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The best gravel bike shoes - cycling shoes for gravel riding

Best Gravel bike shoes
(Image credit: Courtesy)

The best gravel bike shoes are an amalgamation of road cycling shoes and mountain bike shoes, cherrypicking key features from each to create the perfect mix of weight, stiffness, durability and grip. 

Gravel riding has gone from something a bunch of gluttons in the Flint Hills of Kansas did for punishment; to an idea, everyone from Velomaniti-type roadies to pyjama pant-wearing mountain bikers want to try out — it is well and truly here to stay. 

With that, we're starting to see a wave of clothing and equipment designed specifically for long rides on dirt roads, including shoes. In the same way that a 'cross bike will work fine for a gravel grinding, mountain bike shoes will also get you through a gravel ride; however, there is a growing range of purpose-built gravel bike shoes hitting the market, and there are some MTB shoes that are better for the task than others.

Scroll down for our look at the best gravel bike shoes, or if you're after buying advice, you can skip to our guide on how to choose the best gravel bike shoes.

Best gravel bike shoes available today

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Giro Privateer

The best-looking gravel bike shoes you can slip your feet into, that ride pretty darn well too

Sizes: 34-50 | Closure: Lace | Sole: Nylon

All-day comfort 
Aesthetic 
Price
Sizing is on the large side

Giro's Privateer is a toned-down version of its uber-successful Empire shoes, trading a bit of stiffness for improved overall comfort at a price that's not offensive. They are technically MTB shoes; however, the toe and heel armour is minimal and the microfiber upper breathes well and dries fast too. Using laces to tie everything together keeps the weight low, and allows the upper seven points of adjustment to conform around the wearer's foot.

The lugged outsole is substantial on top of the nylon sole, and we're big fans of the tread through the centre section for the purchase it adds when you miss or slip a pedal. One also can't look past the aesthetic; these are most definitely some of the best looking cycling kicks you can buy. 

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S-Works Recon

Some of the fastest gravel bike shoes money can buy, assuming your ride doesn't include much hike-a-bike

Sizes: 36-49 | Closure: Boa | Sole: Carbon

Road-like fit 
Unwavering stiffness 
Aluminium Boas resistant to crash damage
Uncomfortable if you have to get off your bike
TPU lugs don't offer heaps of grip

Specialized’s S-Works Recon shoes are the company's latest lightweight, low-profile performance-above-all-else off-road shoes. Although they are technically labelled XC MTB shoes, they fall in pretty well with our definition of a gravel shoe. There is minimal armour around the toe and forefoot, and the TPU lugs are just enough to walk on — though there's also a pad under the arch of the foot. The Recon is based around the brand's Body Geometry sole and footbed which aims to optimise foot, knee and hip alignment, which works for some but not all. 

With Dyneema, no-stretch panels and the same carbon plate used on the S-Works 7 road shoes, the Recon are some of the most efficient gravel bike shoes you can slip your feet into, until it's time to get off and walk. With the suction cup-like heel cup, that keeps your foot locked in the back of the shoe, and the no stretch or flex upper and sole they can become pretty uncomfortable when you're pushing your bike up a fire road. 

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Shimano RX8

Featherweight gravel bike shoes

Sizes: 38-50 | Closure: Boa/Velcro | Sole: Carbon

Fit might be too racy for some 
Weight
Could breathe a bit better in the heat
Performance oriented fit might be too much for some

Shimano's RX8 look like road shoes from the top and paired down XC MTB shoes on the bottom, with nearly the whole carbon fibre sole covered in TPU. With minimal armour and more conservative tread, the RX8 gravel shoes pull attributes you need from the best road and MTB shoes and get rid of everything you don't. 

Weighing a hair over 600g for the pair in size 45, they are lighter than some road shoes, and rate 10/11 on Shimano's stiffness scale. Even with this rigid base, Shimano has built-in a flex zone in front of the cleat plate to limit the penguin steps on your hike-a-bike. If your feet get along with Shimano's other high-end road or MTB shoes, you'll feel right at home in the RX8, with the perforated microfiber upper providing heaps of support for your foot as you spin along — plus they are camo.  

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Mavic Allroad Pro

Knitted gravel bike shoes, but nothing like that itchy sweater you grandmother knitted for you

Sizes: 36-48 | Closure: Lace | Sole: Nylon

Breathability
Weight
Waterproofing

Mavic's Allroad Pro features a knitted upper using a material the French outfit calls Matryx. Using a patented technology and Kevlar fibres Mavic says the Matrix fabric is five times more resistant to abrasions than synthetic fabrics and ten times more so than other knits; but even with its robust nature is breathable, fast-drying and supple enough to contour around your foot. Mavic has also woven in reflective fibres for some added low light visibility. While the laces offer heaps of adjustability, keep in mind these are still Mavic shoes and are built around a narrow last. 

On the bottom is an off-road version brand's Energy Comp nylon sole, which garners an 80/100 stiffness rating and will only take two-bolt cleats. The rubber lugs aren't as aggressive as some, but they are plenty grippy and contour as to not disturb your gait.

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Sidi Jarin

What you would get if a road shoe and a mountain bike shoe had a baby

Sizes: 39.5-49 | Closure: Tecno 3 dials | Sole: Carbon

Pedalling feedback and 'road feel'
Price

The gold standard in cycling shoes is a hard one to pin down but Sidi is often close to the top of the list in terms of quality and performance. The Jarin is the brand’s first gravel-specific shoe and, in Sidi's own words, combines the best elements of its high-end road and mountain bike shoes. 

The upper is borrowed from the Wire 2 shoes and utilises the soft instep strap and two of the brand’s Tecno 3 dials while the SRS Carbon sole is the same as you'd find on Sidi’s Flagship mountain bike shoes. In typical Sidi tradition, the tread blocks are replaceable, however we'd like to see a bit more protection on the carbon plate itself. The front of the toe box is reinforced to deflect errant debris, and so is the heel cup, but that's for power transfer and hold. 

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Pearl Izumi X-Project Elite

The X-Project Elite gravel bike shoes are like walking on air, but pedal like race shoes

Sizes: 39-49.5 | Closure: Boa/Velcro | Sole: Carbon

Boa IP1 dials
EVA foam under the heel
Carbon composite sile
Weight

Pearl Izumi offers a gravel-specific shoe, the X-Alp Gravel but when it comes time to head out for a big mixed surface ride, we prefer the X-Project Elite XC shoes. The Boa is a nicer IP1 dial, has a simpler cable routing, and it's well out of harm's way situated on the tongue. We're also fans of the modular insoles that allow for removable arch support, various support shims and a metatarsal bubble.

The upper is made from a three-layer seamless composite that conforms to lots of foot shapes and allows for plenty of air permeability. The X-Project Elite is also a bit stiffer than the brand's gravel-specific kicks with a carbon composite sole; Pearl Izumi has come pretty close to the goldilocks pedal stiffness to walking flex ratio. Moulded onto the sole are rubber-tipped hollow TPU lugs, the brand has also sandwiched a layer of EVA foam between the upper and composite plate for additional shock absorption when walking — just like your running shoes. 

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Bont Vaypor G

Heat mouldable high performance gravel shoes available in sizes and widths to fit any foot

Sizes: 36-50 | Closure: Boa | Sole: Carbon

DIY heat moldable 
All tread replaceable 
Pedalling efficiency
A bit stiff for walking extended lengths

Aesthetically, Bont's shoes are some of the most polarising in the bike industry but also they take a bit of work to achieve foot Nirvana. Bont's take on cycling shoes is a bit different to the rest of the industry using a wide bathtub shape and last, which includes longitudinal arch support and lateral forefoot support — this keeps all your joints running smoothly.

The trick up the Australian outfit's sleeve is the resin used throughout the shoes that hits its glass transition temp at 70-degrees Celsius, meaning you can mould them at home. It can take a few tries to get them just right but, when you do, they are some of the most comfortable shoes on the market. The Vaypor G is built around the Chassis of the Vaypor + with the addition of replaceable lugs bolted onto the bottom. They are supremely stiff which is great when you're on the bike, but a little awkward if you have to walk around or scramble up a steep hill. 

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Fizik Terra X5

Reasonably priced well-trimmed gravel bike shoes

Sizes: 36-48 | Closure: Boa/Velcro | Sole: Carbon

Fit Flex tuned into sole 
Laser-cut perforations
L6 Boa lacks some adjustability

Fizik offers the Terra X5 in a synthetic and Suede version; for gravel riding, we think the synthetic upper is a better option as it holds its shape for longer and is more abrasion resistant than the natural material. To further the durability, there is light armour around the heel and toe to fend off scrapes but the laser-perforated upper still breathes in the heat.

The shoes feature an LP1 Boa dial and velcro strap to cinch the upper; while underneath is a nylon sole which maintains stiffness to help you power up that nasty fire road climb but has enough flex to make walking feel natural when you run out of steam part of the way up. 

How to choose the best gravel bike shoes

1. Wait, aren't these just mountain bike shoes?

Short answer, no. Gravel shoes are not the same as mountain bike shoes. 

Most mountain bikes shoes are well armoured to fend off abrasion pinging through rock gardens (and crashes) and to protect your feet from high speed stubbed toes. 

It's not often we're sending the same type of terrain on our gravel bikes that we are with 130mm+ of suspension (unless your name is Yohann Barelli) and with that, the same level of protection is just extra weight that your legs have to drive in a circle. 

The XC mountain bike shoes that a lot of people are using on gravel rides also have provisions for toe spikes, used for sprinting uphill — and are especially useful in CX racing. It's unlikely that you'll need spikes for gravel riding, or really mountain biking outside of racing, so again this becomes an unnecessary weight.

When you take these elements away, you have gravel shoes. They still utilise the same two-bolt cleat pad as mountain bike shoes and will have lugs on the bottom which protect the carbon or nylon plate, but also provide traction for walking.

That said, there are plenty of lightly armoured XC shoes and some without mounts for toe spikes, like those found in this round-up, which perform just as well as a gravel-specific shoe. 

2. Stiffness is not the end all be all

When we talk about road shoes, stiffness is often the headline; when the riding surface gets rough that ultra-stiff carbon sole does little to dampen the vibrations coming into the bottom of your foot. Take that rough surface and pedal over it for three-plus hours, you'll be about ready to chop your feet off in the pursuit of comfort.

Gravel shoes aim to find a balance between stiffness and damping; those designed for all-day gravel adventures tend to opt for nylon or carbon-reinforced plates. In contrast, the shoes designed for pulling turns at the front of the Dirty Kanza will be full carbon and rate highly on its respective brand's stiffness scale but may not be quite as stiff as their flagship road kicks. 

Some gravel shoes will even feature a built-in flex zone in front of the cleat plate to make walking a little bit less awkward.

3. Fit, construction and fastening

Fit is the most critical aspect when buying shoes for any discipline of cycling because if your feet aren't happy, you're not going to have a good ride. Gravel bike shoes designed for the racing end of the spectrum will have a slightly lower volume fit so that no energy is lost to your foot swimming inside the boot. Endurance-oriented shoes will have a bit more room to accommodate when your feet begin to swell as the miles tick away. 

For the most part, the uppers of all gravel shoes are made with synthetic material, including knits, but some are still using leather and even suede. While leather offers more comfort, it neither dries as fast nor breathes as well as many of the synthetic options

As with road and mountain bike shoes, gravel shoes come with retention systems such as laces, boas, and Velcro depending on the shoes. Laces offer heaps of adjustability and low weight, but you can't easily adjust them on the fly. Boa dials (or similar) use a cable to cinch down the shoe and offer easy one-handed micro-adjustments and minimal weight, the downside is they are more susceptible to damage. Velcro is the lightest of the bunch and makes for easy on the fly adjustments; however, can be stymied by mud and does deteriorate over time. 

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