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.
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
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Giant Surge Pro cycling shoes
Giant thinks outside the box to use its ‘ExoBeam system’ which means the heel and forefoot are connected by a strip of carbon instead of a full sole, apparently allowing for movement in the lower leg and reducing strain on the knee and ankle joints.
These World Tour level shoes are light and comfortable.
Read more: Giant Surge Pro cycling shoes review
Specialized Torch 1.0 cycling shoes
Specialized is best known for its S-Works shoes, seen further down this page. But the Torch shoes offer many of the same benefits, including Body Geometry footbeds which aim to aid proper alignment and keep knee pain at bay, for a much more friendly price tag.
Read more: Specialized Torch 1.0 cycling shoes review
B’Twin 900 Carbon cycling shoes
80 quid for a pair of shoes worn by FDJ at the Tour de France? Yes please! These are probably the best value shoes you can find anywhere with a carbon sole that gives excellent power transfer and helps to keep weight down too.
Bontrager Velocis cycling shoes
You can spend a lot more on cycling shoes than the £169.99 that these Bontrager shoes cost, but frankly we’re not sure why you’d need to. The Velocis shoes are stiff, light, and look great. Better ventilation and they’d be perfect.
Also available at Amazon
Bont Vaypor S cycling shoes
Also available at Amazon
Specialized S-Works cycling shoes
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, they’re popular with a lot of riders.
The old S-Works have had a makeover recently with an even stiffer sole (rated 15 of Spesh’s own scale) and additional padding designed to increase comfort. The stiffness won’t suit all riders – our reviewer found them a bit too much for non-racing pursuits.
Giro Factor Techlace Cycling Shoes
Combining the micro adjustment of a Boa dial with the comfort of laces, the Giro Factor cycling shoes offer the best of both worlds. The sole isn’t quite as stiff as other options in this price range, but that might suit some riders who want to feel a tiny bit more flex.
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