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, which allowed cycling shoes to clip in and out of pedals without the need for the previously-common toe-clip. This was achieved using springs in the pedal and plastic cleats on the soles of the shoes, and it helped to improve pedalling efficiency and power transfer.
In the past three decades, clipless cycling shoes and pedals 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.
Choosing the best cycling shoes can be a difficult process, and if done incorrectly, it can be an expensive endeavour. To see our pick of the best shoes, read on. If you’re unsure what to look out for, you can jump to our guide on how to buy the best cycling shoes for you.
Then when you’ve chosen, don’t forget to check out our guide to the best cycling socks to pair them with.
Best cycling shoes
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 shoes don’t feature any fastening hardware, they are also feathery light. Laces aren’t without their negatives though, 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 low weight and comfort.
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 (or enjoy indoor cycling on a turbo trainer), then the knit version will offer even better breathability.
Specialized has been developing its Body Geometry fit for a decade, so the American brand knows a thing or two about ergonomic efficiency and comfort. The S-Works 7 features a wider toe box and 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. There’s no inbuilt quick release, but the cables can be unhooked from the guides so that it is easy to take the shoes on and off quickly. 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, and signifies this with their own stiffness index rating of 15 out of 15. This is achieved through the careful layering of carbon and removing all extra material based on pressure mapping studies.
Specialized is 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.
While the price tag might be eye-watering enough already, if you’re looking for something a bit more premium, then the S-Works EXOS shoes are a hyper-lightweight option and are perfect for hot climates.
Shimano has continued with its one-piece wrap-around design from the previous design which holds the foot snugly while reducing edges or seams that may cause discomfort. The upper has small perforations across the tow and improved vents in the sole to allow for cooling on hot days. The shoe is secured by two Li2 Boa dials that offer quick micro-adjustments to assure foot security when pedalling. An external heel cup has been reworked to be more torsionally stiff to minimise heel roll and uses silicone grips to stop the heel from lifting out.
The S-Phyre RC902 sole has the highest rating on Shimano’s stiffness rating and features a unibody construction that 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.
Sidi has been producing dial closure systems that pre-date Boa, the Tecno 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 Shot shoes 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.
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 a vacuum-sealed lunch bag.
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 replaceable 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. This complaint applies across the range, but UK sizing appears to be off, meaning it’s required to size up when buying Bontrager shoes.
Sizing issues aside, the Bontrager XXX road shoes are up there with 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 the best cycling shoes, and they perform as any top-level race-ready road shoe should.
Bont shoes are actually shaped like feet, which is surprisingly rare in the cycling industry. When you put a pair of Bonts next to shoes from just about any other brand, the toe box is comparatively broad and round because of the anatomical shaping. Bont also designs its shoes to support the foot entirely without the need for custom footbeds, arch wedges, and the like. They achieve this through the bathtub shaped outsole, medial longitudinal arch support and a true heel cup.
Bont’s fitting party piece is its use of a proprietary resin that softens at around 70°C/158°F, this means that you can have custom-fitted shoe by simply popping them in the oven at home.
Beyond the fit, the uber-stiff sole and non-stretch Durolite upper mean the Vaypor S are most definitely a race shoe and the dual Boa IP1 dial is used to bring it all together.
The Sidi Wire 2 was launched in 2018 and has since been seen on the feet of Alberto Bettiol and Vincenzo Nibali. The Sidi Wire 2 shoes are, like the Sidi Shot, largely customisable at the expense of a bit of weight. At 630g per pair (EU42), they’re considerably porkier than some, but they feel like they’ve been broken in straight out of the box.
Comfort is key in cycling shoes, and the Wire 2 shoes are just that, thanks to its two retention dials, upper-foot closure strap, and an adjustable heel cup. With an RRP of £330.00, they’re a bit of an investment. Thankfully, the replaceable heel and toe pads mean you’re not left in the market for new shoes once these parts wear out.
Compared to the Shot, the Wire 2 loses some of the mesh ventilation holes, and moves upper retention dial away from the forefoot to the outstep, and uses a ‘soft instep closure system’ for more comfort across the first metatarsal.
If you’re looking for a bit of extra airflow, the Sidi Wire 2 Air uses the same design but adds hundreds of tiny ventilation holes across the surface.
The S-Works Ares was designed to address a number of issues related to high-performance cycling, to achieve this the company set out to build a shoe from the ground up combining the company’s Body Geometry philosophy with real-world feedback from its professional athletes such as Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) Of all the reported issues the main areas of concern were tendon management in the area around the top of the foot, foot instability on the upstroke and pressure points. By removing the tongue and any overlapping materials by way of a Dyneema-reinforced sock, Specialized was able to radically reduce irritation issues, even when the shoe is tightened to the max.
The wrap-around strap configuration is anchored at the back and wraps over the top of the dorsal layer, essentially creating a foot brace for better support and energy management. The Y-shaped arrangement of the upper Boa Li2 cables has also ensured a reduction of volume and better overall fit resulting in a 20 per cent improvement in the contact surface.
When it comes to stiffness, the new Ares road shoe is rated at an index of 15 on Specialized’s scale which is as rigid as you get before adding unnecessary weight into the system. In fact, according to Specialized, retention and sole stiffness work hand-in-hand – you can’t have the one without the other. In terms of power delivery, the company believes it has hit a sweet spot making this the fastest shoe it has ever made.
Rather than use a synthetic microfiber material for the uppers like most of the other best cycling shoes Rapha has chosen to use what it calls Powerweave. The 3D-woven technology has been designed to give support, flexibility and breathability across the shoe to optimise performance.
Inside, an adjustable two-part insole takes care of arch support. Adjustable by way of an extra section beneath the arch which can be added or removed to adjust the level of support. There’s also a pressure-dispersing tongue, which is thicker and doesn’t conform to the foot shape quite as much when pulling up in the pedal stroke. When stamping back down, there is a full-length carbon sole for a stiff platform and direct power transfer.
How to buy the best cycling shoes for you
When looking for the best 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.
There’s also a variance in the conversion across EU, US and UK sizing with different brands – and sometimes even different models from the same brand. In our testing, we’ve found that an EU46 is usually a UK size 11, but it can and does vary.
Arch support is generally built into the shoe, with some offering a flatter base than others. Rapha, Shimano and Giro offer an adjustable insole with their shoes, but for those with particularly high or low arches, different insoles can also be retrofitted to your shoe of choice, with various options depending on the arch of your feet. Specialized’s Body Geometry footbeds are well renowned in this sphere, alongside its custom footbed option. This will not only improve comfort and pedalling efficiency but can also help to prevent injuries.
All of the best cycling shoes 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 a few brands continue to use leather, and a number of shoes are now available with a knitted upper, which proposes greater comfort and breathability.
The construction and durability should play a part in your choice, as the longer a pair of shoes last, the better value they become. Even after they’ve become tattered and beaten, if they still stand up to the daily grind, then they can be paired with some overshoes and relegated to your pair of bad weather or winter shoes, which will be cheaper than buying dedicated winter cycling shoes.
Sidi shoes, 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.
Other considerations to think about when buying the best cycling shoes about are weight and ventilation. If you’re only going to be riding in the toasty summers of Southern Europe, then knit or a well-vented shoe will likely be a better choice. If you’re racing predominantly in the North of England, then perhaps look for something with a bit more coverage, or expect to need overshoes.
The choices here include traditional laces, velcro, Boa dials, or a proprietary variation thereof.
Laces tend to offer a good level of upper-foot comfort and adjustability at a low weight. However, it’s not possible to adjust a lace without stopping at the roadside, and a white fabric lace will soon become grey and dirty if riding in bad weather.
Velcro or straps tend to offer a similar level of adjustability with on-the-fly adjustment available, but it’s not uncommon for the hook-and-loop to lose its secure feel after a year or so of use.
Rotary dials, such as those from the market leader Boa, pull cables across the foot to secure the shoe. A single dial will often have routed cables in the fashion of a lace, while two dials will offer separate forefoot and upper foot adjustability. They usually include a quick-release option and are quick and easy to fasten up both pre- and mid-ride. The small downside is that they tend not to play too well with overshoes.
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