When should you replace your cycling shoes? When you fancy a new pair, they're so minging you can't face them any more, or when your current ones have worn out would be the obvious answers, but how do you know when they’ve worn out? Clearly, if they’re falling off your feet you’re going to benefit from something new, but sometimes these things can sneak up on you so we asked the experts for the signs that say it’s time for a change.
“I’ve seen shoes during bike fits that look as if they've been used for running a marathon and the customer still insisting they're good to use,” says Jez Loftus of Trek, owners of the Bontrager brand that includes a large range of shoes.
“In general it’s a trade off between weight and durability. A fancy pair of lightweight summer climbing shoes probably won’t last long if you use them on gravel or in winter conditions.
“Wear can depend heavily on the rider and shape of their feet,” says Jez. “From the bike fits I’ve done, a rider who has mastered souplesse [which in this context refers to the suppleness/smoothness of the pedal stroke] and the art of a perfect pedalling style is usually very light on their shoes, and kit. The chopper, on the other hand, just devours kit!”
So how do you know when it’s time to pension off one pair of shoes and buy a new pair?
“It depends on the amount of riding that’s being done, but road shoes should last many seasons if you avoid walking on abrasive surfaces and keep the shoes clean and dry them properly inside and out when wet,” says Peter Curran, Giro’s category manager for footwear, softgoods and apparel.
“Generally, road cycling shoes are used in a very specific, predictable way, unlike mountain bike shoes, where riders are subject to more environmental factors, such as dirt, mud, rock strikes and wear and tear on the sole due to hiking.”
It’s the closure system that most often fails first.
“Mechanised closure systems have gotten more complex to allow a rider to customise the fit of their shoes in targeted areas,” says Peter Curran. “These are the most used part of the shoes, and systems can wear over time. Fortunately, with the added complexity comes serviceability, so if your closure system needs repairs, parts are available and easy for a rider to install.”
Boa closures, for instance, which you’ll find on some shoes from Giro and many other brands, are guaranteed for the lifetime of the product on which they are integrated, and you can get spares for many other systems online or through your local bike shop.
The sole is the other part that’s most susceptible to damage. Cycling shoe soles are most often made from glass-fibre reinforced nylon or carbon-fibre and road shoes don't usually have a protective layer to prevent damage when you walk.
“If the cyclist refrains from walking over rocks and pebbles it will extend the life of the sole, but carbon-fibre is susceptible to wear like anything else,” says Bont’s chief executive officer Steven Nemeth. “Shoes, including carbon soled shoes, need to be looked after like all equipment. You wouldn’t drag your bike frame across sharp rocky surfaces, so why would you do it to naked carbon soles of shoes?”
If your road shoes have died because you've worn out the soles through walking in them, think about replacing them with a pair of touring or mountain bike shoes that take two-bolt cleats that are recessed into soles with tread and a bit of give.
Jez Loftus of Trek says, “You see some soles fail across the cleat bolt holes, especially with shoes that are used for off-road riding which generally have a tougher life.
“If you’re doing pro mileage in a pair of nylon soled shoes you should really think about upgrading to something stiffer, but whether they’re made from nylon or carbon, the soles should last for years if you keep walking to a minimum.”
What about the uppers? They don’t have to handle contact with the ground – not unless things go horribly wrong – but they’re not made from such hard-wearing materials either.
“There can be some stretch in the uppers over time, but modern road cycling shoes don’t experience the dynamic forces that other athletic footwear is subjected to, so there’s much less fatigue on the uppers,” says Giro’s Peter Curran. “Any material stretch would be from the repeated tightening of the shoes.”
Bont’s Steven Nemeth says, “Our top models like the Vaypor series as well as the Crono and Zero+ all have a monocoque construction under the upper layer (above) that stops them from stretching.”
The heel counter – the insert that wraps around the back of your foot and defines the shape of the heel cup, sometimes internal and sometimes external) – should last the lifetime of your shoe as long as you loosen the closure system fully when you put it on. Don’t try to wiggle your foot inside while the shoe is done up.
If you want to make your shoes last as long as possible, dry them out after a wet ride by stuffing them with newspaper – yes, the old way is still the best. This absorbs moisture while helping them keep their shape. Don’t be tempted to use a fire, radiator or hairdryer because extreme heat can damage the materials and adhesives.
Cool and dry storage is best for longevity. Don't leave your shoes festering in the bottom of a kit bag. Completely removing any overshoes you've used – as opposed to pushing them down just far enough to get your feet out – allows your shoes to dry out more quickly.
The best way to clean your shoes depends on the exact materials used, so consult the manufacturer’s instructions, but in many cases you just need to wipe off the dirt and grime with a damp cloth or sponge. Don’t use strong detergents, solvents or abrasive pads, and don’t put them in the washing machine. People certainly do that and swear by this method, but although the shoes might come out clean, you run the risk of damaging them irreparably.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.