Making adjustments while riding is essential on long races like centuries.
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Cycling shoes, often called cleats, connect your feet directly to the pedals. This has several advantages, including improving your safety at high pedaling cadences and providing a bit of upward pull during long climbs. The system used to tighten and secure these cleats to your foot is crucial, since you'll be pulling upward on the shoe often. The ratcheted and Velcro closure systems have advantages and disadvantages for different types of riders. Understanding these differences will help you choose the right system.
There are two primary types of cycling cleats. "SPD" cleats use a two-hole system to connect to the pedals using a single metal tooth. "Look" cleats use a three-hole system, which spreads out the pressure from the contact point over more of the shoe, giving you more power transferral. "Look" is favored by road cyclists looking to maximize their efficiency, but "SPD" is usually favored by mountain bikers since it's easier to clip in and out.
Having the bike shoe tight against the top of your foot is crucial for remaining efficient on long climbs and flat sections, where you may pull up slightly on the top of the shoe during your upstroke. A secure closure system for the shoe that can be adjusted carefully is preferred by most riders. The Velcro system uses large Velcro straps at two or three places on the shoe to allow a custom fit. The ratcheted system uses a toothed plastic strap that feeds into a spring-loaded clasp or dial, and can be adjusted by pulling on a small lever that pulls the strap through tooth by tooth, tightening the shoe.
The Velcro System
Since the Velcro straps aren't held in a fixed position, you can keep moving them around until the fit on your cycling shoes is perfect. This can be advantageous for people who find difficulty fitting into a ratcheted shoe. Velcro shoes are also considered by some to be more convenient, since you can stick the Velcro a bit quicker than setting the clasp on a ratcheted strap. Velcro's disadvantages lie in its ability to pick up debris, mud and dirt while riding, especially for mountain bikers. They'll have to be cleaned a bit more often. Velcro shoes are also slightly harder to adjust while you're riding.
The Ratcheted System
Ratcheted bike shoes are preferred by most road cyclists for one important reason: A ratcheted clasp or dial system can be adjusted slightly while you ride by feeding or releasing another tooth of strap through the mechanism. This micro-adjustment can make a substantial difference as your feet go through swelling during long rides, or if you set your shoes too loose at the beginning of the race. The disadvantage of the system mostly lies in its price -- ratcheted systems are often found on high-end shoes, which cost much more than entry-level bike cleats. Ratcheted shoes also take a few more seconds to initially set when you put on your bike shoes, leading some to favor the simplicity of Velcro. Even the best ratcheted shoes often feature Velcro straps for lower areas of the shoe, around the toe and forefoot.