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.
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Winter cycling shoes are often seen as a ‘last resort’ – before investing in a pair, people will usually try their standard cycling shoes with heavy-duty shoe covers, warm socks or even wrapping their feet in plastic wrap or tin foil.
However, winter shoes are incredibly robust and resilient, and frankly, basic black boots don’t go out of fashion. If numb toes are consistently a problem for you, it’s well worth investing because they’ll see you through several seasons.
What to expect from winter cycling shoes
For summer cycling shoes, manufacturers will go all out in the pursuit of breathability, this becomes less of a concern for riders doing battle with December.
Ventilation is the first feature to be addressed – you won’t find large vent holes in winter cycling shoes as you do in summer versions, though you can still expect a touch of breathability (no one wants to bake their own feet).
Often, the top of the shoe will feature a neoprene cuff or cover. This will keep the rain out and act as an extra layer of defense 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 and allows full range of motion – ideally you’re looking for an adjustable fit.
Fastenings, as per summer cycling shoes, can be BOA dials, ratchets, Velcro, or even laces. 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 — they also insulate a bit better than carbon too.
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, and 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 expect that these will last for more than one season. For the added traction, it may even be worth considering a set of 2-bolt MTB winter kicks; the rubber lugs provide miles of additional purchase as you’re trudging through the snow or across a wet tile floor at the coffee shop — but you’ll then need to invest in a set of pedals too, if you don’t already have them.
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 that 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
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Fizik R5 Artica winter cycling shoes
Review score: 8/10
These weatherproof shoes are designed to provide protection in the cold and the wet, whilst still offering a good fit and a stiff-enough carbon-reinforced nylon sole.
We found them warm and dry, though the fit was fairly snug — so trying before you buy is a good idea.
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. The pronounced two and heel bumpers provided a bit of grip, while treading on slippery ground, but only the heel pad is replaceable.
The upper is made from a mixture of waxed canvas, leather and a waterproof membrane. The outer sole is made from fiberglass-injected nylon. Lake makes its shoes with a wider toe box than most which allowing a bit for added space for thick socks, and offers the CX145 in a standard, women’s and wide last.
Northwave Flash GTX winter cycling shoes
Sitting at the entry-level of Nothwave’s surprisingly wide range of winter shoes, the Flash GTX are still feature-packed. The bottom half uses Northwave’s own dial and reel system, much like a summer shoe, while 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 and range of motion aren’t impacted in any way, but you still get the warmth and drip protection of a winter boot.
The sole — a NRG Air Carbon Reinforced construction — promises a stiffness index of 8.0, and these shoes are designed to suit conditions from 26°F to +60°F and there’s still some breathability built-in at the front.
Gaerne Gore-Tex winter cycling shoes
Gaerne’s winter offerings feature a full Gore-Tex membrane to keep the shoe waterproof and breathable for when a cold snap hits.
Providing comfort is Gaerne’s anatomic inner sole and stable heel cup. The nylon sole is reinforced with carbon fiber, blending practicality with performance so you can power through the miles on longer base rides.
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 the seams are sealed and a single Boa dial at the bottom and Velcro at the ankle help you get the right fit. The sole itself is a Nylon composite, designed to be stiff enough for efficient power transfer whilst remaining comfortable.
Louis Garneau 0 Degree LS-100 Thermal winter cycling shoes
With several pairs listed here nudging the $250 / £200 mark, these winter kicks from LG might come as a welcome relief. But we should note that these are technically MTB shoes and they’re designed for a two-bolt SPD cleat only, and are not compatible with three-bolt designs — ideal 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 the upper sees a waterproof membrane, which together with a fully seam-sealed 3mm neoprene layer keeps the water out from the outside.
A Boa dial closes the shoe, whilst Dual Density lugs create traction on the sole – a more MTB ready feature but again handy for commuters running errands off the bike.
The winters in Minnesota are nothing short of biblical, they are cold, windy, and wet, so it’s no surprise that Bloomington based 45NRTH makes some of the best cold weather kicks money can buy.
The Ragnarok sees a fully waterproof membrane just beneath the microfiber face fabric to keep the water on the outside, but also to allow for thermal and moisture regulation in the inside. Around the ankle is a neoprene cuff to keep drips out, and a single BOA dial reels the shoe in. 45NRTH say they are comfortable down to about 25ºF / -3ºC.
Like the LGs, these are technically mountain bike shoes and will only work with two-bolt cleats. The lugs are semi-aggressive, but also see microscopic glass fibers embedded into the rubber to create abrasive protruding shards to produce grip on slippery surfaces like ice, wet wood, wet tiles, and wet metal.