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If you are a serious roadie, riding one of the best road cycling shoes is worth the added performance and enjoyment they can give you.

TL;DR (click for more)

When enthusiasts seek the best road cycling shoes, several qualities come to mind. Efficient power transfer, comfortable fit, good-looking, and reasonably priced tops my list.

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

Yes, and relatively speaking, yes.

Here’s why:

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 other options we have to get top cycling gear performance, well, we always want that.

In this post, I’ll share my evaluation of the best cycling shoes for serious enthusiasts, those who ride 4 or more days a week throughout the year and challenge themselves to get the best performance, fitness, and enjoyment they can from cycling.

If you’re an enthusiast, regardless of whether you race, do club rides, like to ride short routes, spend long days in the saddle, or get after it every day you ride in a variety of ways, these shoes come the closest to delivering what you need to get the most out of your road cycling.


With the charts below and the straightforward commentary about what we like and don’t like about each shoe we’ve tested, I attempt to give you enough about how they rate against what matters most so you can pick between them.

While I normally recommend a single best performer and best value in each category of gear I review, I can’t do that for road bike shoes for two reasons.

First, because our feet have different shapes, the “last” or dimensioned shape of some great shoes will not fit some feet as well as others might.

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.

Instead, I give you a performance rating for each shoe based on its power transfer efficiency and comfort. Then, I compare the shoes’ last and other design characteristics with what you know about your feet and how they fit in walking, running, or bike shoes.

That and the links I’ve provided to stores I’ve vetted that carry these road cycling shoes at the best prices should allow you to close in a pair or two to order and decide on.

First, here are my comparative performance ratings:

I suggest you start by looking for the shoes with the best rating in the chart column 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 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 this second chart. However, the last characteristics are based on wearing the right size shoes for each tester.

I have put the prices of these road bike shoes in the reviews that follow. Since their prices are all within 10% or so of each other, it’s best you choose between these shoes based on their stiffness, comfort, and last characteristics.

OK then. Let’s get on with it!

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Trek RSL Knit – Almost all you could ask for

Performance Rating: 1

Like: The Trek RSL Knit delivers some of the best power transfer, fit, and comfort I’ve experienced in a road bike shoe. They do this in an integrated way that non-knit shoes and even current knit ones can’t match.

With the proper aftermarket insole, I really feel the difference in how these shoes help me ride even better, faster, and longer than my other top-ranked shoes.

Trek’s take on knit road bike shoes stands apart in fashion and function from other knit or knit-looking ones. They look and feel quite special and expensive, and they are both.

If the white Trek RSL Knit pair I tested didn’t take so much attention to keep clean and their multi-season durability wasn’t an open question, I’d willingly spend the US$500, £400, €450 King’s ransom they command. They’d be my first choice whenever it’s dry and above 50F/10C outside.

They’re just that good.

As it is, I can almost justify buying and saving them for those beautiful, long, demanding spring and summer days in the saddle when I want to ride my best kit.


Nearly every two-dial, performance-level road shoe these days has a stiff outsole. The Trek RSL Knit is no different.

Yet, power transfer is also about how efficiently the shoes move with your feet and that stiff outsole to get the power from your legs into the pedals throughout your pedal stroke. And the better your feet fit in the shoes, the better they’ll move with them.

In the pair I tested, the Trek RSL Knit combined a heel cup that seemed tailored to the shape of my heel from top to bottom.

The balls of my feet were comfortably held in place by a stretchy mesh fabric Trek calls METNET, which is a wonky name for metatarsal netting.

And then there’s the knit upper, which extends from the toes to halfway up the front of your ankle area. It fits like a support sock from your forefoot back.

Narrow and thin synthetic material strips hold the BOA dials and lace guides. They attach at the shoe’s edges and rest on top of the knit when you dial in your shoe, so they don’t interfere with the support sock feeling you get from the knit upper.

The metatarsal netting (left) shapes to the balls of your feet, while the closure strips don’t interfere with the knit’s support sock feel. 

Together, the stiff outsole, tailored heel cup, stretchy METNET, and support sock create a sensation of a unified fit with the unique contours of my feet. That gave me a more direct relationship with my pedals than I’ve felt before.

That’s what efficient power transfer is all about.

The Trek RSL Knit’s sock-like feel contours the tops of my feet, eliminating any potential hot spots. They are more comfortable than most of my work and dress shoes, then again, I don’t own a US$500 pair of work or dress shoes, nor do I train in the ones I have.

At the front of the RSL knit, there’s plenty of room for my toes to move side to side and above without feeling disconnected from the wrapped feeling I get from these shoes across the rest of my feet.

A standard-sized, sturdy bumper surrounds the front of the toes and sides of the large and small ones. And there are sufficient, non-replaceable pads at the front and back of the outsole.

Of course, the upper is highly breathable with all that knit area. Combining that with two relatively large vents under your toes makes the Trek RSL Knit a summer, late spring, and early fall road when temps are 50F/10C or more. I did wear them in March when it was a few degrees below that, but my feet were too cool, even with Merino wool socks.

Don’t Like: When I first tried on the Trek RSL Knit shoes, I had two reactions: Where’s my shoe horn, and do we have any Scotchgard in the house?

Until the knit upper above my midfoot loosened up, I had to use a shoehorn to get into these Treks. After wearing them a half-dozen times, I could pull them on without one, thanks in part to what looks like a ramp to slide the bottom of your heel into the shoe.

That on-ramp is a rather ingenious solution, but the need for one got me thinking – will the knit upper continue to stretch to where the support-sock feeling turns into a worn-sock one? After three months and a few dozen times wearing them, they don’t seem to have stretched any further, but we’ll see.

While I couldn’t find any Scotchgard or another stain-repellent fabric spray, Trek assured me that the RSL Knit uppers clean up with soap and water. So far, they have, but I also haven’t taken them on any dirty rides.

Every pair of white shoes I’ve ever worn requires extra care to keep clean. Most of those with synthetic uppers will clean up from dirt pretty well, less so from scuffs. Wearing white is definitely a fashion statement. Given my choice, I’d go with the good-looking black Trek RSL Knit option.

A more functional unknown is how well the lace guides will hold up and maintain their shape over time. They’re made of pliable nylon similar to that on other knit shoes rather than a stiffer plastic used in most road cycling shoes.

When you tighten the RSL Knit’s dials, the tension on the laces roughly halves the width of the guides, reducing the space between the laces that cross the tops of your feet. While this hasn’t created any hot spots for me yet, I don’t know how well the guides will maintain the position of the laces after a season or two of tightening and loosening.

Like most cycling shoes, the insoles included with the Trek RSL Knit don’t provide enough arch support for my feet. Shoes from Shimano, Northwave, and some others come with multiple arch wedges or insole options, but these Treks don’t. For the price the RSL Knit sells for, they should.

Knit Comparison: Before reviewing the Trek RSL Knit shoes, I’d previously worn or tested the knit or knit-like DMT SH10, Specialized S-Works Ares, and Rapha Pro Team road shoes.

The DMT and Specialized shoes have a lot of knit material in the uppers, but they depend a good deal more on other materials for the shoe’s function.

From the left: DMT SH10, Specialized S-Works Ares, and Trek RSL Knit

DMT uses a durable coating on the outside of the lower half of its knit upper to protect the shoe. There’s also a closed-cell liner material on most of the inside of the upper. The only place where the knit is both uncoated and unlined is above your middle three toes.

The Specialized S-Works Ares has more knit area than the DMT SH10 but covers about 2/3rds of the knit with sturdy flaps that support its dials, laces, and guides. The dials are also closer to the centers of your feet than most road bike shoes I’ve tested or seen.

The Ares has a pretty heavy seam that’s uncomfortable to rub against around the opening and down through the knit area.

Big seams around the opening and down the knit upper of Specialized Ares

While both shoes have ample toe box room, they are snug across the forefoot, and there’s no knit or mesh to provide any give to the inside or outside balls of my feet. While I like a snug fit, these two models run narrower than most in the forefoot.

The Rapha Pro Team is a great-performing, stylish, knit-looking shoe that actually uses a woven polyester upper material instead.

Rapha Pro Team road shoes

Compared to the Trek RSL Knit, none of these shoes fully takes advantage of having a knit upper or integrates it into the design the way the Trek shoes do. The knit’s primary purpose seems to be for ventilation and appeal.

Indeed, the DMT and Specialized shoes seem to compensate for their use of the knit material by coating, lining, or covering a large portion of it.

Trek appears to have learned that knit shoes are not just about offering better-ventilated shoes but also improving power transfer and comfort.

You can buy the Trek RSL Knit road cycling shoes using these links to Trek and Sigma Sports.


Specialized S-Works Torch – Widening for comfort yet as stiff as ever

Specialized S-Works Torch

Performance Rating: 1

Whenever a new model of one of the best bike shoes is introduced, as is the case with the Specialized S-Works Torch, the first question that comes up is how it differs from its predecessors.

With the S-Works 6 and 7 being two of the best-performing shoes over the years, Specialized established a dynasty of sorts with the S-Works road cycling shoe line. While I’m not privy to any sales data, it’s probably a good bet that Specialized has sold a crapton of them to road enthusiasts and racers. I certainly see a lot of them on the road.

For those of us who’ve owned S-Works shoes, like fellow tester Nate and me, who have both the 6 and 7, and may need or, more likely, want a fresh pair of shoes every 15,000 miles or so, we’d like to know if the new S-Works Torch fits and performs the same, better or worse than what we’ve become accustomed to.

And for those who are looking to step into one of the best road bike shoes or perhaps switch from a pair they’ve not been totally satisfied with, the second question is how the Specialized S-Works Torch compares to models from other brands.

I’ll try to cover those two questions in this review about what Nate and I liked and didn’t like about the newest S-Works top-of-the-line shoe.

From what we agree and disagree on, I hope you can find what aligns with your preferences and help you choose between the S-Works Torch and other models of the best road bike shoes we’ve tested.

Like: For the labeled size (we tested a size EU 43.0), the S-Works Torch feels a bit longer than the S-Works 6 and 7. Whereas the 7 had a pointier toe box, a characteristic that might appeal to those with far longer big and second toes than the rest, the Torch is more rounded for those with piggies with more similar lengths.

The length and size are the same between the Torch and 7 and perhaps a half size longer than the 6; just recognize that you may feel more room between the front of your shoes and the 3rd, 4th, and pinkie toes with the Torch than you did with the 7.

While the S-Works Torch’s side-to-side toe box room is one of the most generous of dual Boa shoes, it’s slightly less than what the 7 provided and more than what we experienced with the 6.

Specialized S-Works Torch

S-Works Torch (above) gets a protective toe bumper lacking on the S-Works 7

You do get far more protection against scuffing the upper at the front of the Torch than the 7. A rubbery, bumper-type piece about the height of your toes wraps that area of the shoe’s outside.

Moving on to the forefoot, the balls of my size D feet didn’t even touch the insides of Torch shoes. It’s clearly wider in this area than the 7 or 6. While Nate and I really liked that Spesh did away with the Velcro strap that was intended to adjust the forefoot shoe width but really didn’t do the job, I’m disappointed that they didn’t extend the lower Boa lace down to the forefoot the way Shimano, Lake, and others do to better adjust the width in this area.

This is where we start to get into personal fit preferences. While my feet are a few millimeters wider and longer than Nate’s, this added forefoot width didn’t even merit a mention in Nate’s testing. I also prefer a racier, more glove-like fit despite riding nowhere near as fast as Nate.

Go figure.

At the mid-foot, the Torch is clearly wider than the 7 and more similar to the 6. The Torch has one of the widest forefoot areas among the dual Boa, performance-level road bike shoes we’ve tested.

Again, Nate liked this after finding the 7 a bit too narrow. Despite my wider foot and probably because I like a snugger fit, I preferred the 7’s forefoot width.

Of course, once at the midfoot and continuing up toward the opening of the shoe, the Boa dials allow you to snug the shoe as much or as little as you like. And here you see big changes between the S-Works Torch and its predecessors, which we think are all for the better.

Specialized S-Works Torch

Differences between the S-Works Torch (left) and 7 in the tongue edge, top wire width and guides, upper material, and Velcro strap

While the S-Works proprietary Boa dials are the same as with the 7, the greater distance between the top dial and hook on the Torch gives you a more functional lace. That’s because Specialized removed a lot of material between the left and right side of the upper from the midfoot up toward the foot opening of the Torch.

This allows you to put your feet into and or take them out of these new S-Works shoes more easily by unwinding the dials rather than having to take the laces out of the hooks the way you had to with the 7 and 6. However, it’s still not as easy to get in and out of them as nearly every other top road cycling shoe that uses Li2 or IP1 Boas, which fully release the wire tension by just pulling up the dials.

With this wider opening, the tongue plays a bigger role in the fit and comfort of the Torch. Tightening the dial, especially the top one, feels more like you’re bringing the tongue and upper closer to your foot, similar to how the 6 worked, rather than bringing the sides of the shoe closer together, as we experienced with the 7.

The Torch’s tongue has two wire loops on top of it to keep the wire laces in place. It’s also comfortably padded and, notably different from its immediate predecessor, has softened and shortened the edge that felt quite rigid and high against the front of your foot between your ankles.

And then there’s the upper material itself, also a big improvement from that rugged, plastic-like synthetic Dynema used in the 6 and 7. The S-Works Torch uppers are more supple and comfortable, making them on par with those used by all but the leather ones used in Lake shoes.

Don’t Like: On the hottest days, and we certainly had our share of those when I was testing these, my feet were hot in the Torch (Hmmm? Something in a name?). I’ve not had this issue in other shoes before. Perhaps the new upper material or the small, single vent in the sole between my first two toes was to blame.

The 7 had a slightly larger vent more to the center of the toes and much larger vents under the arch and just below the heel.

Specialized S-Works Torch

Far fewer outsole vents in the Torch (left) than the S-Works 7?

On the contrary, Nate found S-Works Torch hot weather ventilation more than ample and noted that he’d have to wear heavier socks for shoulder season riding due to the shoe’s lack of insulation. Doubling down, he welcomed the contribution of Torch’s added room for those heavier socks and its adjustability to still wear lighter ones in the summer months.

We strongly agreed that Specialized could also do better and be more competitive with the Torch by supplying insoles of different arch support heights the way brands like Shimano and others do now with their highest-priced road and MTB shoes. While most of the best road bike shoes are built with flat arches these days, the thin insoles that come with the S-Works shoes are merely cosmetic, and you are forced to spend money on an aftermarket insole like their Body Geometry brand ones.

Yes, you can move those insoles between your road and MTB shoes or into whatever road shoes you buy next. But, it shouldn’t be necessary to make the added investment for shoes that already cost as much as the S-Works Torch.

The heel cup has always been, dare I say, the S-Works’ Achilles heel. The back end of the shoe around the upper heel and below the ankles got wider and taller from the 6 to the 7. With the Torch, those areas get even wider than the 7 but shorter again like the 6.

Specialized S-Works Torch Ankle profile

The Torch (top) lowers the shoe height of the 7 below the ankles

These changes eliminate the interference and rubbing that came with the design of the 6 and 7 shoes, especially for those whose calluses weren’t established from early-season riding or who hadn’t worn shoes with their narrower heel cups.

Nate and I disagree on whether the Torch’s wider heel area has gone too far in the S-Works shoe evolution. While we agree that the Torch keeps our heels down, I experienced too much side-to-side movement. I felt less control and developed a blister on one of my heels during a long ride.

Nate also acknowledged that the wider Torch heel cup led to lateral motion, but it wasn’t a control or blistering problem for him.

If you do your own cleat installation as Nate does, you may find it a bit frustrating on these Torch shoes. The sockets in the soles of the shoes slide and rotate so freely that you need first to capture them with the cleat screws and then keep outward tension on the sockets as you turn the screws. While they remain in place once everything is bolted down, Nate found it to be a rather fiddly experience getting them both tight and in the right alignment.

Overall, we found the S-Works Torch to be a very comfortable pair of high-performance cycling shoes. The outsole is as stiff, and the power transfer is as good as any previous S-Works or other models we’ve ridden.

At the same time, the Torch is more comfortable in many ways than the S-Works 6 and 7 that came before it. If you like roomier shoes, they are also one of the most comfortable dual Boa shoes.

It’s certainly not perfect. Nate or I took issue with its lack of forefoot width adjustment, ventilation, heel cup width, and proprietary Boa dials.

There’s no doubt that the Specialized S-Works Torch is a top performer. For Nate’s fit and comfort preferences, it’s the shoe for him. I prefer a more tailored fit like the Shimano RC 9’s latest iteration.

Price and Availablity: If the Torch fits your preferences and US$450, £285, €367 MSRP/RRP budget, you can order it by clicking on these links to my recommended stores Performance Bike and Sigma Sports.


Shimano S-Phyre RC903 – Below the surface changes bring it to the top

Performance Rating: 1

While very similar to their immediate predecessors, the latest Shimano S-Phyre RC903 road cycling shoes have changes below the surface that make them a noticeably better performer and more comfortable than their highly-rated predecessors. I rank the new S-Phyres among the best cycling shoes we’ve tested and the ones I’m most likely to put on for a ride on the road or trainer.

Like: On the surface, it looks like Shimano has made only superficial, small modifications to the shoes. Most obvious is the RC903’s use of multiple tiny eyelets to direct the closure lace in a figure 8 pattern in the area above your toes instead of the regular-sized plastic guides the lace runs through on the previous RC902 model.

Changes to the lace guides and fabric near the toes on the RC903 (left) are the most obvious.

There’s also a stretchy, sock-like fabric running atop your toes between these front eyelets; the RC902 used the same upper material in this area as in the rest of the shoes. And if you look closely, you’ll notice a modified pattern of pin-hole-sized perforations across the uppers of the RC903.

Both models’ heels look to be protected with almost the same bumper profile and thickness as before. True, the new RC903 bumpers have slightly raised ribs along the sides of the heels. Indeed, the entire outside surface of the shoes, from the ankles to the heels, has an appealingly shinier and perhaps more reflective finish than before.

The RC903 (above) adds some ribs and shine to the similarly profiled heel bumpers.

However, the design, materials, and vents in the shoe’s bottom or “outsole” appear unchanged. Likewise, the same dual, Li2 dial BOA closure system with the upper dial attached to the end of a crossover strap still controls the fit of the shoes.

The signature blue color that has long made this S-Phyre stand out in a crowd remains along with classic black and white options and my favorite, the In The Know Cycling red. (How did they know to do that?)

Even the single-digit increase in the model number from RC902 to RC903 and the almost identical weight (242 to 244 grams on my scale for a single EU43 shoe) suggests little has changed.

Going below the surface and actually putting my feet into and riding the new Shimano S-Phyre RC903, I immediately noticed two changes that make them as good as any road cycling shoes we’ve tested and better than most for both fast, hard group rides and races and long days of endurance riding.

I previously rated the RC902 model equal to the best road cycling shoes for their overall performance. But while their snug fit and stiff outsole seemed to transfer your leg power to the pedals as efficiently as any shoe we’ve worn, my fellow tester Nate and I found them less comfortable than other shoes on 3+ hour rides.

The Shimano S-Phyre RC903 changes that. They have more room both above and to the sides of your toes than the earlier model while still giving you a glove-like fit with no pressure points from the forefoot back. This makes them as comfortable as any shoes I’ve reviewed on 3+ hour rides.

And while I’ve not yet worn them outside on the warmest summer days, I never found the prior models hot in those temps and expect the softer, permeable fabric above your toes will allow them to breathe even more inside the RC903.

The second consequential below-the-surface change comes at the back of the shoes. On my feet, the RC903 feels more tailored to the shape of my heels from the middle – or just above where the heel’s width begins to decrease – to the top than the prior model. The lower heel cup volume had always been comfortably snug, and that seems unchanged in this latest model.

This heel cup reshaping gives me the sense that the shoes are more connected to my heels than ever during my pedal stroke’s up and forward quadrants. At the same time, I didn’t experience any challenge getting into and out of the RC903 or any change in comfort at the heels while cranking on the pedals.

Even with the added room for your toes, these Shimano S-Phyre shoes aren’t as wide as the new top-of-the-line Specialized S-Works Torch in the toe box, forefoot, or heel cup areas. That’s a plus for me as I found the Spech too roomy for my EU43 or US 9D size feet to get optimized power transfer.

On the other hand (other foot?), my fellow tester Nate who wears the same size and whose feet measure just a couple of millimeters shorter and narrower than mine, prefers the Torch’s fit and can still drop most anyone he rides with.

Shimano also makes the RC903 in a men’s wide that adds 3-4mm to the forefoot and probably is more similar in roominess up front to the Torch without the latter’s wider heel cup.

As with most shoes and cycling apparel in general, we tend to find and stay with the brands that seem to fit us best. I’ve tested a dozen brands and fit well in many of them. But I prefer the last of Shimano’s road and gravel shoes. The same goes for Nate, who wears Shimano MTB shoes but prefers the wider fit of the Specialized Torch road shoes.

If you’re new to high-performance road shoes and know that the proportions of your feet fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, the Shimano S-Phyre RC903 is definitely a shoe worth ordering and trying on.

Don’t Like: There’s little that I don’t like about the RC903s. Shimano has been one of the leaders in giving you pads of different thicknesses that you can velcro to the insole for more or less arch support. However, even with the right pad in place, I still find the Specialized Body Geometry insoles give me a smoother transition to and from the arch and along the full length of the insole.

And while I credit Shimano’s design of a crossover strap as part of the upper closure for giving me a precise, pain-point-free fit, I find you do need to be mindful to place it not too far above or below its intended position before cranking the Boa dial to get the most even pressure across your midfoot.

You can also get the RC903 in a women’s version with a unique last shape, but only sold in white. My fellow tester, Aiyana, rode and reviewed the men’s and women’s versions of the shoe to see how they differed.

Price and Availability: The Shimano S-Phyre RC903’s USD $450, £350, €407 price is also no bargain but is no more than other top-tier road cycling shoes. It’s available at these links to BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Performance Bicycle, and Sigma Sports.


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 a 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 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), with highly perforated uppers (Wire 2 Air), or in a narrow version (Wire 2S). 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 feet well; the toe box has no extra room.

Once I had the Wire’s dialed in, they seemed at one with my feet. They provided first-rate power transfer efficiency and comfort. Thanks to the screw-adjustable band, the heel hold was flawless – neither too tight nor loose. 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: Like Campagnolo, Sidi also seems fixed on its way of doing things. Unfortunately, applying that approach to their shoes makes them quite different from a growing range of equally well-performing and less costly shoe options.

The Boa dial closure system has spoiled me. I 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 lace 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, 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. 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 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 that they’re virtually indistinguishable, the Wire feels and is heavier than most by at least 50 grams per shoe. That starts to get noticeable.

The US$500 MSRP price tag Sidi for these shoes is even more noticeable, typically a US$50 to $100 price premium over the others. However, USD, GBP, and EU prices deviate from the MSRP/RRP with Sidi shoes more than others. So, if you look for them at trusted stores like those I list below, you can often find them at discounted prices. If you have a high arch, you may find you need to spend more for a more substantial insole than those provided with these shoes.

Price and Availability: USD$500, £390, €450 at these links to Amazon and Sigma Sports.


Northwave Veloce Extreme – Stiff and comfortable, but ventilation and dials a notch below the best

Northwave Veloce Extreme Road Cycling Shoes

Performance Rating: 1

Like: With a name like Veloce Extreme, Northwave is branding this shoe as the fastest in its road shoe lineup. It is certainly their flagship and highest-priced road cycling shoe model.

Toward that goal, its carbon outsole is not only very stiff but, unlike most top-of-the-line models from others, runs the full width and length of the shoes and continues up the inside arch and heel areas. I can’t imagine even the strongest sprinters flexing these soles at any point in their pedal stroke.


Yet I find the Veloce Extreme’s comfort one of its most appealing characteristics.

The wire laces close the upper with even tension across an underlap tongue fixed on the guide side and open on the dial side. The lower dial, lace, and guides that cross the forefoot also snug the vented tongue above the toes as if it had its own dedicated closure.

The tongue itself is sufficiently but not overly padded in the right areas. There’s ample room for your toes to move around, but not so much that they don’t feel part of the effort your feet put into powering your drivetrain.

The durable yet comfortable leather-like upper in white is very attractive, with the black “NW” logo on the front and dial sides of each shoe. They also appear very well constructed and sewn and have hard rubber replaceable toe and heel pads, though, from my time with them, it didn’t seem likely they would ever need to be replaced.

Don’t Like: While everyone’s heels are sized and shaped differently, the Veloce Extreme’s heel cup has more volume and is less tapered than most shoes I’ve tested. My heels don’t move much, but they also don’t feel as bolted down or wrapped as I like.

Neither of the two insole options Northwave includes with these shoes provides more than an average amount of arch support and is not enough for my feet. Unfortunately, using the popular Specialized Body Geometry aftermarket insoles like the blue ++ ones I do blocks the vents cut into outsoles under the Veloce Extreme arches. The few pinholes in the shoes’ relatively thick uppers give me minimal ventilation, even with a fan blasting on indoor trainer rides.

While I liked the even tension of the shoes’ laces, the X-Dial closure system used on these Northwaves isn’t as intuitive, functional, or slim as the BOA ones found on most top-tier shoes these days.

You do get a good tactile feel from the ridges on the half-dozen raised ramps on the edges of each dial. Turning them clockwise to tighten the laces gives you a reassuring, easy-to-feel and hear click. Each turn micro-adjusts a seemingly similar increment to what I feel on shoes with the top-tier BOA Li2 model.

To loosen a lace, you use your finger or thumb to push down on a lever positioned at the top of the platform the dial sits on that also stores the extra lace. One push gives you one notch of lace de-tensioning.

When you want to release the tension totally, you pull back on the lever while simultaneously spinning the dial backward 2-3 turns to give you enough slack to pull your foot out. Alternatively, you can pull back and hold the lower dial with your forefinger and the upper one with your thumb as you slide your foot out.

This video shows you all of that.


It’s easy to do but less efficient than just pulling up on the dial to totally release the lace tension as you do with the BOA Li2. Pulling back on the lever also feels a bit like pricking your finger at first, of course, with no blood to spoil your pretty uppers.

This Northwave dial system is better in my experience than the Sidi proprietary ones and something I quickly adapted to. But like the Sidi, it’s likely the added components in the Northwave dial system, along with the more expansive outsole and thicker upper, make the Veloce Extreme at least 50 grams per shoe heavier than all but the similarly priced Sidi Wire 2.

Price and Availability: $300, €300.


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, feeling 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 in summer.

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 bike shoes you could 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 several 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-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 pair of real leather dress shoes, you need to wear these real leather cycling shoes 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 CX332 uses Lake’s Race last. Its toe box and heel cup run on the narrow side, and the foot volume is limited. I’m fine with that, but most models, including the new S-Works Torch, have gone to wider toe boxes without losing the performance fit. The CX332 also comes in a wide version with a Speedplay hole pattern.

Lake makes other models with different lasts. The Competition last in the CX238 has more toe box room with the same tight heel, while the Sport and Comfort lasts have progressively more room but are better suited for less performance and more comfort.

You do pay a slight performance penalty for the leather upper on the CX332. They feel more flexible than the synthetic leather almost every other top shoe uses these days, so they give a little bit more on the upstroke.

Price and Availability: USD$225, £200, €260 at this link to Competitive Cyclist and 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 securely holds his heels in place.

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 previously wear Giros.

The balls of Miles’ feet feel secure – not too tight or loose – in the Imperial. 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 his book. The screen-like mesh and faux leather upper that give these Giros a distinctive look are 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.

These are his go-to shoes ror a century or all-day ride in the heat or in the mountains.

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’ average height arches. Miles advises that an aftermarket insole will be needed if you have naturally high arches, as fellow testers Nate and I do.

Additionally, the uppers in the Imperial have a bit more room than Miles’ other shoes. 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, £399, €333 at these links to BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Performance Bike, Amazon, and Sigma Sports.


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 a 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 it 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 how your 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, touchless 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 come 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 is 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 shades to give a zebra-type look. For the traditionalist, there is 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, gives you a shoe with relatively less volume than others I’ve tested.

None of this is an issue if you’re looking to optimize performance. For those looking to ride hard sometimes, 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, £295, €?315 at these links to Rapha US, Rapha UK, and Sigma Sports.


Bont Vaypor 2023 – While still stiff, a new Bont design with more comfort

Performance Rating: 2

Like: The Bont Vaypor 2023 departs in some important ways from the Vaypor S shoes and other Bont road shoe models like the Riot and Helix that make the brand’s shoes so different than other road cycling shoes. From our testing, my fellow reviewer Adam and I find most of the changes to be improvements for road cycling enthusiasts.

Unlike the Vaypor S, whose carbon outsole extends above the bottom of your foot to completely cover the sides of your forefoot, midfoot, toes, and heels, the Vaypor 2023 outsole has a far lower profile between the toes and heels.

More crudely, while the Vaypor S sole shape has long been described as resembling a bathtub, the Vaypor 2023 has one more similar to a shower base with the front and rear ends of a tub.

The Vaypor 2023 outsole extends about 10mm up the side of your forefoot and progressively increases to about 20mm at the arch area. This is still about 5 to 10mm taller than the height of most top-tier cycling shoes. The uppers are sewn over these extended areas.

But your heel and toe areas are still fully covered and protected by the Vaypor 2023 carbon outsoles.

Outsole and upper differences between the Vaypor S (left) and Vaypor 2023 are clear. (Source: Bont Cycling)

A soft, leather-like, attractive upper with a traditional center tongue wraps your feet above the sole. Its many pinholes are larger than in most shoes and keep our feet well-ventilated despite the absence of vent slots in the outsoles. There’s also cushioning foam on the inside of the shoes, adding comfort between your arches and ankles and into the upper portion of the heel cup.

The cup itself is nicely tapered in a way that keeps our heels in place. You can still heat mold the heel cups, though neither Adam nor I felt the need to do so.

For the Vaypor 2023, Bont also does away with the Vaypor S’ stiff upper and burrito wrap top flap where a BOA dial reels in the lace that reaches to a guide below your ankle.

With all of these deviations from traditional Bont road shoe designs, you might wonder whether the company has gone soft with the Vaypor 2023.

Not from our testing. Adam, who at 6′ 4″/193cm and 250lbs/115kg calls himself a “larger guy,” didn’t feel the Vaypor 2023 flex at all when he stood up, not something he can say about other carbon sole cycling shoes he’s worn. While hard to scientifically measure, he also felt like he was putting out more power when riding with the Vaypor 2023.

Instead, these changes drop a fair bit of weight and make the Vaypor 2023 one of the lightest shoes we’ve tested by anywhere from 10 grams/pair, an immaterial difference, to 200 grams/pair, a difference you’ll notice at least when walking in them.

Don’t Like: The new Bont Vaypor 2023 is not without its quirks and disappointments.

Foremost among them, this model has a nearly squared-off toe area that contrasts both functionally and visually with the rounded shape of most cycling shoes. While this should give you extra toe box room for your pinkies, Adam’s and my toes both felt snugger than we would have liked.

Both of us followed the new sizing method specifically developed for this model. After trying them, however, the recommended sizes are probably a half (Adam) to full (me) size smaller than allows for ample toe box room.

Compared to top shoes from other brands, many of which have increased their toe box and overall shoe volume, the Vaypor 2023 has less of both in the recommended sizes we wore.

Bont uses the BOA Li2 closure system on this Vaypor model, similar to what you find on the best cycling shoes. We like where the dials are placed and how they avoid any hot spots.

But the opening for the tongue looks and feels too wide for my foot, especially across the midfoot. It adds to the sense that these shoes don’t have sufficient volume and make my feet look fat.

While Bont makes a better effort than most brands by including medium and high arch insoles with embedded carbon elements and a raised metatarsal button, neither of us found they offered enough arch and forefoot support or as much comfort as our aftermarket ones.

Price and Availability: US$400, £384  €400.


DMT SH10 Road Shoes – Warm weather, knit, narrow fit

Performance Rating: 4

Like: I’ve always thought about knit cycling shoes as an extra pair that you’d wear primarily on hot summer days. Going no further than checking them out in the store, they seemed like a light, great-looking, nice-to-have luxury for those who enjoy and can afford such things.

I was initially attracted to DMT’s top-of-the-line KRO shoes. The white ones, of course. When I tried them on, they felt like I was wearing thin, super-attractive, and super-expensive socks, the kind one might wear in soft leather loafers to a cocktail party at a nice ocean-side resort if I was one who did such things.

So, not me.

But, with the introduction of the DMT SH10, I saw possibilities. First, it has structurally supported heel counters or heel cups. The KRO lacks this, and wearing it even in the store, my heel moved freely and seemed unprotected.

DMT SH10 road shoes

Second, the SH10 is just as gorgeous as the KRO, but looks like it would cool my feet more evenly than the KRO. The SH10 has a uniform, 3D-printed look knit upper, essentially giving it perforations across the entire knit upper and under the toes.

DMT SH10 road shoes

This suggests to me an even better airflow than the KRO that has cooling perforations in the upper, and a mesh screen in the outsole across its toes, and another large mesh screen under the arch.

And third, the SH10 is priced competitively with dual Boa, top-of-the-line road cycling shoes from other brands. The KRO is even more expensive.

So, I bit.

Actually, I had to wait in anticipation since the DMT SH10 was first introduced in Europe and wasn’t available in the US, where I ride until early 2023.

When they did arrive, it was winter, and my hot indoor trainer rides with a hard-blowing fan were the closest I could come to a summer simulation. I completed testing the SH10 in the spring on some surprisingly warm April days, a few cooler ones, and even a day with pop-up rain showers.

Don’t Like: After I transition to the upstroke and as I’m kicking forward between the upstroke and downstroke, I feel like I’m giving up some efficiency as my heel isn’t held in place very well. While, as mentioned, the SH10 does have a structured heel counter, it has more volume and isn’t as rigid or formed in the heel cup area compared to other dual-Boa, comparatively priced shoes we’ve tested.

At the same time, the DMT SH10’s forefoot is as narrow as any we’ve tested. While the knit upper provides some give, I still felt a bit of pressure from the shoes at the outsides of the balls of my feet. And I wear a rather standard width, size EU43 shoe in most brands.

The length feels right, and there is sufficient, if not ample, room in the toe box. And like many cycling shoes, these DMTs start with a very flat arch, so you’ll want to add some aftermarket insoles if your feet need more support there.

While the comparative last characteristics chart above shows the details, the DMT SH10 fit is closest to other Italian brands like the Giro and Sidi.

The bottoms of my feet became less comfortable the longer my ride. After a couple of hours in these shoes and despite tightening the Boa dials appropriately, it feels like my feet are moving around too much.

On days cooler than about 55F/13C with any kind of wind blowing, my feet were a bit chilly. They did dry out and clean up quite easily when I got caught in a shower.

One nit to pick. DMT outsoles come with a 4th hole between the three holes you get for standard cleats on most shoes. This can be used with some Look cleats to help you replace them without their positioning.

If you don’t use Look cleats, or if you do but don’t want to take advantage of this feature, you’ll want to remove the small, hard-to-access bolt in the outsole that the screw goes into. If not, you’lll hear it jiggling while you ride as I did until I took it to my shop, and we went on an internet treasure hunt to figure it out.

Clearly, the DMT SH10 is not a 3-season race shoe in most climates.

However, if you ride in parts of the world where it’s warm much of the year, have narrow feet, don’t go on day-long rides, and aren’t pushing to get every last watt of efficiency out of your shoes, these give you a cool and good looking option.

Price and Availability: You can order the DMT SH10 for US$250, £200, €260 from Amazon and Sigma Sports.

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 bike 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 extends 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.

Nate and I wore these shoes, but neither of us could feel that tightening the dial changed the arch that already seemed 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 eight 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 those in most of the 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$280, £150, €255 at these links to Merlin and Amazon.


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. The Course Air Lite XZ also has a cushiony, open-cell foam insole that allows the air to flow through. For cooler days, there is 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 us with relatively high arches the support we need.

The upper on the Course Air Lite XZ is probably synthetic but feels like 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, plugging 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.

While being quite comfortable, the upper’s soft material 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 had 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 I 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 laces too long for my liking. It took 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 these shoes’ less-than-top-rated efficiency and comfort seems hard to justify.

Price and Availability: US$400 at this link to Competitive Cyclist and Amazon.


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 style, color, and various features that I 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 bike shoes doesn’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 to a 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 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 always move 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 bike shoes come in at least one or two colors.

You’ll catch a motorist’s attention by 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, your shoes get stretched out, 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 testing all sorts of road bike shoes, I must admit that I would have answered no to both questions as a fellow road cycling enthusiast.

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, one about how training and technique, and another about 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 bike shoes can help you do the same distance with less effort or get more distance with the same effort when compared to wearing a less efficient pair.

Frankly, I should have known better than to overlook the performance benefits you get from the best cycling shoes 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 room to wiggle your toes, and allow you to tighten the buckles at the top of a run easily, it doesn’t much matter how right you got 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, tactics you’ve planned, or the training you’ve done. The same goes whether you are racing, skiing moguls, taking a non-stop 15-minute top-to-bottom run, or skiing deep powder.

Having the right gear on your feet is also critical in football (aka soccer), basketball, track, ice skating, 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 the 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 many of my fellow road cycling enthusiasts and I 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 power, comfort, endurance – as many pieces of gear or kit you might ride that cost much more.

Expect to pay as much as 400-450 US$, £ or € for the best cycling shoes 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.


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 shoes that look great and don’t perform well.

Competition or comfort?

Here again, you can get both – shoes with a very stiff and light bottom sole (known as an “outsole” 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 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 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 site run the gamut from serious enthusiasts willing to pay more for performance to those who 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 bike 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 bike shoes usually gets you better performance. 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 where 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 also starting to be seen on value shoes. 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 two 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 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 two 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 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 shoes 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, though mostly with standard men’s 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?

Like other types of shoes, cycling shoes of the same size from different brands will vary in length, width, and fit. Most road bike shoes are labeled in EU sizes. Brands provide size guides to help you close in on the sizes they use on their shoes compared to the sizes 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 closest to the EU size. Some will also give you a corresponding length in centimeters and instructions on measuring 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, arch height, and toe-box room are unique to the brand or a 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. 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 road cycling shoe, I say more about how each 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 will likely result in 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, Trek, 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.

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’ss a good video from Art’s and another from GCN that tells you how. It’s pretty straightforward.

And if you plan to get a pair of shoes that can be heat molded for a customized fit, know that the process 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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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 sayingyou’vee 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.


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

Efficient power transfer depends 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 works 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 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 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.

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.


The design of a road cycling enthusiast’s shoe, as with any cycling gear, is mostly focused on delivering the desired performance level for a targeted cost and partly on delivering a certain look. Some designs work well in achieving 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 will perform better than those that don’t. 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, bikes, and cycling clothing.

So while I will lay out the major design criteria here, you should only be aware of them and choose 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 bike 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, 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 separate men’s and women’s shoes 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. Specialist companies make these insoles 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 taken over the performance road cycling shoe market with only a few exceptions (e.g. Sidi and Northwave shoes). Different models of Boa closures used on cycling shoes 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, closing 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 lower dial to the guides further down to your forefoot at the base of your toes. Older shoes use a Velcro strap to help you synch up that area over your toes. Some 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 the 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 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 unless you stop, you obviously can’t adjust them during a ride the way you can with dial closures.

Ratchets, buckles, and Velcro straps are the traditional closure systems used mostly on value shoes these days. You will sometimes find straps combined with dial and wire closures 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 synthetic leather-like material, and others use a synthetic mesh.

One-piece uppers reduce 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 summer temperatures, 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 potential causes, as shown in this chart from an article by 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 of 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 have found over the years that you just have difficulty 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 you don’t 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 standard widths, and others are sold in wide sizes.

More importantly, the lasts differ from shoe to shoe and tell you much more about how well a shoe will fit than simply ordering a 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 theywon’tt 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 a moto ran over his bike, and no other bikes (or running shoes) were immediately available. While the best road cycling shoes are not designed for running, and few are great to walk in for long, some I’ve noted in my reviews may be less desirable than others when you are walking around while in a café or on a bathroom break.

Style – We can all judge this for ourselves. I suggest getting 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, white, and 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.


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.


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. Many of us transfer the insoles we already have 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 prices often depend on typical retail strategies – inventory, margins, promotions, etc.


*      *      *      *      *

Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written, or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve


  • 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, 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, 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?

  • 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.


    • 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!

  • I have tried many shoes, but if you have large, wide, flat feet with a high instep there is in my opinion only one suitable shoe: Lake CX238-X Wide.

    Very comfortable, reasonable price. As a small compromise you have to make with problem feet in favor of comfort is the slightly lower power transmission.

  • Patrick McQueen

    Quick question on fit between the Specialized Torch and Shimano RC903 – did all the testers wear the same size between those two shoes? Thinking about switching from the Torch to the RC903 and curious how true to size the two models are. Thanks!

    • Patrick, There are 6 of us testing gear now and, as you might expect, we all have different size feet. So getting and testing multiple pairs of the same shoes isn’t always practical.

      Nate and I are the closest, both wear EU 43 and my feet are actually a couple of mm longer and wider than his. That said, he prefers Specialized, liked the S-Works 6 a lot, the 7 not so much and finds the Torch wider and more like the 6. He didn’t care for the fit of the Shimano. I didn’t like the fit of the S-Works 6, did like the 7 which was slightly narrower than the Torch and preferred the RC902 and 903 to the Torch. The Torch is definitely wider than the RC903 from heel to toe and Nate, who once again has a slightly narrower and shorter foot prefers that while I prefer the snugger fit of the RC903 from heel to forefoot and really like that they’ve added room in the toe box. It’s a preference thing.

      I’d suggest you order a RC903, try it on and if you don’t like it. send it back. Steve

  • Given the challenge of trying on many different shoes, this is a great resource! I’ve been riding the Shimano XC9 S-Phyre shoe on my mountain bike for a few years. They fit perfectly, so after getting back into road biking I bought a pair of the RC902’s (the RC903’s just came out and these were 50% off). Unfortunately, they were massively more narrow than the XC9’s. I’m not sure if this is an XC to road difference, but I also read that the RC902’s were considerably narrowed compared to the RC901’s. I returned the RC902’s and bought the RC902-wide’s. These are still way too narrow (pressure point on the end of the 5th metatarsal). I’ve never had to buy wide shoes before, but I guess my foot is kind of wide in that area. Anyone have suggestions for what I should try next? Do the RC903’s (or RC903-wide’s) fit the same as the RC902’s (or RC902-wide’s)? Should I switch brands?

    • Ian, Yes, the XC9 does have a different last than the RC9. The RC903 has more toe box room than the RC902 but I don’t find them any wider across the forefoot where you seem to be having a problem with the RC902 and 902W. You could look at the Last Comparison Chart at the top of the recommendations section where I show the relative differences between the shoes to see your options.

      My fellow tester Nate wears the Shimano XC9 off-road and prefers the fit of the Specialized S-Work Torch over the RC9 last. That might also work for you. Steve

      • That makes sense. I tried the Torch 3.0 in the store, and found the same problem with width. I would assumed the s-work torch would have the same (or even narrower) width? Maybe I should try the Bontragers or Lakes. I wonder where the wide versions of the shoes would fall in the last comparison chart (looking at Lake’s website, the CX332s come in wide and extra wide).

  • I’m using SWORKS 6 wide. I want to buy SWORKS Torch. Due to the increase of 4mm of the sole do you recommend me to buy normal or wide Torch model ?


    • Gabich, I’d suggest you try the Torch wide. The standard 6 and Torch are close to the same so I expect the wide will be as well. Steve

  • Your review is very helpful for those who are not familiar with cycling shoes. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great review, but I would like if you could add score for shoes or rather test another size especially is someone is between sizes and has a Wide version because then for example Shimano and Specialized (only available in black colour) doesn’t do half size just jump by one size up and this is why for example I’m ok with Shimano 903 Wide 46 but Specialized Torch 46 is little bit to big. It could be good if that information would be included in final score in next revision of similar reviews in the future.
    Again thanks for

  • Hi !!

    I´ve recently returned a pair of RC903 wide shoes in 45. I use 44 in Specialized and 44,5 in Shimano, but 45 feels too loose. Besides, Shimano puts more textile in the upper, insole width between versions seems to be the same. 93mm if I remember correctly, the same as my Torch 3 Specialized standard wide.

    If you have squared wide feet I´ll go with the standard Torch half a size lower. Shimano forefoot is a little bit pointier.

  • Hi Steve – It sounds like you and I prefer the same sort of fairly tight high performance shoe fit (i.e., I too found the new Torch a big too roomy). Did you consider the narrow version that Specialized offers? Apparently it is the same fit as the prior Sworks 7 shoes but with the updated Torch features.
    Im going to try the new shimano shoes or give the narrow Torch a try…

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