The female foot is not just a scaled down version of the male foot. In general, a women's foot has a higher arch, narrower heel and a shallower first toe. The ball of a women's foot has a smaller circumference than a males. The circumference on the instep of a women's foot is also smaller. Both the ankle length, and the instep length are shorter than their male counterparts.
The anatomical differences in the male and female foot should be taken into consideration when purchasing cycling shoes. Always look for a cycling shoe that is built on a "women's specific last".
Road Cycling Shoes
Road bike shoes are designed for speed. In general they have a very narrow profile designed to hold the foot snugly in place, especially the heel. They are lightweight, aerodynamic, and have extremely stiff soles for greater power transfer.
Almost all shoes designed for road biking have an exposed cleat system. This is so the entire sole of the shoe can be made from a very stiff material, such as carbon. The stiffer the sole of your shoe, the more stable the platform to transmit power. The downside of having a very stiff sole, and exposed cleat is that it is very difficult to walk in these type of cycling shoes. Some companies are now adding a rubber heal tip to the shoe, and offering rubber cleat covers that can be put over your cleats for those times that you need to get off your bike and walk.
Off-Road Cycling Shoes
Off-Road Cycling Shoes have recessed cleats, and a slightly more flexible rubber sole designed to let the cyclist walk when needed. The rubber soles have large tread patterns that make walking on steep, muddy, or otherwise unrideable terrain much easier. When purchasing mountain bike shoes and a compatible clipless pedal system, always consider how mud and debris are cleared from the shoes and cleats during clip in.
Bicycle touring is all about taking a trip on your bike. That means that you need to be able to carry all the stuff you intend to bring with you, on your bike. The amount of gear that you can carry is limited. As such, most touring cyclist carry gear that is multi-functional. Touring cyclists ride a lot of miles on their bikes each day, and will benefit from the performance of a clipless pedal system. However, they also need to be able to walk comfortably when they are not cycling, and have a pair of shoes that doen't necessarily look like a cycling specific shoe. The choice is to carry several pairs of shoes, or to find a cycling specific shoe that looks like a normal street shoe, and is comfortable to walk in. Shoes designed for touring should have recessed cleats, and a more flexible rubber sole so that the cyclist can be as comfortable walking while off the bike, as they are efficient when riding the bike. There is an amazing selection of shoe options available to the touring cyclist. From tennis shoes, to hiking boots and even sandles- all designed for style, comfort, and performance both on the bike and off.
Downhill racing is a true test of nerve, and one's ability to control their bike under extreme conditions. The concept is to get down the mountain as fast as possible. Downhill courses usually contain a succession of big jumps and drops over rocks, trees and other obstacles. The ride is all about controlling your bike at high speeds- breaking... cornering... riding to the edge of one's ability.
Downhill apparel is all about protection... "body armor".
Downhill cyclists use a large platform pedal. Clipless versions of downhill platform pedals are similar to a mountain bike clipless pedal, except the platform shaped exterior has a larger pedal area designed to allow your feet come on and off the pedals easier while planting turns.
Downhill shoes are similar to mountain bike shoes but have greater ankle support and reinforced toe caps. The soles of downhill shoes are designed to provide increased grip on the large flat pedals.
BMX shoes look, and feel like soft, flat-bottomed skateboard shoes. Most models come with or without clipless pedal compatibility. Flat-bottomed shoes without clipless pedal compatibility make stunt performance much safer because they allow you to get your feet off the pedals faster than clipless pedals. However, some riders still perfer the added performance of being connected to the bike with a clipless pedal system.
Triathlon shoes are predominately road bike shoes with some special features. Triathlon shoes are all about speeding up transition times... saving time changing apparel between the swim and bike, and the bike and run. Many cycling shoes designed specifically for Triathlon have a lined inner that can be worn sock-free for a quicker transition between the bike and run. Most triathlon shoes will have a heel loop for faster transitions and Velcro strap closures so that shoes can be taken on and off quickly and adjusted while on the bike.