Getting cold toes on a winter bike ride can put a damper on your day because once your feet begin to shiver there isn't a whole lot you can do about it, short of going inside to warm up. Depending on where you live, a shoe-and-overshoe combo might not do the trick; luckily, winter cycling shoes are specifically designed to keep your feet happy when the outside temperature plummets.
Do you really need winter cycling shoes?
How ‘wintery’ your winter riding gets will be the main factor as to whether you might benefit from the best winter cycling shoes. Are you fat biking across the frozen tundra in North Dakota? Yes, winter shoes will make you vastly more comfortable and might even save you from frostbite. How about if you are a roadie living in Melbourne? You'll probably get away with a pair of cycling overshoes or toe covers.
But before you add a pair of burly winter kicks to your shopping cart, take a look at what else you're wearing, because if you keep your core warm, your extremities will stay warmer.
What socks are you wearing and how many pairs? You might think more layers means additional warmth, but a single pair of winter socks is better than multiple thin layers. Also, look at your shoe covers, are they wind and waterproof? For those that live in an area where wet-weather riding is a given, look for shoe covers with a waterproof membrane or something made from neoprene for maximum protection and warmth.
How to choose the best winter cycling shoes
When looking to buy the best winter cycling shoes, the most important thing is fit. A shoe that hurts your feet at room temperature is going to be exponentially worse in the cold.
For the most part, winter cycling shoes feature nylon or fibre-reinforced soles. During the winter months you're probably logging base miles, so an uber stiff sole isn't necessary — plus they aren't as hard on your feet.
There are carbon-soled winter cycling shoes out there but expect to pay through the nose for a pair.
2. Two- or three-hole cleats
The best cycling shoes for road cycling are traditionally based around a three-bolt cleat, however, lots of winter shoes come with provisions for two-hole cleats. Unless you're really dedicated to maximizing your power output through your winter rides, you should consider a pair of winter mountain bike shoes with a two-bolt cleat interface.
Road shoes can be slippery at the best of times, and we've all had a brown-bike-shorts moment walking into a cafe or convenience store. Add in rain, puddles or even snow and a bit of extra rubber on the bottom of your shoes could be the difference between laying flat on your back in the middle of a coffee shop and making it to your table.
Mountain bike cleats also clear the mud, snow and slush you're likely to encounter during the winter months considerably better than road cleats and pedals.
These days there aren't many compromises with mountain bike shoes, bar the minor weight penalty. But, if your shoes already have neoprene panels, an extended cuff and insulation, you probably aren't stressing over grams.
3. High tops
Look for riding shoes with an extended ankle and adjustable cuff that will overlap your tights or leg warmers. This gusset needs to fit tight and track your leg as you pedal to help keep cold, rain and road spray from creeping into your boots. If you can, wear your tights over the ankle of your boots, so that any water that lands on the fabric covering your lower legs doesn't just seep downwards into your socks.
4. Retention system
Winter shoes come with a variety of retention systems, from Boa dials to velcro, while some even have the fast lace system commonly found in MTB shoes. For wet weather riding, we like the fast lace closures, because they usually have a flap that covers the laces, adding an extra layer of weather protection.
The choice for deep-winter road riding
Sandwiched between the Microtex exterior shell and the plush fleece-lined interior is a fully waterproof membrane that keeps the rain out but also allows your feet to breathe. There's also a layer of foil insulation to keep the cold from infiltrating the shoe without much bulk.
Underneath the waterproof zipper is a speed lace system that's adjusted with a tug and distributes pressure evenly over your entire foot. With a high ankle cuff, the upper section is made from neoprene and sees a velcro closure to create a rainproof seal.
It's a winter cycling shoe with a carbon composite sole, though it's not 'twangy' stiff as a carbon plate, it's solid enough for base miles and does well to mute road noise too.
Compatible with two- and three-bolt cleat design
Made from a mix of waxed canvas and leather, the Lake CX 145 winter cycling shoes also have a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry. Using Boa IP1 dials to cinch the shoe tight, including the ankle cuff, adjustments on the fly can be done even with cold fingers.
There are slots for two and three-hole cleats, and the sole is made from Lake's Competition fibreglass injected nylon sole. It's plenty stiff enough for pedalling but does well to absorb buzz and features both heel and toe bumpers.
Beware as with most Lake shoes, these run a bit small, but there are separate lasts for men, women and wide feet.
Rough and tumble winter kicks for a bit of gravel road versatility
The Sidi Frost Gore MTB/gravel shoes look a bit like some of the brand's moto boots. The upper is made from a mix of synthetic leather and microfiber mesh, but don't worry, there's a Gore-Tex membrane underneath to keep the rain from soaking through. With a tall neoprene ankle cuff secured by velcro at the top, the shoes also feature a Techno-3 dial over the forefoot and a velcro strap to cinch the toe box.
The sole is the brand's Millennium 5 Carbon Composite sole, which Sidi says allows the plate to provide efficient power transfer and is unaffected by significant temperature gradients. At the back is Sidi's trademark reinforced heel cup to prevent heel lift.
While this shoe comes in a road and MTB version, we like the off-road version for added versatility, and greatly appreciate the added traction on offer from the aggressive lugs, we just wish they were replaceable.
It does mean you'll need mountain bike pedals, but for a winter commuter or gravel grinder, that's not too big a price to pay for toasty toes.
For those riding in the coldest conditions
Made with a combination of leather, 3M Thinsulate lining and a Thermosol composite insole, these boots from Lake are designed with absolute protection in mind. They tighten using a Boa and secure with a buckle, both of which keep the full-coverage leather flaps in place over your foot to keep out the elements. Don't expect them to be lightweight, breathable or aerodynamic, but do expect to have toasty toes no matter what the weather is up to.
They come with two-hole cleat compatibility, making them suitable for those riding mountain bike style cleats, and there's a heavy duty Vibram sole for maximum grip, should you need to hike your bike through the snow. They even have reflective details to keep you visible on the roads.
Neoprene toe warmers
Made from Neoprene fabric, Castelli’s Toe Thingy blocks wind and water to provide warmth over the most sensitive part of your feet. Looping over the back of your cleat to stay on, the bottom features a rubberised outsole for added grip and durability.
They are low profile, lightweight and provide the bit of extra warmth needed for riding in moderate weather.
Toe warmers that hold themselves in place
Made using SBR material, the Odier shoe covers put protection where it's needed most. By covering the toes and the upper portion of the foot, they will keep the chill off during cooler days. They feature a built-in strap that means they'll hold themselves in place, even if you're not using cleats on your cycling shoes.
The logo is reflective, too, helping you to stay visible on the roads.
Full shoe covers with built-in light
These full-coverage overshoes wrap around the whole shoe as well as halfway up the leg to offer increased protection over your current shoes. They're made from neoprene, with thermal fleece lining, so they'll do a great job of keeping your feet warm on cold days.
The standout feature here is a built-in LED light to keep you visible in the dark. They are compatible with all shoes, be they cycling specific or not, and close using hook-and-loop closure at the ankle and beneath the foot.
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