THE BEST ROAD CYCLING SHOES

If you are a serious roadie, buying a pair of the best road cycling shoes isn’t cheap but is worth the added cycling performance and enjoyment they provide. Depending on the shape of your feet and your performance and style preferences, you can choose from 3 to 7 dual-dial closure models I recommend to transfer your power efficiently while keeping your feet comfortable.

From our testing, we’ve found the best at both are the Specialized S-Works 7 (soon to be retired but still available from stores we recommend and discounted here, here, and here), Sidi Wire 2 (herehere), and Bontrager XXX Road Cycling Shoe (here, here).

The Shimano RC902 (here, here, here), and Rapha Pro Team Shoes (here, here) offer similarly high levels of power transfer efficiency with slightly less comfort over the longest rides while the Giro Imperial (here, here, here) and Lake CX 332 (here, here) provide all-day comfort with slightly less power transfer efficiency. 


Several qualities come to mind when enthusiasts are looking for the best road cycling shoes. Efficient power transfer, comfortable fit, good-looking, and reasonably priced tops the list for me.

Are they all important? Can you find them all in one pair of road cycling shoes?

Yes and relatively speaking, yes.

You want efficient power transfer so that the energy you deliver from your legs goes to your pedals with minimal loss through your shoes. A comfortable fit makes it possible to deliver that power hour after hour without your feet ever complaining. Shoes that are good-looking to you and perhaps others motivate your performance and enhance your enjoyment on the road. And a reasonable price, at least compared to what we other options we have to get top cycling gear performance, well we always want that.

In this post, I’ll share with you my evaluation of the best cycling shoes for enthusiasts. Whether you race, do club rides or like to challenge yourself on short segments, over long days, or every day you ride, these are the shoes I’ve found come the closest to delivering on the qualities that are key to getting the most out of our road cycling.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Click any headline to go directly to that part of the post to read about it.

Specialized, Sidi, and Bontrager models have the best combined power transfer and comfort

Shoes are critical to your power, speed, comfort, endurance, and enjoyment of cycling

Are the best shoes really worth the money, and answers to other key questions

Look past the features; fit and a few performance criteria will help you choose

RECOMMENDATIONS

With the charts below and the to-the-point comments about each shoe that follows, my attempt is to give you enough about what matters using the selection criteria I just laid out so you can pick one or two shoes that are worth trying on and that will likely work for you.

While I normally recommend a single best performer and best value in each category of gear I review, I can’t do that for shoes for two reasons. First, because our feet have different shapes, the last or form of some great shoes will not fit some of our feet as well as others. Second, you may not like the look of even a great shoe that fits you well. Third, the best value in road cycling shoes is usually found in single Boa or Velcro closure shoes that don’t perform nearly as well as the dual-dial shoes reviewed here.

What I have done instead is give you a performance rating for each shoe based on its power transfer efficiency and comfort and then compared the last and other design characteristics of the shoes. That analysis, along with the links you have to the best current prices from the best stores should allow you to close in a pair or two to decide between.

First, here are my comparative performance ratings:

 

Performance ratings of road cycling shoes

 

My suggestion is to start by looking for the shoes with the best rating in the column of the chart above you think best fit the width of your feet.

So, if you normally wear a standard width shoe, start with the shoes in that column of the chart.

I’ve rated the shoes that are in the upper right of each column as the top performers based on multiplying my comfortable fit rating times the power transfer efficiency rating, both on a 1 to 3 scale where 1 is better, 2 is on par, and 3 is worse than the others. Similar to a golf score or a ride time, the smaller the rating number, the better the performance.

Then, look at the chart below to pick between the top-rated performance shoes in your width that have the last characteristics you want.

Because shoes are sized differently for the same length foot and my fellow testers and I have remarkably close but not identical size feet, you’ll see shoe sizes from 42.5 to 43.5 in the chart below. However, the last characteristics are based on wearing the right size shoe for each tester.

 

Road CyclinShoes Last Characteristics

 

I can’t easily add price into the mix at this point because a) prices change from time to time for some of these shoes and b) most (though not all) cost within 10% of each other anyway. Once you have decided to go with performance shoes, I think the price differences figure into your decision less than the performance and fit ones.

However, as I’ve mentioned above, you have links at the end of each review to stores with high customer satisfaction ratings that have each shoe at the best current prices.

OK then. Let’s get on with it!

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Specialized S-Works 7 – Superior efficiency and comfort; there are few if any better

(Note: Specialized has recently replaced this shoe in their line with the S-Works Torch. During the time that we are fully evaluating the Torch, I’m keeping the S-Works 7 review in place as it is still worn by many enthusiasts, is a benchmark for other dual-dial shoes, and is still available and at a discounted price at several stores I recommend and link you to below. Steve)

Specialized S-Works 7 colors

Performance Rating: 1

Like: Specialized took the S-Works 6, which I rated one of my top-performing road shoes in my last review, and made the S-Works 7 successor more comfortable with no loss in performance. They widened the opening around your heel cord to make it easier to get into and out of the shoes without changing the width or shape of the heel cup itself. I felt just as snug at the heel but with more breathing room above it.

At the front of the shoe, there’s more wiggle room in the toe box than with the 6 but no change in width that I could tell across the ball of your foot. This also gives you the effect of more breathing room and perhaps for more air to pass around your toes. There’s not so much room as in some shoes where you feel like your toes are swimming on their own while the rest of the foot feels all cinched up. On the flip side, there is more room than I experienced (and also liked) in the 6 where your toes felt at one with your shoe.

While my D-width foot fit snugly and comfortably into the standard-width model, Specialized also makes the S-Works 7 in narrow and wide widths. This attests to the success and popularity of the S-Works shoes. The other shoes in this review only come in one or at best two widths.

The black pair I wore had a firm yet almost knit-textured upper feel. This is in contrast to the smoother, more synthetic leather feel of the 6. To be clear, the S-Works 7 doesn’t have a knit upper like some of the style-before-performance shoes that you see today. But the weave of the 7, different than the 6 despite using the same material, gives it a tight-knit texture feel and a bit more ventilation than its predecessor.

The bottom sole is as stiff as ever. That along with the fit of the upper and the sole’s supportive arch gives you the feeling that you are transferring your power with no loss.

The Boa dials, wires, and guides are also located in seemingly just the right places on the shoe to give me the ability to micro-adjust as my feet need it during the ride without creating any pressure points or hot spots. I never felt anything but comfortable.

The BOA dials are unique to these Specialized shoes. While they don’t pull up to fully release (more about that below), they have a texture around the outside of the dials that make for a more confident experience when you tighten or loosen them than others that BOA makes.

And for those of us who want color choice, these come in traditional black, black with rocket red highlights, summer white, my favorite be-seen rocket-red color, and a fluoro yellow. They also make limited edition runs of shoes from time to time with unique colors or prints to separate you from the field of others wearing these popular shoes.

Don’t Like: While the changes made to the S-Works 7 make them far easier to get into and out of than the 6, you still need to undo the top Boa wire from the top guide or fully loosen both dials to enter or exit the shoes. It’s something I adapted to do with the 6s and am more than happy to do with the 7s considering all the other benefits. I just wish Specialized would go with the now-standard pull-up to fully release the wire tension and leave the wires in place.

And Specialized, love them or hate them, has such a strong position in the cycling market, and had so much success with this model shoe that you seldom see them discounted. They aren’t priced any higher than most of the other top shoes in this high-performance category, but it would be nice to feel like you’re getting a deal now and then.

Ah well, the price we pay for performance. With these shoes, it’s absolutely worth it.

Price and Availablity: USD$425, £330, €370. They’re available from Competitive Cyclist, Performance Bike, and Tredz Limited 10% off with code ITKTDZ10 exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers, and at other stores in Know’s Shop I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection of enthusiast-level cycling gear and kit.

 

Sidi Wire 2 Carbon – First-rate power transfer, comfort, and status but a trying closure system

Sidi Wire 2 Road Cycling Shoes

Performance Rating: 1

Like: For those who want choice in a top-of-the-line pair of road cycling shoes, Sidi sells three 2-dial models that share the same last characteristics. The Genius 10 has both the dials positioned on the side of the shoes, the Shot 2 has both on the tongue, and the Wire 2 has the upper dial on the side and the lower one on the tongue. The standard Wire 2 reviewed here is sold in men’s and women’s versions, with a matt finish (Wire 2 Matt) or with highly perforated uppers (Wire 2 Vent or Air). They also come in a wide range of regularly updated color choices and combinations across the different models.

So if you want options in a top-performing shoe, Sidi has them in spades.

The Wire 2 I evaluated is a supremely stiff, breathable shoe with an excellent and highly tunable fit for my standard width US 9 1/2 D, EU size 43 feet. I can also see these fitting those with narrower well as there is no extra room in the toe box.

Once I had the Wire’s dialed-in, they seemed at one with my feet. They provided first-rate power transfer efficiency and comfort. The heel-hold was flawless – neither too tight or loose – thanks to the screw-adjustable band. I noticed no slack or slip between these shoes and my feet through each part of my pedal stroke. The fit was also comfortable over many miles.

Like Campagnolo, Sidi is a classic cycling brand and conveys status along with its great performance and comfortable fit. So there’s a lot to like in these Wires if you are looking for a classic, well-fitting, high-performance road cycling shoe that your fellow enthusiasts will notice.

Don’t Like: Also like Campagnolo, Sidi seems fixed on its way of doing things. Unfortunately, that model is different than a growing range of equally well-performing and less costly shoe options.

I’ve been spoiled by the Boa dial closure system and find Sidi’s proprietary Tecno-3 Push system a bit trying in comparison. With top-of-the-line Boas found on nearly all the other top-of-the-line shoes, you only need to twist clockwise to tighten your shoes, counterclockwise to loosen them, and pull up to fully release the wire tension. It’s mindlessly simple to do while underway.

By comparison, you need to locate the hinged tab on Sidi’s dial, flip it up and turn it to tighten the shoe, and then flip it back down. Alternatively, you can push the red button at the top of the dial and it flips up. You then find it (easier to do once it’s up), turn it to tighten, and then flip it back down. Not hard and you can get used to it, but it’s extra steps.

Loosening your Sidi while underway requires only that you push one of the two buttons on the edge of the dial. Each push backs it off a click. Unlike the Boa, you can’t totally free the slack to get your feet into or out of your shoes before or after a ride. Instead, you need to push and hold both edge buttons with one hand while pulling open the shoe with the other.

Sidi also hasn’t joined the wider toe box movement that others in this review seem to be part of. While I’m comfortable in Sidi’s standard toe box width, I have come to find the wider toe box even more comfortable without having to give up fit or performance.

Sidi’s last is also a touch narrower to start with. If you are a full D width, it’s gonna be snug. Comfortable if you like snug, which I do, but snug nonetheless.

Also, while most of the shoes in this review are so close in weight as to be virtually indistinguishable, the Wire feels and is heavier than most by about 50 grams per shoe. That starts to get noticeable.

Even more noticeable is the $500+ price tag Sidi asks for these shoes, typically a $100 price premium over the others. I have noticed sales on the Wire and other Sidi shoes from time to time, but that only brings them down to the list price of the others which doesn’t make them a bargain. Further, if you have a high arch, you may find you need to spend more for a more substantial insole than provided with these shoes.

Price and Availability: USD$500+, £300+, €400+ at these links to Competitive CyclistMerlin, and Know’s Shop.

 

Bontrager XXX Road Cycling Shoe – Top Performer Without Tradeoffs

Bontrager XXX Road Shoes

Performance Rating: 1

Like: Among some of today’s road bike shoes, there usually seem to be some trade-offs you need to make. Performance vs. comfort. Functionality vs. style. The right size vs. enough room. Good venting vs. three-season use. Appeal vs. price.

With the XXX Road Cycling Shoe, Bontrager has created a shoe that, in nearly every instance, doesn’t force you to make these choices.

Starting with performance, I found the XXX as stiff as any shoe I’ve worn. I didn’t feel any flex in the carbon outsole at max power output no matter whether I was climbing or going full gas on the flats. And with two good-sized vents under the toes and a narrow one running the length of your arch, you don’t give up any cooling potential for that stiffness.

The heel cup holds my heel in place with a shape that fits me well and is easy to get into and out of. It has a snug surrounding reinforced by dense plastic ribbing on the outside and uses a flexible material at the top around my heel cord.

Rather than having a tongue like most shoes, the Bontrager XXX upper wraps over your midfoot from the Boa dial side of each shoe. The amply perforated and well-vented upper itself has the soft feel and durability of leather except in this midfoot area where it is as strong as the stiffest tongues in shoes I’ve worn.

This wrap design in combination with IP1 Boa dials gives me a fit and level of stiffness on my upstroke that I haven’t felt with other shoes this comfortable.

And honestly, I haven’t found many shoes this comfortable, certainly not with the performance of a stiff outsole or the fit that comes with dual-dial closures.

Comfort in the XXX comes from a combination of things. The midfoot wrap design and leather-like upper give me a snug, cozy feel. On top of that, there is enough give across my forefoot, that widest part of your foot between the outside of the ball on one side and the bone that sticks out below your small toe on the other.

Having worn these through the hot summer and now into the cooler fall months, that “give” is still there but there hasn’t been any loss in shape.

There’s also a ton of room for my size D-width feet in the toe box, as much as I’ve felt in any other road shoes and far more than most. I almost feel guilty that my toes should be so free in shoes that fit so comfortably snug and are otherwise so stiff.

To my eyes, these are good-looking shoes. I usually make a mess of the toes and heels of my shoes kicking my regularly greased Speedplay pedals forward to put the cranks in position to zero offset my power meter or to merely clip-in.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the white XXX model shoes I’ve been wearing have resisted showing dirt and grease and how easily and well they’ve cleaned up.

Don’t Like: For shoes this good, I’d prefer a few more color options than white, black, white with navy or red trim. Full-on neon yellow and red would be good options for those of us like me looking for more visibility in our kit, especially in our shoes which are constantly moving and can catch driver attention better when they are brightly colored.

While these Bontrager XXX shoes do come in half sizes from EU38 to 46 (men’s US 5 to 13), it’s a shame they don’t come in different widths as many of my other top-rated performance cycling shoes do.

Based on what I reported above about how these fit my feet, these also might work though offer a little less forefoot room if you are an E width. It took me about 5 rides before I got the midfoot wrap to “break-in” to fit some of the taller cuneiform bones in my midfoot. So be aware of that when you first get into them.

If you are a B-width, I think you’d likely find these shoes too wide.

Price and Availability:  $420, £345, €389 at these links to the Trek store and Sigma Sports.

 

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Shimano RC902 – Race-like fit and power with comfort

Performance Rating: 2

Like: The latest Shimano RC9 takes a different line in today’s race of the best 2-dial road bike shoes. As many make more room in the toebox and some do the same across the forefoot, Shimano has moved in the other direction with this model also known as the RC902, SH-RC9, SH-RC902, or any of those with the S-Phyre appendage.

And that direction is a good thing. It both improves the fit of this Shimano flagship road shoe over the previous RC9 model (RC901) and gives enthusiasts and racers who like a shoe that fits like a glove an option among the best road bike shoes.

The earlier RC9 shoes were relatively roomy in the toe box, forefoot, and heel cup for the Shimano EU size 43 prescribed by my fitter’s measurements and confirmed after trying smaller and larger sizes of the same model.

By contrast, after breaking in the latest RC9 (aka RC902, etc.) I find they hold my heels down well and wrap the balls of my feet and my toes in a way that gives me a sense that my feet and shoes are working as one.

That fit, along with a stiff outsole gives me a racer-like feel and power transfer efficiency all the time that I haven’t found with most shoes until you really crank down the dials. At the same time, the Shimano RC9 shoes are comfortable on 3 hour rides.

Along with black and white options, the RC902 continues to be made in a stunning and distinct blue color that has become somewhat of a fashion statement among riders that wish to stand out. The newest Shimano RC9 also features an equally brilliant, almost iridescent red that this rider is smitten by and that may suit many enamored of the red and black color combination you see everywhere in the cycling world.

Don’t Like: As with any pair of well-fitting gloves, the Shimano RC9 takes a half dozen rides to “break-in.” I use quote marks as, for me, it was more about finding the right combination of dial settings than a modest amount of molding of the burrito-style upper to the shape of my midfoot.

The BOA Li2 dials on the latest RC9 are a step up from the clear plastic-headed IP1 dials used on earlier RC9s. Functionally the new dials are more tactile and noticeably have less travel between clicks. While this offers finer tuning, in my experience it also requires more work to get the right fit.

Even though my feet don’t tend to swell over the course of a ride, I spent a good deal more time tweaking the dials early in my first half dozen rides than and I normally do and played with them more during my rides than I do other shoes.

If you’ve got a high instep as I do, you may need to go with a custom footbed for these shoes. While the RC9 comes with mid and high arch support pads that you can velcro to the underside of the provided insole, even the high pads aren’t quite enough to give me the support my feet desire over longer rides.

Yes, the Shimano RC9 S-Phyre gives you the fit, power transfer, and control of a racing shoe for sure. And once dialed in, it can be a very comfortable one as well. It’s a great combination that makes the high price a bit easier to swallow.

Price and Availability: USD$460, £320, €380 at these links to Competitive Cyclist, Sigma Sports, Chain Reaction Cycles.

 

Lake CX332 – Customizable and comfortable but flexible leather upper makes for less efficient power transfer

Lake CX 332 Road Shoes

Performance Rating: 2

Like: These are luxury and performance shoes all in one. The real leather upper provides dress shoe comfort and is quite handsome while feeling much like an extremely well-fit road cycling shoe. The black model looks like you could wear it into an office building after getting off your bike. The white would fit right in at the finest Italian cafe on a summer day.

They also come in what Lake calls Chameleon Green and Chameleon Blue which, based on the name, Lake may feel will blend in anywhere.

At the same time, the bottom sole is as performance stiff as any of the best road cycling shoes you could wear to race in. The heel cup is thermoformable and allows you to mold it to your heel’s unique shape. I ran through the molding process a couple of times to get it just where I wanted it.

Two IP1 Boas with dials and guides in just the right places allowed me to snug up the shoes for a good upper wrap.

They also come in standard and wide models and with a 4 drilled hole option for Speedplay pedals in addition to standard 3-hole ones (for which you can add a Speedplay adapter as with and 3 hole sole).

Don’t Like: Just like any other pair of leather shoes, it took me a couple of dozen rides for the uppers to shape to my feet. It’s worth it unless you are impatient. (I do need to learn how to be more patient!)

The toe box and heel cup run on the narrow side and the foot volume is limited, all like the S-Works 6 shoes were. I’m fine with that but most models including the new S-Works have gone to wider toe boxes without losing the performance fit.

You do pay a slight performance penalty for the leather upper. They feel more flexible than the synthetic leather most every other top shoe uses these days so they give a little bit more on the upstroke.

And while you can occasionally find them on sale, except for Sidi, Lakes are the most expensive shoes on the market.

Price and Availability: USD$430, £340, €430 at these links to Competitive Cyclist, Sigma Sports.

 

Giro Imperial – More room and comfort for more cyclists

Giro Imperial Road Cycling Shoes

Giro Imperial Road Cycling Shoes

Performance Rating: 2

Like: Fellow tester and regular racer Miles, whose feet work well with the historically narrower, flatter last characteristics of Giro shoes, feels the Imperial is one of the best fitting and most comfortable Giro or any shoes he’s ever worn.

Chief among his’ affection for the Imperial is the heel cup. It bumps out at the base of the heel where it matters most and then tapers up to the top. this creates a great mold for his self-described “average foot” shape and holds his heels in place very securely

The Imperial’s forefoot and toe box widths are both wider and more comfortable than earlier top-of-the-line Giros and on par with the average widths of shoes from other brands. This could open the Imperial to consideration by cyclists who couldn’t wear Giros in past.

The balls of Miles’ feet feel secure – not too tight or loose – in the Imperial and his toes can wiggle and swell without issue. This compares favorably with the scrunched feeling of earlier Giro shoes he’s worn.

Imperial’s style also rates highly in Miles’ book. The screen-like mesh and faux leather upper that gives these Giros a distinctive style is also quite functional. They are supremely ventilated on warm days (though need toe covers below 55F/13C and shoe covers below 45F/7C) and have been quite durable over many miles.

For a century or all-day ride, in the heat or in the mountains, these are go-to shoes.

Don’t Like: While Miles finds the Giro Imperial’s outsoles to be stiff, it’s not as stiff as others he wears. The difference shows up when he’s sprinting in a race.

Something that’s not changed with the Imperial is the relatively flat arch that has been characteristic of most Giro shoes. The highest of the three inserts Giro provides with the insoles provides enough support for Miles’ typical arches. If you have naturally high arches, as fellow testers Nate and I do, Miles advises that an aftermarket insole will be needed.

Additionally, the uppers in the Imperial have a bit more room than most other shoes that Miles wears. He has to crank down the IP1 Boa closure dials more than normal and the tongue of the shoe gets scrunched as it overlaps itself. Taking care to keep the tongue tucked under the uppers is the solution, though one that could be more easily dealt with by making the tongue a few millimeters narrower.

These three near misses put the Imperial a notch below the best in their ability to efficiently transfer your power.

Price and Availability: US$425, £300, €350 at these links to Competitive CyclistTredz 10% off with exclusive code ITKTDZ10, Merlin.

 

Rapha Pro Team – Performance in traditional fitting, stylish-looking shoes

Rapha Pro Team Road Cycling Shoes

Rapha Pro Team Road Cycling Shoes

Performance Rating: 2

Like: Consistent with how I think about Rapha clothing, their Pro Team road cycling shoes combine traditional design elements and modern styling that works to set them apart from the rest.

While many have gone to some form of midfoot upper overlay or “burrito” style wrap, Rapha sticks with a padded tongue covering a relatively wide opening. I find this allows easy entry and exit from the shoes and quite a bit of comfort over my intermediate cuneiform bone, the one in the middle of the top of each foot that seems to protrude above the rest of them.

The IP1 Boa closure system used in the Pro Team is also no-nonsense. It’s a top-shelf model for sure but doesn’t require a ton of turning to reel in the wire and get your feet snuggled into your shoes.

I use the word snuggled purposely because that’s the way you’re forefoot and toes will feel in these shoes. This is a more traditional, race-like fit that I prefer and contrary to the more spacious toe-box and ample, touch-less forefoot width that some shoes have adopted and cyclists may prefer for endurance riding.

The Pro Team also has a very stiff outsole with a high arch profile. It’s one of the few shoes where I don’t need to use an aftermarket insole to replace the ones that comes with the shoes including those that offer arch support pads with varying thicknesses.

On top of all of that, literally and figuratively, is an upper that looks like a stylish knit (it’s actually a woven polyester) yet is as stiff as any I’ve worn. That stiffness helps me transfer power when I’m pulling up on the cranks or at least keeps my feet from moving up and down in the shoes. The heel cup also has a shape that holds my heels nicely in place.

I’ll admit to being a fan of white shoes and the white-looking, light grey color Rapha Pro Team shoes clearly spice up my other kit choices on any given day. These shoes also come in unique teal and high-vis pink colors, each in alternating darker and lighter shade to give a zebra-type look. For the traditionalist, there’s also a black color option.

Don’t Like: While I find these shoes sufficiently comfortable on 3 and 4-hour rides, the snug fit and stiff uppers make them less comfortable than shoes with a more relaxed fit. On my longest rides, I tend to leave these at home.

The pair I wore also felt a half-size or so shorter than the size I was directed to by their size chart after measuring my foot length. This together with the trimmer forefoot and toe box space give you a shoe with relatively less volume than others I’ve tested.

If you’re looking to optimize performance, none of this is an issue. For those looking to ride hard sometimes and do longer, less demanding rides at other times, and not stand out based on the style of shoes you’re wearing, there are better options to pick from.

Price and Availability: USD$380, £280 at these links to Rapha US and Rapha UK.

 

Fizik Vento Stabilita – A generation or so away from realizing its promise

Fizik Vento Stabilita Road Cycling Shoes

Fizik Vento Stabilita Road Cycling Shoes
Performance Rating: 4

Like: With the Vento Stabilita, Fizik brings a novel and promising approach to the design of modern road cycling shoes. Instead of providing insoles with pads to raise your arch, its upper Li2 Boa closure hooks to an inch-wide strap that connects to two of the same width that extend down the side of your arch to the bottom of your foot. The inner half of the outsole is cut away to accommodate this setup.

Both Nate and I wore these shoes but neither of us could tell how much tightening the dial does to change the arch that already seems to offer more support from the shape of the very stiff carbon outsole.

Nate found that cranking the dial to get more arch support created uncomfortable pressure against the top of his feet that he was eager to release at rest stops. I felt the added pressure of the strap against the side of my foot at about the 8 o’clock position in the arch area. More practically, I had to make sure to position the top single strap in the right place to get the best leverage on the lower straps.

The upper polyurethane material is stiff, offering sufficient resistance when pulling up on the cranks. The forefoot is comfortably snug and the toe box has plenty of room, more than the traditional race shoe but not as much as the widest available in some shoes.

We both liked the beefy non-slip pads at the heel and the gummy silicone beads along the upper half of the nicely padded heel cup.

Don’t Like: The heel cup is wider than in most shoes Nate and I have worn. That allowed my heels to move more than I like and made the Vento Stabilita feel less efficient in transferring my power.

While the upper is stiff and well ventilated with pinholes throughout, it has a cardboard-like feel. The tongue area, sewn into the outside of the upper rather than free-standing, has an extra layer of material and seems twice as stiff as the upper. Again, that’s good for power transfer but is not the most comfortable of approaches.

Overall, the Vento Stabilita seems like it’s a design iteration or two away from accomplishing what it set out to do. Smoothing out the pressure along its arch support straps, shaping the heel cup a bit, and using a more comfortable yet still stiff upper material could get it closer to some of its rivals.

Price and Availability: US$400, £375, €400 at these links to Competitive Cyclist, Merlin.

 

Louis Garneau Course Air Lite XZ – Features take away from performance

Louis Garneau Air Course Lite XZ Road Cycling Shoes

Louis Garneau Air Course Lite XZ Road Cycling Shoes

Performance Rating: 4

Like: Garneau gets a few things right with the XZ road cycling shoes, the latest generation in the Course Air Lite mode evolution.

True to its name, the shoes stay very cool in warm weather. The pair Nate and I tested have two vented slots in the outsole, one that’s aligned with the area underneath my 2nd and 4th toes and another under my arch. Along with this, the Course Air Lite XZ comes with a cushiony, open-cell foam insole that allows the air to flow through. For cooler days, there’s a second closed-cell foam insole.

Garneau also includes different height arch supports that connect with these insoles. We found the highest one works well to effectively give both of with relatively high arches the support we need.

The upper on the Course Air Lite XZ is probably synthetic but feels like a soft, very pliable glove leather. On either side of your forefoot, there are stretchy sections of the upper to allow for wider feet or for those with bunions. It’s quite a clever feature.

Along with the well-placed Li2 Boa dials and hooks, this creates a comfortable upper with nary a hot spot to be experienced even on the longest, hottest rides we wore them on.

Don’t Like: For all the features we like, there are a few we don’t and some core issues that are a turn off about the shoes.

For example, while the venting is great, the second toe on my right foot (but not my left) sits in the slot designed to let the air in. Not only did that block some of the cooling, but it also felt quite distracting. Neither of the insoles prevented this sensation nor did my DIY solution to plug the vent.

This highlighted how challenging it may be to get the vent and toe alignment right since it’s likely that I’m not the only one whose toes don’t line up the same on both feet.

The upper’s soft material, while being quite comfortable, doesn’t give you enough resistance when pulling up during your pedal stroke to make me feel like you’re pedaling efficiently. And using the size chart based on my foot length put me in a shoe that made my feet feel like they were swimming. I went down a full size, consistent with what I normally wear but still didn’t feel the resistance of a more efficient shoe.

Nate’s feet are a couple of millimeters shorter and narrower than mine. He also regularly wears the S-Works 7 shoes that provide more toe box room than most. In these Garneaus, his toes are a bit cramped, especially on the tops and the forefoot isn’t as wide as he prefers.

The Course Air Lite XZ’s Boa retention system also uses wires that are too long for my liking. It takes many more turns to crank them into place and I needed to pull the edges of the upper that overlay the tongue apart to unreel the wires enough to get my feet out.

The top-of-the-range price for the less than top-rated efficiency and comfort these shoes bring seems hard to justify.

Price and Availability: USD$460 at this link to Competitive Cyclist.

THE ROLE OF SHOES IN ROAD CYCLING

I used to pick road cycling shoes based on their comfort and price. It always looked to me like the major difference between what I and other riders wore was just style and color and various features that I really didn’t need. I focused on comfortable and low-priced ridin’ rather than feature-rich and expensive stylin’.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While I’m still not into stylin’, I learned that a comfortable pair of road cycling shoes don’t always provide the best power transfer. And while you’d think that comfort comes from a good fit, there’s a range of views on what a “comfortable fit” means from fit like a glove or fit like a pair of slippers. Even the right fit walking around in the store doesn’t always or even usually mean it’s the right fit or a comfortable fit for someone pedaling tempo or threshold zone power out on the road.

As to fashion, I think it’s about the last thing that should matter when it comes to picking the best cycling shoes. But I get that looking good, if not necessarily being fashionable, matters to a lot of people.

Perhaps more important than looking good is being seen. Our feet and legs are the only parts of our body that are always moving when we are riding. If your shoes are a bright color, you have a better chance of catching the attention of a car driver than if you are wearing black ones. Fortunately, most of the best cycling shoes come in at least one or two colors.

You’ll catch a motorist’s attention wearing bright, distinctively colored shoes that are always moving

Have you ever thought about getting another pair of shoes other than when your feet start to hurt or your shoes get stretched out or the uppers start looking a little shabby or something new catches your eye?  Have you ever really looked into how your choice of road cycling shoes affects your ability to ride faster or longer?

Before I started my evaluations of road bike shoes, I must admit that as a fellow road cycling enthusiast I would have answered no to both questions.

Some of us, including me, look at every opportunity to find a few extra watts or clicks of speed by picking the right wheels, tires, or helmets and by spending more time in the right aero position, shaving our legs, shedding our gloves, etc. I’ve written posts about this, specifically how training and technique and gear and kit can help you ride faster.

While putting covers over any pair of shoes can make you more aero and save you watts, the right shoes can also help you increase the power you deliver to your pedals and the speed that shows up on your bike computer.

Some of us focus equally or more on endurance than we do on speed and want to ride more miles or kilometers, do more centuries, sportives, fondos, etc. to get or stay healthy. More efficient power transfer from comfortably fitting road cycling shoes can help you do the same distance with less effort or get more distance from the same effort when compared to wearing a less efficient pair.

Frankly, I should have known better than to overlook the performance benefits that the best cycling shoes can bring and relegate the decision-making merely to apparent comfort and price. I grew up skiing down mountains, raced through college, and have coached for many years since then. While the skis and speed suits get all the attention, the most important piece of gear is the boots.

If you aren’t wearing a pair of ski boots that fit you snugger than anything else you’ve ever worn on your feet, hold your heels down firmly, provide the room to wiggle your toes and allow you to easily tighten the buckles at the top of a run, it doesn’t much matter how right you got the wax on the bottom of your skis, how well you sharpened your edges, how tight your ski suit fits, or how cool all your gear looks.

If you’ve got boots that are the wrong size, fit or flex, you aren’t going to get the most out of all the techniques you’ve developed or tactics you’ve planned, or the training you’ve done. The same goes whether you are racing or skiing moguls or taking a non-stop 15-minute top to bottom run or skiing the deep pow.

Having the right gear on your feet is also critical in football (aka soccer) or basketball or track or ice skating or volleyball or almost any sport where your legs power your performance. Fashion and features may get the attention and sell the footwear to those who don’t know better, but the performance your shoes enable (or limit) will make a big difference in your success and enjoyment.

In a lot of sports including many I just listed, shoes are your biggest expense. In cycling, however, your footwear is one of the things we spend the least on when it comes to gear. Bikes, groupsets, and wheelsets all cost more for a similar level of performance than road bike shoes.

Yet I and many of my fellow road cycling enthusiasts seem to be a lot more sensitive about spending 100 to 200 more dollars, pounds, or euros on a pair of shoes than we would be spending thousands more for a bike or hundreds more for a wheelset. We shouldn’t be. Shoes are just as critical to your performance – your speed, power, comfort, endurance – as many pieces of gear or kit you might ride that cost much more.

Expect to pay about 400 USD$, £ or € for the best cycling shoes, ones that will give you the efficient power transfer, comfortable fit, and the be-seen look expected by most serious roadies. Relative to the benefits you get from investing in other cycling gear, I think that’s a reasonable amount to help you perform your best.

If you’re a recreational cyclist who rides less often, shorter distances, and with less ambitious performance goals than we enthusiasts do then no, you don’t need to spend this much.

THE BASIC Q&A ABOUT ROAD CYCLING SHOES

When I began the research for this post, several questions came up that had to be answered before I could move forward. Since they apply across the whole category of cycling shoes for roadies, I’ll cover them here before sharing with you what I found out about any of the specific pairs of shoes.

Function or fashion?

The good news is that you can get both in some of the best road bike shoes. You can also get shoes that are functional without trying to be stylish. But, you can also get some shoes that look great and don’t perform very well.

Competition or comfort?

Here again, you can get both – shoes that have very stiff and light bottom soles (known as “outsoles” in footwear lingo) and a very precise and comfortable fit. Those that do both tend to be the higher-priced shoes for the more competitive enthusiast, whether it be those looking to go faster or last longer out on the road.

You can also get shoes that are high on comfort and fit well enough but made are made with more flexible outsole materials that can limit the power you try to transfer through them. These tend to be shoes that are 100 to 200 dollars, pounds, or euros less expensive and are often favored by the endurance enthusiasts who are in it for the pure pleasure of riding and are a bit more focused on their wallet than their speed. That’s fine but that’s not me and probably not most of you who ride regularly and are even the least bit competitive about it.

Readers of this blog site run the gamut from serious enthusiasts that are willing to pay more for performance to those that are more value-conscious yet enjoy their riding as much as the next cyclist, if not always at the same pace or as regularly. In this review, I’ve focused on shoes that suit the first group of readers and riders.

Are top-end road cycling shoes really worth the money?

I think I’ve covered this in the section above but allow me to repeat myself in this Q&A section of the post. Spending more on the best cycling shoes gets you better performance in most cases. That sounds obvious but isn’t true with every cycling product.

Like anything else, you can take it too far. If you don’t want to, you really don’t need to pay extra for a unique style (e.g. retro lace shoes) or a certain brand or co-branded top-of-the-line model that has just about every extra you can imagine but don’t need to get top of the line performance.

At market prices (rather than full retail), you can get a great pair of performance shoes in the 300 to 400 dollar/pound/euro price range and a comfortable value shoe with far less efficient power transfer in the 150 to 200 range.

What are the best road cycling shoes worth to you?

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. I personally think spending 100 to 200 more is a deal for the improved cycling performance and pleasure you get from your shoes, especially compared to other places you can spend that amount of money only to see little to no real benefit.

What’s all the fuss about Boa?

Boa is a proprietary combination of wire laces, plastic wire guides, and dials that reel the laces in or out around the guides to tighten or loosen your shoes. They are made by a company called Boa Technology and are used in place of some combination of string laces, Velcro straps, buckles or ratchets on cycling shoes and other sports and non-sports gear.

Boa’s Li2 and IP1 dials have become the standard on performance cycling shoes and other Boa dial models are starting to be seen on value shoes as well. As you can see in the chart above, both have the same functionality most notably pushing down to engage and pulling up to release the closure process. The Li2s have slightly shorter steps between clicks for finer adjustments as you turn clockwise to tighten and counterclockwise to loosen.

Specialized uses S3 dials on their latest top-of-the-line cycling shoes. As I’ve not seen these on any other brand of shoes, I assume Boa makes them only for Specialized. They emphasize a more textured feel of the dials, turning clockwise and counterclockwise to tighten and loosen like the others but without the need to push in to engage or the ability to pull up to quickly release.

Why have most middle and top-end road shoes moved to Boa dial closures?

Quite simply, they can give you a better and more comfortable fit and are easier to adjust while underway than the laces, straps, buckles, etc. they have replaced. The tension can be spread more evenly across various parts of your foot as you close the shoe for a secure fit.

If they are used in combination with a high-quality upper with minimal seams and a good heel cup, insole (aka footbed), and outsole in a size, width, and last (or foot-shaped molds built to unique heel width, instep height, forefoot width, and toe box depth and width) that fit your feet, they can give you that glove-like feel with efficient power transfer that I’ve never been able to get with Velcro straps and buckles.

The best performing road cycling shoes have 2 dials, one close to your ankle and the other between your midfoot and forefoot, typically to the outside of the tongue. In most cases, they give you more control of the closure tension and fit and than those with a single dial found on mid-priced cycling shoes. That results in better power transfer and comfort.

For that reason, I’ve evaluated 2 dial shoes in this review. With the exception of Sidi which uses its own proprietary dial, lace, and hook closure system, all the shoes reviewed here use Boa closures.

Are men’s and women’s shoes different?

Many companies do sell gender-specific shoes. That said, it’s hard to tell whether some of the women’s cycling shoes are really designed for a woman’s foot – stereotypically narrower and smaller than a man’s – or are of the same design as a men’s shoe but available in “woman’s” sizes and in colors shoemakers think will appeal to women.

The good news is that there are plenty of men’s shoes (or probably shoes originally made for male riders) that also fit women available in basic black, white, and other gender-neutral colors that are made in half sizes, narrow and standard widths, and with different lasts to serve a good range of rider needs, both men and women.

If you wear running shoes or football (aka soccer) cleats or any other sports footwear, boots or well-fitting shoes, you probably have a good idea if your feet are narrow or wide, have high arches, where you are sensitive to hot spots, etc. This will help you figure out what shoes to try or what special requirements you might need to get the right fit.

How different are the sizes between brands?

As with other types of shoes, cycling shoes of the same size from different brands will vary in length, width, and fit. Most road cycling shoes are labeled in EU sizes. Brands provide size guides to help you close in on the sizes they use on their shoes in comparison with the size of other shoes you wear.

Alongside the EU size, these size guides will usually provide the men’s and women’s US and UK sizes that the EU size is closest to. Some will also give you a corresponding length in centimeters and instructions on how to measure your feet.

These are helpful but not always dependable. And they are focused only on the length of the shoe. Equally important measures like the heel cup and forefoot widths or the arch height and toe-box room are unique to the brand or model’s last.

To deal with all of these differences, I’ve developed a chart comparing the last characteristics of the shoes we’ve worn and reviewed here. For a given size, you can see whether a shoe has relatively more or less of each key dimension versus the average fit of the shoes we’ve tested.

In the review of each of the road cycling shoes, I say more about how the shoe fits.

What are the pros and cons of buying shoes online vs. at a local bike shop?

As I learned when reviewing aero helmets (here), buying online is a more efficient way and likely to end up with you getting a better cycling shoe choice and price.

If you’ve been in a bike shop lately, you know that most carry fewer brands and less inventory of models, sizes, and colors than online stores. So to go the bike shop route, you need to be willing to spend the time traveling around to various shops to find the models and sizes you are interested in during the hours when you should be working or could be riding or relaxing at home. If you buy at an online store, you merely order the ones you are interested in with a few clicks whenever you want to. That’s an easy choice for me.

Buying online, you also get to wear the different shoes or sizes of the same shoes you are interested in for hours at a time in the comfort of your own home the way you couldn’t or wouldn’t do in a bike shop. You also don’t have a salesman in the middle of the process who might be urging you to buy something they sell but that might not be best for you compared to something they don’t carry.

If you aren’t sure what you need or what constitutes a good fit and you have a knowledgeable cycling shoe fitter at your store, you may benefit from buying there.

The harder choice is figuring out whether you are willing to add to your credit card balance by ordering extra models or sizes from an online store until you return the ones you don’t want versus just buying one pair after spending the time going to a lot of bike shops and trying on the shoes they have in stock.

You can also apply both approaches. In my case, for example, there was one very high-end shop not too far from me that had a good selection of three brands (Lake, Fizik, Sidi) and a chain that sold a couple of models made by the larger cycling companies (Specialized, Bontrager, and Shimano).

Unfortunately, the shoe fitter in the high-end shop was clearly pushing shoes I didn’t need and was selling them at full price. The chain store had a model I liked in a color I didn’t and another in a size that was just a bit big. I would have needed to special order these, and the store wanted me to make a deposit and commit to buying the shoes before they would order them. Uh, no thank you.

Competitive Cyclist in the US is one of the online stores I’ve bought a lot of gear from over the years and has a top 5 ranking of the nearly 100 stores I track (see here). They had most of the shoes and sizes and color combos in stock I was interested in. Buying from them, you can order, receive, try on, return shoes that don’t fit, and get your purchase credited all within a single credit card billing cycle. (I’ve done it with other gear and kit with no questions asked.)

If you want to know how to replicate the cleat position of your old shoes to your new ones or position them without a reference point, here’s a good video from Art’s and another from GCN that tells you how. It’s pretty straightforward.

And if you do plan to get a pair of shoes that can be heat molded for a customized fit, know that the process to do that is designed for you to do in your home oven. It takes a few rounds of 10-20 minutes of heating, cooling, and forming to get it right. Few shops are set up or are going to be able to spend the time to do that with you.


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SELECTION CRITERIA FOR ROAD CYCLING SHOES

My discipline for each In The Know Cycling review is to evaluate gear-specific criteria that fit into four groups – Performance, Design, Quality, and Cost. I put an emphasis on Performance and Cost criteria in making my recommendations. Design should mostly be focused on delivering performance rather than merely saying you’ve got some technology, spec, or features no one else does.

Normally, if a novel or unique design doesn’t make the gear perform better or reduce cost, it is a wasted effort. With the look of shoes being important to some, design approaches can provide a distinctive or gotta-have look in the designer’s or buyer’s eyes. I can only point out but can’t judge a distinctive look with my admittedly blind-to-fashion sensitivities. You are the best judge of what looks best to you.

I describe the criteria within each of the four groups here.

PERFORMANCE

As I stated at the top of this post, efficient power transfer, comfortable fit, good-looking, and reasonably priced is what makes a good cycling shoe and how you should choose them. The first two of those are clearly performance criteria.

Efficient power transfer is dependent on two things: 1) how stiff the outsole is and 2) how closely your shoe moves with your foot. With a stiff sole and a fit that holds your foot firmly to that shoe so that it moves with no wasted effort, you’ll transfer your power efficiently. Without a good fit or one that doesn’t hold everything but your toes in place, power will be lost somewhere between your foot and the pedal.

Keys to a Good Fit in Road Cycling Shoes

Good-fitting road cycling shoes will keep your heel down on your upstroke, your toes free, your midfoot and forefoot snug, and your arch well supported. This comes in part from picking one with the right size or, more specifically, the right “last” (heel width, instep or midfoot height, forefoot width, and toe box width and depth). Fit also comes from how well the upper and closure system work to wrap you at all points across the top of your forefoot, how well your arch is supported by a combination of the last and insole (aka footbed), and how well the heel cup shape aligns to your own heel.

Comfortably fitting power transfer really speaks to your ability to stay comfortable with that right fit over time, distance, and different environmental conditions, not just when you try it on.

To keep a good fit comfortable, you need a shoe that will 1) be breathable enough to allow your feet to cool (keeping them warm is usually done through socks or overshoes, 2) not produce any hot spots or pressure points across the top of your midfoot or along the touchpoints between the bottom of your foot and insole and 3) allow you to adjust the fit for different situations like changing temperature, normally swelling feet, hill climbing and sprinting.

It’s important to remember then that a good fit doesn’t guarantee comfort. You can also be comfortable in shoes that don’t fit you very well. You need both fit and comfort well secured to a stiff outsole to get good power transfer over miles and miles of riding.

Since everyone’s feet are a little different, I can only describe the cut or “last” characteristics of cycling shoes (for example: runs narrow, wide toe box, high arch, low volume forefoot, etc.) to help steer you to those that might best fit what you know to be the characteristics of your own feet.

For the record, I wear a US men’s size 9.5 D width dress shoe which translates to a European 43.0 width in most cycling shoe models. Beyond my own experience, I’ve also used input from a cross-section of reviewers I trust who have feet of different sizes and shapes (though sadly most are men’s feet) rather than just offer you the response to these shoes of my own feet.

Once you get the right fit, the shoe’s efficiency and comfort performance are more easily discernible.

Too many companies market their shoes’ power transfer based on the stiffness of the outsole. The outsole might be super rigid but if your foot moves around on top of that outsole, you aren’t going to get an efficient transfer of power.

To compare power transfer efficiency across shoes from different brands for this review rather than just evaluating the sole’s flex or regurgitating the company flex number which is based on comparing shoes in their own line, I’ve used input from independent tester Tour magazine. They used an artificial foot fit secured inside many of the shoes in this review or previous models using the same outsole to come up with relative measures of stiffness.

DESIGN

The design of a road cycling enthusiast’s shoe, as with any piece of cycling gear, is mostly focused on delivering the desired performance level for a targeted cost and partly focused on delivering a certain look. Some designs work well in achieving the performance goals while others fall short. Some design characteristics like sole composition can be objectively measured against a performance goal while others, like a shoe’s attractiveness to a segment of customers, can only be judged in the eyes of potential buyers.

Just because a shoe has a specific technology or design feature doesn’t mean it’s going to perform better than those that don’t have them. Design is a means to performance, cost, and aesthetic ends. Sometimes a technology or feature helps get you there while sometimes it makes no difference or actually detracts from the performance and cost goals.

Unfortunately, since performance is hard to quantify and describe, companies market the crap out of technology, specs, and features. You see a lot of that from companies selling cycling shoes similar to the way you do from those selling wheelsets or bike frames or cycling clothing.

So while I will lay out the major design criteria here, you should only be aware of them and make your choice on how well they deliver the performance, cost, and look you want from your shoes, rather than whether your shoes have one design feature or another.

Outsole – Performance-level road cycling shoes are almost always made from very stiff carbon fiber impregnated resins. Lower-priced or value cycling shoes use less stiff carbon fibers and often nylon fibers in their soles. Outsoles may also be designed with ribs or other structural features to improve their stiffness or provide desired arch support levels or toward other performance objectives. The bumpers on the front and back of the shoes, many of which are replaceable, are designed to protect your soles from damage or scuffing and, to a lesser degree, to make it easier to avoid falling on your face when you walk around off the bike or at a coffee shop.

Last – The dimensions of heel width, instep height, forefoot width, and toe box depth give a shoe its unique fit characteristics. The proportions of these dimensions will typically remain consistent regardless of the length or size except when there are separate men’s and women’s shoes that are made with different lasts.

Insole (or Footbed) – Many shoes regardless of price come with very basic, wafer-thin insoles that most people will replace with those that can be best fit to the rider’s specific arch and forefoot needs. These insoles are made by specialist companies and represent an upsell for the shop. So you have to figure that into the shoe cost. Some shoes do come with more substantial insoles that work as is or can be customized with wedges of different thicknesses that you insert or velcro to the footbed.

Closures – As mentioned in the Q&A section above, Boa closures systems have pretty much taken over the performance road cycling shoe market with only a couple of exceptions (e.g. Sidi shoes). There are different models of Boa closures used on cycling shoes that provide more or less functionality, mostly in loosening the shoes, but they all tighten more or less the same way.

As I described earlier, most of the top-performance shoes now use two Li2 or IP1 model Boa dials. One is typically placed at the top of the shoe that closes it just below your ankle. The second goes lower down your shoe to close it across your midfoot.

Some designs extend the wire from the second dial to guides further down to your forefoot while other shoes use a Velcro strap to help you synch up that area over your toes. Most don’t have any mechanism to tighten that area of your shoe.

With the latest generation of Li2 and IP1 Boa dials (don’t ask me what the letters and numbers stand for), you relieve all the tension in wires by merely pulling up on each dial. This gives you a quick exit from your shoes at the end of a ride or allows you to open them fully to put your foot in when you first put them on.

String laces have made a comeback in retro or football-style cycling shoes. You’ll see them both on high-performance and value shoes. Laces provide almost infinite adjustment to get the fit right when you first put your shoes on but you obviously can’t easily adjust them during a ride unless you stop.

Ratchets, buckles, and Velcro straps are the traditional closure systems used mostly on value shoes these days but you will find straps used in combination with dial and wire closures in some cases on performance shoes like those in this review.

Uppers – Uppers differ based on the type of material being used, how many separate pieces are stitched together, and how flexible, soft, and breathable they are. Some shoes use real leather, most use a synthetic leather-like material and others use a synthetic mesh.

One-piece uppers eliminate the potential pressure points or “hot spots” across the top of your feet that come with stitching or seams pressing down on them. The more stitching and seams, the more likely you are to get pressure points and potentially an uneven fit from materials that stretch differently.

Some shoes will use a synthetic leather upper with a more breathable mesh near the toes to provide more ventilation where feet tend to sweat more. Uppers will also be perforated with holes to improve breathability. Softer and more flexible uppers can improve flexibility and improve the shoe’s fit but may also provide more give when you are pedaling and lead to less efficient power transfer.

Venting – To keep your feet from overheating, uppers usually have perforations throughout and are sometimes combined with a mesh area in spots where the feet can get especially overheated. Some shoes are best for the summer temps while others with less ventilation can be worn three seasons without an overshoe but might be a little warm on the hottest days. Most good shoes have vents in the outsole for cooling which will be covered over with an overshoe when riding in cooler weather.

Customization – If you are hard to fit or have problems with hot spots, there are many things potential causes as shown in this chart from an article here from Jo Allen.

Road Cycling Shoes Causes of Discomfort

Although you see it less often in the newer models, some of the more expensive shoes have heat-moldable insoles, heel cups, and even uppers to customize the fit to your shoes. Moldable insoles make sense if you have feet that pronate unusually. Moldable uppers or integrated upper and outsoles like on Bont shoes can help improve your fit if you have bunions or you have found over the years that you just have a hard time finding shoes that will fit your feet.

According to the companies that make these heat-moldable shoes, most people don’t need or even use the molding. Heat moldable shoes are often more expensive and take several hours of molding and remolding over the first few months of use to get them right. If you feel or are being told you need a moldable shoe, you may want to consider whether you are going with what seems like a cure-all feature that you don’t really need or your shop is trying too hard to sell you a shoe that’s not right for you.

Weight – Cycling shoe weight is another place where we as riders and the industry as marketers put way too much emphasis on something that matters so relatively little. With the exception of a couple of outliers, most of the performance shoes weigh within 50 grams per shoe of each other.

As shown in one of the last characteristic charts in this post further below, the size 43 or so shoes I evaluated in this review weigh from 218 (for a size 42.5) to 304 (for a size 43.5) grams per shoe. Beyond those two, however, the remaining shoes range from 240 to 260 grams, essentially no discernable weight difference.

The bottom line: weight is something most of us enthusiasts should give little if any attention to when buying performance shoes.

Sizes – You’ll find half sizes available for most shoes in the more common foot size range. Most also have women’s sizes or at least smaller shoes of similar lasts. Some shoes are sold in two widths and one I reviewed is sold narrow, standard, and wide widths.

More importantly, the lasts differ from shoe to shoe and tell you a lot more about how well a shoe will fit than simply ordering a narrow, standard, or wide width. The Last Characteristics chart below shows you the difference in shoe lasts from, dare I say, heel to toe.

Outsole bolt holes – Nearly all road shoes come with 3 bolt holes in the outsole to work with road cleats made by Shimano and Look, the most popular pedal systems. Speedplay, another popular road pedal system now made by Wahoo, uses cleats with 4 holes. While you can find a couple of shoes that come with outsoles specifically designed for 4-hole Speedplay cleats, a simple adapter Speedplay makes can convert any 3-hole shoe to work with their pedals.

If the shoe you are interested in only has 2 holes, you better be planning to use them with mountain bike cleats as they won’t work with your road bike ones.

Walking – Chris Froome took to running in his cycling shoes on a 2016 Tour de France stage up Mont Ventoux when his bike was run over by a moto and there were no other bikes (or running shoes) immediately available. While the best road cycling shoes are not designed for running and few are really great to walk in for long, there are some I’ve noted in my reviews that may be less desirable than others when you are walking around on a café or bathroom break.

Style – We can all judge this for ourselves. My suggestion is to get a shoe that will provide a comfortable fit first and efficient power transfer if you want a performance-level shoe. Once you’ve done that, pick between the shoes whose look or style you are good with.

Most road bike shoes come in black and white along with yellow or red with standard lines. There are others that have tried to separate themselves with a unique style or comfort touches including some with a retro lace-up closure system, others with real kangaroo leather, and still others with bright neon green, orange, and blue color choices. And then there are combinations of these colors.

Something for everyone I guess.

QUALITY

Fortunately, all the shoes I’ve reviewed are made of pretty high quality. The most you should have to do on some that have this feature is to replace the heel pads on the bottom of the shoes when they wear down to improve your walking rather than your riding. You’ll also want to keep your Boa system clean by using some water on the dials and silicone on the wire guides to avoid things from getting gummed up.

Of course, you may treat your shoes in ways that extend or shorten their life. My suggestion is that if you are going to put a few hundies down on a nice pair of shoes, take care of them. I’ve tried to point out if I know of a shoe’s reputation for wearing out in one place or another but I haven’t seen that much in the relatively short period of time I can test these shoes.

COST

With shoes, our cost is primarily what we pay for them when we first buy them.

Depending on the shoes you buy or the needs of your feet, you may need to buy custom insoles when you first get your shoes. A lot of us just transfer the insoles we already had from shoe to shoe or buy a new pair every year or two when they flatten out or lose their shape.

Other than heel pads, there are no other added or maintenance costs you need to figure in along the way.

Like much of the cycling gear these days, the price of shoes often depends on whether the company sells them just through local bike shops or also sells them online. Most sell through both channels these days and price often depend on typical retail strategies – inventory, margins, promotions, etc.

 

*      *      *      *      *

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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve

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First published on January 6, 2019. Date of the most recent major update is shown at the top of the post.

36 comments

  • Hi Steve,
    I am surprised to not see Bont on your list of reviewed shoes.
    They are light , well made , come in 3 widths or custom, and half sizes for all widths.
    It is the only shoe I could get to fit well , and they can be heat molded to adapt to foot abnormalities.
    Very comprehensive on the shoes you did review, just thought I’d mention my favorites.
    Keep up the good work.
    Dave

    • Dave, I did review the Bont VayporS in my last review of this category and rated them highly for many of the reasons you mentioned. Steve

      • Hi Steve, if so I’m curious what makes it no longer included in the comparison? Do you prefer the current top performers than Bont? Thanks!

        • Mark, Honestly, I don’t remember why I dropped it from the review. I do hope to review a Bont when I add some new shoes to this review in 2021. In the meantime, you can see my review of the Vaypor G in my review of gravel shoes. It’s very similar to the Vaypor S with a MTB tread pattern and for a different application (dirt/gravel vs. paved road riding). Steve

  • Hi Steve

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the Lake CX237, carbon sole with dual boa and available in a genuine wide fitting – it’s a brilliant shoe for the money

    • Jason, The CX237 is essentially the same shoe as the CX332 in a different last (narrower heel that isn’t thermoformable, wider forefoot) and slightly different BOAs for $100 less. Both come in wide versions. Good option. Steve

  • Steve’
    Perhaps I missed it, but did you try GIRO shoes?
    bob

    • Bob, I evaluated the then top-of-the-line all lace-up Giro Empire SLX in my last review of this category and didn’t rate its performance as high as the best in this latest review. Their current top of the line shoe is a 1-dial + lace combination. Laces create challeges for in-ride adjustment.

      Giro shoes are more fashion than performance oriented. Their shoes are comfortable and good looking but their soles aren’t performance stiff and most use lace-up closures rather than dial ones. Generally, I don’t believe Giros are on par with the performance shoes reviewed above. Steve

  • THANK YOU. I have a couple pair of the Giro’s, probably just from remembering the back when days of Dietto type lace shoes. The lace feature is indeed not compatible with on ride adjustment. For me, kind of just remembering how it has been through close to fifty years of riding and less about performance/cost. The Giro’s do fit well and the mesh only models are good summer shoes.
    Keep your good work up, Anything I can do to help?
    bob

  • I appreciate the effort that went into this review, as with all your reviews. The trouble with reviewing shoes is, it’s such an individual-fit situation making it difficult to recommend specific models. And choosing the wrong width can contribute to health problems later on.

    I have very wide forefeet for my foot size. I wear 42.5 something like 5EEEEE width. This is partially due to bunions caused by…wait for it….riding for 30 years with performance shoes that are too narrow! My advice is, don’t ride with shoes that are tight or snug on your forefoot even if that doesn’t hurt, you will pay for it decade later. Buy shoes that give your toes plenty of lateral space. This may affect your performance a little, but probably not much if at all. Do you still want to be riding when you are 50 or 60?

    Another issue is the internal construction of the shoes and tension dial hardware. For example, Bonts would be great shoes for me except that their tension dials cause an inner lump that crushes against the top of my foot very uncomfortably.

    Best advice I’ve heard was from my podiatrist. He said to remove the insole and place it under your foot. If your foot is spreading out over the sides of the insole, that shoe isn’t wide enough for you. You can also trace your foot on a piece of paper and compare that to the insole.

    I’ve tried literally dozens of shoes that aren’t wide enough…too many to list. The only ones that worked for me are the Lake CX237 Wide (and MX237 Wide) both in 42.5, my true size. And Shimano RP9e Wide in size 43.5 (a full size too big).

    It should be noted that Lake CX237’s use the “Competition Last”, which is not the same as the CX332 which uses the “Sport Last”. The CX237 is wider in the forefoot. As Lake says, the CX332 “Featuring a slightly narrower toe box & tighter heel than the Competition last and less overall volume than the Sport last”. This is the most comfortable and best-fitting shoe for me, highly recommended if you have a wide forefoot.

    • @North Krimsly, my problem is , I don’t know if I have wide or narrow or normal foot
      my right foot is 283 mm , ~105 mm width

  • Richard F. Stewart

    Sidi also has several models in their wide “Mega” range. I started with Looks shoes in the late 80’s, then used Time Equipe, and have been using Sidi Mega models for the past 10 years on the road. The dominator Mega works for my 2E (oo 4E depending on the manufacturer and usage). Very thorough review. Thanks!

  • Scanned this and will read more carefully later. However I wanted to say that I disagree with the Competitive Cyclist sizing chart in at least one instance. I had a pair of Sidi Megas, size 45, and I saw a pair of Nothwaves on the CC site I wss interested in. Going with the chart was all wrong and after a couple of product returns, I found the NW shoes in size 45 fit me the same as the Sidis. I mentioned this to them, but they never revised the chart. Maybe it was a “one-off”, but I have to wonder…

  • I have used the Sidi and BOA system and found the dials loosen over the course of my rides. It’s easier to turn the BOA to re-tighten them than the Sidi. Anyone else experienced the same issue? I couldn’t have two defective systems ? Thanks!

    • Interesting. I’ve never had either brand of dials loosen on me. I may need (or want) to tighten the shoes once I get going, but it’s not because the dials loosen.

    • I’ve used Sidi and Boa for 20 years now and believe that it’s not generally a loosening with Sidi in particular but more a softening of the shoe as your feet sweat and the material warms up.

  • As a long time road rider I would like to underscore the remarks of North Krimsly above, in particular the long term risks of riding with a too narrow shoe in pursuit of a “performance fit”.  In contradiction to the recommendations here, I have found the Shimano S-Phyre shoe with its innovative closure to provide an extremely good fit as well as instant relief from foot pain that I could never shake with shoes from Lake (401) and Specialized (S-Works). Part of the solution was to go to a wide shoe even though my feet are not particularly wide. But another important issue has again to do with that terrible idea of a “performance fit”, perfectly embodied by the Specialized S-Works shoe with its inflexible space age materials and iron grip at the heel and across the top of the foot. It is impressive in its commitment to an idea, but in my opinion that idea is completely wrong headed.

    • Adam,

      I agree with your statement on the Shimano S-Phyre shoes. I have a high volume foot and they fit me superbly and are very stiff. In my opinion they perform much better than an “overpriced … recreational cycling shoe.”

      Wout van Aert is more than a “recreational cyclist” and just won the Strade Bianchi using them…

  • Is there somewhere I can read about power transfer 5-15w is alot!

  • Your shoes reviews are very good and I concur with many points you make. One aspect that you completely leave out is cleat hole position. Manufacturers have progressively been moving the cleat position towards the mid foot. I have a preference for peak power and a position towards the toes. This is not possible with many modern shoes. Shimano give the best fore/aft movement but their design has become a better fit for hobbits.

  • Great review. I just got my first decent bike at 50 and was looking a quality shoe in the value category. I just seems like it’s $400 for good ones and then the ratings drop from 1 to 4 and even the 4’s are expensive. Isn’t there a two year old model that’s a good value for a weekend rider that was $300 new and now sells for $200?

    What do you think of the MAVIC COSMIC ULTIMATE 2 Carbon Fiber Road Cycling Shoes? I saw a good rating on them.

    Thanks,

    • Bryan, Don’t recommend you cut corners to save a few bucks with shoes. Right up there with bib shorts as one of the most important things to get right. If you’re an enthusiast doing lots of miles, you really want fit, comfort and performance (power transfer) to be right. Steve

    • Bryan,
      I have no affiliation, but after trying many road shoes, I have settled on Shimano. As far as bang for the buck, I’d be looking at the new version of the RC7 (with the double boa dials). Only available in black or white, they are $225 on Competitive Cyclist. I have the older version (with single boa) as well as the top of the line RC9s. There is not much difference between them. I would imagine the new version of the RC7 (with double boa) hits the sweet spot. Do some research and read reviews…and I’m fairly sure you can support this site and get a discount with the link provided on the home page.

  • Hi,

    What was the tested XXX and wire 2 sizes ?

    Thank you

  • Bontrager XXX vs Specialized SW-7 wide foot Question?

    Great detailed review!

    I have been riding with Sidi Mega with wide feet, and have been Ok with them.
    Now, I am debating between Bontrager and SW-7.

    Looking at your charts Performance vs Comfort, and chart with Comfort.
    You ranked the SW-7 in the Wide column and Bontrager XXX in Standard column. Since the Bontrager has + for toe box and forefront, why this shoe is not in the same Wide column with the SW-7 on the chart?
    Is that because, the SW-7 is available in different width?

    Response would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    • Sebastien, Yes. The midfoot width is what I used to determine which column I put them in. If you’ve got a D width foot, you could use the Bontrager without a problem but if it is E or wider, I’d suggest you go with a shoe in the Wide column. Steve

  • Hey Steve. Great article. Your were spot on on your helmet article and I love my POC Ventral Spin, I have a wide foot and per this article you recommend the the Specialized S-Works 7 as the best correct? I’m strictly a distance road rider with a 11/2 E width shoe size at 220lb. I have top shelf Sidi’s ( not wires) that are due to be replaced but they have always felt a little snug. I just want to get the best ones that will last. Is there any concern about the glued seams.
    ? I had real bad luck with glue seams on some bibbs in the past. Last issue, no local bike stores carry them and I like the on site custom insole fitting service that Specialized promotes. Any thought there? Keep up the good work my friend.

    • Steve, Most any good shoe fitter will make custom insoles if you need them regardless of the shoes you buy or bring in. If you are referring to the Specialized Body Geometry footbeds, those aren’t custom but rather come in three different arch heights. You can normally move them from one shoe to another or pick up a fresh set for $35 here. If you are going for the S-Works 7 shoe, make sure to order the wide version like you can find here. If you want a more relaxed fit, the Shimano S-Phyre RC9 wide (here) offer more room in the toe box and forefoot. You can put the same Specialized sole footbed inside them though they come with decent insoles already that have adjustments for the arch height. If you can’t try either on at your store, you can order both online at the links I provided and return the one you prefer least. Steve

    • Thanks for this great article Steve – superb work.

      Any cycling shoes that you could recommend for Haglund’s deformity?

  • Hi Steve, thanks for the detailed review. After reading I got S-Works 7 in two different sizes and found that there’s always pinching under the ankle on the outside. I read some online reviews like [link deleted] and it seems like an issue for many. This review says the pinching goes away after breaking in, but I don’t want to risk a few hundred bucks if it turns out to be not the case. Did you and your friends experience the same issue? Thanks!

    • Mark, No, otherwise I would have mentioned it. But everyone’s feet are different and your feet may work better in some shoes than others. That’s why I’ve created the Last Characteristics chart that allows you to compare the shoes for the key aspects of their fit and consider which might be best against what you know about the needs of your own feet. I don’t think you’ll find that in other online reviews. Steve

  • Just finished reading. I have the new Torch, got a 15% discount (w/100% guarantee for 30 days, regardless of condition). I have a wide forefoot w/ bunions. OMG…AWESOME! Have never, in all my years feel so directly connected! Shoe feels like a perfect custom mold! With my 6 month old Aethos, the only weak link in my ride is me. Even my bike smiled!

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