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.
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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.
Check out our pick of the best cycling shoes below, and read on for more details on the merits of the various options.
The best cycling shoes reviewed 2018
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Giant Surge Pro cycling shoes, £275
Giant’s Surge Pro shoes were worn by Sunweb in the outgoing race season.
The USP is the ‘ExoBeam’ system, which sees a beam of carbon connect the toes to the heel. This is designed to allow a small amount of movement for the lower leg and heal, in theory reducing strain on the knee and ankle joints whilst maintaining stiffness and reducing weight.
On the bike, we found the sole to be incredibly stiff with a pleasantly low stack height, creating a direct feel on the pedals. Anecdotally our tested did find that a consistent knee niggle failed to rear its head – so the theory might well back itself up in real world experience.
The tension system uses an ‘ExoWrap’, a wide, Boa strap pulling the upper from a low point under the arch – and the dial can be adjusted either way.
A PU synthetic upper feature perforations for venting, with a soft, padded mesh tongue. Again, this really impressed our tester – we found the shoes become more comfortable the more we wore them.
We found the sizing came up quite small, so it’s worth trying before you buy. The only con we could discern was that the pristine white discoloured at different rate, due to differing material types at the heel vs the sides.
Read more: Giant Surge Pro cycling shoes review
Mavic Aksium lace-up cycling shoes, £90
Review score: 9/10
A stylish looking shoe for a more friendly price tag than we’ve seen elsewhere.
The sole is nylon, with fibreglass – which means it’ll never be as rigid as a carbon construction but provides good power transfer for the price point.
The lace closure means the whole package is lightweight, and they also distribute pressure more evenly whilst being more aerodynamic than a Boa. Of course you can’t adjust them when riding which will be a con for some. If you’re not a fan, there is a Velcro version too.
Ventilation comes from small perforations at the toe, and the heel cup is padded which adds to comfort. There’s a few reflective elements.
We did find the edge of the upper cut a little bit at the front of the ankle – but it’s likely this would dissipate over time.
Read more: Mavic Aksium lace-up cycling shoes review
Specialized Torch 1.0 cycling shoes, £80
Specialized is best known for its much loved S-Works shoes, but the Torch 1.0 model boasts many of the benefits, with a few corners cut to decrease the RRP.
Firstly, you still get the Body Geometry technology found elsewhere – which means a slight canting of the forefoot to help better align the hip, knee and forefoot and thus improve pedalling efficiency.
An insole is also provided, with a ‘bump’ in the middle of the forefoot to decrease hot foot as well as a longitudinal arch support.
Unlike the top end model, the sole is nylon as opposed to carbon, but it’s still stiff – and a little more comfortable.
There’s a vent under the toe, and more ventilation within the synthetic leather uppers. The heel area is padded – and these are closed with velcro straps.
Read more: Specialized Torch 1.0 cycling shoes review
B’Twin 900 Carbon cycling shoes, £79.99
B’Twin’s cycling shoes have always massively impressed us for their incredible value for money – they make both basic kit as well as top end gear used by the FDJ.fr pro team. The value is largely afforded by the direct sales method.
At £80, you enjoy a full carbon sole – which is incredibly rare for the price point. Power transfer was excellent – as you’d expect with carbon.
There’s Boa dials for the closure system too, just as you’d find on much more expensive shoes elsewhere – with Velcro at the front to further tighten the upper.
Fit is good, though we found the toe box quite narrow so it’s worth trying before you buy.
The upper is made from Polyester, and has perforations to offer ventilation.
Bontrager Velocis cycling shoes, £169.99
Rated ’10’ on Bontrager’s stiffness scale (compared to 14 for the higher-end XXX Road shoes), we found these slippers and their carbon/fibreglass sole offered plenty of opportunity to feel the power surging through the pedals, whilst remaining comfortable on longer days.
The single Boa dial allows for plenty of adjustment, and you can tighten and loosen in increments which is a rare find outside of the very top end. There’s a Velcro strap which keeps the ball of the foot in good contact with the footbed, too.
Synthetic uppers have a leather-like appearance, and we found even the bright white version wiped clean easily.
The tongue is perforated, and there’s two small vents above the toes – but we did feel these could do with a little more featured to aid breathability.
Also available at Amazon
Bont Vaypor S cycling shoes, £325
Bont shoes have Tour de France wins to their name (Bradley Wiggins – 2012), and like other pairs in the range the Vaypor S model boasts the brand’s unique shoe last which promises better anatomical support.
The sole is of course carbon, we found it very stiff, without becoming uncomfortable after hours of riding.
The toe box in our ‘wide fit’ shoes was more roomy than most and, like other Bont shoes, the sole is made to be heat moulded for a bespoke fit – though our tester found them just fine straight out of the box.
Two UP1 Boa dials make up the closure system, with a Durolite upper across the top of the foot. We discovred a secure fit that was easy to adjust.
The reinforced toe and heel was durable, and though the looks can be divisive we rate these for offering excellent power transfer and comfort all rolled into one.
Also available at Amazon
Specialized S-Works cycling shoes, £325
We’d usually only include shoes that got a 9 or 10/10 in a list like this – but though these slippers won’t suit all feet (including those of our tester), they’re famously popular with a lot of riders so we’ve let them keep their place.
The newest iteration of the S-Works shoes features an even stiffer sole (rated 15 of Spesh’s own scale), and though there’s no industry wide standard these are seriously immalleable. The result is they won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you want rock-hard race ready soles, they could be for you.
The outgoing shoe received complaints of pinching at the ankle and heel, so Specialized has added additional cushioning. We found they still rubbed initially, just below the ankle, but this dissipated with time.
Giro Factor Techlace Cycling Shoes, £289.99
Giro released its Techlance shoes because it wanted to offer the fine tuning of laces with the easy adjustment on the bike, that hasn’t previously been available. The result is a shoe that uses a Boa dial at the top, with laces that can be adjusted via Velcro strips – something that’s particularly useful as laces stretch in the wet.
We found these to be incredibly comfortable – they’re not bulky and feel lightweight. Our tester escaped hot sports, cramp and general discomfort completely.
The stiffness proved to be plentiful, though we found the sole a little less rigid than the likes of Shimano, Bont and Specialized – how harsh you want the ride feel to be comes down to personal preference, so this will be a pro for some and a con for others.
For those looking for top of the rang, Giro offer a ‘Prolight Techlace’ which has no Boa dial and is extremely lightweight, with additional ventilation.
Also available at Amazon
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 as some energy can be absorbed by flex in the sole. When upgrading, many 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 that can 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, ensuring 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 longer range commutes, 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