Protective Covers for your Bike Cleats - Should You Use Them?

Cleatskins bike shoe cleat covers
Cleatskins bike shoe cleat covers.

There are certainly advantages to wearing bike shoes with cleats that lock you into the pedals. Your pedaling motion becomes more efficient for one thing, since not only are you pushing down on the pedals, but the upward motion of your legs also helps drive your bike forward as well. Also, your feet will not slip off the pedals, even when you're cranking away at them, giving it all you've got.

The downside of bike shoes though, is what happens when you're off the bike. On a long trek, like a century ride perhaps, there are certainly times when you will take a break from riding and have to walk around a bit. Maybe it's to use the restroom. Maybe you're getting snacks and drinks at a gas station. Maybe it's coffee at a cafe or a full-on lunch from a restaurant. Whatever the situation, walking in bike shoes is not easy, and there are several different drawbacks to doing this for any length of time.

These negatives include: 

  • Damage to your cleats. While most bike cleats - especially on road bike shoes - are made of durable, hard plastic, the fact is that they are an item that wears out and needs to be replaced with some frequency. When you go walking around in your bike shoes, it can accelerate the wear that will require them to be replaced, especially if you're on hard, abrasive surfaces like concrete or asphalt. Additionally, the worst case scenario would be if you stepped on something like a sharp rock that could cause a break in the front edge of the cleat, rendering it immediately useless and causing an abrupt end to your ride. 
  • Awkward walking. Another thing negative thing about bike shoes is that actually walking in them is difficult and awkward. The hard plastic cleat is a slippery surface, and the way the cleat causes the shoe to be raised in the front means that most people end up doing some sort of strange heel-walk to try to keep the weight off the front of the foot. Some cyclists I know actually take their shoes off the moment they stop for any length of time and then walk around in their stocking feet. This is easier walking, but has difficulties of its own, such as being painful when walking on gravel or creating uneasiness when going into stores or restaurants where sometimes people look at this practice with raised eyebrows.
  •  Damage to floors and interior surfaces  Okay, so this is totally bogus but people who aren't cyclists don't understand. Picture a cyclist going into a coffee shop with a neat hardwood floor. They're doing the awkward walk in bike shoes, cleats clacking on the floor. The plastic cleats aren't going to damage the wood any, but try to tell that to the shop keeper, who thinks that there will be all sorts of gouges and scuff marks left in his beautiful floor. That's why you'll see the occasional "no bike shoes allowed" signs in some stores located in neighborhoods frequented by cyclists.

Solution: The good news is that there are rubber cleat covers available to solve these problems. They are generally small, playing card-sized slip-on covers that you carry in your jersey pocket, pulled out and put on when needed. Other styles, like the Cleatskins brand of cleat covers, actually stay on your shoe the whole time, held on by rubber straps. The cleat cover is flipped toward the heel at the back of the shoe when not needed, allowing cleats to lock into the pedals. When the cleat cover is needed, the cyclist simply flips the cleat cover forward over the cleat and loop the rubber strap over the front of the shoe.

From experience I know these to be very helpful solutions. I hate walking around in my bike shoes, knowing the wear and damage that is being done to my cleats. And rather than leaving wet footprints in stores and getting hassled for walking around in stocking feet, cleat covers are a very good option.

These are also helpful for people who do stationary bike workouts and need to travel to and from the gym/class in their bike shoes. 

You may want to check them out. They are very inexpensive ($5-10 for a pair) especially compared to replacement cleats, which can be $10-20 per pair, and up.

Final note: most mountain bike shoes have recessed cleats, meaning that the cleat itself is tucked far enough in the sole of the shoe that it neither gets damaged when you go walking about nor causes a funny, tap-shoe gait that road bike shoes require. Cleat covers are not essential gear if you have mountain bike shoes or if your cleats are recessed enough that they don't make contact with the ground when you walk.