July 10, 2010
Finding the right footwear for touring is like most things associated with bicycle travel: Your selection will change depending on the style of tour you have ahead of you, and over time you will settle into preferences that work best for you. To get started, here are some options that have worked well for me in the past.
Cycling Shoes: This is the most common style of footwear that we see on the feet of traveling cyclists who stop in at our office, and the option I choose for the majority of my tours. The benefit of cycling shoes, as opposed to tennis shoes, is that they offer more support for your foot, and prevent your heel from dropping, which can stretch the arch of your foot. But it's unfair to lump all cycling shoes into one category, so I'll break it down into three groups:
1. Commuter/Touring Shoes: These offer a good balance between support for riding and flexibility for time off the bike. They often feature a more casual appearance, and a good tread pattern for walking. They also have mounts for mountain-bike cleats, although you're not bound to clipless pedals by any stretch.
2. Mountain Bike Shoes: Similar to commuter/touring shoes, but they usually include more high-performance features, such as a stiffer sole, micro-adjustment buckles, and a flashier appearance. The soles are still good for walking, but they won't flex a great deal, and the tread pattern isn't quite a grippy as those of touring/commuter shoes.
3. Road Cycling Shoes: I usually try to keep my road shoes at home when touring, as they can be tough to walk in on hard floors, and they also make a good amount of noise. That said, they do offer great support on the bike; if you have a pair that are super comfortable, you can buy cleat covers to slip over the cleats while you're walking, which add a bit of grip and cut down on the noise.
Cycling Sandals: These can be great for summer riding, as they will keep your feet cool and help reduce hot spots on the bottom of your feet. They do offer some good support, and are great for walking and lounging around the campsite. As an added bonus, you can cut cycling socks out of your packing list. I'm a big fan of the Keen cycling sandals, which offer a substantial amount of toe coverage — so, if you do suffer a crash, your feet won't have to take a beating.
Regular Shoes: While regular tennis shoes don't offer much support when cycling, they are just fine for shorter tours. Just make sure that if you start to feel pain in your heel and/or arch, either take some time off the bike or search for something with stiffer soles.
Lounge Wear: At the end of the day, it feels great to get out of your riding shoes and into something more comfy. I continue to maintain that Crocs are both comfortable and stylish, but my current fashion consultant tells me that flip-flops are the way to go. They're also readily packable and can be quite inexpensive.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.