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How to Make Your Own Cycling Shoes

May 5th, 2010 [print] Go to comments

I don’t normally do DIY posts, but since this project is both simple, cheap, and easy to explain, I figured I’d share.  Basically, all we’re doing here is turning a pair of normal shoes into incognito cycling shoes for use with clipless pedals.  As we all know, typical cycling shoes look pretty damn dorky, so it’d be nice to have a pair of shoes that you could put on to ride over to a buddy’s house in a pair of bluejeans should the occasion arise.  Or, maybe you’re headed to class, don’t plan on doing much walking, and it’d just be easier to take some cycling-specific shoes that don’t shout to everyone that you’re a lame-o cyclist.

Whatever your need for them, here’s how you’re gonna do it…

What you need:

— 1pr of old cycling shoes (yours or someone else’s, but make sure they fit your feet)
— 1pr of normal shoes
— A box cutter, plus scissors or whatever other cutting device you’d like to use
— Contact cement or other extremely strong clue
— Something to mark a cutting template with, such as tape or a paint marker
— Old newspaper

Step 1 – Find some old cycling shoes.  You probably have an old pair that you never threw out, but if not, then hit up your buddies, local bike shops, or beg for some on Craigslist.  Either way, get some and try not to spend any money on them since you’re about to tear them to pieces.  Just about anything willl work, so for my project, I used some 7-yr-old Cannondale mountain bike shoes that I replaced last year.

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Step 2 – Grab your box cutters and tear them apart.  All you need to save are the stiff insoles that the pedal cleats bolt to, so make sure you don’t damage them.  As for the rest of the shoe, just have at it.

Cutting apart my Cannondale shoes was actually fairly easy since they’d been slowly beaten down for a few years, but right as I thought I’d gotten off easy, a problem crept up…  Since my shoes had full outsoles, I ended up spending a lot of time cutting off a rubbery material that was bonding the outsoles to the stiff insole (see photo below) and providing cushioning for my heels.  The material was soft enough to cut through, but rubbery enough that I had trouble putting a blade against it and just slicing it off.  It took me a couple evenings to scrape all that material off, so your results–and effort–will vary depending on which shoe you use.

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Step 3 – Find a pair of shoes–new or old–that you want to modify.  I stopped skateboarding in my early twenties, so I had a pair of barely used éS skateboard shoes that’d been in the back of my closet ever since.  Other than the fact that they lack decent ventalation, they seemed like a good shoe for the project.

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Once you have your shoes picked out, place the cycling shoe’s outsole next to them and get a rough idea of where you want to begin cutting.  Just keep in mind, you can always enlarge the holes later on if you need extra clearance for disengaging from the pedal, but once you cut the hole too large, you’re stuck with it.  Start with a smaller area, and make it larger later on.  Also, work on just one shoe at a time–from start to finish–so you can use it as a template for the second shoe, saving yourself lots of guess work.  **This should be obvious, but make sure you take the insoles out of the shoes before you being cutting, and move the tongue as far out of the way as possible so you don’t slice through it.**

I used a white paint marker to draw an initial cutting template on the sole of one of the shoes, then went at it with a box cutter.

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After you make your cut, place the stiff cycling insole inside the shoe and make sure everything lines up.  My insoles were about 1/8" too long, so I used a hacksaw with a fine blade to cut off the extra material from the heel.  After that, they slid perfectly into place, since I somehow completely lucked out and got it right the first time.

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Unfortunately, just because the cleat was perfectly aligned with my cut, that didn’t mean it’d engage with the pedal.  This is where I had a little more trouble:  I had to keep enlarging the cutout until the shoe could engage the pedal, and then be twisted sideways (in both directions) to properly disengage without coming in contact with the pedal.  To make sure it worked, I simply held the insole in place by hand, then pressed the cleat into the pedal.  Trial and error is all it takes, but you’ll eventually figure out just how much outsole you need to cut away.  Don’t remove more material than you have to, since you need as much surface space as possible to glue the insole to.  Also, more outsole material means more grip for walking, and less cleat sticking out to make a clicking noise while you walk.

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The above photo shows how much material I had to cut away to fully clear the pedal in every direction.  Keep in mind, all pedals are different (I use Shimano mountain bike SPDs), and all shoes will have more or less material removed per your personal requirements.  Once I was fully satisfied with the first shoe, I used the hole as a template for the second shoe, which made it very straight forward when I cut it out (no more trial and error).

Step 4 – Make sure the inside of the shoes, and the bottom of the stiff cycling insoles are completely clean of debris, then apply your glue per the directions on the tube.  I used Welder Contact Adhesive that I found at Lowe’s, since it came in a tube and was easy to apply.  Normal contact cement would also work, but try not to get it all over the shoes.

Once the glue has set, put the insoles in, line them up as quickly as possible, and add pressure.  I put my foot inside whichever shoe I was working on at the time, and added my full body weight to get the glue to adhere right away.  After 5 minutes, I took my foot out, and crammed wadded up paper inside to add pressure.  Let them sit like that for at least 24 hours before taking the paper out.

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Now all that’s left to do is put the original insoles back in.  At this point, you should be done, which leads to…

Step 5 – Go try them out!

You’ll notice right away that the stiff insoles make the shoes difficult to walk in, but that’s normal for cycling shoes.  Assuming you followed instructions for bonding the soles together, they should last a while.  I took mine out on a 20mi+ ride and had no issues, so I feel good about riding them in the future.  Eventually, you’ll wear this pair of shoes out, but you can always rip them apart, remove the insoles, and modify another pair.

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  1. October 22nd, 2010 at 17:36 | #1

    Very nice; you should post to Instructables. I’ve been meaning to write up something like this, but one where you don’t sacrifice an old bike shoe insole but instead make your own.

  2. cameron
    February 4th, 2016 at 14:02 | #2

    Do you think that cutting only the cleat area out and bolting it on the outside of the shoe sole to another plate on the inside would work, thus never having to cut through your shoe?

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