One of the key contact points between you and your bike is at your feet. In the 1970s and 1980s, companies such as Cinelli and Look developed the first popular clipless road bike pedals, which allowed shoes to clip in and out of pedals without the need for the previously-common toe-clip. This was achieved using springs in the pedal and plastic cleats on the soles of the shoes, and it helped to improve pedalling efficiency and power transfer.
In the past three decades, clipless pedals and shoes have been used almost exclusively at the top of the sport and various shoe brands have emerged to further improve pedalling efficiency with the introduction of stiff carbon fibre soles and various fastening systems for improved power transfer.
Choosing the best road cycling shoes for you can be a difficult process, and if done incorrectly, it can be an expensive endeavour.
When looking for the best cycling shoes, the most important factor is fit. The majority of cycling shoe manufacturers offer a wide range of sizes, often incorporating half sizes, with some brands also offering ‘wide fit’ options. We recommend you try before you buy, as various manufacturers have reputations for producing narrow or wider fits. Some brands, such as Bont, also allow home custom moulding through careful heating of the shoes in an oven.
There's also a variance in the conversion across EU, US and UK sizing with different brands - and sometimes even different models from the same brand. In our testing, we've found that an EU46 is usually a UK size 11, but it can and does vary.
Arch support is generally built into the shoe, with some offering a flatter base than others. Rapha, Shimano and Giro offer an adjustable insole with their shoes, but for those with particularly high or low arches, different insoles can also be retrofitted to your shoe of choice, with various options depending on the arch of your feet. Specialized's Body Geometry footbeds are well renowned in this sphere, alongside its custom footbed option. This will not only improve comfort and pedalling efficiency but can also help to prevent injuries.
All of the best cycling shoes feature carbon fibre soles that help to simultaneously reduce weight and increase stiffness, creating an efficient pedalling platform to ensure all of your energy transfers through your pedal stroke to the drivetrain.
Uppers are often made with synthetic materials, although a few brands continue to use leather, and a number of shoes are now available with a knitted upper, which proposes greater comfort and breathability.
The construction and durability should play a part in your choice, as the longer a pair of shoes last, the better value they become. Even after they've become tattered and beaten, if they still stand up to the daily grind, then they can be paired with some overshoes and relegated to your pair of bad weather or winter shoes, which will be cheaper than buying dedicated winter cycling shoes.
Sidi shoes, for example, have a reputation for being heavy but have replaceable heel and toe pads and are known for their hard-wearing characteristics and longevity versus some other similarly priced shoes.
Other options from the likes of Specialized can be very lightweight and stiff but don’t offer replaceable pads on the sole, which can be a put off for some.
Other considerations to think about when buying cycling shoes about are weight and ventilation. If you're only going to be riding in the toasty summers of Southern Europe, then knit or a well-vented shoe will likely be a better choice. If you're racing predominantly in the North of England, then perhaps look for something with a bit more coverage, or expect to need overshoes.
The choices here include traditional laces, velcro, Boa dials, or a proprietary variation thereof.
Laces tend to offer a good level of upper-foot comfort and adjustability at a low weight. However, it's not possible to adjust a lace without stopping at the roadside, and a white fabric lace will soon become grey and dirty if riding in bad weather.
Velcro or straps tend to offer a similar level of adjustability with on-the-fly adjustment available, but it's not uncommon for the hook-and-loop to lose its secure feel after a year or so of use.
Rotary dials, such as those from the market leader Boa, pull cables across the foot to secure the shoe. A single dial will often have routed cables in the fashion of a lace, while two dials will offer separate forefoot and upper foot adjustability. They usually include a quick-release option and are quick and easy to fasten up both pre- and mid-ride. The small downside is that they tend not to play too well with overshoes.
Giro Empire SLX
Sizes available: EU 39-48 | Claimed weight: 370g (size 42.5) | Fastening system: Lace | Colours: 3 | As worn by: Elie Gesbert
The big advantage of laces is that they offer fantastic modulation of pressure across the foot and, paired with Giro’s Evofiber SL microfibre upper, result in a shoe that is extremely comfortable. As the Empire SLX shoes don’t feature any fastening hardware, they are also feathery light. Laces aren’t without their negatives though, getting the Empires on and off takes a little longer and minor adjustments mid-ride are a faff as you need to stop to re-tie them.
The Giro Empire SLX features an Easton EC90 SLX2 carbon sole which is stiff and thin making for a fantastic pedalling platform. Rather than building arch support into the shoe itself, the footbed is customisable using an included SuperNatural Fit Kit arch support system allowing fine-tuning.
The Giro Empire SLX offers a high-performance option that is potentially unrivalled in terms of low weight and comfort.
Fizik Infinito R1
Sizes available: EU 37-48 | Claimed weight: 464g (size 42.5) | Fastening system: Boa IP1 rotating dials x2 | Colours: 4 plus Movistar Team editions, ‘Knit’ versions also available | As worn by: Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), Movistar Team
As you would expect from a shoe that features so prominently in the WorldTour, the Infinito outsole provides an extremely stable pedalling platform that will enable comfortable riding all day. The insoles used are Fizik’s Infinito footbeds with arch support managed by Fizik’s Dynamic Arch Support system.
The Dynamic Arch Support is part of Fizik’s Infinito Closure System that works together with Fizik’s Increased Volume Control design. This is managed by two IP1 Boa dials on the side of the shoe. The top Boa closes the shoe providing support for the foot and the lower Boa manages forefoot pressure to eliminate hot spots.
The uppers are made from perforated Microtex and, in combination with the mesh insole, offer great ventilation.
Sizes available: EU 40-48 | Claimed weight: 580g (pair, size 42) | Fastening system: Proprietary rotational dials x2 | Colours: 7 | As worn by: Chris Froome
Sidi has been producing dial closure systems that pre-date Boa, the Tecno 3 Push system is mounted in the centre of the tongue for an even closure across your foot. Micro adjustments are possible but only when tightening the shoe. Additionally, the Sidi Shot shoes have a reinforced sculpted heel cup that is combined with a unique and adjustable heel clip to assure that your foot is locked in place, with adjustment from each side by screws to allow another area of fine-tuning.
The carbon sole is not the stiffest but strikes a balance that makes the Sidi Shot shoes an equally strong performer for sprinting as they are for long training rides. The sole offers adjustable venting and replaceable heel pads.
These features come at a cost and the Sidi Shots are as heavy as they are expensive. If you have trouble with cycling shoe fit, the additional adjustment of the double dials combined with the adjustable heel closure may be worth these compromises.
Shimano S-Phyre RC-9
Sizes available: EU 38-48 | Claimed weight: 486g (size 42) | Fastening system: Boa IP1 rotating dials x2 | Colours: 4 | As worn by: Jumbo-Visma
The Teijin Avail microfibre upper is a synthetic leather. Strong yet supple, this forms a one-piece wrap-around design to hold the foot snugly while reducing edges or seams that may cause discomfort. The upper has lots of small perforations to allow for ventilation on hot days. The shoe is secured by two IP1 Boa dials that offer quick micro-adjustments to assure foot security when pedalling. An external heel cup should minimise heel roll and combined with one-way non-slip fabric to keep your heel from lifting out.
The S-Phyre RC-9 sole has the highest rating on Shimano’s stiffness rating and features a unibody construction which reduces stack height to improve pedalling feel. By using a removable chip system, the S-Phyres have 11mm of cleat adjustment and plenty of guides to assure that cleats are aligned just right.
If you really want to go all out, Shimano offers an integrated sock system that they claim is 'designed and constructed to promote efficient pedalling.' S-Phyre Tall Socks are available separately.
Sidi Wire 2 Carbon
Comfortable out-of-the-box shoe with extreme adjustability
Sizes available: EU 38-48 | Weight: 630g (pair, size 42) | Fastening system: Proprietary rotational dials x2 | Colours: 4 | As worn by: Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Bettiol
The Sidi Wire 2 was launched in 2018 and has since been seen on the feet of Alberto Bettiol and Vincenzo Nibali. The Sidi Wire 2 shoes are, like the Sidi Shot, largely customisable at the expense of a bit of weight. At 630g per pair (EU42), they're considerably porkier than some, but they feel like they've been broken in straight out of the box.
Comfort is key in cycling shoes, and the Wire 2 shoes are just that, thanks to its two retention dials, upper-foot closure strap, and an adjustable heel cup. With an RRP of £330.00, they're a bit of an investment. Thankfully, the replaceable heel and toe pads mean you're not left in the market for new shoes once these parts wear out.
Compared to the Shot, the Wire 2 loses some of the mesh ventilation holes, and moves upper retention dial away from the forefoot to the outstep, and uses a 'soft instep closure system' for more comfort across the first metatarsal.
If you're looking for a bit of extra airflow, the Sidi Wire 2 Air uses the same design but adds hundreds of tiny ventilation holes across the surface.
Sizes available: EU 39-48 | Claimed weight: 215g (claimed), 224g (actual, size 42.5) | Fastening system: Twin Boa | Colours: 3 | As worn by: Groupama–FDJ
They may not be the lightest model in the Giro line-up but at 224g a pair the Imperial is certainly no heavyweight. The Easton EC90 SLX 2 carbon-fibre soles are stiff and responsive providing a solid platform from which to pedal - and while there's no flex, this has done little to impact comfort when spending several hours on the bike.
The build quality is exceptional which is to be expected from a halo model of this nature. The micro-adjustable Boa IP1 dials operate incrementally via a series of soft-lace guides that ensure an even spread of tension, which also minimises hotspots and helps with support.
There's no doubting the Giro Imperial's premium feel - not only in terms of functionality but performance, too. While they're appreciably light, this has done little to affect the way they perform or feel on the foot. In fact, they're super comfortable and mould to your feet's contours like a vacuum-sealed lunch bag.
Mavic Cosmic Ultimate SL
Sizes available: EU 36-48 | Claimed weight: 398g (size 42) | Fastening system: Boa IP1 x1 | Colours: 3
Mavic Cosmic Ultimate SL shoes are clearly targeted at gram watching hill climbers who value weight saving. Every part of Mavic’s design is focused on reducing weight whilst retaining pedalling stiffness. The new Energy Full SLR sole drops 10g and is extremely slim with a 6.5mm stack height.
In a move away from Mavic’s own Ergo dial, the Cosmic Ultimate SL are specced with a single Boa IP1 dial that tensions an overlapping upper. This aids the weight loss, however, the single tensioner may lack the fine-tuning that multiple dials offer. The upper consists of a light TPU frame which is laser welded to the mesh panels rather than stitched, yet again saving weight and limiting irritation points.
The Cosmic Ultimate SL has a tighter heel cup and wider toe box than the previous model which aims to increase comfort, although if you have narrower feet this may not be a positive change. The shoe is cut low around the ankle which aids freedom of movement when you are riding hard.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.