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Do stiffer cycling shoes make a difference?

According to product designers,

 "The stiffer the sole, the higher the power transmission efficiency."

Do stiffer cycling shoes make a difference?

  • This research appears to disprove the widely held idea among riders and the cycling industry that the stiffest cycling shoe soles produce the best performance.

  • Cycling shoes are made to be light, tight, and rigid. Because stiff shoes flex or bend less, they help you transfer force efficiently from your foot to the pedal.

  • More energy is delivered from your foot to the pedal with stiffer soles, although this is only true during sprints and periods of all-out cycling. Recreational cycling does not apply enough force to the pedals to create adequate shoe deformation, and the low cadence has no effect on muscular coordination.

  • While stiff-soled cycling shoes have been demonstrated to boost performance, studies suggest that raising the stiffness, even more, does not make you quicker and that the additional pressures might cause pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and discomfort in your feet.

“The stiffer the sole, the better the transfer of power through the pedals and better performance.”

Finding scientific data to back up these statements, on the other hand, is difficult. "No effect of cycling shoe sole stiffness on sprint performance," according to a study published in 2020,


               "In conclusion, we found no difference in performance between less stiff and stiffer road cycling shoe soles in recreational/competitive riders during short uphill sprints. When compared to a moderately stiff and the least stiff road cycling shoe soles offered by a well-known manufacturer, the stiffest cycling shoe soles showed no performance benefits in: 50 m average and peak 1-second power, average and peak change in velocity, maximum velocity, peak acceleration, or peak torque.

What are the main advantages of stiff soles over more flexible soles?

  • While a stiffer sole improves power transmission when pedalling, the range of shoe styles available now means you have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a pair. The greatest place to begin is by determining the type of riding you'll be doing—as well as your budget. Stiffness and weight are the key distinctions between carbon-sole shoes, which are obviously stiffer, and plastic or nylon soles, which are less rigid and flex when pedalling. Compliant soles are more inexpensive and perhaps more pleasant for road cycling. A less-expensive, more-comfortable sole will suffice if you're a casual rider looking for increased pedalling efficiency and comfort in between coffee stops.

  • Stiff shoes, on the other hand, are preferred by performance riders due to their efficiency. The lack of flex conserves energy when you need it most, such as during a sprint, a breakaway, or a final push up a hill. Energy is delivered more efficiently to the sole and pedal. According to Fisher, look for the stiffest sneaker within your pricing range.

  • During all-out sprints, stiff-soled cycling shoes outperform normal sneakers.

  • When compared to conventional shoes, cycling shoes produce 10% more power (even less with a stiffer soled rubber shoe)

Is it true that stiffer soles are always better?

  • There are many things that contribute to a good ride. Watching the majesty of the Grand Tour or feeling the thrill of a club ride can easily tempt you to consider which upgrades would improve yours. Is it true that stiffer soles are always better? Yes and no, says Jessie Gascon, product manager for Shimano's S-Phyre RC9 and RC7 road competition shoes. High-rigidity shoes are essential for racing, but if you're a casual cyclist who doesn't spend every Wednesday night racing crits, stiffness should be lower on your priority list (there are exceptions for more powerful or heavier riders).

  • According to Gascon, fit takes precedence over all other considerations and should be given top priority over anything else, even stiffness. The foot, and by extension, your shoes, are always the starting point for a perfect bike fit. Keep in mind that professional racers generally race for 6 hours per day. Their shoes will always be stiffer than what the majority of club or recreational riders require. However, that doesn't rule out the possibility of owning a pair of pro-spec sneakers. If nothing else, if the mood strikes you to lead it out on your next ride, they'll respond.

  • The stiffness of cycle-specific shoes has no bearing on their performance.

  • Because the function of shoes is much more than just stiffness, certain stiff cycling shoes perform worse than more flexible ones, and vice versa.

  • The stiffest cycling shoe generates about.6 watts more power than the least stiff.

Does this mean that flexible shoes are as quick as stiff shoes?

Differences in sole stiffness may offer benefits over extended periods of time. Some bike-fitting experts concur.

According to Innes Ogilvy of Edinburgh-based bike fitter Bramblers Cycling, sprint performance isn't usually the key reason for choosing a stronger shoe, at least not from a bike-fitting standpoint. "And the outcomes of this study are unlikely to assist people in locating the proper shoe."

The results of the new study have raised a few eyebrows among cycling shoe designers. "If their theory were accurate, you could easily race with a pair of running shoes," says Istvan Nemeth, CEO of Bont Cycling.

A study published in 2019 compared the results of 12 cyclists testing stiff-soled shoes and clipless pedals against running shoes – which typically have little longitudinal stiffness – and platform pedals and discovered that stiff clipless shoes produced significantly better performance stats and were shown to improve cycling performance during high-power, uphill sprints.

This means that while choosing tougher shoes has a benefit, the performance gains become vanishingly insignificant after a certain point.

The 2020 study was unable to pinpoint the exact location of this essential point, but it's safe to believe that even entry-level shoes will deliver all of the stiffness we require in terms of performance.

Any mechanical energy that deforms the shoe during the downstroke is lost during the upstroke when cycling. However, while the relative stiffness difference is "small," the difference in "lost" energy between the least stiff and stiffest cycle-specific shoe is about.6 watts.


  • Competitive or professional riders who suffer from metatarsalgia or ischemia because they raise peak plantar pressure, aggravating these foot disorders. should avoid carbon fiber cycling shoes


  • Cycling shoes are one of the most vital pieces of equipment, especially when riding clipless, because your feet will be attached to the bike for the whole of the trip. The level of stiffness is less crucial than the proper and comfortable fitting shoes.

  • However, for some riders, stiff shoes may provide benefits beyond performance.

  • Cycling shoes have a stronger sole than sneakers or athletic shoes, which distributes pedal forces more uniformly over the foot. In running shoes, the majority of the effort applied to the pedal is concentrated in the toes and ball of the foot, whereas in cycling shoes, the pressure is spread more equally.

  • The ideal comfort level for cyclists is somewhere in the middle of a spectrum ranging from very flexible to hyper-rigid shoes, and is dependent on a variety of other factors. A shoe that is too flexible, such as sneakers, puts too much pressure on your feet's balls. However, a stiff sole paired with a poor fit can result in high hallux (big toe) pressure, which can exacerbate discomfort, numbness, tingling, and burning in your feet.

  • Because of the elevated plantar pressures associated with carbon fiber cycling shoe soles, some less stiff cycling shoe bottoms may aid to avoid or treat metatarsalgia or ischemia in cyclists.

  • When compared to riders who use platform pedals, cyclists who use clipless pedals are 2 to 3 times more likely to have foot pain. The cycling shoe is designed to relieve, not increase, foot pain.


  • However, because the connecting surface is 80 percent smaller than a flat pedal, clipless pedals are small and require a significantly sturdier shoe to disperse the pedalling effort. The soles of the shoe become the platform as a result of the reduced area. You'd be forcing your foot into a little region if the shoe wasn't firm, which would be uncomfortable and ineffective.

  • Because they have to be, clipless pedals are stiffer than regular shoes even if incredibly stiff shoes helped you transfer power more efficiently and hence made you faster, which doesn't guarantee stiffer is better. Pedaling with an extremely stiff shoe exacerbates discomfort, agony, and injury. On race day, wearing the fastest shoe makes sense; but, recreational riding and training sessions are a different story.

So, how important is shoe stiffness?

  • In conclusion, a stiff clipless-pedal shoe will provide a meaningful performance boost when compared to riding in flexible running shoes with flat pedals.

  • Most clipless shoes on the market are likely to be stiff enough for most riders (though it's unclear how much 'enough' is).

  • It's more important to get a shoe that's appropriate for your choice of cycle activity, as well as one that fits and supports your feet effectively.