The ‘problem’ with most cycling shoes is that they’re normally designed to keep your feet cool, which is great in the summer, perhaps, but this can make keeping your feet warm an almost impossible task in the winter.
It feels like we have the same conversation every single year: ‘How do I stop my feet getting cold in the winter?’. And while there’s an endless array of socks, overshoes and ingenious tricks that claim to be able to put an end to your misery, for some people and conditions, none of these will even come close.
This is where the dedicated winter cycling shoe comes in.
Free of superfluous ventilation, roomy enough for thick, wooly socks and built with materials specifically designed to protect your feet from the elements, winter cycling shoes are the equivalent of a proper winter jacket for your feet.
- Best road cycling shoes 2020: top-rated road cycling shoes
- Best mountain bike shoes 2020: our tried-and-tested recommendations
Do you need winter cycling shoes?
It depends. Do you get cold feet while cycling in the winter and how much does it bother you?
If the answer to those two questions is ‘no’ and ‘not much’, then you probably don’t need winter cycling shoes.
In milder parts of the world, for example, it’s perfectly possible to carry on through the winter with overshoes only in place to protect your lovely disco slippers from road spray.
If your answers to the above questions are ‘yes’ and ‘a lot’, it’s likely you could benefit greatly from a pair of dedicated winter cycling shoes.
Not only are they more likely to keep your feet warm and dry in the harshest conditions, they’re also considerably more durable than overshoes, many of which begin to fall apart the instant they come into contact with the ground.
There’s also the ‘hassle factor’. Getting ready for a winter ride can become a chore if you’ve got endless layers to pull on – winter shoes can remove the inconvenience often associated with overshoes.
The best winter cycling shoes in 2020
- Mavic Crossmax Elite CM: £160 / $198 / €180
- Fizik Artica R5: £189.99 / $229 / €200
- Northwave Himalaya Boot: £230 / $252.99 / €252.09
- Shimano MW7 MTB: £189.99 / $275 / €242
Mavic Crossmax Elite CM
- £160 / $198 / €180
- Excellent high-performance cycling shoe
- Can shrug off the UK’s worst weather
- MTB cleat
Mavic’s Crossman Elite CM shoes are a brilliant pair of performance-orientated cycling shoes with added weather protection. Where most winter cycling shoes come with a substantial weight and performance penalty, the Mavic’s make them all look like wellies.
At under 900g for a muddy pair of size EU44s (with cleats), they feel lightweight on your feet and the sole is plenty stiff enough for racy power transfer.
The solid, weather-shrugging toe box and tongue make a massive difference to comfort in cold and wet conditions, and the neoprene collar provides excellent splash protection and helps keep your ankles warm even when water does get in.
Fizik Artica R5
- £189.99 / $229 / €200
- Warm and water resistant
- Good value
- Road cleat
These might be the perfect winter cycling shoes for road cyclists worried about sacrificing style for comfort.
Now into their second winter, our tester’s pair is still going as strong as ever. Highly water-resistant and warm, they also have a great fit (which is about half a size larger than usual Fizik shoes to accommodate thick socks) and, for winter-specific cycling shoes, also retain very sleek looks.
The inner soles were a particular highlight, while the bottoms are foil-lined for a bit of extra heat retention. The tops are covered in a soft, almost fleecy, fabric that makes them very comfortable.
Northwave Himalaya Boot
- £230 / $252.99 / €252.09
- Very warm and weatherproof
- Such comprehensive protection does mean they’re very hefty
- MTB cleat
Possibly the ultimate bad weather cycling shoe, Northwave’s Himalaya Boots look like they are built to take on a cycling trip up Everest, and they don’t disappoint when out on the road or trail.
The only question is whether you ride enough in the terrible conditions that these will protect you against to make them worth the cost.
If you do, we don’t think you will be disappointed. These are probably the warmest boots we’ve ever tested, and they’re waterproofing is great too – easily shrugging off plenty of rain and deep puddles.
Shimano MW7 MTB
- £189.99 / $275 / €242
- Warm and comfortable
- Gore-Tex lining for great wind and water resistance
- MTB cleat
The MW7s are Shimano’s top-of-the-range winter riding shoes and they offer performance to match, keeping your feet happy in pretty terrible winter conditions.
They’re designed for SPD pedals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them on a road bike – you just need the right pedals. Even roadies will appreciate the chunky, grippy sole for when you need to get off the bike at any point.
They have a Gore-Tex lining that means the upper is essentially waterproof and windproof, although they will get overwhelmed eventually if you’re out for hours. The integrated lace shield also stops the Boa closure from becoming overwhelmed with mud when you’re off-road.
The following winter cycling shoes scored fewer than four stars in our reviews, but are still worth considering.
Fizik Terra Artica X2
- £280 / $280 / €280
- Impressively warm and comfortable
- Difficult to get on and off, and quite pricey
- MTB cleat
If you can get them on, then Fizik’s Terra Artica X2 shoes are wonderfully plush and warm, with decent stiffness and a super-grippy sole.
However, our tester found them frustratingly difficult to pull on, even with dry warm hands at the start of a ride.
Their performance also comes at a relatively high price compared to the competition, so it’s worth trying these on in a shop before purchasing, if possible.
Northwave Raptor Arctic GTX
- £210 / $270 / €262
- Very warm and comfortable
- Hard to get on and off
- MTB cleat
The Raptor Arctic GTX boots will protect your feet in temperatures ranging from +5 to -10ºC, according to Northwave, and that largely chimed with our experiences, although there are a few niggles.
The fact that the neoprene cuff doesn’t have any built-in adjustment detracts from an otherwise great shoe – and while the lack of Velcro closures or zips make for a far less bulky ankle area, it also makes the shoe hard to get on and off.
Once it’s on, there’s no guarantee the cuff will sit close to skin – which is especially problematic for those with slim legs – and potentially leaves a lot of room for water to ingress.
What to look for when buying winter cycling shoes
It’s not just chilly temperatures and the wind that make your feet cold in winter. Wet conditions are a real problem, too, so the key to a good pair of winter cycling shoes is weatherproofing and added insulation.
Look for shoes with Gore-Tex or other waterproof membranes built in to the uppers. Just like with waterproof jackets, these fabrics help make shoes waterproof, windproof and breathable (the last of which is important to avoid sweat building up on the inside and eventually making your feet cold).
However, while winter shoes are designed to keep rain out, the cuff sometimes acts as a weak spot for water ingress.
Insulation, through the addition of thicker, fleecy fabrics and a lack of ventilation in the uppers is also important because you want to trap heat within the shoe, rather than letting it escape to the outside air.
Winter-specific cycling shoes tend to have a more flexible sole than race-dedicated summer shoes, and while you might be giving up a couple of watts when really cranking on the pedals, you’ll appreciate the extra comfort over the course of a long ride or whenever you have to get off the bike and walk.
If you’re a dedicated road rider, then a shoe with a road sole (i.e. one without any tread and designed to accommodate a road cleat), as found on the Fizik Artica R5, will do fine and often go better with the sleek look of your road kit.
But if there’s any chance of going off-road, or even just on rough or icy roads, then the grippy tread present on a MTB-style sole is a real boon – you don’t want to have to resort to walking on road cleats during the winter.
Road or MTB cleat?
Similar to the previous point about soles and tread, it’s easy to assume that if you ride a road bike you should get shoes that are compatible with road cleats, and though these will be fine on cold, dry rides on nice roads, for everything else, it’s worth considering mountain bike cleats.
Though they usually mean a smaller, marginally less stable platform than road pedals, MTB cleats and compatible shoes often have a number of advantages over road shoes that come into their own during the winter.
Things such as tread and mud clearance aren’t something most roadie’s usually have to pay much attention to, but come across a slippery section of road or an overly muddy farm track that you just can’t traverse on your road bike, and you’ll instantly regret having to climb off and shuffle delicately over the obstacle in your road shoes.
If you want a more in-depth look at the difference between road and MTB pedals and cleat systems, check out our guide on how to use clipless pedals.
While you usually want a pair of summer cycling shoes to fit snugly with thin, lightweight socks, a little extra room for warm socks can be invaluable in winter shoes.
Many brands build in this extra room as standard, meaning you might be able to just go with your normal size, but this isn’t always the case
As always with shoes, it’s worth visiting a shop in person, or ordering from a retailer with a good returns policy, so you can try them on for size with the kind of socks you’re likely to want to wear while riding.
One of the most important areas of a winter cycling shoe is the ankle cuff. A well designed cuff should fit snugly to help keep out wind and water, while still allowing you to get the shoes on and off without too much trouble.
While it might also add a little weight and bulk, a tall cuff that extends a bit further up your calf will also add a bit more protection and allow you to utilise one of BikeRadar staffers’ most beloved tricks: putting the end of your tights over the top of the cuff of the shoe or overshoes.
The idea is that water will run off the bottom of the tight and onto the outside of the shoe, rather than soaking down the inside of the cuff and into your socks. It’s not necessarily a great look, we’ll admit, but if you can get over that, it works very well.