The practical guide to casual and stylish looking clipless shoes

The problem with clipless shoes are that they look great while you’re ON the bike, but once you get off, they look very out of place.  They would usually be a big no-no for most work places.  Then on top of that, you might have this god damned gigantic cleat sticking out that makes you sound like you’re wearing heels and all the guys will be looking around thinking, “Who is that, a fine lady, maybe?”  And then they turn around, see me and think, “Oh, it’s some guy (me).  Why are his shoes so loud?  Also, why’s he walking like a retard?”  For those reasons and more, I always have to bring a second pair of shoes if I’m actually commuting with my bike, which is almost all the time.

I want the efficiency and foot retention of a clipless pedal but the looks of a “normal” looking shoe with a recessed cleat. I’ve opted for Shimano’s SPD pedals because the SPD-compatible shoes accomodate recessed cleats, have the most variety and their cleats are available at any shop.  I’ve spent all day putting together all my options for shoes, ranging from very-casual to very-dressy, scavenging them from forums and all, so you wouldn’t have to.  This list is pretty comprehensive but if you think I missed something, please let me know.

Also, I tried to refrain from including photos straight from the manufacturers website as they are not always an accurate representation. So most of these are just normal shots.

Casual or Stylish SPD-compatible shoes

Believe it or not, these are SPD-compatible shoes: The DZR GMT-8 on the left and District on the right.

1. The DZR Midnight (closest replacement to the GMT-8) ($85) looks like a decent sneaker and the cleats don’t hit the ground at all.

2. The DZR District ($85) would be nice too, but I would be tempted to change the shoe lace color.

3. The DZR Concubine ($100) is less conventional looking, with just a single strap, it looks like a slipper.

The DZR Concubine’s are extremely easy to slip in/out of with one strap and look way comfy.

4. The Chrome Kursk Pro (available in grey or black) has relatively poor reviews but I reckon people buy them cause Chrome has a good reputation for their messenger bags (their original forte), they have excellent customer service and people love their look.

Chrome’s Kursk Pro: Grey on the left, Black on the right.

5. The FiveTen Minnaar’s ($155).  They don’t have outstanding reviews because apparently they fall apart early, but before they do fall apart, they are said to be absolutely fantastic.  Also, they are probably the only shoes in this list available up to size 14 (european 48).

Greg Minnaar himself putting on the FiveTen MInnaar shoes for a race.

6. Keen has a few SPD-compatible commuting shoes. The Keen Austin’s look casual but on the rugged side.

Keen Austin Pedal shoes are an Oxford-style shoe with a water-resistant leather upper.

7. Another rugged yet somewhat “normal” looking shoe is Shimano’s MT22 Mountain Shoe.

The Shimano MT22 Mountain Biking shoe

8. For a streamlined black shoe, the Exustar Men’s SRT707 Touring Shoe looks like a dress shoe.

The Exustar’s look pretty close to dress shoes.

9. If your budget is high and you want a truly dressy shoe wrapped in leather, the Dromarti Sportivo ($250) looks beautiful in person.

Dromarti brown shoes and gloves.  They come in black too.

10. Here’s another option, the Quoc Pham Derby Brown.

These Derby Brown’s are made to order. Mission Workshop carries other Quoc Pham shoes too.

11. The Vittoria 1976 looks super cool, very similar to the Dromarti, but not as expensive as them.  Still though, at $150/pair, you could buy two DZR pairs for that amount.  Note: Don’t confuse this with the Vittoria Tire brand that makes cycling tires.  Vittoria Shoes are an Italian cycling-shoe company that makes their shoes by hand and have a quality reputation just like Campagnolo and Cinelli.  (Just like Campy, they have a lack of distributors in the US as well.)

The Vittoria 1976’s look interesting to say the least. I really like them.

12. Keep an eye out for limited-edition projects by the Mission Workshop. Their limited Rondel was cool looking.  They also carry other Quoc Pham models.

This was once available, and now it’s not anymore. How does that make you feel?

13. Lake Cycling has a very sharp style going but as of this writing, their shoes are not available yet. Their road shoes are strictly white, which is awesome because I could wear these with white shorts. Just make sure the model you are oogling over is SPD-compatible.  I’m sure they’re going to be stupid-pricey though.

These Lake don’t look like casual cycling shoes, but they look cool anyway.

14. For the super casual these Shimano SPD-compatible sandals are funny looking.  Keen also makes the Commuter Sandal (not pictured). The advantage to sandals is that your feet will never get too hot if you live in very hot weather and if they get wet, they will dry fast.

God damn, SPD-compatible sandals. They look so bad. But I still wish I had some, for some reason, hahhahaha.

15. The Northwave City Cruiser is a very plain (normal) looking trainer shoe with excellent reviews and it’s very inexpensive too.

Plain jane, get the job done kind of shoes.

16. In the Specialized Specials section, they offer a super cushioned shoe called the Primo MTB shoe (pictured below) for a surprisingly low price ($45).  The Specialized Sonoma (not pictured) looks more like a cycling shoe, but in my search a lot of people have praised their years of good use.

They are not low-tops but the Specialized Primo’s may fit the style for some.

17. Sette Nix was mentioned and I have added it to the list in case you like this look.  Here’s a video review of Sette Nix’s.

Sette Nix’s gives you yet another good choice.

18. Like the look of Vans?  Well how about the VANS Warner SPD’s?  They got generally good reviews.  They are made with typical-skate-shoe material.

They look like vans. They ARE vans, and they take spd cleats.

19. Teva Pivots are a new one to the list.  Available in all black or white with red trim.  The turquoise bottom looks really cool.  Too bad that’s on the bottom where no one will see.

Reviews of the Teva Pivot herald its comfort on and off the bike. It’s drawback is that with that comfort you compromise some stiffness/efficiency when climbing mountains.

20. Have freakishly wide feet? Or maybe gigantic feet? Bont Cycling is one hell of a cool custom-making-shoe-company! They literally make a shoe based on the mold of your feet. Tell them to make one that is SPD-compatible. 😉

21. Retrofix will add cleats to your favorite shoes.  They could do it for you or you could do it yourself. I wouldn’t recommend it though, I mean… the shoe will probably fall apart pretty quick probably.  And whatever they attach seems like it clearly sticks out so it won’t be ideal for walking.

For me, it comes down to the DZR GMT-8 or District.  The DZR Corcubine is tempting, but I think it looks bad with shorts which is what I ride in for more than half the year.  The Vittoria’s are awesome because they’re white and they’ll go great with white shorts, but they are $150, haha.  I think I’m going to go for the DZR GMT-8 because they are said to have pretty stiff soles so they’ll last long, the cleats don’t grind against concrete and they are pretty sharp looking.  The Vittoria’s are said to have the same features.

What pedals to choose?

Now that you’ve seen what options you have for shoes, you need to get some SPD pedals that could accommodate cleats if you don’t have one already.  By the way it takes literally two minutes to swap a pair of pedals, so any bike shop can do it instantly probably if you ask them.  Here we see a couple options…

1. I’m personally opting for the Shimano PD-A530 SPD Dual Platform Bike Pedal because it has a perfect platform on the one side to accommodate unclipped riding with normal shoes (or in my case, my normal shoes are Vibrams FiveFingers) and of course the other side has the attachment point.  This seems very practical for “reality.”  They have black and silver versions.

The Silver version of the A530 pedal. One side has the cleat, the other is a flat platform.

2. If you’ve got a classic looking bike and like the functionality of the above pedal but want something that could match a vintage style and have more grip on the normal-shoe-side, then go for the Shimano PD-M324 Clipless Pedals. They are a little bit heavier but are so durable they seem like they will last decades.

The M324’s better match vintage bikes and are super durable.

3. If you don’t mind spending $80 for the pedals, you could go for the very light Shimano PD-A600 Ultegra SPD Road Bike Pedals.

The A600’s allow you to clip in on only one side but its wider platform feels better and it’s light, if you care about weight.

And last but not least, which cleats to choose?

You must attach cleats to the bottom of your shoes so that you could clip into the pedals. Shimano makes two types of SPD cleats: single release and multi-release.

If you are new to clipless pedaling, I highly recommend the multi-release Shimano SM-SH56 SPD Cleat Set because they allow you to disengage from the pedal in multiple directions, not just one.  In case of an emergency, this is probably what is going to save you from falling.  Even if you have a lot of experience, most people are commending these pedals because false-releases seem to be extremely rare or nonexistent. Note: Don’t choose this if you like to do bunny hops, haha.

If you absolutely want the single-release Shimano SH51 SPD Cleat then by all means go for it. Bicycling is very personal, that’s why we have all these choices.

Note: If you buy new pedals, they come with the single-release cleats.

Hope that helps!  Now all you need to do is decide on the shoe, pedal and cleat and then you’ll have awesome clipless pedals and still be able to get your errands done without looking (or sounding) too-funny off the bike. :)

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  • Tom Ligman

    You forgot about Crank Bros pedals…  I think they’re easier to clip in/out with the casual shoes…

  • steveochk + Crank Bros
    I’m pretty sure I’d spend most of my time unclipped on one side if I was constantly going through lights and could only clip in on one side of the pedal.

  • Kevin Madzia

    Check out the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek or Pearl Izumi X-Road Fuel shoes. They look just like running shoes, are super-comfortable, and have a recessed SPD-compatible cleat area. I use them with Crank Brothers pedals. They are my go-to shoes for daily commuting, but I’ve also ridden them on a tour from Ohio to Guatemala.

  • Joshua Kupsch

    i emailed quoc pham about the derby brown shoes.  the response i got is:

    Unfortunately we have stop producing the Hand made Derby with good year welt construction at the moment. We are in development of a rubber mould for the sole, no confirm date of completion. 

    any other suggestions for something like those?

  • EverettKeyser

    I strongly recommend trying on any SPD shoes before you buy them. Many European brands tend to run narrow. 

    This happened to me with the Exustar shoes, which I had been coveting for a year. When I finally got them as a gift, I had to send them back twice trying to find a size that fit, only to discover that they don’t come in wider sizes. I normally do not wear wide-sized shoes. Just to prove the point, I tried on some Serfas SPD shoes and the tow box was far too wide.

  • Will

    Great comprehensive list of shoes! I have the pre-cursor to the MT22 (the MT21) and wear them daily commuting but I’ve been looking for something just a little more urban too.

    The list of pedals could use one addition though – Crank Brothers! 4-sided entry, and some of them have a big enough platform to use for shorter rides unclipped. I have their Candy pedals on all my bikes.

  • DjD808

    Thanks a lot for writing this. I have been looking for a post like this for a while now!

    • Antranik

      You’re welcome!   I had no idea it was going to elicit so many thanks from visitors.  I was just searching for my own shoe and thought I’d share what I found, haha :)

      • DjD808

        Hey man, you really helped me out. I commute everyday and one less thing to carry will make all the difference.

        • Antranik

          Yea! I currently have Look pedals with a giant-3-holed cleat sticking out under a $60 basic pearl izumi shoe (pearl izumi quality is unbelievably good btw if anyone is wondering, everyone is correct, haha) which I swap out with my Vibrams so it feels like I’m barefoot.  If I could avoid that step, commuting will be so much more minimal and still badass.

  • dakre_simmons

    really enjoy my specialized primo mtb shoes,, not bad for short walking or standing around
    thanks for listing all the other options available

  • Steve Lewis

    Thanks for going to the trouble of doing this. I can’t believe that there are so few of these kinds of shoes given the number or people who commute. I want some shoes that can pass as smart/casual and get me through an afternoon meeting. I am bored with lugging around a second pair of shoes along with my non-iron trousers and shirts. I haven’t found ones that will work yet though…

  • High_n_Dry

    I’ve had a pair of the tan Fixed Quoc Pham shoes for a few weeks now. They take some time to break in and to become familiar with the flatness of the sole (but I’m use to wearing Timberland Mt. Chelsea boots most of the year in Chi). Anyway, the Fixed shoes have been great so far. I got caught in a downpour the other day, they dried in about an hour with a fan on them then after a little neutral shoe polish they were as good as new.

    The 1976 Vittorias might be my next shoe purchase in the summer.

    • Antranik

       nice! thanks for the feedback.  I love the vittorias too.

  • Dontcoast

    Excellent post as far as the overview of the shoes go.

    I think the 661 filter is still in production as well, good skate style shoe. Took a year to demolish them with polo/communting/road riding (most shoes last me 6 months)

    BUT I highly disagree with the last point (cleat choice) unless you are a veeerry gentle rider. Multi-release cleats can disengage in a sprint for a red light. If you’re a beginner, just use lower spring tension

    2 sided SPD pedals such as the very affordable PD-M540 deserve a mention, also because theyre often available dirt cheap used or from shops.

    If you ride fixed gear or very aggressively, consider TIME Atac pedals for security.

    If you have knee issues, avoid SPD’s due to their centering spring:

    Crank Brothers are light and their eggbeaters have 4 entry points

    Bebop’s or Speedplay Frog also good.

    • Antranik

       Thanks for the suggestions.  I will update with some of your suggestions when I can.  Also, do you have personal experience with the SH56 (multirelease) set?  I was just wondering cause the reviewers say false releases don’t happen.

      • Dontcoast

        Well, yes, but only for polo and aggressive riding. I have also unclipped single release while climbing once or twice. For a casual commuter the SH56 should be fine.

  • 2klatte

    thanks for the article!  First one I’ve come across that shows more street styled options. =)

  • Sadowd

    The Exustar touring shoes you have pictured are not the same design as the model Exustar SRT707 Touring/City Cycling Shoes you mention. Even the link you provided does not match the pictured shoes. Perhaps they are a different Exustar model? 

  • misheast

    So which shoe did you get?

    • Antranik

      Hey! Great question! I ended up getting the DZR brand, “GMT-8″ model. An absolutely high quality shoe for $100 US (shipped). More comfortable than many other (normal) shoes I’ve worn in the past!

  • Cajun Gaijin

    Thanks for this. I currently ride platforms and straps on a fixed gear bike, but I saw a friend on our ride the other day had clipless pedals and what looked like regular shoes. So now lately I’ve been looking into the possibility of going with a clipless system. This was really helpful. Thanks again.

  • Rick

    Great article! If you have any info on other casual cycling clothing, I’d love to here it. I personally am not a big fan of wearing skin tight lycra (I don’t have an issue with those who don’t mind wearing it) but haven’t found an alternative that does an effective job.

  • Michael-Vittoria Cycling Shoes
  • Guest

    Great post! Ran this same search early spring last year and could not find such a great list. Thanks you.

  • Jay

    This was really useful. I’m a cycling noob and your guide helped me pick a pair of shoes and SPD pedals. Cheers!

  • Champagnekelly

    Thanks! You rule!

  • @#$)(+

    I’m surprised that you guys didn’t mention more Shimano mountain shoes…. it’s really not that hard to find the MT series which doesn’t look ‘normal’. The Exustar 707s are also a new addition (which I have recently acquired), and are available for 40 dollars from nashbar

  • zkoz

    Hey everyone…will the SPD clips that work with the recessed shoes fit road pedals like these


  • Dom

    I just wanna say… DZR Concubine’s are the worst shoes i’ve ever owned and the only shoes that have drawn blood in a under 10 minutes of walking. They dig into my heel and the seam on the back seems to be made of something serrated it just rips up my heel. If they fixed that issue then i would love them, but as of now they are useless to me.

  • Jon Webb

    Someone just pointed me to a site I hadn’t heard of which has very interesting products like this:

  • mosjef

    Thanks for this post!