The majority of cycling shoes don’t look like any other style of shoe. To the untrained eye they can look ugly, uncomfortable and a little off putting when you see the ritual Sunday morning clip clop of cleats on tarmac during your Sunday coffee stop. But we’re here to tell you the contrary and show you why these features are essential. Of course, you can cycle in just about any pair of shoes you like but we’re here to tell you that a pair of proper cycling shoes will transform your ride, be more efficient and more comfortable than any other pair of shoes.
You can read below what differentiates the wide variety of cycling shoes there are on the market, but first let’s take a look at some of the men’s and women’s models that are just a click away. A mixture of on and off-road shoes, they all have elements of the key features listed above, take a note of how the prices change due to these subtle differences and see which pair piques your interest.
Best Men's Cycling Shoes Reviewed
1. Fizik R5 Road Cycling Shoe
What is immediately apparent when looking at the Fizik R5 road shoe is the minimalist design and functionality that brings the features of a high-quality shoe, down to a more reasonable price point. As mentioned earlier, you pay a premium for different features so Fizik have compiled a mishmash of different perks to suit the price it is retailed at.
This means that a breathable synthetic upper and carbon reinforced nylon outsole leads the way in terms of premium features but is then offset by a bog-standard strap rather than a BOA® fastening system so to keep you from breaking the bank. This makes the R5 an ideal combination of performance and affordability. It’s simplistic nature and all road design means that it suits every rider and every ride from novice to pro, tarmac to gravel. It also takes a minimalist approach to aesthetic, available in a classy one color design which includes black, navy, red and white colorways.
2. Giro Men’s Cycling Shoes
Giro are one of the markets most recognisable shoe manufacturers and all this wealth of knowledge and experience goes into every shoe they make. With this model, Giro have gone back to basics to make the archetypal all-round road shoe fit for any rider and any road surface. A breathable and comfortable shoe with support in all the right places and a nylon outsole, this shoe is the perfect one model fits all shoe.
A huge perk to these shoes is the fact they have universal cleat comparability, so can fit two-bolt road cleats, three-bolt SPD styles and four-bolt speedplay cleats, meaning you can ride whatever pedal you fancy. As mentioned earlier, sizing is important when looking at a shoe and the general consensus with Giro is a go a size bigger than you would otherwise fit due to how skinny the shoes tend to be. The three-strap system keeps it in the double digits, and you get the choice between black, white and Fluro colorways.
3. Sidi Trace 2 MTB Shoes
The first MTB shoes in this roundup are a classy looking high-performance pair from Italian aces Sidi. The proof is in the price and the price is due to the materials and features Sidi have peppered this shoe with. The upper is constructed with a multitude of overlapping layers with different physical and mechanical properties which give it a stronger resistance to rips, lacerations, stretching and color fading, crucial when you’re wanting to use them over and over again out on the trails.
Sidi have some of the best fastening systems in the game and not only are their wire frames and buckles tough, they are also replaceable. Performance and comfort are covered by a super light sole and aggressive tread pattern, ideal for use when you find yourself off the bike. A reinforced heel keeps your foot in the best position for comfort and power output when you’re really powering through the gears.
4. Five Ten Men’s Freerider Promountain Bike Shoe
When it comes to style, the Freerdier Promountain Five Ten Men’s are the polar opposite to the previous Sidi MTB shoes. However, they aren’t the opposite when it comes to performance as the Freerider still retains are great degree of quality even though it looks like your run of the mill trainer. They are made with the style conscious rider in mind and can be used both out on the trails and in town.
A regular fitting shoe, so no need to consult the different sizing charts, this is as close as you’re going to get to a standard trainer that is bike ready. The fast drying synthetic upper isn’t totally waterproof but will handle a light shower easily enough, and the grippy rubber outsole is easy to walk on and will keep you on the pedals. What won’t keep you on the pedals are cleats, as these shoes have no cleat inserts, but to some riders that doesn’t matter, so if style is at the top of your priorities list and cleats are at the bottom, look no further.
5. Gavin Elite Road Cycling Shoe
Gavin has you covered when it comes to affordability. If you’re not bothered about the aesthetic and design of a shoe and just need a pair that do what they say they will, you’re looking at the pair for you. With a simple design that will go with any kit or bike, plenty of features and a price that won’t leave you out of pocket, the Gavin Elite Road Cycling Shoe is an underrated gem.
A synthetic breathable upper mesh and vented nylon fiberglass sole, this shoe has comfort and breathability at its core. Fastened with a reliable ratchet buckle system not often seen utilized at this price range. Compatible with both two and three bolt cleats, this shoe is versatile and can therefore be used both outdoors and in on a home trainer. As previously mentioned, there isn’t much of a design choice so you better like black shoes.
6. Sidi Dominator 10 MTB Shoes
Dominant by name, dominant by nature, as well as the best name on this list this MTB shoe from Sidi is also arguably the best performing shoe in the roundup. Ready to dominate in both trail racing and cyclocross, this is a shoe for committed riders who need to the best out of their shoes to take them higher and further, quicker. Two dials and wire fastening mean your foot is well and truly in the shoe, which means a snug comfortable hold and the right amount of power output on every pedal rotation.
A heavy tread and room for stud inserts is bound to help you get up even the most inhospitable of banks. A breathable yet tough and cut resistant upper and sturdy nylon composite sole help the Dominator to tick all the correct boxes when it comes to off-road performance. A recessed two-bolt cleat makes them easy walkers but like the other Sidi shoes in this roundup, there isn’t much design variety.
7. Mavic Cosmic SL Ultimate Tri Shoe
A little bit different to the other shoes in this roundup, the Mavic Cosmic SL Ultimate is a cycling shoe fundamentally aimed at triathletes. These shoes not only have all the perks to get you through that second stage of everyone’s favorite three-leg race, but a couple that can be utilized outside of tri time too. These shoes are incredibly light thanks mostly due to the full carbon sole and the materials used to create the upper mesh.
The hook and loop closure and heel loop are designed specifically with triathlon transitions in mind and getting the shoes on and off in a matter of seconds. Its upper mesh and soft interior let wet, sockless feet dry quickly inside the shoe preventing it from getting waterlogged, a particularly nifty feature. These are a lightweight pair of shoes ideal for triathletes and indoor cyclists. Mind you, the rider will have to be a fan of Mavic’s famous all yellow look.
Best Women's Cycling Shoes Reviewed
1. Louis Garneau Women’s Multi Air Flex II Bike Shoes for Indoor Cycling
Louis Garneau have created a shoe that just screams cycling performance and style when it comes to their Multi Air Flex II. The fastening system is a simple three hook and loop strap operation that will hold your foot in place both indoors and out. Louise Garneau have put a lot of thought into their breathable design and aim to prevent your feet from overheating thanks to its synthetic leather and mesh upper and ventilated insole for more airflow than any previous model.
The shoes are SPD ready and are flexible for walking thanks to its nylon and fiberglass composite sole that flexes at the toe and supports the heel while walking. The versatility of this indoor and outdoor ready shoe doesn’t stop there. A wide range of colorways include navy, asphalt grey, black and pink, magenta, turquoise and grey and neon yellow. On road, off road or indoors, these classy, affordable women’s cycling shoes tick a lot of boxes.
2. Fizik F5 Road Cycling Shoe
The Fizik F5 is a classy looking, high performance women’s cycling shoe that gives you all the perks of a top end Fizik road shoe without leaving you feeling fleeced for cash. The F5 has a comfortable, fine-tuned fit which keeps your foot snug and in the same position.
Like the R5, microtext is used in the construction which means the F5 is also incredibly breathable and a reflective heel has been factored into the design to increase reflection and safety points. Unlike the R5 however, the F5 has a BOA® IP1 dial as its closure system of choice, so you get a little bit more bang for your buck. Three bolt cleat compatibility rounds this beauty of a shoe off which comes in a solid black colorway with what they call pink fluo accents.
3. Gavin Mountain Bike Shoe
Gavin’s back, but this time with a women’s mountain bike shoe that matches its male road counterpart for quality, comfort and affordability. Great for newcomers as there aren’t many tricky details to get bogged down in before slipping a pair on. There are however a few hidden and not so hidden features that make this the perfect fitness shoe for beginners.
The closing system is a simple three strap operation and with the help of heel cup provide great fit and foot stability. Whether you’re out in the rain or working a sweat at a spin class, the perforated removable insole is also light, comfortable, washable and quick drying. A recessed two-bolt cleat means they are easy to walk in, but they don’t have a huge amount of tread. A shoe that can handle any fitness requirement, the Gavin MTB women’s shoe is perfect for rides around towns and parkland, as a companion on your fitness journey and for your use on indoor spin bikes.
4. Giro Petra VR Women’s Cycling Shoes
Like the Five Ten option previously mentioned in the men’s roundup, the Petra puts style first and everything else second. Although this sounds like it wouldn’t make the best cycling shoe, you can be sure that as it has Giro’s name attached to it, a pair of Petra’s are sure to still retain all the quality trimmings you would expect. A lightweight option, they only weigh 405 grams so are perfect for everyday riding and city cycling when you just need one shoe to do it all.
A discreet recessed area ready to take a two-bolt cleat means that even if you need to clip in when out and about, you can still hop off and walk into the shops without having to tap dance. A simple laced closure keeps the shoe looking classy and a molded footbed with arch support help to tick that crucial final comfort box.
Types of Cycling Shoes
Before delving into the minutia of cycling shoes and what features to look out for, let’s take a brief look at what differentiates the types of cycling shoe that are out there.
Road Cycling Shoes
Road cycling shoes certainly don’t look like your average pair of sports shoes, however their low profile and streamlined design makes them perfect for cyclists looking for a quality ride. Made with maximum pedaling efficiency in mind, they have very stiff soles and typically take a three-hole cleat that protrudes from the sole. This and the fact they have little to no tread means they certainly aren’t designed to be walked in.
Mountain Bike Shoes
Shoes made for off-roading, MTB shoes still retain a little bit of stiffness but double down on the streamline design, replacing it with a more off-road efficient design. With added tread and more resistant material, they are well suited to the trails and the traction that is necessary to take them on. This time the cleat is a smaller two-bot system and is recessed into the sole so that the rider can walk around. Like road shoes, there’s a whole variety of mountain bike shoes from trainer like flat soled stylish kickers to big clipless, thermal winter style boots.
Casual, Urban Bike Shoes
Casual urban shoes resemble what you would traditionally think of when it comes to a trainer or sports shoe. It is quite a wide term though and it basically encompasses everything between a mountain and road shoe, taking elements from both to make the ideal practical and everyday use cycling shoe. Style and functionality are the key points here, they are practical but don’t look out of place in a normal setting. They usually have smoother uppers, a softer sole and two-bolt cleats that are recessed into the sole.
Women’s Bike Shoes
Women’s specific bike shoes can be all of the above styles and includes all of the same features that will later be discussed, they are just a slightly better fit for women. Women tend to have narrower heels and smaller feet than men and all these details are taken into consideration by manufacturers when they make women’s specific cycle shoes, with most offering an extended size range.
Cleats can seem complicated, but they really ought not to. They come in various different styles that correspond with the type of pedal and shoe but essentially a spring mechanism on the pedal that allows you to clip the cleats on your shoes in and out of the pedal and more or less keeps your feet in the same position when you’re on the bike. Mastering clipless pedals does take practice but once you’re on top of the process, they do transform your ride.
They are ideal to use because clipless pedals allow for a full range of motion, which in turn activates more muscle groups on your pedal stroke which results in more efficient pedalling and power transfer. This all means that in the end, you ride quicker. The process can be tricky at first but becomes second nature after you have practiced for a while. To clip in push your foot forwards and down onto the pedal until the cleat goes into place. Clipping out is then a question of twisting your heel outwards, the cleat is then released from the pedal and your foot is free.
Before jamming your fit into any old pedal though, it is important to note the difference between the cleats and which shoes are compatible with them.
Two Bolt Cleats
The most recognizable use of two-bolt cleats is those used by SPD pedals. Smaller cleats and pedals that are used with mountain bike shoes and hybrid shoes due to their double-sided nature making it easier to clip in. These smaller cleats are ideal for beginners.
Three Bolt Cleats
Three bolt cleats are much larger and are used with road shoes, you can work which shoes take these cleats as there are three screw holes on the soles and the plate is not recessed. As they are larger, they are more stable and as result enhance your power transfer and performance, ideal for road cycling and spin classes. However, the corresponding pedals are only one sided, so they take a little more practice to master than SPD’s.
Four Bolt Cleats
These systems are less common and are certainly very rare when it comes to corresponding shoes. Most often used by Speedlay pedals, they come with adaptors so that you can convert your two/three bolt shoes to take a four-bolt cleat. The other pedals rely on the pedal platform for power transfer, but four bolt systems rely on the cleat itself. As a result, you have to keep them in goo nick. They are also double-sided so act as a good hybrid of two and three bolt systems.
What Makes a Good Cycling Shoe? - Buying Guide
As we’ve seen, cycling shoes come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and varieties but what are the key features that place some shoes above the rest? Below are a few key things to look out for before you commit. When it comes to these shoes, you pay for what you get. Cheaper cycling shoes have fewer of these features and are less aesthetically pleasing, whereas the more expensive the shoe, the more likely they are to have good design, better materials and more performance orientated features.
1. Fastening Systems
The most traditional way to secure a cycling shoe (don’t worry we’re not going to tell you how to tie a pair of shoes) you’re on safe ground with laces. They are of course susceptible to untying at inconvenient point and getting soaked through. They are brilliant on urban shoes though if you want your cycling shoes to look like a standard pair of trainers.
Ratchet buckles are used on many road and mountain bike shoes and work by clamping the top of your shoe in via a fastening strip. Simply help the strip through the buckle with the thanks of a ratchet and then lift the buckle to let it slide back out.
Wire laces are tensioned with dials, such as the popular BOA® system, which in turn fasten the shoe. You simply turn the dial to adjust the fit or release the mechanism with a quick release to undo the wire laces. They are the most efficient and quickest fastening systems. Shoes will either uses them in a combination with straps or put two or three on there.
The soles of cycling shoes are usually either made from nylon or slightly more expensive ones are made with lightweight carbon-fibre. Stiffer shoes make for better and more efficient power transfer and that is why road shoes are much stiffer than mountain bike shoes. As a result, it is important to note that there isn’t a great deal of ‘breaking in’ with road shoes so if it isn’t comfortable, try another. Mountain bike shoes tend to have a much greater tread and a recessed cleat area.
Protection is a key feature as well, especially with mountain bike shoes. More ample ankle protection and a combination of materials in construction make these shoes a little tougher and resistant to scratches and tears. Waterproof liners will of course also help and bring the quality of the shoe up with it. On road shoes, heel and toe bumpers are used to prevent the sole from being damaged over time and similarly non slip lining is utilized inside the heel to prevent your foot lifting.
Aesthetics doesn’t just mean design although that is certainly part of it. You pay for the design you want and often the snazzier colorways are more expensive. If you’re a style conscious rider you will be no stranger to making sure that your shoes match your bike and kit. Aesthetics also means what the shoe looks like and the different parts of that shoe.
The upper (or top of the shoe) will be lightweight and occasionally feature mesh panels. Some will look more like running trainers, whereas others will look more like hiking boots. Plenty of ventilation is needed in the upper to prevent your foot from overheating but equally if you’re an avid off roader you will want your upper to be more water resistant. In the product roundup you will read about breathability and the best shoes strike a balance between this, water resistance and ventilation. The type of cycling you do will inform the style of shoe you buy.
Sizing is very important. Every brand uses a different sizing chart that does not necessarily match with the numbers listed. This means that one size in one brand may feel totally different to that same size in a different brand. It’s best to work in the European sizing system rather than the UK/US system as it is a little more accurate. Before going for a pair of shoes, measure your foot length and width and match them to the different brands conflicting size guides.
Sizing is the most important factor when it comes to comfort. Make sure the shoe gives your toes plenty of wiggle room, your heel doesn’t slide up and down and your arch is fully supported.
Be prepared to maybe go up or down a size in relation to your standard everyday trainers. If you’re trying on shoes, make sure to wear cycling socks and keep in mind that your feet expand when you exercise, making the fit that little bit more important. Some shoe brands top of the range models can be heated up in the oven and then molded to your feet, offering that bit more customization, efficiency and perfect fit albeit for more money.