"How do I make this old bike go faster?" That refrain, heard frequently among the teeming masses riding from downtown to the beach in last month's CicLAvia and sure to be repeated again at the next one on June 23, has one obvious answer (work out more, dude) and three not-so-obvious ones: Oil the chain, adjust the seat to the proper height (so there's a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke) and get some "clip-in" cycling shoes and pedals.
Snapped into matching pedals via a step-in cleat you attach to a port on the bottom, clip-in shoes include a stiff sole and the ability to pull up as well as push down, thereby providing a huge mechanical advantage that transfers more of your energy into the crank. To reduce the learning curve involved in snapping in and out easily, the models reviewed below were each tested with Shimano's economical Click'R pedal system (the Click'R PD-T400 pedal system, $69), which uses quick, easy entry/release designed to reduce beginners' apprehension to being clipped in. (It works great and with any shoe brand.) The shoes here, unlike models dedicated to road racing, all have rubber tread on the soles, making them ideal for mountain biking, commuting and any urban riding that involves setting feet on the ground for red lights and sightseeing, something you may be able to do more of due to your old bike's newfound speed. (All the shoes have women's versions too.)
Shimano CT-40 Click'R: Entry-level biker shoe designed to be a capable hiker. It includes a clip-in pedal port, semi-flexible sole with rubber tread, laces and a Velcro instep strap.
Likes: Practical, stylish and comfortable, with no need for a break-in period. Great for commuting. Walking around town, it looks and feels like a regular fitness shoe, although it is clearly stiffer than a running shoe. The wide toe box easily accommodated my D-width feet without smushing my toes, as the other test shoes did. The moderately flexible front quarter of the sole merges with a stiff midsection, accounting for decent power transmission to the pedal. Traditional laces, prevented from unraveling by the Velcro strap, allow a custom fit. Works great with any pedals, including the separately purchased Click'R pedals.
Dislikes: The Velcro strap seems about 1.5 inches too long and looks a bit sloppy. The shoe does not have screw ports in the front of the sole to accommodate a pair of spikes, as did the other three shoes. It's heavy at 15.5 ounces in size 42 (U.S. men's size 9).
Price: $120. http://www.rei.com.
Serious, simple shoe
Giro Carbide: Economy synthetic-leather mountain bike shoe with triple Velcro-strap closures, EVA foam foot bed, and hard, stiff injected-nylon sole.
Likes: Simple, effective design with no buckles to break or laces to come undone. Generous toe box and mid-foot fit wide feet almost as well as the Shimano. Fast and well-made for the price, which is about as low as you can go for entry-level performance. Good grip on the sole, although less than the Pearl Izumi, Weight: 12.8 ounces in size 43 (U.S. size 9.5).
Dislikes: It's too wide in the mid-foot area. I really had to yank the top pair of Velcro straps hard to reduce the loose fit around my arch.
Price: $100. http://www.giro.com
Pearl Izumi X Project 1.0: Top model of a three-model performance line for serious mountain bikers and cyclo-crossers, who often dismount and run. It features two Velcro straps and a ratcheting instep buckle strap, a rigid carbon plate, lots of tread and impact-absorbing running-shoe EVA foam in the heel.
Likes: The X has the stiff power transfer expected of an elite bike shoe along with the most natural walking traction of the shoes reviewed here, except the Shimano. Part of that seems due to an extra large chunk of rubber tread on the front tip of the sole. It's stylish, with bright green accents on the sole and flanks. A similar hike-bike design is found on Pearl Izumi's lower-end 2.0 ($210) and 3.0 ($160) models.
Dislikes: It was too narrow for my D-width feet, squeezing my big and little toes even when the first strap was loosened completely. Heavier than the others at 14.5 ounces for a size 43 (about 9.5 U.S.). The Xes aren't available until June.
Price: $280. http://www.pearlizumi.com
Speed and comfort
Specialized S-Works EVO: An elite mountain bike shoe designed to be burly enough to last through long, hard multi-day rides and 24-hour events. It is built around a super-stiff carbon fiber plate with a leather upper secured by one Velcro strap and the Boa S2 retention system, two dials that use a ratcheting mechanism to actuate thin cables that tighten or loosen the upper.
Likes: Pure power. That's no surprise, because the EVO is as stiff as a board. Yet it also fits like a glove, partly due to the snug-but-not-too-snug shape featuring a medium-width toe box tapering to a narrow waistline and heel, and to the instantly adjustable Boa system. You literally get to "dial in" your preferred snugness in millimeter increments. Weight: 13.2 ounces in size 43 (9.5 U.S.).
Dislikes: Not as comfy or confident to walk in as the Pearl Izumi due to the lack of flex and the length — oddly about a half-inch longer than the Pearl Izumis, which gave them a slight clown-shoe feel. The grippy rubber tread at the heel and forefoot handled most sections well, but the tiny toe-lug tread made walking more iffy on faster and steep scrambles. And that price …
Price: $370. http://www.specialized.com
Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100" and "Barefoot Running Step by Step." email@example.com