An essential piece of kit, with a huge range of choices, the right cycling shoes will offer you comfort while unlocking your performance potential
A good pair of cycling shoes is an essential piece of kit for anyone who is serious about their riding – but the ideal shoe for you will vary depending upon the type of cycling that you do.
When it comes to selecting the right pair of cycling shoes, there’s a plethora of options from a huge selection of brands. Choosing the right model at the best price bracket can be tricky. This guide is designed to help you hunt down the perfect pair for you, at the right price point.
The key variables when it comes to cycling shoes are the fastening system, the sole, the cleat style and of course the fit – we’ve gone into detail on each of these after the product picks, but if you’re looking for the skinny:
- Fastening system: Boa dials offer the most precise fit, and are top of the pricing scale. Ratchets sit in the middle – the closure can be precise, but difficult to loosen on the fly. Velcro is usually the cheapest but also features on light climbing shoes. Laces are aero, and often expensive – but impossible to adjust as you ride.
- Soles: Carbon soles are light and stiff, making them the more desirable option for most riders, and of course more expensive. Cheaper shoes will have plastic soles, and mid-range options often come with a composite mixture of the two. Super stiff soles don’t suit everyone.
- Cleat style: Most road cycling shoes are designed to take three-bolt cleats. However, some are compatible with two-bolt cleats only, and some can accommodate both. Two-bolt SPD cleats are popular among commuters and touring cyclists.
- Fit: Perhaps one of the more difficult elements to get right, riders tend to find shoes from some brands suit their feet better than others. It’s best to try before you buy. As a rule of thumb: Specialized, Fizik and Giro tend to cater for narrower feet whilst Bont and Shimano shoes tend to fit wider feet.
Check out our pick of the best cycling shoes below, and read on for more details on the merits of the various options…
Our pick of the best road cycling shoes
Pearl Izumi Select Road III cycling shoes
Thankfully also available in red and white, these mid-priced Pearl Izumi shoes offer plenty of adjustability thanks to the three Velcro straps, and will also work with SPD pedals thanks to the two bolt and three bolt compatible soles.
B’Twin 900 Carbon cycling shoes
80 quid for a pair of shoes worn by FDJ at the Tour de France? Yes please! These are probably the best value shoes you can find anywhere with a carbon sole that gives excellent power transfer and helps to keep weight down too.
Bontrager Race DLX cycling shoes
A stiff yet comfortable pair of shoes that impressed us no end at their standard RRP of £100. We found we had plenty of wiggle room in these shoes, ensuring sleepy feet on long rides were avoided. However, the ratchet system was a little bit difficult to loosen.
Shimano RP5 SPD-SL cycling shoes
An affordable pair of road cycling shoes that breathe well, featuring a ratchet system which we found effective. The price is good, but there are lighter shoes on the market if you’re willing to spend more.
Bontrager Velocis cycling shoes
You can spend a lot more on cycling shoes than the £169.99 that these Bontrager shoes cost, but frankly we’re not sure why you’d need to. The Velocis shoes are stiff, light, and look great. Better ventilation and they’d be perfect.
Northwave Evolution Plus cycling shoes
These Northwave Evolution Plus shoes feature many of the same features of the Northwave Extreme shoes but without the £260 price tag. That means a super-stiff sole and a fit that is great for those with wider feet.
Gaerne G.Stilo+ cycling shoes
A premium construction that you’d expect at this price point. Stiff soles and two Boa dials for closure, these are well ventilated and super light.
Bont Vaypor S cycling shoes
Specialized S-Works 6 cycling shoes
The old S-Works shoes were excellent and the new versions are even better. The sole is exceptionally stiff and the tight heel cup makes sure your foot doesn’t move around at all when pedalling. If you’ve got narrow feet and a big enough wallet, these are the shoes for you.
Fizik R1B Uomo cycling shoes
The Fizik R1Bs are light and stiff, with an excellent Boa closure system that allows you to adjust the volume of the upper as well as tighten and loosen the shoe. They’re not easy to wipe clean, a factor worth bearing in mind considering the price.
Giro Factor Techlace Cycling Shoes
Combining the micro adjustment of a Boa dial with the comfort of laces, the Giro Factor cycling shoes offer the best of both worlds. The sole isn’t quite as stiff as other options in this price range, but that might suit some riders who want to feel a tiny bit more flex.
What to look for in cycling shoes
Cycling shoe fastening systems
There are basically four different systems used to tighten cycling shoes: Velcro, ratchets, laces, and dials.
Almost all cycling shoes under £50 and a large proportion of those up to £100 exclusively use Velcro straps for fastening, basically because it’s a cheaper option. For the rider Velcro straps do a good job of holding the shoe firmly in place, but can be difficult to adjust on the move and it can also be a little tricky to get the precise fit you might want.
The other benefit of Velcro straps is that they are light. This means that they can also be found on very expensive lightweight shoes designed specifically for climbers, such as the Rapha Climber’s shoes and the Giro Prolight SLX II shoes.
The next step up in the fastening system food chain comes ratchets. A ratchet offers more precise adjustability than Velcro straps, gives a really secure fit, and can also easily be tightened while riding. However, loosening a ratchet is not quite as easily, generally requiring two hands. Ratchets are generally found on mid-price shoes, and generally combined with a Velcro strap or two further down the shoe.
At the top of the tree you have dials, the fastening system system used on most high end shoes. In general these are very secure, are easy to adjust, and can be dialled in (excuse the pun) to give a very precise hold. However there are differences between different brands of dials. Boa dials offer the current gold standard with the incremental tightening and loosening, while those from other brands can’t always be loosened quite so easily.
The other option on a few other high-end shoes such as the Giro Empires and Specialized S-Works Sub 6 shoes (as well as a few retro style shoes) is laces. For those interested in marginal gains laces are very aerodynamic, but are also generally very comfy. However, of course laces are nigh-on impossible to adjust on the move.
Soles of cycling shoes
As with the fastening systems, there are various different types of soles that come on different cycling shoes, and of course the more you pay the more you get.
The main thing that you are looking for with the soles of your cycling shoes is for them to be stiff. This means that when you press down the sole won’t bend, meaning that all of the power that you generate is transferred through the sole and into the pedal. The second consideration is weight, with more expensive shoes coming with lighter soles.
Entry level cycling shoes will generally come with plastic soles, but if you pay a bit more you will get shoes with carbon composite soles (i.e. a mixture of carbon and plastic), while at the top of the scale you will find carbon-soled shoes. The only thing with some really high end shoes is that some people will find that the ultra-stiff sole may cause discomfort on longer rides, so it’s worth reading some reviews before parting with your cash.
Entry level shoes will feature plastic soles. For a beginner, these are more than adequate, but as you improve you may feel the benefit of a stiffer sole. A stiffer sole is more efficient, as no power is lost when putting the hammer down. Some energy can be absorbed by flex in the sole, so riders wear carbon fibre soles instead. As ever, weight is also important, with top of the range carbon shoes often being much lighter than plastic models.
Cycling shoe cleat types
While you’re looking at the material of the soles of your prospective new cycling shoes, it’s worth looking at the type of cleats that they will accommodate as some will take two bolt cleats while others will take three bolt cleats. Your choice really depends on what type of riding you’re doing.
If you’re riding off road or want to have a pair of shoes that are easy to walk in, then go for a pedal system that uses two bolt cleats such as Shimano SPDs and Crankbrothers Eggbeaters.
However for road riding you really want three bolt cleats which will give you a wider platform for improved power transfer through the pedals. For that reason mid and high end shoes will only come with three bolts.
Heat moulding of cycling shoes
There are a number of different shoes on the market such as the Bont Riots and the Lake CX402s be customised through heat moulding to fit the shape of your feet. This means that the shoes should perfectly support the arch of your foot, meaning that you should be very comfortable and power transfer should be improved too as your foot won’t move around at all. If you have flat feet or arch-related problems, heat mouldable shoes could be the solution.
Triathlon shoes are different to road shoes. If you fancy the idea of doing some triathlons, it might be worth getting a triathlon-specific pair.
Tri-shoes are designed to be put on and off while cycling and consequently feature an easy to open retention system. They often feature a loop on the heel that you can grab for easier access. However, if you ride in cold weather, be aware that tri-shoes often also feature drainage holes for wet feet. If you definitely want road shoes and not triathlon shoes, be sure to check with the retailer that you’re getting what you want.
What conditions will you be riding in most?
If your plan is to spend most of your time racing and doing intervals, then performance cycling shoes are the way to go. These shoes will come with a stiff carbon sole which allows efficient power transfer into the drivetrain.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, if you’re doing a lot of steady rides and commutes in the range, then a pair of waterproof winter cycling shoes might be a better option. These look almost like boots and have a waterproof and insulated construction that means that there is no need to wear overshoes.
Try before you buy
The best way to check the fit of a shoe is to try it on in your local bike shop before purchasing (hopefully you’ll make the purchase in the shop too!). It is better to do this in the afternoon or evening as your feet can expand slightly during the day.
Shoe sizing is pretty consistent across brands, particularly when compared to other pieces of cycling clothing – but just because your old and worn out size 46 shoes were comfortable, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can jump straight into a different brand in the same size.
Arch heights, shoe widths and different fastening systems can all mean that you may find yourself going a size up or down when buying new cycling shoes.
How we score
10 – Superb, best in its class and we couldn’t fault it
9 – Excellent, a slight change and it would be perfect
8 – Brilliant, we’d happily buy it
7 – Solid, but there’s better out there
6 – Pretty good, but not quite hitting the mark
5 – OK. Not much wrong with it, but nothing special
4 – A few niggles let this down
3 – Disappointing
2 – Poor, approach with caution
1 – Terrible, do not buy this product