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, a shoe-and-overshoe combo might not do the trick; luckily, the best winter cycling shoes are 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 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 the best cycling shoes, even during winter. Plus you can always cover your bases with the best cycling overshoes.
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 looked at the best cycling base layers, the best winter cycling jackets, and don't forget to warm your hands with some of the best winter cycling gloves.
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 cycling; you're much better off with a single pair of some of the best cycling socks.
Finally, look at your shoe covers, are they wind and waterproof? For those that live in the UK or somewhere else 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.
If you've ticked these boxes and your feet are still cold, then it's time to look into a pair of the best winter cycling shoes.
Best winter cycling shoes you can buy
Fizik R5 Artica
Best waterproof winter cycling shoes
Closure: Speedlace | Cleat compatibility: Three-bolt | 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 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.
Winter cycling shoes 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.
Mavic Ksyrium Pro Thermo
Winter 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.
Lake CX 145
Highly adjustable winter shoes
Closure: Boa | Cleat compatibility: Two and three-bolt | Price: £196 / $250 / AU$270
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, run a bit small, but there are separate lasts for men, women and wide feet.
Warm and comfy with added visibility
Closure: Speedlace | Cleat compatibility: Two and three-hole | Price: £125 / $200 / AU$TBC
The best winter cycling shoes for when it gets really cold, Shimano's RW5 appears to take a few design cues from the brand's flagship ME7 trail shoes, like using a similar last, speed lace, and cover setup to the MTB kicks. That's where the similarities end though, with the RW5 featuring a Dryshield membrane and fleece liner to stave off 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.
Northwave Celsius R Arctic GTX
Snug-fitting, performance-oriented winter cycling shoes
Closure: SWL2 reel | Cleat compatibility: Three-hole | Price: £210 / $280 / AU$280
Looking at its Celsius R Arctic GTX winter boot, Northwave is making a statement that keeping your toes toasty and warm should not come at the expense of power transfer and performance. With the brand’s NRG Air Carbon reinforced outsole that rates 8/15 on Northwave’s stiffness scale, and its Arctic 4Layer insole providing heavy-duty thermal insulation, it’s clear that these winter cycling shoes mean business.
The synthetic leather upper and aerodynamic overlap tongue cinches together using the brand’s SLW2 dial, which offers minute adjustments to achieve a precision fit.
Northwave has combined the extreme flexibility of a Gore-Tex Rattler membrane with the superior thermal insulation of Neoprene to create the ankle cuff, though this does make these shoes a bear to wrestle onto your feet, especially if you're late for a group ride.
Sidi Frost Gore
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 pedals, but for a winter commuter or gravel grinder, that's not too big a price to pay for toasty toes.
Gaerne G. Ice Storm GoreTex
A well proven design to keep your toes warm
Closure: Boa IP1 | Cleat compatibility: Three-hole | Price: £250 / $276 / AU$403
Gaerne's G. Ice Storm GoreTex shoes are available in both MTB and road versions, sharing the same Gore-Tex upper and ankle cuff. The Gore-Tex Duratherm membrane locks the warmth in and the wet out, while the Gore-Tex Rattler ankle collar seals the weather away while remaining flexible enough to pedal. The shoes also feature an aluminium lined insole to help reflect heat back to your feet as you ride.
Up top, the thermal upper is cinched closed using a BOA IP1 dial and a speed lace system, while the carbon composite sole has an 8/12 stiffness rating, offering decent power transfer without creating discomfort after hours on the bike.
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 — 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.
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 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.
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