Getting cold toes on a winter epic 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, wool socks and insulated shoe covers probably won't do the trick; luckily, there is a range of winter shoes specifically designed to keep your feet happy.
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 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? Probably not worth the money.
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. Make sure you've got layers and clothing suited to how wet you're likely to get on a ride.
What socks are you wearing and how many pairs? When I was a ski instructor, the bane of my existence was parents whacking two pairs of ski socks on their kid's feet before they stuff them into rental boots in the hope it would make them warmer — the thinking being more layers mean additional warmth.
The outer pair of socks would inevitably wrinkle or bind, causing hot spots, cutting off circulation and making for cold feet. The same goes for winter riding; you're much better off with a single pair of thicker (but not too thick) winter socks than multiple layers.
Finally, look at your shoe covers, are they wind and waterproof? For those that live in the UK or somewhere else were wet weather riding is a given, look for shoe covers with a waterproof membrane or something made from neoprene for max protection and warmth.
If you've ticked these boxes and your feet are still cold, then it's time to look into a pair of winter cycling shoes.
Best Winter Cycling shoes you can buy
Lake CX 145
Highly adjustable winter boots
Closure: Boa | Cleat compatibility: two and three-hole | Price: £196 / $250 / AU$270
Made from a mix of waxed canvas and leather, the Lake Cx45 also has 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, run a bit small, but there are separate lasts for men, women and wide feet.
Fizik R5 Artica
Sleek waterproof boots for bagging miles
Closure: Speedlace | Cleat compatibility: three-hole | Price: £190 / $200 / AU$TBC
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.
Another winter shoe with a carbon composite sole, though it's not a twangy stiff as a carbon plate, it's solid enough for base miles and does well to mute road noise, too.
Northwave Flash GTX
Snug fitting low profile winter boots
Closure: SWL2 reel | Cleat compatibility: three-hole | Price: £190 / $240 / AU$TBC
Borrowing quite a few design features from the Flash summer, like the brand's SLW2 dial and Biomap Aero overlap tongue, which is handy for keeping moisture, the winter boots are waterproof and feature a fleece-lined interior.
Northwave has opted for a Gore-Tex pique membrane in the synthetic leather upper and footbed to wick moisture away from your feet but prevent water from sneaking in through the fabric or the cleat holes and wire mesh vents in the sole. The ankle cuff is essentially a neoprene sleeve which can make these shoes a bear to wrestle onto your feet, especially if you're late for a group ride.
The Flash GTX also see the brands NRG Air Carbon reinforced sole, rated an 8/15 on Northwave’s stiffness scale.
Warm and comfy with added visibility
Closure: Speedlace | Cleat compatibility: Two and three-hole | Price: £125 / $200 / AU$TBC
Shimano's RW5 appears to take a few design cues from the brand's flagship ME7 trail shoes using a similar last and speed lace and cover setup to the MTB kicks. That's where the similarities end, with the RW5 featuring a Dryshield membrane and fleece liner to stave of the wet and cold.
The sole is compatible with both two and three-bolt shoes, however, it's one of the few that includes the mounting hardware for both. The sole itself is reinforced nylon with a carbon cleat plate providing a bit of stiffness right under the pedal. The sole is vented, however, the waterproof membrane completely encapsulates your foot.
At the top, Shimano has taken extra care to keep even the foulest weather at bay with a neoprene cuff the wraps your ankle like a burrito. With the majority of these shoes being black on black, so they don't show as much road grime, the high vis accents are a nice touch, but reflective would be better.
Sidi Frost Gore MTB/Gravel
Rough and tumble winter kicks for a bit of gravel road versatility
Closure: Techno-3 dial, velcro | Cleat compatibility: Two-hole | Price: £220 / $299 / AU$TBC
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 brands 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 SPD pedals, but for a winter commuter or gravel grinder, that's not too big a price to pay for toasty toes.
Mavic Ksyrium Pro Thermo
Road shoes from the XC Ski track
Closure: Boa | Cleat compatibility: Three-hole | Price: £199 / $242 / AU$TBC
Using the Ksyrium Pro shoe as the base, Mavic has borrowed design features from nordic ski boots to keep your toes warm and dry as you pedal. Using a single Boa dial to reign in the shoe, it remains uncovered when everything is sealed up for easy on the fly adjustments.
The upper features a Gore-Tex membrane, and water-resistant fabric on all the forward-facing parts of the shoe, while the rear of the ankle gusset is made from neoprene. There is also plenty of insulation on offer keeping your feet comfortable in sub-zero temps.
Mavic has opted for its Energy Comp outsole which is made from nylon and fibreglass, and there are reflective accents for added visibility in low light conditions.
Winter boots to prevent slip and falls when riding off the beaten path
Closure: Boa | Cleat compatibility: Two-hole | Price: £149 / $195 / AU$TBC
A newscaster in World War II compared the brutally cold conditions soldiers faced on the Russian front to winter in Minnesota. So it is safe to say that Bloomington Minnesota based 45NRTH know a thing or two about riding in the cold.
With a 3/4 height waterproof membrane, the shoes have a rubberised shell to resist water and abrasion, and a neoprene ankle gusset to keep your feet warm and dry. This is another pair of 2-hole only MTB shoes, and 45NRTH has used a special 'microglass' rubber compound which uses glass fibres embedded in the rubber to create abrasive protruding shards for purchase on slippery surfaces like wet linoleum, wet metal and ice.
These boots also feature a fully reflective upper and are ideal for low light riding.
Gaerne G.Winter Road
A well proven design to keep your toes warm
Closure: Speedlace | Cleat compatibility: Three-hole | Price: £203 / $299 / AU$TBC
Gaerne's G.Winter shoes haven't changed much over the years, and that is because they nailed the design the first time around.
Available in both MTB and road versions, both have identical Gore-Tex uppers and the road kicks see the same nylon sole as the brands Tornado shoes.
Hidden beneath the neoprene cuffs velcro closure is a speed lace system, the shoes also feature an aluminium lined insole to help reflect heat back to your feed as you ride.
What to look for in winter cycling shoes?
When looking to buy winter kicks, 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 shoes out there but expect to pay through the nose for a pair.
Two- or three-hole cleats
Road shoes are traditionally based around a three-bolt cleat — or four if you swing for Speedplay — however lots of winter shoes come with provisions for two-hole cleats. I'll take that one step further and say you should consider looking into 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 you're shoes already have neoprene panels, an extended cuff and insulation, you probably aren't stressing over grams.
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.
Winter shoes come with Boa's, velcro, and 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.