Great Britain

10 best cycling shoes that will enhance your riding performance

There’s a dazzling variety of road cycling shoes on the market, and none seem to offer all the exact same fit or features. Get your selection right and you’ll be a long way down the road to riding comfort; but get it wrong and you’ll be on the highway to hell.

Your feet do an awful lot of work when pedalling hard – transmitting the power you’re generating through the pedals to the cranks.

Decent shoes will fit snugly without crushing your feet. They should be nice and stiff too, so all your energy goes into propelling you forward rather than flexing the soles. Racers will want really stiff soles but most of us can get by with something offering a little bit of give for extra comfort.

All the shoes in our lineup – bar one – have holes where you can attach the three-bolt cleats (the studs on the soles) used in all the major road pedal designs. We’ve thrown in a pair aimed at commuters too – they use a mountain bike-style two-bolt system but also have a decent sole you can walk on.

Confusingly, modern pedal fittings are known as clipless, although you do actually clip to the pedal by pushing your foot down to engage them.

If you have never used them before, try riding with one pedal engaged initially and with the mechanism wound down to its loosest setting so you can twist your foot out easily when you come to a halt, rather than tumbling into the gutter. It’s daunting at first but you’ll soon get used to it.

Manufacturers fasten up their shoes in a range of ways. Laces have even made a comeback as they are so simple to use and offer weight savings, although they’re not ideal for those who like to make adjustments as they ride.

Wire-lacing systems such as those offered by BOA are becoming increasingly popular. They use dials to tighten a fine wire that pulls the sides of the shoe together to hug your foot. Some can be loosened off in tiny increments, while others slacken off completely by either twisting or pulling out the dial.

Cheaper shoes tend to use velcro-backed straps. They might not be the coolest solution but they are simple to use and can be easily adjusted.

All our shoes are unisex and we have tried to offer some guidance as to how we found the fit of our test pairs. You might find you have to try out a couple of different sizes before finding your perfect pair, especially if you have particularly wide or narrow feet.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Shimano RC5

These mid-market shoes look a lot more expensive than the price tag would suggest – especially if you can get hold of the cool sapphire blue shade we tried out. The sole is carbon-reinforced fibreglass so has a tiny bit more give than full carbon versions, but 99 per cent of riders won’t notice the difference. Lacing and adjustment comes courtesy of BOA’s own adjusting technology and there is an additional velcro strap at the toe.

The uppers are built from synthetic leather and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), making them really easy to wipe clean. On the road, they were comfy and well-ventilated thanks to the mass of tiny breathing holes. They’re a wraparound design which you have to really open up to get your foot in – it’s a bit awkward at first but you soon get used to it.

Suplest edge+ pro road

You may not have heard of this Swiss brand but it makes fantastic shoes. These feature BOA’s brilliant top-of-the-range dials which work in conjunction with laces made of 49 strands of stainless steel wrapped in a nylon sleeve. The dials click in to engage and can be micro-adjusted to increase or reduce the tension. To take the shoes off you just pull out the dial to release them.

The IP1s are great if you like to tinker with your shoes on the go as your feet warm up, and being a twin-dial system you can really fine-tune the fit. The shoes also feature carbon fibre wrap-around “tongues” meaning there are no pressure points digging into the top of your feet. They boast stiff carbon soles and have comfy insoles, while the black inner heel sections on our white test pair were a great idea as they hide any oil marks if you catch your shoe on the chain.

Rapha pro team

You get a simple pair of arch supports with these cool kicks from the British brand – and they can make a surprising difference to the comfort. The thing most riders will notice is the powerweave fabric used to construct the uppers. It really seems to mould to the shape of your foot, making them one of the most comfortable pairs in our line up.

There’s an old-school tongue too, meaning they are super easy to slip on and off – just remember to pull it towards you as you fasten them, or else it can bunch a little at the toes. The carbon soles are as stiff as anything we have tried, and the moulded heel cups did a great job of keeping our feet in place when pedalling hard. They use the same top-end BOA dials as the Suplest pair. If you really want to turn heads check out the stunning purple shade that’s sure to be a huge hit on the roads this summer.

Specialized s-works

We thought this racy pair was going to be a bit of a pain to wear – after all, they look like they were built for speed rather than comfort. We were quite wrong. They have a nice wide toe section with plenty of space so you can keep moving your tootsies as you rack up the miles, and the shaped plastic heel section really holds your foot in position.

The uppers are constructed from Dyneema – a material used in body armour that is 15 times stronger than steel yet 30 per cent lighter than nylon. It doesn’t stretch when you pull your foot on the pedal upstroke, meaning that bit of extra energy goes into propelling you forward. Custom-designed alloy BOA dials with micro-adjustable tightening and slackening – but no quick release – add to the ultra high-end looks, and our size 45s weighed in at just 542g for the pair.

Dhb aeron road

Built around a cracking carbon sole, this budget pair offers incredible value for money. There are no fancy closure devices, just a ratchet and a couple of velcro straps to hold them in place. They are well padded but you might find them a bit toasty in high summer as there are few ventilation holes apart from three mesh panels on the sole.

We found them a little on the large size, and even the makers advise you to choose one fitting smaller than your usual cycling footwear. They would be the ideal buy if you’re new to clipless pedals and want to try them out, or are looking for a pair to use in winter or bad weather.

DL killer KS2

These are excellent shoes – as you would expect at this price. Handmade in Italy, they have a carbon sole that can be moulded to the precise shape of your foot after being heated with a hairdryer for a few minutes. For 2020, the designers have improved upon the previous version by adding extra laser-cut ventilation holes to the leather uppers.

There’s also a better rubber bumper at the toe and embossed logos rather than the previous printed-on ones. They use the Atop lacing system which lets you micro-adjust the tightening and releases with just a reverse click. They are available in some outrageous colours including gold, but we think they look their best in plain old black or white.

Dhb troika

Looking for a cheap pair you can wear every day on the commute so you can save your best kicks for the weekend? Search no further. These bargain boots have a “proper” sole so you can walk reasonable distances – something that’s hard to do in road-racing shoes.

They use two-bolt SPD-type cleats, meaning you will need to fit mountain bike or touring pedals to your steed. Being two-bolt, they will also work with most gym class spinning bikes too. There are no fancy fastenings, just three velcro straps to hold your foot in place, and they come up on the larger size so you might want to buy a size smaller than your usual fit.

Le col pro carbon

British brand, Le Col, dipped a toe in the shoe market last year by making just 500 pairs of this model in white. They were a huge hit among the lucky few who got to wear them, and now they’re back in a gloss black version too. They have clever cutout sections at points where your little toe and the side of your big toe might rub on a long ride, and there are a couple of extra mesh areas for added ventilation.

They feel amazing on the road with wonderfully pliable PU artificial leather uppers plus a super-stiff carbon sole to help transfer every last bit of power to the pedals. The lacing system is a two-dial setup and there is a grabby “sharkskin” section at the heel to hold your foot firmly in place.

Giro empire ACC

Laces might not be as practical as dials or ratchets on cycling shoes, but they do look pretty cool. Just make sure you always tuck them into the little “garage” loops to stop them snagging on your chainset or pedals. Laces also allow you to really tailor the fit of your shoes – you can leave them looser in places or tighten them in others according to the shape of your foot.

This excellent pair from Giro boasts reflective detailing which really picks up car headlights as you pump the pedals. They wipe down easily and have plenty of ventilation holes. You might want to edge up a size bigger than your usual as many riders find them quite a snug fit.

Fizik R5 tempo powerstrap

Not everyone wants to pay for fancy ratchet closures or fiddle with laces, and the simple velcro straps on this Italian pair are a great alternative. They are hugely adjustable and make the shoes easy to get on and off in super-quick time. They’re a narrower fit but the roomy toe box ensured they stayed comfortable even after hours of riding.

There’s not a huge amount of ventilation, just a few lines of holes through the synthetic leather uppers, so maybe not a pair for the hottest days of summer, although they should be ideal for any other time of year. The carbon composite was surprisingly stiff for the price and the pair we tested, in a size 45, tipped the scales at a not too shabby 628g.

The verdict: Road cycling shoes

The Shimano RC5s are great all-rounders. They’re sporty looking yet comfortable, and come at a cracking price. The Le Cols, Raphas and Specialized offerings should make any wannabe racer go that little bit faster, and we were impressed with the budget pairs from Dhb. If you’re feeling really flush, treat yourself to the DL Killers.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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