Did you know that your cycling shoe is the most important piece among all your cycling gears?
There are three contact points between your body and the bike; your palms, pelvic bones, and feet. The feet are the most important amongst the three. It’s where you’ll transfer all the power from your legs to the pedals to move the bike, typically at a rate of around 80 to 90 rpm. You’ll probably be turning the pedals about 4000 to 5000 times for every hour of cycling.
Hence, choosing the right pair of cycling shoes that suit not only your style of riding but more importantly the shape of your feet is, crucial. Here are the important features to look for :
- Proper fit for the best comfort. Remember your legs will be locked to the pedals for hours. So, comfort is key.
- Sole stiffness. Carbon soles are the stiffest but not as comfortable, while plastic soles are comfortable, but not stiff.
- Cleats compatibility. Most road cyclists use a SPD-SL pedal system with cleats that require holes at the shoe’s bottom.
I’ll cover each of these in detail (and more) in the buying guide section below. I’ll share with you some of my favorite shoes.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Road Cycling Shoes
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Road Cycling Shoes Buying Guide
Fit and Comfort
Fit is the most important factor when it comes to buying cycling shoes or any cycling clothing.
As you’ll probably have noticed, some have a narrow foot while others have a wide foot and some fall in between.
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 having too many variants of the same shoe.
Types of 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
- Ratchet buckles
- Velcro straps
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 many variations of the BOA dials.
The downside is the BOA dials don’t come cheap.
Ratchet buckles such as the ones in Giro Apeckx 2 used to be very popular before BOA dials came into the picture. They’re sturdy and reliable but don’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.
These have been around for a long, long time and continue to do so until today. They’re lightweight yet durable and are unlikely to get damaged if you crash, unlike the ratchet buckles or BOA dials which could break apart.
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.
The Pearl Izumi Quest Road utilizes 3 velcro straps to ensure a snug fit.
The trend of laced cycling shoes was started by Giro about 3 to 4 years ago. This system is the lightest among all the other three and provides a very snug fit.
However, due to the nature of laces, you can’t adjust them on the fly.
Sole Materials - Plastic, Carbon or Both?
There are 3 types of sole materials found in cycling shoes.
- A mixture of plastic and carbon
All high-performance cycling shoes come with carbon soles such as the Shimano S-Phyre RC901.
These are lightweight, stiff, and obviously expensive.
Within carbon itself, there is a rating to indicate its stiffness.
The higher the number, the stiffer it is. Anything from 11 to 13 is used in high-performance shoes, while 8 to 10 is for mid-range.
Mid-range cycling shoes such as the Shimano RC701 and Specialized Torch 3.0 typically use either a less stiff carbon sole, or a mixture of plastic and carbon sole. Sometimes, they’re referred to as carbon-reinforced or carbon injected.
Beginner cycling shoes such as the Giro Savix are mainly made of plastic soles, which puts comfort over stiffness. These are comfortable for most cyclists, especially if you’re into long-distance cycling. They’re heavier but much cheaper.
Take note that in some cases, it’s not necessary to buy a pair of cycling shoes with the stiffest sole. Some cyclists have complained of feet numbness and pain due to a very stiff sole.
Ventilation for Hot Days
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 pair of cycling shoes with more ventilation. Don’t worry about too much getting cold feet during the winter if the shoes have too much ventilation.
Just use a shoe cover and you’re all set.
Pedals and Cleats Compatibility
The type of clipless cycling shoes you need depends on the clipless pedal system that you currently have. If you need to buy both shoes and pedals, then consider which type of cycling you’re doing.
There are 3 types of clipless pedal systems used today:
- SPD (2 holes). Also known as the SPD (Shimano Pedal System), today it’s widely used in mountain biking, commuting, and touring shoes. The recessed cleat design allows for easier walking.
- SPD-SL (3 holes). This is also known as the Look style system. It’s widely used in road cycling shoes because it’s more stable and provides efficient power transfer compared to the SPD system due to its wider cleat design.
- Speedplay (4 holes). This is seldom found in any cycling shoes. Only Speedplay pedals use a 4 holes system. In order to use Speedplay pedals, you’ll need a base plate that converts from 3 to 4 holes. Some road cyclists swear by Speedplay pedals as it allows for full customization and fit in all directions.
Keep in mind that you can’t use clipless cycling shoes on non-clipless pedals (flat pedals).
This is probably the main consideration for most of us when purchasing.
So here’s a rundown of what you can generally expect from the various price range.
- $300 upwards. These are high-performance cycling shoes used by all professional cyclists and a lot of serious recreational cyclists. They’re lightweight, usually weigh 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 at recreational or long-distance cyclists. They usually weigh between 500 to 600g (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 upwards of 600g per pair (size 42). The sole is made of plastic which puts comfort over stiffness.
Value for Money Cycling Shoes
The S-Phyre RC701, which replaced the RC7 model, gives you pro-level performance features at non-pro prices, making this shoe an excellent value.
The RC701 features a lightweight and rigid carbon fiber composite sole for maximum power transfer. It rates a 10 on Shimano’s rigidity scale. It also incorporates Shimano’s Dynalast technology, which helps to make your pedal strokes more efficient by optimizing the toe-spring part of the shoe.
The RC701 is equipped with dual dials, an upgrade from the RC7, which was outfitted with one micro adjustment dial that allows you to make micro-adjustments for fit.
- Pros : Great value for money from a reputable brand. New BOA dials design provides improved adjustability and fit.
- Cons : Upper layers can be too breathable, so might not ideal for colder temperatures.
Specialized Torch 3.0
The Torch is Specialized’s mid-tier road cycling shoes.
There are 3 models within the Torch family itself, the 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. The 1.0 is the lowest end model. As you go higher up to 3.0, the main difference lies in the sole construction.
The 1.0 uses a carbon composite sole, while the 2.0 has a carbon fiber sole and 3.0 uses a stiffer FACT carbon sole. However, they’re not as still as the top-end S-Works 7.
Another major difference lies in the fit. As the Torch isn’t a high-performance shoe designed for racing, it has a more relaxed fit, especially around the toe box and heels. If you’re looking for a cycling shoe that provides all-day comfort, this could be a good option to consider.
- Pros : Relaxed fit and comfortable long rides. Improved heel cup for a snug fit.
- Cons : Limited color choices.
Fizik R4B Uomo
The Fizik R4B Uomo sits in the middle of Fizik’s road cycling shoes’ range, 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 term 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 stiff for the majority of recreational cyclists.
- Pros : Plenty of ventilation on the top and bottom. Durable upper materials.
- Cons : Velcro straps on the toes aren’t as secure as BOA dials.
Giro Apeckx 2
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.
There are two variations; standard and High Volume, which is essentially the wide feet version for those who are looking for a bigger toe box.
- Pros : Available in standard and wide-feet variant. Fancy colors and design.
- Cons : Straps and ratchets aren’t as adjustable as BOA dials.
Cycling Shoes for Beginners
Specialized Torch 1.0
The Torch 1.0 is Specialized’s entry-level road cycling shoes. It’s quickly gaining popularity among cyclists due to its very affordable price point especially compared to the flagship S-Works model, which costs almost 4x more.
One of the very first things you’ll notice is the small ventilation holes on the top. There are 94 of them so keep your feet well ventilated during the hot days. In addition to that, there’s also a larger air vent at the bottom front part of the sole.
Besides, you’ll now get BOA closure dials which are slowly trickling down from performance to entry-level shoes. While the L6 BOA dials aren’t the best available out there, it allows you to make micro-adjustments on the fly, which is definitely a great feature to have.
And for those who are fashion-minded, you’ll be glad to know that the Specialized Torch 1.0 comes in 5 different colors; white, black, red, blue, and lime green.
- Pros : Very breathable and ideal for hot days.
- Cons : Costs more than its peers.
Giro is one of the brands you seldom go wrong with cycling shoes.
Even though the Giro Savix sits on the entry-level range, this shoe still packs plenty of features such as the BOA Fit System which allows you to make quick and precise 1mm tightening adjustments while on the bike.
Together with the BOA dials, the single velcro strap is strategically placed to provide a snug, yet comfortable fit.
Unlike the Specialized Torch 1.0, the Giro Savix comes with a Universal Cleat Mount system that allows you to use either a two or three-bolt cleat. This means you can also use them for spinning classes, which uses an SPD pedal that requires a 2-bolts cleat.
You’ll have the option to choose from 3 colors; black, white, or black/red with sizes ranging from 39 to 50.
- Pros : Compatible with both SPD and SPD-SL cleats. BOA dials allow for precise adjustments.
- Cons : Heavier compared to its peers.
Pearl Izumi Quest Road
Pearl Izumi was started by a Japanese man named Kinji Shimizu. Today, it’s based out of Louisville in Colorado.
The Quest Road is Pearl Izumi’s entry-level road cycling shoes. It has a full nylon sole that achieves a balance between comfort and stiffness which is ideal for beginners and those doing century/audax type of rides. It’s compatible with either two-bolt or three-bolt cleats, so you can have the option of using road or mountain bike cleats, and even for indoor cycling classes.
A new composite material is used for its upper layers and it provides better breathability especially on those hot summer days. This material is also able to adapt the shoe’s shape to your foot over time to provide a snug fit.
It comes in 3 colors; black, red, and black/white combo.
- Pros : Comfortable design that fits most feet. Compatible with both SPD (2-bolt) and SPD-SL (3-bolt) cleats.
- Cons : Velcro straps can run loose overtime.
Cycling Shoes Under $100
An excellent option for an entry-level cycling shoe. The Shimano RP1 features two tongue-in-loop velcro straps that can be tightened to the right comfort level in a second.
The shoe’s nylon soles are stiff enough to provide power with each pedal stroke but not pro-racing stiff so that they quickly become uncomfortable. They rate a 6 on Shimano’s 12 points sole stiffness scale.
These shoes feature compatibility with two-bolt and three-bolt SPD cleats, allowing you to use them on your bike and at your gym’s spin class.
The RP1 is crafted from matte-black synthetic leather that is both lightweight, strong, and attractive, giving it a modern look.
- Pros : Minimalist and functional design. Compatible with both SPD (2-bolt) and SPD-SL (3-bolt) cleats.
- Cons : Boring color choices.
Scott Road Comp
While the brand Scott might be not synonymous with cycling shoes, you’ll be surprised how good the Scott Road Comp is especially considering its budget-friendly pricing.
The Road Comp sports a clean and modern-looking upper layer with lots of small ventilation holes for maximum breathability especially during the summer months. As with most newer, beginner level shoes, the closure system is made up of a BOA dial and a velcro strap. This allows you to fine-tune your fit on the fly in 1mm increments.
Rated 6 out of 10 in the stiffness index, the fiberglass-reinforced nylon sole isn’t the stiffest out there for 1,500 watts bunch sprints. But you’d get plenty of comfort and less feet numbness, especially on longer rides.
It comes in 2 colors; either black or white.
- Pros : BOA dials allow for a very precise fit adjustment. Plenty of air vents for hot summer days.
- Cons : Heavy compared to its peers.
Pearl Izumi Elite Road V5
The Elite sits just below the top-end P.R.O. in Pearl Izumi’s road cycling shoes lineup. Many of its features are actually trickled down from the P.R.O such as the carbon soles and BOA dials.
It’s a vastly improved version of its predecessor, the V4. Taking feedback from cyclists, Pearl Izumi has made significant changes to the shoe’s body to provide an improved balance between fit, comfort, and stiffness.
If you’re after a mid-range cycling shoe that is plenty stiff, you’d be glad to know the Elite has a stiffness index of 13, matching some of the top range shoes from other brands.
- Pros : Anatomical design to provide plenty of foot support.
- Cons : Stiff sole for an entry-level shoe.
Performance Cycling Shoes
Specialized S-Works 7
The Specialized S-Works 7 follows on from the hugely successful S-Works 6 shoes.
The S-Works 7 has undergone major changes in both the upper section and its sole. The upper now uses a new mesh Dyneema material which improves breathability. It also uses the new S3 BOA dials, which are exclusive to only Specialized.
Additional cushioning is added around the heels area to avoid nips and rubbing, which was common in its predecessor.
Stiffness-wise, the S-Works 7 is on another level altogether with a stiffness index of 15, 2 notches up from previously 13 for the S-Works 6).
This is definitely among the best pair of high-performance shoe money can buy.
- Pros : Sleek and good-looking, one of the most popular shoes among serious cyclists. Improved heel cup for a snug fit.
- Cons : Expect to pay premium pricing.
Shimano S-Phyre RC901
Looking for maximum performance out of your shoes?
Then the Shimano RC901 is the cycling shoe for you.
This shoe is built with one thing in mind, maximizing the transition of power from your leg to the bike. The RC901 offers a lightweight rigid carbon sole that tops out Shimano’s rigidity scale with a 12 rating.
And like its predecessor, it is fitted with sizing dials that allow micro-adjustments to its wire lacing. The outsole of this new edition is hollow to further shave grams off its weight, making it even lighter than the first generation RC9 shoe.
- Pros : Very comfortable design that fits most feet. Available in half sizes and wide-feet version.
- Cons : Expect to pay premium pricing.
Fizik Infinito R1
The Fizik Infinito R1 replaces the popular R1B which is worn by top pros like Philippe Gilbert and Geraint Thomas.
It’s now 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.
- Pros : Improved design provides ample support for heel arch. Dual BOA dials for precise adjustment and fit.
- Cons : White color version gets dirty easily.
Giro Factor Techlace
Look closely enough and you’ll see that the Giro Factor Techlace utilizes all three closure systems. There is a BOA dial, velcro straps, and laces.
And there’s a reason behind this.
The previous Giro Empire that comes with laces proved to be a popular shoe when it was first launched. While it’s nice aesthetically, the majority of cyclists complained that they can’t adjust it while riding.
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 lengths to suit your foot size and liking.
- Pros : Super lightweight and minimalist-looking design for weight weenies.
- Cons : Be prepared to pay more.
Sidi Wire 2
As you were watching him pedal his way up the Alps en route to victory, you might have noticed the Sidi logo printed on the side of Egan Bernal’s shoes.
Yes, Sidi is the brand of the 2019 Tour De France winner.
Sidi, the name comes from the initials of founder Dino Signori, who has been making shoes for bicycles and motorcycles since the 1960s. The Sidi Wire 2, the second generation of the company’s wire laced shoes, includes two push dial adjusters that allow for micro-adjustments to fit.
It also features an adjuster for the heel that is designed to eliminate heel lift. A redesigned instep and heel cup on this edition shaves grams off the weight of the shoe.
- Pros : A trusted, long-time brand in the industry. Parts are easily replaceable if damaged.
- Cons : Narrow toe room design is not for everyone.
Clipless vs Flat Pedals
All the cycling shoes recommended on this page are meant to be used with clipless pedals.
Clipless pedals might look intimidating for beginners because your feet are locked into the pedals. And the main concern is the fear of falling sideways when coming to a complete stop.
But trust me, it only takes some practice to get used to this. It’s just muscle memory. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be just fine.
So, let’s take a look at the top 3 reasons why clipless pedals are so popular among cyclists.
- Better Power Transfer. With the pedal and foot clipped in, you’ll have a very solid connection to the bike’s drive train. Whether you’re pushing down or pulling up the pedals, you can be sure that most of your effort will go directly to propelling the bike forward.
- Increased Efficiency. With clipless pedals, you can greatly increase your pedaling efficiency. Since your foot is clipped in, you can pull the pedals during the upstroke, something which can’t be done on flat pedals.
- Improved Bike Handling. Contrary to popular beliefs (especially for beginners), having your feet clipped in allows you to be one with your bike. You can swerve to avoid hazards or even bunny hop without having your body and bike go in the opposite direction.
Read More : 9 Beginner Tips for Using Clipless Pedals
Frequently Asked Questions
The topic of cycling shoes often sparks a number of questions in the minds of cyclists. I’ll try to address a few of the most common ones below.
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.
Do the shoes come with cleats?
No, all cycling shoes don’t come with cleats.
The cleats come together with the pedals. If you already have existing pedals, then you can buy the cleats separately.
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 carbon-injected or carbon composite soles come into the 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 my new pair of cycling shoes?
It depends. There’s no definite answer to that as there are various factors involved.
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 to 30 hours of riding for you to feel comfortable in your new pair of shoes.
Can a female wear a male's 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 women-specific shoe.
They come in smaller sizes from 35 onwards and the shape of the shoes is designed to mimic a woman’s tapered foot.
Not all brands have women-specific shoes. The few that do are Sidi, Giro, Fizik, and Specialized.