.

Here’s not only what Pruitt taught me about the significant impact of footwear itself, but also some tips on inserts and the pedals themselves that can potentially transform the whole riding experience for even the casual rider or commuter.

Why Regular Shoes Suck (for Biking)

side view of businessman riding bicycle on street in city
MaskotGetty Images

“Well, let's just start with the foot, right? In walking and running, the plantar fascia is a ligament-like structure that holds up the arch. It goes from the heel bone up to the toes. As we plant the foot, the plantar fascia stores energy and then gives it back to us as we push off. If we allow the foot to store energy, when we're pushing down on the pedal, we're never going to get it back.”

"So the person who commutes or rides in a running shoe is not only losing energy in the foot, they’re losing energy in the shoe, which is designed to absorb energy on heel strike, right? So the revelation when you get somebody to go from a cheap sneaker, not even a high-end sneaker — or worse, a Hoka — there’s an aha moment that occurs for these people: “My god, that feels better.”

"The person who commutes in a dress shoe, you know, a leather-sole heeled shoe, they may have some arch support in there, they may not. But if you slip off your pedal with a slick-bottom dress shoe, for example, and that pedal comes around and hits you in the shin [and gives you a 'pedal bite or tears your dress pants], you will buy cycling shoes the next day, when you get out of the ER."

Why Flat-Pedal Shoes Rule

close up of a person wearing sneakers on a bike pedal
Chrome Industries

“In the perfect world, in cycling, the foot becomes a rigid lever. The high-performance clipless race shoe is helping to produce that lever. It actually becomes an orthotic, right? An implement to improve the foot for that particular activity."

"So [even without going clipless] is there an advantage in a cycling-specific flat-pedal shoe? Absolutely. Whatever brand of flat-pedal shoe you want to pursue, they're going to be better than a sneaker.”

“[Along with the more rigid platform], the sole is really important — a sole where the rubber compound is meant to grasp a pedal. Because think about how we're coming over the top of the stroke — we're not pushing down, we’re actually pushing forward. So the foot tends to migrate a little bit forward into the arch [a less than ideal position] and then you readjust your foot. The perfect shoe has got a sole that keeps that foot from migrating.”

5 Flat-Pedal Shoes We Love

At a wide range of price points and styles, the following flat-pedal options have much to offer even the casual cyclist. They are united by the two qualities Pruitt stresses: a rigid platform for efficient energy transfer and grippy soles that keep (the right part of) your feet stuck to your pedals on the road.


Endura Hummvee Flat Pedal Shoe

$71.99 (40% off)

Here are the not-so-technical-looking shoes I mentioned at the start. Unassuming and approachable, they nonetheless deliver traction via a StickyFoot Grip Rubber outsole and smooth power transfer thanks to a medium flex: stiff enough to mash pedals but soft enough for standing and walking.


Adidas Five Ten SLEUTH

$72.00 (20% off)

Good looks meet comfort and toughness in these almost skate-style shoes, which boast 5.10's renowned Classic Dotty tread and a pedal-friendly EVA midsole. They're available in a variety of colors and versions for both men and women.

Chrome Industries

Chrome Industries Kursk TR Sneaker

$92.00 (20% off)

We love pretty much everything Chrome puts out, and the Kursk is no exception. A tread-tastic Panaracer vulcanized rubber outsole and PowerPlate nylon shank ensure you'll be gripping and ripping all over town.


Specialized 2FO Roost Flat Syn Shoe


We'd be remiss not to shout out the brand where Pruitt picked up his patents. This shoe features a SlipNot sole for reliable traction and pedal feel. The sole and footbeds are designed and tested to boost power and efficiency while reducing injury via optimized hip, knee and foot alignment.

Ride Concepts

Ride Concepts Flume


The top-end, no-nonsense Flume boasts a tough Cordura upper that stands up to the streets and a MAX GRIP rubber outsole that keeps you glued to the pedals. The Level 4 (out of 5) flex soups up power transfer with just enough give to stay comfy. (This writer swears by what is essentially the men's version, the Tallac.)

Internal Upgrades


Fulton The Classic Insole

$48.00 (20% off)

"Now can you take that flat-pedal shoe and make it even more efficient without clipping in? Yes, [by] maximizing the arch support. There's mine out there, but there are hundreds of off-the-shelf arch supports available in running stores and cycling stores. I would encourage people not only to go to a specific flat-pedal shoe but maximize the arch support that is comfortable for that rider. "


BikeFit in The Shoe Wedge (4-Pack)


"All of my Specialized shoes have a millimeter-and-a-half of forefoot varus canting. If you look at a human foot, ninety percent of them when relaxed are canted big toe up. If you don't account for that in a cycling shoe, that moment where the big toe has to catch the pedal is lost. Specialized and BikeFit [make] these little forefoot wedges that you just slip in under the insole and cant the foot and really maximize what your shoe is doing."

Better Pedals


Wellgo B087 BMX Pedals 9/16 Black

$19.59 (35% off)

"If you get a flat pedal with some pegs and a flat shoe that’s actually grabbing the pedal, voila. [You want] a pedal that has some sort of gripping spikes to it."

Editor's note: Make sure to check the size of your pedal's thread. The 9/16th-inch thread here is common, but so is a 1/2-inch thread.


Delta Cycle Foot Fenders Bicycle Toe Clips


"For the commuter, a loose toe clip, even a toe cage without a strap — you can still get out in multiple directions — just something to give that toe a bumper [to resist the aforementioned foot shifting], is a huge help."

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