The Best Road Cycling Shoes in 2018

Did you know that your cycling shoes are the most important piece among all your cycling gears? Forget about the kit, sunglasses, gloves and socks.

Here's why.

There are three contact points between your body and the bike; your palms, pelvic bones and feet. Among these three, the feet and hence, the shoes are the most important.

That's where you'll transfer all the power from your legs to the pedals to move the bike at a rate of around 80-90 rpm. So you'll probably be turning the pedals about 5000 times every hour of cycling.

Hence, choosing the right pair that suits not only your style of riding but more importantly the shape of your feet is... crucial.

These shoes below comes with three bolts style, which is generally used for road cycling.

Best for Performance - Shimano S-Phyre RC9

A great looking shoe that provides maximum stiffness for efficient power transfer while still maintaining a very high level of comfort.

Best Value - Fizik R4B Uomo

A cleverly designed, mid-range shoe that puts comfort and ventilation over all others for the hottest and longest day on the saddle.

Best for Women - Sidi Genius 7

A pair of cycling shoes designed specifically for women with a narrower toe box and heel cup to provide the best fit.

5 Things to Consider Before Buying A Pair of Road Cycling Shoes

Let's look at some of the major things to consider before buying your next pair of cycling shoes.

  • 1. Closure System

There are 4 types of closure systems used in cycling shoes today.

Each one has its own pros and cons, but ultimately they all have proven to function well and be reliable.

BOA Dials

Manufactured by BOA, these lightweight dials are mostly found in the top-level shoes. They're designed to provide you with a very precise fit. Each turn of the dial in either direction adjusts the fit by only 1mm.

Should they get damaged, you can easily replace them by yourself. Just remember to buy the right ones as there are now several variations of it.

The downside is these dials don't come cheap. 

Ratchet Buckles

Ratchet buckles used to be very popular before BOA dials came to the picture. They're sturdy, reliable but doesn't offer the precision that BOA dials do. 

If you happen to break these buckles, chances are you've got to get a new pair of shoes as the replacement buckles are not easily available.

Velcro Straps

These have been around for a long, long time and continue to do so today. They're lightweight and durable. They're unlikely to get damaged if you crash, unlike the ratchet buckles or BOA dials which could break.

While the velcro straps provide a strong and reliable hold of your foot, their precision is nowhere near a rather buckle or a BOA dial. 

Laces

The trend of laced cycling shoes was started by Giro about 3-4 years ago. This system is the lightest among all the other 3 and provides a very snug fit.

However, due to the nature of laces, you can't adjust them on the fly.

  • 2. Sole Material

All top-level performance cycling shoes comes with carbon soles. For mid-range shoes, it uses either a less stiff carbon sole, or a mixture of plastic and carbon sole. Sometimes, they're referred as carbon reinforced or carbon injected.

Beginner cycling shoes are mainly made of plastic soles. 

Do note that in some cases, it's not necessary to buy a cycling shoe with the stiffest sole. Some cyclists have complained of feet numbness and pain due to a very stiff sole.

Carbon Soles

These are lightweight, stiff and obviously expensive.

Within carbon itself, there is a rating to indicate its stiffness. The higher than number, the stiffer it is. Anything from 11 to 13 is used in top-level shoes, while 8 to 10 is for mid range.

Plastic Soles

Mostly found in low to mid-range shoes, these are comfortable for most cyclists, especially if you're into long distance cycling. They're heavier but much cheaper.

  • 3. Ventilation

All road cycling shoes are designed with ventilation in mind. This is achieved through mesh holes in the first third of the shoes; either at the top, front, bottom or a combination of them.

If your feet get sweaty fast during summer, look for a shoe with more ventilation. Don't worry about too much ventilation especially during the winter. Just use a shoe cover and you're all set.

  • 4. Fit

This is another very important factor when it comes to buying cycling shoes. As you'll probably have noticed, some people have a narrow feet while others have a wide feet.

Besides the standard sizing, you'll sometimes come across the letter E behind it. For example; 42E. E indicates a wide width. 

For your reference, there're other alphabets for the width; B (extra narrow), C (narrow), D (regular), E (wide), EE (extra wide), and EEE (triple wide). Unlike running shoes, cycling shoes only uses the E sizing to avoid confusion.

  • 5. Price Range

This is probably the main consideration for most of us when purchasing.

So here's a run down of what you can generally expect from the various price range.

  • $300 upwards. These are top-level performance cycling shoes used by all the professional cyclists and most of the serious recreational cyclists. They're lightweight, usually weighs below 500g (size 42) per pair and have super-stiff (sometimes too stiff for some) carbon soles. 
  • $150 to $300. These are mid-level shoes aimed for recreational or long distance cyclists. They usually weigh between 500 to 550g (size 42) per pair and have a composite sole. Basically that's a mixture of carbon and plastic.
  • Below $150. These are entry level for beginner cyclists. They're heavier, usually close to 600g or above per pair (size 42). The sole is made of plastic which puts comfort over stiffness.

Best Performance Cycling Shoes

1. Shimano S-Phyre RC9

  • Pros: Surprisingly high comfort level for a very stiff shoe
  • Cons: Heavier compared to similar top-level shoes
  • Buy If: You want a top level shoe with a wide-feet option

The Shimano S-Phyre, pronounced as S-Fire is Shimano's top of the line road cycling shoes. While it's not the lightest among its competitors, it's Shimano's lightest shoe ever. A pair of size 42 weighs in at 486g. 

Replacing the R321, the S-Phyre comes with major improvements especially on the closure system. Gone are the plastic ratchet buckles and they're now replaced by two BOA dials. With these BOA dials, you can expect a precise, tight and yet comfortable fit for your feet.

Another major improvement is the heel cup which was a major downer for the R321. Shimano has completely redesigned the heel cup and it now feels snuggier, similar to the Specialized shoes.

The S-Phyre comes in half sizes from 37 all the way up to 47.

There's also a wide feet variation. Look out for sizing ending with a E. There are 4 colors to choose from white, black, high-vis yellow and sapphire blue.

2. Fizik Infinito R1

  • Pros: Designed to provide plenty of ventilation
  • Cons: Very expensive
  • Buy If: You do a lot of long rides during hot summer days 

The Fizik Infinito R1 replaces the popular R1B which is worn by top pros like Philippe Gilbert and Geraint Thomas. It's now the Fizik's premium road shoe offering starting from the end of 2017.

With the Infinito R1, Fizik has completely redesigned the top sections of the shoe. It uses two new closure technologies which Fizik calls the Dynamic Arch Support and Increased Volume Control, aimed at providing an improved fit and increased comfort level.

There are now five contact points for the wire as compared to three in the R1B. Gone are also the plastic guides that hold the wires, replaced by fabric guides instead. Fizik claims this help to eliminate pressure points and avoid feet numbs. The flap on the upper BOA is given a minor makeover to make it smaller.

There are two variations this shoe. The standard version uses the same Microtex as the R1B for its upper materials. What's new is the Knitted version, which is lighter and provides better ventilation.

A standard pair of size 42.5 weighs in at 464g with the Knitted version below 450g. They're available in half sizes from 36 to 48 in black, black-red, red and white. 

3. Giro Factor Techlace

  • Pro: The lightest among all its competitors
  • Con: More suited for those with narrow foot
  • Buy If: You want laces to stand out among everyone else

Look closely enough and you'll see that the Giro Factor Techlace utilises all three closure systems. There is a BOA dial, velcro straps and laces. And there's a reason behind this.

The Giro Empire that comes with laces proved to be a popular shoe when it was first launched. While it's nice aesthetically, the majority complained that they can't adjust it while riding. Not smart.

With the Factor Techlace, you now have the best of both worlds.

At the top, the BOA dial allows for a precise fit through an adjustable 1mm increment in both directions. The Techlace, which is the velcro-lace combination is replaceable. You can choose different colors and lace length to suit your foot size and liking.

A pair of size 42.5 weighs 420g and available in black, white, high-vis yellow and vermillion. 

Best Mid-Range Cycling Shoes

1. Fizik R4B Uomo

  • Pro: The lightest among all its competitors
  • Con: More suited for those with narrow foot
  • Buy If: You want laces to stand out among everyone else

The Fizik R4B Uomo sits in the middle of Fizik's road cycling shoes, below the top level R1 and above the entry level R5 series. 

As with most mid-range cycling shoes, the sole is made from injected carbon-fiber. This is just another fancy terms for a sole made from a mixture of carbon and plastic, sort of a midpoint. As expected, it's not comparable to the super stiff carbon, but it's still plenty still for most recreational cyclist or for long distance cycling.

The top of made of Microtex which is found in all Fizik's shoes and handlebar tapes. Ventilation is pretty much spot on with perforations all over the top sections, ensuring your feet stay cool during the hottest days.

With the single BOA dial, it's easy to get an accurate fit. Each turn of the dial produces a 1mm increment. At the bottom of the shoe's tongue is a velcro strap, in which you don't need to adjust most of the time once you've got it right.

A pair of size 42.5 weighs in at 510g, pretty much comparable with most mid-range shoes. They're available from size 36 to 48 in black color.

4. Bont Helix

Bont Helix

The Bont Helix is the Australian company's top level road cycling shoe, replacing the Vapor S. 

While most of Bont's cycling shoes might look the same, there are some major improvements with the Helix. 

According to the CEO of Bont, Steven Nemeth, "We thought why not use the wire all the way around the foot, so we prototyped a new sole with channels built into it. Combine that with an overlapped upper and you can get much, much more adjustment and volume control."

The result of this is a much improved fit, with the two cables wrapping around the foot nicely and secured by the BOA dials.

There are five colors to choose from black, black-gold, white-charcoal, metallic blue and metallic red. Sizes range from 36 up to 50. A size 42 pair weighs in at only 460g. Now that's light!

As this is a very new shoe recently announced at Eurobike 2017, it's currently on backorder production and expected to be available in Spring 2018.

Sidi Shot

Currently Sidi's top level road cycling shoes, the Sidi Shot is worn by four times Tour de France winner Chris Froome. And this also explains it's hefty price tag compared to its similar competitors.

At first glance, you'll notice two dials at the top like other top level shoes. But these are not BOA dials. They're Sidi's proprietary Techno-3 Push dials and they're only used for tightening.

By turning the dials, the cables tighten evenly from both sides which is a clever way to avoid pressure points. To loosen it, you'll need to press the spring-loaded cap and then unwind the dials.

Another major improvement made by Sidi is the adjustable heel clamp. This is achieve through a tension screw, which you'll have to adjust before the ride. Many have complained about loose heel cups and experience heel lifts especially when riding off saddle.

It's available in half sizes from 40 to 48 and 574g for a pair of size 42.

2. Shimano RC-7

  • Pro: The lightest among all its competitors
  • Con: More suited for those with narrow foot
  • Buy If: You want laces to stand out among everyone else

The Shimano RC7 is the next model down the line from the range topping S-Phyre. It's a mid-range performance road cycling shoes. Good enough for most cyclists except for the pros.

One of the first thing you notice about the RC7 is there's only a single BOA dial compared to the S-Phyre and there's an additional a velcro strap. While this still provides a very good fit and comfort, the price is halved and it's more affordable to its big brother, the S-Phyre.

While most shoes today have either a matte or leather top finish, the RC7 has a gloss finish. There are plenty of room for ventilation with perforations all over the top which will be useful on hot summer days.

How stiff is the sole? It's very stiff but not the stiffest from Shimano. That's reserved for the S-Phyre with a stiffness index of 12. The RC7 has a stiffness index of 10.

It comes with half sizes from 36 to 47, full sizes from 48 to 50 and two colors - white and red.

3. Giro APECKX 2

  • Pro: The lightest among all its competitors
  • Con: More suited for those with narrow foot
  • Buy If: You want laces to stand out among everyone else

The Apeckx 2 is Giro's mid-range road cycling shoes. It sits just a level below the Factor and Empire series which are super stiff and lightweight.

The biggest difference is in the sole. The Apeckx 2 uses a composite nylon sole rather than a super stiff carbon sole made by Easton. It's still pretty stiff with good power transfer properties but at a significantly lower cost. Hence, it's more affordable to the majority.

Your feet is secured by a replaceable ratchet buckle at the top and two velcro straps. While these are not as precise as BOA dials, you can still adjust them while riding.

There are two variations; standard and High Volume, which is essentially for wide feet. You can choose from three colors, white/black, black and red. A pair of size 42.5 weighs in at 550g.

Best Women Road Cycling Shoes

1. Sidi Genius 7 Women

  • Pro: The lightest among all its competitors
  • Con: More suited for those with narrow foot
  • Buy If: You want laces to stand out among everyone else

The Sidi Genius 7 Women is the female version of the Genius 7. Sidi fans will tell you that the Genius series has been around for a long time replacing the previous Genius Fit.

To ensure an ideal women fit, the Genius 7 has a tapered toe box, over the ball of foot and this goes all the way until the heel cup to mimic a woman's narrower foot. It uses the same Micro Caliper buckle as with all other Sidi shoes where you can tighten in small increments to get the ideal fit you want.

With the Genius 7, comfort is prioritised over stiffness. The Millenium 5 sole is made of injected carbon fiber, basically a mixture between carbon and nylon. 

They're available in sizes from 35 to 43. Color availability ranges from white and pink fluo.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need road cycling shoes?

A pair of cycling shoes keep your feet firmly locked over the pedals. When you're clipped in, this allows for efficient power transfer between your feet and the pedals, especially if you're riding hard or uphill.

Fitted and adjusted properly, the ball of your foot should be on top of the pedal spindle. 

This allows you to engage all your legs muscles, quadriceps, calf and hamstring when pedaling. When you use flat pedals, you only engage your quadriceps as you can't pull the pedals up because your shoes are not clipped into the pedals. 

However, if you only ride short distances, less than 10 miles, there's no need to get road cycling shoes.

What are the advantages of carbon fiber soles?

Carbon fiber soles are usually found in top level performance shoes. They're very lightweight, stiff and provides a very efficient power transfer as compared to plastic soles. But this also means that they're expensive.

And that's where a carbon-injected or carbon composite soles come into picture. They're a mixture of plastic or nylon with carbon fiber. While not as stiff and light as carbon fiber soles, they're  more affordable and usually found in mid-range cycling shoes.

How long would it take for me to break in the cycling shoes?

It depends.

There's no definite answer to that as there are various factors involved. Your feet, how often you ride and how long you ride will ultimately determine the break in duration.

From my own experience and speaking to other cyclists, it would typically take at least 20-30 hours of riding for you to feel comfortable in your new pair of cycling shoes.

Can a female wear a male's road cycling shoe?

Yes you can. In fact many female cyclists do that.

However, if you have narrow or small feet, it's advisable to get a female road cycling shoe. They come in smaller sizes from 35 onwards and the shape of the shoes are designed to mimic a woman's tapered foot.

Not all brands have a women specific shoe. The few that do are Sidi, Giro, Fizik and Specialized.