Your feet are one of the most important contact points on a bike, so it’s vital to choose your cycling shoes carefully. There’s a lot of choice though, so it can be hard to know what’s best.
Do you need to spend big bucks to get the latest pro model or will a cheaper option perform just as well?
Some love a gleaming white pair of disco slippers, but these can be hard to keep clean (especially in the UK), while others prefer classic black, but some might say that black shoes are boring.
- Best road bikes: how to choose the right one for you
- Best road bike helmets
- The best shoes for gravel riding
Cycling shoes can also vary wildly in fit and intended use. It would be easy to throw lots of money at the problem and end up with a set of shoes that don’t suit your unique foot shape or riding style.
We’ve put in the hours and crunched all the numbers, so you can find the best cycling shoes for your performance requirements and budget. Once you’ve considered all of the options, keep reading to the end for our buyer’s guide to road cycling shoes.
The best cycling shoes in 2021, as rated by our expert testers
- Shimano S-Phyre RC9: £320 / AU$499
- Boardman Carbon: £80
- Bont Riot Road+ BOA: £150 / $182
- Fizik Tempo R5 Powerstrap: £110 / $120
- Giant Surge Pro: £275 / $385
- Sidi Wire 2: £330
- Specialized S-Works 7: £340 / $400 / AU$500
- Specialized Torch 3.0: £200 / $200
- Bont Helix / Bont Helix Reflex: £349 / $399
- Bont Riot Buckle: £99 / $129
- Bontrager Ballista Knit: £270 / $325
- Bontrager XXX: £300 / $399
- DMT KR1 Knit: £310 / $419
- Fizik R1 Infinito Knit: £350 / $376
- Fizik R3 Aria: £265 / $300
- Fizik R5 Tempo Overcurve: £140 / $149.99
- Mavic Cosmic Boa: £115 / $143
- Pearl Izumi Tour: £120 / $130
- Specialized Torch 1.0: £90 / $110
- Shimano RC5: £130
- Shimano RC7: £170 / $225
- Sidi Shot: £359 / $549
- Scott Road Comp BOA: £100 / $120 / AU$150
- Specialized S-Works EXOS: £450 / $500 / AU$600
- Suplest EDGE+ Pro: £320
- Triban RC 520: £70
- Van Rysel RR900: £120
Shimano S-Phyre RC9
- £320 / AU$499
- Our top-rated road shoe
- Brilliant all-round performance
Shimano has quietly been making some of the best cycling shoes for a while, and the S-Phyre RC9 is one of our absolute favourites – indeed it’s the only pair of shoes on this list to receive a five-star rating.
Dual BOA IP1 dials and the wrap-around, microfibre uppers offer a secure overall hold, without any overly tight areas. Arch support is customisable via included changeable inserts, so you shouldn’t need to shell out for custom insoles either, unless you’ve got really specific fit requirements.
Built around Shimano’s stiffest carbon sole, these are Tour de France proven race shoes. They’re not cheap, but we found the fit, performance and comfort to be seriously impressive. We think they look great too, and the electric blue is particularly lovely, if you like lairy shoes.
- Great value
- Stiff soles and two dial adjustment
For £80, the Boardman Carbon shoes offer great features, including an all-carbon sole and twin Atop dial adjustment – a cheaper equivalent of the Boa system that works just as well. You even get a replaceable heel bumper.
Internal padding through the majority of the upper adds comfort and there’s plenty of venting to keep your feet cool, and good toe box width provides a bit of extra space compared to many cycling shoes.
Bont Riot Road+ Boa
- £150 / $182
- Heat-moldable fit
- Supremely stiff carbon sole design
With their supremely stiff, heat-moldable carbon soles, the Riot Road+ Boa shoes bring Bont’s distinctive design philosophy to a lower price point.
The tub-shaped carbon soles are supremely stiff, making for a strikingly efficient and supportive pedalling platform.
Bont claims its last offers a more anatomical fit straight out of the box, compared to other cycling shoes. But that fit can be fully customised at home by simply popping them in the oven for 20mins at 70°C/160°F, before putting them on and tightening them up.
Our tester found them to run slightly smaller than other shoes, so check the fit carefully when buying (a good reminder not to just rely on the stated sizes with shoes).
Fizik Tempo R5 Powerstrap
- £110 / $120
- Very comfortable with even tension
- A great choice for longer rides
As some of the most comfortable road shoes we’ve tried these make a superb choice for longer rides.
The soles are the same as used on Fizik’s more costly R5B, meaning they aren’t the stiffest and their toe and heel bumpers are non-replaceable.
The even tension provided by the twin Velcro straps meant we didn’t miss Boa dials.
At 626g for a pair of EU45s they’re not the lightest but the asking price is very reasonable given the performance on offer here.
Giant Surge Pro
- £275 / $385
- Innovative carbon sole design
- Freedom of foot movement
The Giant Surge Pro shoes use an innovative carbon sole design, where stiff plates on the forefoot and heel are linked what Giant calls an ‘ExoBeam’. This allows for a stiff, efficient pedalling platform without restricting the uppers at the sides of the shoe, like a traditional, flat sole.
The upside of this design is an increased range of movement for your mid-foot and ankle, adding comfort without compromising performance. A choice or arch inserts adds an element of customisation.
They’re only available in all black or white, so if you’re looking for something spicy, this might not be for you. Otherwise, they’re a pro-level shoe at a good price.
Sidi Wire 2
- £330 / International pricing TBC
- Excellent power transfer
- Comfortable fit
The Sidi Wire 2 shoes aren’t the lightest shoes on this list, at 660g for a size 45.5, but they look, fit and perform brilliantly – you’ll likely be very happy with a pair of these unless you’re a weight weenie.
Our tester found them to have quite a narrow fit, but was able to easily find the right size by simply going a half size larger than usual, which is something not offered by many other brands.
Sidi persists with its own closure dials, but these work just fine. The only drawback is that they can be a little fiddly to operate with gloves on, compared to a standard Boa dial.
Overall, these shoes quietly go about their business, providing great performance across the board.
Specialized S-Works 7
- £340 / $400 / AU$500
- Wider fit
- Excellent security and comfort
Specialized has poured a lot of resources into developing its shoe range recently, and the S-Works 7 shoes are the result of all that development.
A roomier toe box and more generous Form Fit last, compared to the previous generation, make these a better fit for slightly wider feet.
We found them to be very comfortable, with the Dyneema Mesh uppers and Body Geometry designed footbed providing a secure fit without restricting your feet in any way.
Specialized says the FACT Powerline carbon sole is the stiffest it’s ever produced, and it certainly seems to be good enough for Peter Sagan’s monstrous power levels.
They look the business too, with a classy finish and lots of colour options available.
Specialized Torch 3.0
- £200 / $200
- Performance, weight and comfort
They might lack the S-Works moniker, but the Specialized Torch 3.0 shoes perform like shoes costing £100 more.
Taking clear design inspiration from the S-Works 7 shoe, the Torch 3.0s have a similar fit system of two Boa dials and Velcro strap across the forefoot. This makes for easy and precise fit adjustments.
We did find that we had to unhook the top Boa lace from its anchor in order to get the shoes on however, which is a minor inconvenience.
Once on, though, they feel great. The fit is generous, with good arch support and there’s plenty of support around the heel cup to prevent any slippage while climbing or sprinting.
Specialized says the FACT carbon sole rates as 8.5 on its stiffness index, compared to 15 for the S-Works shoe, but we found them plenty stiff enough for everything.
Bont Helix / Helix Reflex
- £349 / $399
- Custom fit
- Lightweight and extremely stiff sole
The Helix is Bont’s top of the range racing shoe, with a design focused almost entirely on generating maximum power transfer from your feet to the pedals.
As with all Bont cycling shoes, they are heat moldable for a completely custom fit. They also have the tub style sole design that lends them such extraordinary stiffness. Should you require a bit of extra visibility without sacrificing style then Bont also produces this shoe in a reflective Reflex version.
Bont has thankfully moved to a Boa closure system, which makes for easy adjustment before and during your ride.
The price is high, but these shoes genuinely feel unlike anything else on the market. The level of stiffness is a bit bonkers, to be honest, so they’re not really an endurance-focused shoe. If you’re looking for pure performance though, look no further.
Bont Riot Buckle
- £99 / $129
- Heat moldable soles
- Bargain price for the performance
At 632g for a pair of EU size 45s, the Riot Buckle from Bont is one of the lightest and best performing shoes available at its price.
The tub-style sole design is similar to that used on Bont’s top-end Helix shoe but is formed from carbon-reinforced fibreglass rather than carbon fibre. This material change shouldn’t worry you because the Riot’s sole still makes for a very efficient power transfer.
Baking these is the way to truly optimise the fit, so be sure to take the time to do so. Once ours had been customised to our feet they were very comfortable and we had no issues with the closure of the Velcro strap and ratchet system. The uppers are a touch on the stiff side, though.
Bontrager Ballista Knit
- £270 / $325
- A top fairweather choice
- Ideal for longer rides in warm conditions
Fully embracing the woven trend, Bontrager has produced a winning shoe in its Ballista Knit.
The use of a single Boa dial and lightweight materials throughout make for a pair of shoes weighing just 554g for a pair of EU 45s. The underside of the Ballistas feature a V-shaped vent that sits forward of the cleat with a rubber toe bumper, meaning you shouldn’t scuff the super-stiff carbon soles.
Bontrager does give the Ballistas a DWR (durable water-resistant) coating and provides a pair of rubberised waterproof overshoes designed specifically for the knits.
We found these to have a slightly strange fit if you’re used to close, stiff-fitting shoes, but once we were on the bike the fit in conjunction with the material really worked.
- £300 / $399
- Great fit
- Well made
The XXX in their name denotes these as Bontrager’s top of the line shoes, as worn by its pros. As you’d expect, you get the stiffest of stiff soles, which come with plenty of under-foot ventilation. A size 45 pair weighed 568g – light but not class-leading.
There are just a couple of seams in the TPU upper, along with an array of venting holes that work well to keep your feet cool and a grippy layer at the heel to prevent lift.
Two Boa IP1 dials provide plenty of adjustment in the asymmetric, tongueless closure and the well structured insole and heel cup help prevent hot foot. The Bontrager XXX shoes tick all the boxes for a pro-level shoe, but without any features that stand out.
DMT KR1 Knit
- £310 / $419
- Super-stiff soles
- Supple, sock-like uppers
Experienced tester Robin Wilmott declared these to be one of the finest blends of high performance and all-round comfort of any road shoe he’s tried.
Praise went to the KR1’s supportive fit, excellent performance of the stiff soles and generous ventilation.
These are a seriously accomplished, comfortable performance road shoe. They’re serious money though and the unprotected toe area can quickly lead to unsightly scuffs.
Fizik R1 Infinito Knit
- £350 / $376
- Race shoe stiff
- As comfortable as slippers
Right on trend, the Fizik R1 Infinito Knit uses a stretchy, highly breathable, knitted fabric in its construction. The idea is to complement traditional synthetic materials to allow for a more comfortable fit and greater breathability.
A water repellent treatment also stops them from letting in too much moisture if the weather takes a turn, but they’re definitely still more of a fair weather shoe.
We found them to be at their best while riding hard in hot temperatures, where the stretchy knitted fabric can accommodate your foot swelling with the heat. The sole is plenty stiff enough for racing and the uppers provide a very comfortable fit with great foot stability.
Fizik R3 Aria
- £265 / $300
- Sleek aesthetics
- Effective wraparound upper design
Fizik uses its renowned Microtex material for the uppers – the same material it uses on its saddles. It lends the shoes a very sleek appearance and supple fit, but is also highly durable, easy to clean and resilient in bad weather.
The front Boa dial controls the fit across the forefoot, while the rear dial adjusts the overlapping heel surround, creating a snug, even fit without any fabric bunching or pressure points.
Tiny laser cut perforations and dedicated vents in the sole make for better ventilation than you might expect. Pedalling stiffness is also impressive for the price.
Fizik R5 Tempo Overcurve
- £140 / $149.99
- Great comfort
- Lots of colour and size options
The R5 Tempo Overcurve shoes are well perforated to keep your feet cool, although there are no perforations in the toe or composite sole. The Overcurve bit refers to a differential cut to the inside and outside of the opening, to accommodate the different heights of the ankle bone on each side of the leg, a nice ergonomic feature.
You get a single Boa and a Velcro strap, making for easy use, although not quite the adjustability of two Boas. The Overcurves are not that light for the price at 560g (size 42) and the lack of sole vents marks them down a bit too, but with six colours and half sizes there are plenty of options.
Mavic Cosmic Boa
- £115 / $143
- Excellent performance
- Clean, minimalist lines
The single Boa closure makes for very tidy looks, but despite this it’s easy to get a comfortable, secure fit from the Mavic Cosmic Boa shoes. Although the nylon/fibreglass soles are mid-rated for stiffness, we found them just fine on our rides.
There are over 100 laser-cut vents in the uppers and two more vents in the soles to keep your cool. With super-clean lines, the Mavics look super-pro, particularly in white. Look out for Mavic’s close fit though, you might want to go up half a size.
Pearl Izumi Tour
- £120 / $130
- Retro lace-up looks
- Good combination of stiffness and flex
Keeping weight down to 504g (size 42) and offering a tight, secure fit, the laces on the Pearl Izumi Tour shoes give them a retro look too. You get lots of vents both in the upper and the sole for cool feet.
On the bottom, the nylon sole is beefed up by a large carbon plate under the cleat, which provides stiffness where it’s needed but a bit of flex elsewhere – 8/14 on PI’s stiffness index. That’s good for all-day rides, although not so much for racing.
Specialized Torch 1.0
- £90 / $110
- Boa dial adjustment
- Great all day comfort
Impressively, the new for 2020 version of Specialized’s entry-level road shoe swaps Velcro straps for a Boa L6 dial and crossed cord top closure, dropping around 50g a pair in weight.
Underneath, there’s a stiff-enough nylon composite sole that’s also comfortable. That’s helped out by Specialized’s Body Geometry insoles. They use the same tech as in Spesh’s pro level shoes, with a shape structured to support the foot’s natural curves.
At 530g for a size 42, the Torch 1.0 shoes are light enough and superbly comfortable for all-day riding, although we missed the two-bolt cleat option that’s useful for commuters.
- Stiff carbon soles
- Elegant lines
With trickle-down from the Shimano S-Phyre, the Shimano RC5 shoes look the part, with a stylish, minimalist upper. There’s even a blue metallic option you could mistake for the S-Phyres.
A new seamless midsole reduces weight to 504g for a size 42 pair and reduces stack height by 3.3mm. There’s an unusually large amount of cleat position adjustment to the carbon-reinforced composite soles, with their large toe vents.
The wrap-around, tongue-free uppers close with a single Boa dial with a lower Velcro strap for comfortable, close adjustment and easy on/off. The shoes are very breathable, with plenty of venting. Loads of size options include wide fit too.
- £170 / $225
- Very light for the money
- Trickle-down tech makes these a real bargain
The RC7s replaced Shimano’s outgoing and much loved RP7 shoes.
There’s more than a strong resemblance between these and the range-topping S-Phyre RC9s that top this list and we were shocked to find just a single gram of difference in weight between size 45 RC7s and RC9s.
The RC7s punch well above their weight and perform as well as more expensive shoes. They’re easily stiff enough to compete in, without being too highly strung for daily use.
Getting the tension spot-on with the twin Boa dials can be a little trickier than those used on more expensive shoes, but this is really a minor detail.
- £359 / $549
- Classic Italian styling
- Solid construction
The Sidi Shots might be one of the most expensive shoes on the market, but it’s hard to deny their appeal.
They’re not the most technically advanced shoes out there, but they have a sturdy construction that makes them feel like they’ll last for ages. And, of course, there’s that classic Italian styling. With a lot of cycling shoes all starting to look very similar, we love that Sidi continues with its classic euro-pro aesthetic.
Fit across the shoe can be adjusted in a novel way, with an adjustable heel enclosure and two of Sidi’s own dials across the front. It makes for a shoe with plenty of adjustability, but Sidi’s dials are slightly more complex to use than Boa dials.
The carbon sole isn’t the thinnest, but it’s plenty stiff. This might not be a lightweight shoe, but it’s certainly made for racing, and a young Colombian by the name of Egan Bernal recently won a pretty big bike race wearing these shoes.
Scott Road Comp BOA
- £100 / $120 / AU$150
- Great price
- Good fit and performance
Despite being Scott’s lowest priced road shoes with Boa fasteners, the Scott Road Comp BOAs are still great performing shoes.
They have a nylon and glass fibre composite sole, which helps bring the cost down. It isn’t as stiff as a full carbon sole, but it’s perfectly adequate for everyday use.
Comfort is good and the fit is more generous than Scott’s higher end, racier shoes, making them a better fit with thick socks.
They look very classy for an entry-level shoe too, with a good range of colours available.
Specialized S-Works EXOS
- £450 / $500 / AU$600
- Unique design
- Amazingly light
We know aero is everything these days, but it’s always cool to see ultra lightweight bits occasionally come around.
The Specialized S-Works EXOS shoes are one of those products that elicits a “Wow” and our test pair (size EU45) weighed an astonishing 347.2g. That’s just 173.6g per shoe.
Fortunately, considering the price, this drop in weight doesn’t come at the expense of functionality. They use a Dyneema mesh upper, which is a synthetic fabric that is lightweight and supple but doesn’t stretch.
The sole is thinned, relative to the Specialized S-Works 7 shoe. This also helps shave a few grams, but it’s still a very stiff sole. Specialized rates it as a 13 on its Stiffness Index, which is the same as its S-Works 6 shoe.
Our tester found them to be ideal for riding in hot weather and on long climbs where the breathable mesh uppers and light weight makes them ideal. Sadly, such cutting-edge tech doesn’t come cheap, though.
Suplest EDGE+ Pro
- Stiff, comfortable
- Weighty for their price
These shoes from Swiss brand Suplest have a super-stiff sole, but that’s paired with a comfortable, thick Solestar insole and soft, pliable uppers. The twin Boa IP1 closures sit above a tongue flap made with a layer of carbon fibre to help spread the pressure from the laces.
At 646g a pair for size 45, the Suplest shoes are significantly heavier than most shoes at this price, although their relative robustness should make them useful all year round, not just for summer rides.
Triban RC 520
- Superb value
- Versatile enough to ride gravel or commute in
These low-priced shoes from Decathlon are tough and comfortable enough for long rides and commuting. We’ve even found them fine for gravel riding, providing things don’t get too rough or muddy.
Simple laces and straps make for an effective closure, but we did have to do them up tight to stop the heel from raising slightly when walking.
They’re far from light but at this price still represent superb value for money.
Van Rysel RR900
- £120 / NA
- Excellent sole stiffness
- Well made and interesting colours
This range-topping model from Decathlon’s Van Rysel brand offers excellent value. Another shoe with two Atop dial closures like the Boardmans, the central rib to the all-carbon sole provides impressive stiffness.
That’s balanced by the soft synthetic uppers, which are well-perforated on each side and on the tongue, although not the toe. The Van Rysels look well made and there are some interesting high-gloss iridescent colour options. At 592g for a size 42, they’re not that light, though.
Road cycling shoes buyer’s guide
Shopping for cycling shoes can be a bit of a nightmare with so many options, and your local shop probably doesn’t stock everything you might want to try on.
Once you’ve been cycling for a while, you might have an idea what works for you, but if you’re just starting out it can be daunting. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a short buyer’s guide to help you get to grips with the basics.
Cycling shoes, like any other shoes, are built around what’s called a ‘Last’. This is essentially a mould, shaped like a foot, that brands use to shape their shoes. Every brand has a different last, based on their own fit philosophy. Finding a shape that works for you is obviously very important, but the only way to find out is really to try shoes on. So make sure you either go in to a shop in person or buy from an online retailer with a good returns policy.
As with most things bike related, carbon is the material du jour when looking at cycling shoe soles. It does make sense though; prized for its ability to be stiff yet lightweight, carbon really is an ideal material for making cycling shoe soles.
The downside is, of course, cost. Entry-level shoes tend to use nylon or glass fibre composite soles in a bid to save money. These are likely to be slightly more flexible than full carbon soles, but will still be streets ahead of standard training shoes, so it’s certainly not a huge loss if your budget doesn’t stretch to carbon.
There are three main closure systems in use today. The most popular are Velcro straps or wire laces with micro-adjustable dials (Boa and similar).
Occasionally you even get a combination of both. Velcro straps have the advantage of being cheap, effective and easy to use, so you’ll often find these on lower-end shoes. On higher end shoes, Boa and other similar dial systems tend to dominate due to their ability to precisely control fit.
Traditional laces have also had a bit of a renaissance in the last few years, so if you like a classic look you’ll have a few more options now, just remember you won’t be able to adjust your shoes on the bike.
It’s always worth considering what type of riding your shoes are designed for. A lot of road cycling shoes are designed to be ridden in hot weather, for example, meaning they’re very breathable and won’t offer much protection from the elements.
If you live somewhere where the weather is invariably cold and wet, it’s worth considering if those sorts of shoes are really the right choice or if you’d be better off with something more robust.