Prep Your Road Shoes For Winter

By Andrea Champredonde

The warm weather is behind us for now. With every degree the mercury drops, the temptation of staying home on the couch grows. You’ve only got one pair of road shoes and getting cold feet on a ride is your biggest deterrent.

Fear not. I’ve got some easy tips and tricks to prep your road shoes for winter. They’ll thwart off the chill and put a smile back on your face. Some take a minimal investment. And others, a few minutes using things you probably have around the house. Let’s do this.

Find the vents

Air flows around your feet inside your cycling shoes as you pedal via vents on the sole and upper. Hours of engineering go into designing road cycling shoes for this very function. What air flow you probably don’t notice in summer becomes blatantly obvious in winter. We’re gonna find and cover the vents. The ones on the upper are apparent, so let’s concentrate on the sole first.

Remove the insoles and perform an initial inspection inside and out to locate visible vents. There is usually at least one at the front of the sole under the toes. Some models include additional vents from the cleat to the heel, under the arch. Mine, for example, have three in this area. Of course, the number of vents varies by shoe.

Close the vents

What kind of sticky, tape-like materials do you have around the house? Masking tape won’t do. It’s flimsy and doesn’t hold up against the elements. Packaging tape, an extra cell phone screen protector from an old phone, or remaining bits of a frame protector kit make excellent choices.

Clean around the vent(s) on your sole with isopropyl alcohol or white vinegar first, so the material really sticks. Make the border larger than a few millimetres to boost adhesion and last for winter. Once completely dry, cut your material to size and place it over the vents. Let your shoes sit for at least 12 hours for the adhesive to take hold.

If you want to double protect the vents on the sole, use some blue tack to block them up first, then apply the overlaying adhesive material. But before you do, put a layer of something over the vent screen before pressing the blue tack in place. If you don’t, it will clog up the screen and be a bear to clean come spring. Now cover any visible vents inside the shoe too with your overlaying material. It probably won’t stick very well, but once the insole is back in place, it should be okay.

Winter cycling
Keep your feet warm in winter. © Profimedia

Change the insole

If I gently push on my vents from the bottom, I feel the pressure through the shoe’s footbed with my other hand, but can’t see any passage. They’re usually well camouflaged and easy to miss. But this test confirms that air gets in via these soft spots.

For additional protection from the cold, the best option is changing the current insoles for ones that are insulated, designed for winter. You may fall in love with cosy shearling lambskin and cork insoles. Others are available in Merino wool. Both are excellent choices to protect your feet in natural materials.

Thermal winter insoles made with a foam and an aluminium base are other great alternatives for ultimate cold blocking protection. Everything has a battery these days, and insoles are no exception. If you suffer from chronic cold feet in winter, treat yourself to heated insoles. Swapping out for any insole is a perfect, temporary solution. When the time comes, remove and store them with the rest of your bike stuff for next year.

Go old school

Now let’s tackle the upper. Here, visibly perforated zones for air passage are more tricky to manage. Any sticky material placed over the top and removed at the end of winter could leave an ugly mark or worse, damage the shoe. We don’t want that.

And if your shoes are made of a 3-D knitted material, the entire upper is a sieve for air. Regardless of your shoe, adhesive materials aren’t the best choice for shoe uppers. If you’ve got traditional overshoes to blanket them, great. But they aren’t the only option.

Go old school with a pair of wool socks lingering in the back of your drawer. Put on your shoes and slip the designated socks over your shoe. Mark the bottom of the sock where the cleat should go. Before you cut, have a needle and thread ready to catch the free loops. We don’t want the socks to unravel with time.

Before today’s overshoes, wool socks worn over road shoes were standard equipment in winter. You’ll be making a fashion statement, but who cares? Set that retro-trend while your feet stay warm. Triple your efforts against the cold by wrapping the toe box of your shoes in aluminium foil first before the wool socks and finish with windproof overshoes.

Feet still cold?

Can these prepping tips replace dedicated winter shoes? It depends on the severity of the climate where you live and your sensitivity to the cold. Poor blood circulation in the feet also causes cold and numb feet.

Wearing wool or winter socks inside your shoes protects against the cold, but only if the ensemble isn’t causing circulation problems. Blood circulation is further restricted and nerves get compressed when it’s too crowded inside the shoe.

Do your toes have room to move around inside the shoe? Are your shoes the correct width for your foot? Are your cleats positioned too far forward, putting additional pressure underfoot? Is your saddle too high? These are other situations that lead to cold feet.

If your cold feet persist, consult with the staff at your local bike shop. With today’s technology, there is no excuse for riding with cold feet. When all else fails, you can always invest in battery heated socks and overshoes. But it won’t be as fun and rewarding as prepping your road shoes for winter.