One of the key contact points between you and your bike is at your feet. In the 1970s and 1980s, companies like 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 pedaling 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 pedaling efficiency with the introduction of stiff carbon fiber 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 endeavor. So here’s our guide on how to buy the best cycling shoes for you, followed by our pick of the best shoes.
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 molding 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 pedaling efficiency but can also help to prevent injuries.
All of the best cycling shoes feature carbon fiber soles that help to simultaneously reduce weight and increase stiffness, creating an efficient pedaling 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 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 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.
Laces may appear a bit old fashioned but these are still competitive with other shoes on the market
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 pedaling platform. Rather than building arch support into the shoe itself, the footbed is customizable using an included SuperNatural Fit Kit arch support system allowing fine-tuning.
The Giro Empire SLX offers a high-performance option that is potentially unrivaled in terms of low weight and comfort.
A pro-level shoe that has certainly proved its credentials on the world stage
As you would expect from a shoe that features so prominently in the WorldTour, the Infinito outsole provides an extremely stable pedaling 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.
Packed with features, these are an all-around performance race shoe
Sidi has been producing dial closure systems that pre-date Boa, the Tecno 3 Push system is mounted in the center 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.
Comfortable out-of-the-box shoe with extreme adjustability
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 customizable at the expense of a bit of weight. At 1.4lbs per pair, 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. At the price, 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 the 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.
Most stylish and sophisticated shoe to date
They may not be the lightest model in the Giro line-up but at 7.9oz a pair the Imperial is certainly no heavyweight. The Easton EC90 SLX 2 carbon-fiber 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 minimizes 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 mold to your feet's contours like a vacuum-sealed lunch bag.
Built for women's comfort
Shimano really knows how to make a great pair of cycling shoes. The Japanese components brand may be better known for its groupsets, but it came out on top of our recent gravel shoes grouptest, and received a strong 4.5 stars in our recent Shimano S-Phyre RC9 shoes review.
The RC5 features plenty of trickle-down technology from the upper echelons of the range including a Boa dial and Velcro strap for closure, the highly adjustable cleat positioning, and specifically placed padding for improved comfort.
The shoe that balances stiffness, weight-loss and on-the-fly adjustability, without catering solely to the narrow-footed
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 pedaling stiffness. The new Energy Full SLR sole drops 0.4oz and is extremely slim with a 6.5mm stack height.
In a move away from Mavic’s own Ergo dial, the Cosmic Ultimate SL is 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.
SPD and Delta-compatible with lots of colors to choose from
Whether you want an entire cupboard full of road cycling shoes in a multitude of colorways so you've always got something to match your kit, you simply want some shoes that won't break the bank, these men's road cycling shoes from Vitatalpa should fit the bill.
Available in 10 different colors, with several great looking shiny options, you're sure to turn heads in a pair of these. They're lightweight and comfortable, and versatile enough to serve as outdoor road cycling shoes or indoor cycling shoes if you've taken up turbo training.
Comes with a set of cleats, ready to go
These budget-friendly road cycling shoes from Venzo are compatible with all cleat types and feature a flexible forefoot with a beveled heel to enhance comfort. The upper is synthetic with a breathable and quick-drying mesh, while the textile sock liner is removable for easy cleaning.
These shoes make a great option for touring, road cycling, commuting and even a spinning class, thanks to their blend of comfort and performance. They’re fairly light at 8.6oz, making them a great value option for newer cyclists, or those who don’t wish to spend a fortune.
Mildred is a Reviews Writer for Cyclingnews who enjoys everything from road cycling to mountain biking, but is a utilitarian cyclist at heart. Determined to do everything on two wheels, she's even moved house by bike, and can regularly be found pedalling around Bristol and its surrounding areas. She’s spent over four years volunteering as a mechanic and workshop coordinator at the Bristol Bike Project, and now sits on its board of directors. Her expertise comes from previously working in a bike shop and learning the ins and outs of the industry, and she's previously written for a variety of cycling publications, including Bikeradar, Cycling Plus, Singletrack, Red Bull, Cycling UK and Total Women's Cycling. At home on slicks and knobblies alike, her ideal ride covers long distances through remote countryside, on mixed terrain that offers a bit of crunch, followed by a gourmet campfire meal and an overnight bivvy beneath the stars.
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