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The best cycling shoes for 2019: our top-rated road cycling shoes

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Sidi Shot road cycling shoes

Sidi Shot road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Bontrager Ballista road cycling shoes

Bontrager Ballista road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Fizik Infinito R1 road cycling shoes

Fizik Infinito R1 road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Giro Empire SLX road cycling shoes

Giro Empire SLX road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Mavic Cosmic Ultimate SL road cycling shoes

Mavic Cosmic Ultimate SL road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Northwave Extreme Pro road cycling shoes

Northwave Extreme Pro road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Rapha Classic road cycling shoes

Rapha Classic road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Shimano S-Phyre RC9 road cycling shoes

Shimano S-Phyre RC9 road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)
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Specialized S-Works 7 road cycling shoes

Specialized S-Works 7 road cycling shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)

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 pedals, allowing shoes to clip in and out of pedals without the need for the previously-common toe-clip, rather through springs in the pedal and plastic cleats on the soles of the shoes, improving 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.

How to buy the best shoes for you

When looking to purchase 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.

Different insoles can also be retrofitted to your shoe of choice, with various options depending on the arch of your feet. This will not only improve comfort but improve pedalling efficiency but also help to prevent injuries.

Most high-end shoes now 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 some brands continue to use leather.

Cycling shoes also need to be fastened and while some brands continue to use laces, the majority now use either proprietary rotating dials, which pull cables across the upper for a secure fit or use branded dials from popular companies such as Boa.

Other considerations to think about when buying cycling shoes about are weight and ventilation. Popular brands, such as Sidi 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.

Scroll down for Cyclingnews’ look at the best cycling shoes for 2019.

The 10 best cycling shoes you can buy today

Sidi Shot

Sidi are well known for making high quality and durable cycling shoes. Packed with features, the Shot is their top of the range shoe.

  • Sizes available: EU 40-48
  • Claimed weight: 580g (pair, size 42)
  • Wide fit available: Yes
  • Fastening system: Proprietary rotational dials x2
  • Colours available: 7
  • As worn by: Chris Froome (Team Ineos), Katusha-Alpecin, Bahrain-Merida

+ Benchmark in quality and durability, iconic style, replaceable pads on sole
- Weight, price

Sidi have been producing dial closure systems that pre-date Boa, their Sidi Techno 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 Shots 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.

Sidi Shot full review

Specialized S-Works 7

An update to the hugely popular S-Works 6, Specialized have taken on feedback and made some key refinements to make the Specialized S-Works 7 even better.

  • Sizes available: EU 36-49
  • Claimed weight: 450g (pair, size 42)
  • Wide fit available: Yes
  • Fastening system: Boa S3 dials x2
  • Colours available: 2 plus limited edition
  • As worn by: Deceuninck-QuickStep, Bora-hansgrohe

+ Lightweight, stiff, good enough for Peter Sagan
- Price

Specialized have been developing their Body Geometry fit for a decade so they know a thing or two about ergonomic efficiency and comfort. The S-Works 7 features a wider toe box and a softened heel support that improves comfort but doesn’t have a detrimental effect on heel security.

Exclusive custom CNC machined S3 Boa dials have been developed specifically for the S-Works 7, featuring a spring clutch that offers 1mm micro-adjustment in both directions. Laces can be unhooked from the guides so that it is easy to take the shoes on and off. Dyneema mesh is a malleable material that gently shapes to the foot while still remaining strong and stretch free across the upper.

Specialized claims the Powerline sole is their stiffest and lightest by signifying this with their own stiffness index rating of 15 out of 15. They have achieved this through careful layering of carbon and removing all extra material based on pressure mapping studies.

Specialized are not shy about the work they have put in to develop the S-Works 7 with the Formula 1 carbon sole, custom metal S3 Boa dials and NASA developed Dyneema Mesh uppers. These efforts certainly translate to performance as the Specialized S-Works 7 is a hyper stiff, lightweight and comfortable shoe.

Specialized S-Works 7 first ride review

Giro Empire SLX

Laces may appear a bit old fashioned amongst the current crop of dials and ratchets but the Giro Empire SLX's are still competitive with other shoes on the market.

  • Sizes available: EU 39-48
  • Claimed weight: 370g (size 42.5)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Lace
  • Colours available: 3
  • As worn by: Taylor Phinney, Bradley Wiggins, Elie Gesbert

+ Light, stiff, comfortable
- Not adjustable on the fly

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’s don’t feature any fastening hardware they are also feathery light. Laces aren’t without their negatives, 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 light weight and comfort.

 

Giro Empire SLX full review

Fizik Infinito R1

The Fizik Infinito R1 is a pro-level shoe that has certainly proved its credentials on the world stage.

  • Sizes available: EU 36-48
  • Claimed weight: 464g (size 42.5)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Boa IP1 rotating dials x2
  • Colours available: 4 plus Movistar Team editions, ‘Knit’ versions also available
  • As worn by: Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos), Movistar Team

+ Stiff, range of colours and finishes available, Grand Tour winning
- Weight, sole is easily scuffed

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. If you regularly ride in hot conditions then the knit version will offer even better breathability.

Fizik Infinito R1 Knit full review

Shimano S-Phyre RC-9

The S-Phyre RC-9’s are Shimano’s top of the range shoe and unsurprisingly a shoe on many riders wishlist.

  • Sizes available: EU 38-48
  • Claimed weight: 486g (size 42)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Boa IP1 rotating dials x2
  • Colours available: 4
  • As worn by: Jumbo-Visma

+ Stiff, 11mm of cleat adjustment, available in a wide range of half sizes
- Price

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 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 offer an integrated sock system that they claim is "designed and constructed to promote efficient pedalling." S-Phyre Tall Socks are available separately.

Bontrager Ballista

Not Bontrager's range-topping shoe, but a sleek, aerodynamic design that punches above its weight. 

  • Sizes available: EU 39-48
  • Claimed weight: 472g (size 43)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Single Boa IP1 dial located on the heel
  • Colours available: 3
  • As worn by: Trek-Segafredo, Alberto Contador

+ Lightweight, unusual design
- Not the stiffest offerings from Bontrager

The Bontrager Ballista shoes are not Bontrager’s top of the range shoe, that crown is held by their XXX road shoe, however, they are still a viable performance option. The Ballistas are focused on being lightweight rather than ultra-stiff. Rated 12/14 on Bontrager’s stiffness guide, the sacrifice of top-end stiffness is offset by a weight saving of around 50g.

Ballista shoes certainly stand out with their sleek aero look and single heel mounted Boa. The Boa draws a wire that crosses the top of the foot and around the sides of the ankle. Bontrager claim this “draws the foot down and back to create a secure heel”, however, having a single Boa means that unlike other shoes with multiple Boas, it’s not possible to zone adjust the fit across your foot. Having the dial on the heel does mean that they are easy to adjust while on the move, although it may play foul with overshoes.

The Bontrager Ballistas may not be comfortable for everyone due to the limited adjustment and softer sole, however, with an RRP of £200, they present good value.

Northwave Extreme Pro

Northwave put themselves amongst the top-level competition with their Extreme Pro, a shoe that they claim has the stiffest sole on the market.

  • Sizes available: EU 37-48
  • Claimed weight: 520g (size 42)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Proprietary rotational SLW2 dials x2
  • Colours available: 2
  • As worn by: Astana Pro Team

+ Ultra-stiff
- Road vibrations, price

This is a bold claim and as there is no market standard measurement for stiffness it is impossible to prove. However, there is little denying that the Extreme Pro’s Power Shape 15 carbon sole is extremely stiff. Northwave have used a uni-directional carbon to assure that every watt is transferred into the pedals. This may come at a cost as, despite the well-padded dual-density insole, road vibrations can be felt through the shoe making it less suited to long days.

The Extreme Pro uses Northwave's SLW2 closing system which features a 0.72mm micro-adjustment and full opening release with a trigger. The double dial system allows fine adjustment across the foot and combines with a directional material in the heel cup to prevent slipping. The upper uses Northwave’s XFrame 2 construction with materials only 0.5mm thick that are reinforced by a webbing system connecting the sole to the closure system.

This results in a high-quality form-fitting shoe with an ultra-aggressive sole that is all about maximising power transfer.

Giro Imperial road shoes

(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Giro Imperial

Giro's most stylish and sophisticated shoe to date

Weight: 215g (claimed), 224g (actual, size 42.5) | Outsole: Carbon, Easton EC90 SLX 2 | Retention: Twin Boa | Colours: 3

Stiff and light
Achingly beautiful
Your mates will envy you
Mesh-reinforced uppers are not ideal for winter temperatures
Not the cheapest option in the segment

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 vacuum-sealed lunch bag. 

Mavic Cosmic Ultimate SL

The shoe that balances stiffness, weight-loss and on-the-fly adjustability, without catering solely to the narrow-footed. 

  • Sizes available: EU 36-48
  • Claimed weight: 398g (size 42)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Boa IP1 x1
  • Colours available: 3

+ Ultra-lightweight, wide toe box
- May not fit all feet

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.

Rapha Classic

A stylish, well fitting shoe that holds its own in this premium company.

  • Sizes available: EU 36-47
  • Claimed weight: 500g (size 42)
  • Wide fit available: No
  • Fastening system: Lace
  • Colours available: 4
  • As worn by: Lachlan Morton (EF Education First)

+ Double wall lacing system, TPU non-slip sole
- Ventilation, non-replaceable pads

Rapha are synonymous with cycling fashion, go for a ride and undoubtedly you will see a lot of riders sporting black kit with armbands of white. The Rapha Classic is their first fully in-house designed shoe and will no doubt be popular amongst their fans.

A full-length carbon sole keeps things stiff although they aren’t as stiff as ultra-premium shoes. A coating of TPU over the carbon is a nice touch, this protects the carbon sole and reduces the chance of slipping about when you are off the bike.

The microfibre upper attaches the sole to the laces with what Rapha call a double-wall lacing system. Simply the upper is attached to the sole and folds in on itself at the midfoot area and is then attached to the sole again creating a double layer. Cutouts on the fold create wide lace eyelets. The idea is that this spreads the tensional forces to reduce pressure points where the laces join the uppers. A reflective velcro strap allows fine-tuning across the toe box and there are more reflective details on the heel of the shoe. Perforations offer ventilation although due to the double-wall construction they aren’t as effective as mesh vents found on other shoes.

Bontrager XXX road shoes

(Image credit: Josh Croxton)

Bontrager XXX road shoes

Up there with the best cycling shoes we've sampled here at Cyclingnews

Neoprene at contact points
Comfort
Ventilation
Stiffness
Bontrager's sizing

The XXX road is the range-topping performance road shoe from Bontrager. With a stiffness index rating of 14, it's the stiffest on offer from Trek's components brand. They feature neoprene pads at the contact points, twin Boa dials, and a removable heel-pad. Worn predominantly by Trek-Segafredo, they're clearly good enough for the very top of the sport. 

The only bugbear is the sizing, I can safely say this complaint applies across the range, but UK sizing appears to be off, meaning I'm required to size up when buying Bontrager shoes. 

Sizing issues aside, the Bontrager XXX road shoes are the most comfortable we've ever tested. The no-slip lining in the heel ensures a secure, yet not vice-tight fit. Ventilation is fantastic, stiffness holds its own against other range-topping road shoes, and they perform as any top-level race-ready road shoe should. I will gladly add them to my stable of go-to cycling kit.

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