Shoes – Tight or Loose?

Okay, here’s one for you.  I have a dilemma.  It’s about shoes.

When I got my shoes two years ago (is it that long already?), I made sure to get size 44s, instead of the 42s I normally wear on the street (Yes, speaking metrically makes me feel veddy continental).  The theory is that since my feet swell up during exercise, the extra room in the shoes would keep them from squeezing my feet too tightly, causing hot spots, numbness, and a whole plethora of other bad things that happen to feet on a long bike ride.

My wife has been complaining about her shoes, too.  She’s had hers even longer than I’ve had mine, and they seem to have served her very well.  Both of use have Specialized shoes, which aren’t cheap.  They have carbon soles, so we get no flex when pedaling hard.  But in warm weather, her feet get pinched, and cause her a lot of discomfort (I’m bringing up warm weather in December, because our winters are pretty mild compared to the rest of you folks, and her most recent complaint about her foot was within the last two weeks).

I bring this up now, because recently I was reading an article — I forget if it was in print or online, but as I recall, it came from a source I regard as reliable — that said you don’t need to allow for extra room.  In fact, it said biking shoes should fit snugly.

About five or six years ago, when I bought my last pair of running shoes (before I stopped running), the sales clerk told me to get a larger than normal size to allow for the swelling my feet would do while exercising.  I did, and they worked out great.  I’ve even started buying street shoes a half size larger than normal.  But since seeing that article, I’m confused.  Should she stick with the shoes she has, and look for other means of relief?  Or should we go shopping for new shoes, and do what I did — get a couple of metric sizes larger?

Readers — what’s your take on this?


  1. says

    I run about the same size in street and bike shoes (42, incidentally)
    The difference between running and biking shoes is in running you put stress/weight on numerous parts of the shoe, since it flexes. With biking the idea is the stress is only on the cleat part since the shoes doesn’t flex.

    I’m not sure what you mean about pinching, is she saying the shoe is too big or too snug?

    I find that on longer rides I’ll loosen the straps up a bit, allowing more freedom on the foot in the shoe, until we hit a climb when I tighten them back up. If you watch races you’ll notice the pros adjusting their shoes as well, even if they’ve had them custom-fit.

  2. Mel Hughes says

    I’m with Ashley here. The last pair of shoes I bought were based on the Sidi sizing chart. The other shoes I have used (Specialized, Sidi, and Shimano) never seemed exactly right, either a little too short (Specialized) or just a hair too narrow (older Sidi), or just a little too sloppy (Shimano.) I wanted a mountain bike shoe to use with Speedplay Frog pedals.

    Using the downloadable Sidi chart, I found that my preferred size should be a 44 “Mega” or wide. I ended up buying a pair of Sidi “Dominators” which I wore throughout the summer. Other than changing the footbeds, these shoes have been trouble free. I find that I do adjust them tighter or looser during rides. But I have had no pinching or hot spots. They have been very comfortable.

    Having said that, I managed to buy a pair if the Keen Commuter Sandals on close-out at the end of the summer. These are threaded for SPD or Speedplay Frog cleats. So far, I haven’t mounted cleats on them. But I have used them with traditional touring pedals and even the MKS “Grip King” pedals. What a treat! I am looking forward to this summer and using these with or without cleats! I get some strange looks from my riding buddies when I show up with a Litespeed with those MKS pedals. But even with running shoes, they are extremely comfortable and not as inefficient as some would have you believe!

  3. Pointyhead says

    When in doubt, look to the pros. Didn’t Shimano come out with the shoe that you heat up, put on, then undergo a vacuum process to get them to mold to the foot? Seems to me it would indicate that tight is better than loose.

  4. Simon says

    I asked myself this very same question yesterday. Bought my first pair of clipless shoes (Shimano SH-M161G MTB) size 46, but after wearing them in the house for 5 minutes decided to return and get 47’s. The 46’s were just a little to snug and I was concerned how they would feel after 20 or 30 miles. Happy so far with the 47’s just a tad more room but hopefully not to much.

  5. says

    In my opinion, snug is good, and loose is not so good.

    I’m currently in the same situation as your wife with my SIDI Dominators. I’ve always worn a size 42, and these shoes were great for about three years, but a couple of years ago they kept getting wet and just haven’t been the same since. Like you, my feet seem to swell toward the end of the day. I can wear them in the morning and they’re fine, but by the afternoon, not so much.

    I also find that they’re much more tolerable if I wear thin cycling socks with them instead of the slightly thicker running socks I sometimes tend to use.

    When I bought my Lake winter cycling boots, I tried on both 42 & 43, but the 43’s felt too long. Since I was having trouble with the SIDI’s, I decided to go ahead and get the 42’s in wide instead of normal width, and they have felt great in spite of wearing thicker socks with them.

  6. Mel Hughes says

    Like Tracy, I tried on 45’s ( a size larger than I measured.) For me, the increase in length was not comfortable, I felt my foot would slide back and forth lenthwise just enough not to be stable over the pedal. When I finally tried on the 44 wide (Mega) in the Sidi shoes, I felt the length was perfect and the width gave me just enough room for those hot day, late afternoon expansions.

    I did not like the very thin shoe liners that came with the Sidi’s. I ended up buying a pair of Louis Garneau Thermo Cool Insoles. They make a “Thermo Cool” and a “Thermo Hot” version. The only difference is that the Cool version has ventilation holes. From the literature: ” you can heat them in a conventional oven at 176 degrees (f) for 15 minutes, slide them into your shoes, cinch the retention system, and let them conform to your foot. To make things easy for your baking timing and temperature, one of the insoles comes with a heat sensitive sticker. It will allow you to ensure that your insoles will come out just right.” And they did.

    So for me, getting the right lenght with an adequate but not too large width were the most important factors in fitting. Each manufacturer has a little different last, a little different fit. I certainly tried on a bunch of shoes before my feet gave me that “Ah Ha!” moment.

  7. Barbara says

    My first pair of road shoes were Sidi’s….the LBS told me they needed to fit snug and I shouldn’t be able to move my foot around inside. I have fought intermittent numbness and hot spots for nearly 3 years and 13K miles in them.
    I’ve always been comfortable in my MTB shoes and winter road shoes both being PI’s and a size too big. I can move my foot around inside but don’t ever feel like I’ve lost power. I recently replaced the Sidi’s with the heat customizable Shimano’s of the same size and think they’ll be great….as soon as the weather warms up! Shimano’s seem to run bigger compared to Sidi.

  8. says

    The first time I rode in my current cycling cleats, I made them snug or so my feet could not shift around as I pedaled. I was very uncomfortable after 20 miles and by mile 40 at the finish I could barely walk! I was afraid I had ordered shoes a size too small.

    For the next ride I adjusted them to “a little loose” but not so much that I felt my feet were moving around too much. The shoes were great and I have ridden them for thousands of miles now with no hot spots or discomfort.

    It might be a fraction less efficient, but I’m not racing anyway. I’ll take comfort over the ” no wasted energy snug”.

    It’s hard to express what snug, tight, loose is for each of us on-line. Experiment with the straps if you have discomfort; that may be all it takes.

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