Overshoes, tin foil, cling film and warm-up oil all failing you? Invest in a pair of winter cycling shoes to keep your feet warm every winter
When temperatures really drop, it’s the extremities that suffer the most. Your feet, being far away from the source of blood supply, can become extremely cold or even numb – and winter cycling shoes are designed to combat this.
Winter cycling shoes are often seen as a ‘last resort’ – before investing in a pair, people will usually try teaming their standard cycling shoes with heavy duty overshoes, or even wrapping their feet in cling film or tin foil.
However, winter shoes are incredibly robust and resilient – and frankly, basic black booties don’t go out of fashion. If numb toes are consistently a problem for you, it’s well worth investing – they’ll see you through several seasons.
What to expect from winter cycling shoes
Where in summer, cycling shoe manufacturers will go all out in the pursuit of breathability, this becomes less of a concern for UK riders doing battle with December.
Ventilation is the first feature to be addressed – you won’t find large vent holes in winter cycling shoes like you do in summer versions, though you can still expect the off little touch of breathability (no one wants to bake their own feet).
Often, the top of the shoe will feature a neoprene layer or cover. This will keep the rain out and act as an extra layer of defence against the chill.
The ankle cuff will be high, too – this is to prevent puddle-water from seeping into the shoe. If you can try on the shoes, check that the cuff is not overly tight for you – ideally you’re looking for an adjustable fitting.
Fastenings, as per summer cycling shoes, can be Boa dials, ratchets or Velcro. Boa dials and ratchets are the most effective when it comes to holding your foot in place and surviving the conditions.
The same rules applied to summer shoes come into play when it comes to the sole, too. Nylon soles are cheapest – they’ll do the job but will provide a little more flex.
Carbon soles are the most expensive – they’ll be mega stiff and will offer plenty of power transfer. It’s worth bearing in mind that in winter you may be completing long base miles, where you might not want the ultimate stiffness – a Nylon/carbon mix may be more comfortable but this is down to personal preference.
Since it’s possible that you might be walking on slippery surfaces (dismounting to get to that long awaited hot chocolate stop, for example), a sole with some grip is desirable. Replaceable heel treads are a ‘nice to have’ as you’ll likely be hoping that these will last for more than one season.
Winter cycling shoe fit
Making sure the shoe allows enough room without letting the foot float around has been a big issue for us – in previous tests we’ve found both Boa versions and Velcro versions which haven’t really done the job. The shoe needs adequate fastenings to stop your heel from slipping during the pedal stroke.
Shoe brand sizing differs tremendously. Where a rider might wear a Euro 38 in one brand, they could be pulling on a 42 in another – sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Where possible, try shoes on, where it’s not – look to buy shoes from a brand you’re already familiar with.
One of the biggest mistakes riders make over winter is wearing thick socks which reduce the amount of space in the shoe and cut off blood supply – worsening the numbness or even causing it. With good winter boots, you shouldn’t need to go overboard – and a thin merino sock should be enough. But if you think you’ll need more sock, make sure you leave a little extra breathing room.
Winter cycling shoes: four pairs we recommend
Lake CX145 waterproof winter cycling shoes
As mentioned previously – fastenings are really important when it comes to winter cycling shoes – and we’ve seen it done wrong. The Lake CX145’s get it right – with two Boa dials and a retention system working all along the outside edge of the shoe. Tread on the sole provides grip.
The upper body is made from a mixture of waxed canvas, leather and a waterproof membrane. The outer sole is made from a fibreglass-injected nylon. Lake makes shoes using foot lasts (moulds) for standard, women’s and ‘wide’ feet – the CX145’s come in the wide design, which will allow space for some good socks.
Northwave Fahrenheit Arctic 2 GTX winter cycling shoes
A pair we’ve had great success with in the past is the Northwave Fahrenheit winter boots. They’re not listed in the 2018 collection, but you can still get 2017 versions (on sale, too!). These use a Gore Tex membrane which protects your feet from the wind, rain and even snow. A quick lace system hides between the ‘power strap’ upper. The collar is neoprene and helps stop drips from finding their way into the shoe.
The sole is carbon reinforced, and does contain ventilation, to make sure your feet don’t become too sweaty. It is recommended that you pair these with waterproof socks on wet days, however. Notably, these booties are pretty bright so a good option if visibility is high on your agenda.
Northwave Flash GTX winter cycling shoes
Northwave twice? Indeed – the Flash GTX boots are a second option if you’ve got a little more cash to burn. The bottom half uses a Boa dial, much like a summer shoe, whilst the upper is constructed from a Climaflex collar which does away with the need for overlaps or Velcro. The upper is flexible, so that your normal pedal stroke isn’t impacted in any way, but you still get the warmth and drip protection of a winter boot.
The sole – an NRG Air Carbon Reinforced construction – promises a stiffness index of 8.0, and these shoes are designed to suit conditions from -3 to +15°C and there’s still some breathability built in at the front.
Specialized Defroster winter cycling shoes
Specialized places a huge focus on shoe fit through their Body Geometry research, always using its own footbeds which are designed to correct any knee tracking issues which can cause injury.
When it comes to warmth, the brand has called in experts at Thinsulate, using a 400gram fabric with a neoprene collar to keep the rain out. All seams are sealed and there’s a single Boa dial at the bottom, plus a Velcro fastening at the ankle to help you get the right fit. The sole itself is a Nylon composite, designed to be stiff enough whilst remaining comfortable.
Louis Garneau 0 Degree LS-100 Thermal winter cycling shoes
With several pairs listed here nudging the £200 mark, these from LG might come as a welcome relief. However – before we go one we must make you aware that they’re designed for a two-bolt SPD cleat only, and are not compatible with three bolt designs. Good if you’re a commuter who uses MTB pedals for ease of clipping in and out on busy streets.
The inner sole is insulated, with a 4mm foam insulation and waterproof membrane coated lining on the inside. A fully seam-sealed 3mm neoprene layer keeps the water out from the outside.
A Boa dial closes the shoe, whilst Dual Density crampons create traction on the sole – a more MTB ready feature but again handy for commuters running errands off the bike.