Best Cycling Shoes Reviewed & Rated for Performance
From marathon racers to casual riders, making every pedal count is crucial in attaining the highest possible results. Different terrains require different equipment, and personal preferences often mean that what works for everyone else, may not be the right choice for you. The best pair of cycling shoes for you may take some time to find, but once you’ve attained the perfect pair, you’ll reap the benefits of a good fit, great power transfer and the required level of traction for the surface underfoot.
Footwear made for cyclists is varied with numerous options available. Choosing the best possible pair is no easy feat, as you are required to know much more than just your size and width. The factors you need to consider include not only clip styles, closures and aerodynamic properties, but you will often find that one pair of shoes may not cover all of your cycling needs. That’s why, the first step towards a good purchase is determining what it is you want out of your shoes. Many brands even offer different versions of the same shoe based on how much or how little you ride. No distance is too great when your equipment functional, durable, and comfortable enough to get you to your destination. And with the right shoe, the destination can sometimes be the journey itself.
- Sidi Dominator 7
- Very Durable
- Soft Instep 2 Closure
- Pearl iZUMi Pro Leader III
- Seamless Upper
- 3 Bolt Road Cleat
- Five Ten Freerider
- Excellent grip for pedals
- Unisex design
This article looks at the 10 highest rated pairs of footwear made for cyclists currently available for purchase online. From cross country, to road, to mountain biking shoes, you are bound to find something that fits your needs and your budget. Additionally, you will find that the Criteria for Evaluation and Frequently Asked Questions sections include plenty of useful information on how to make a purchase you are bound to be happy with.
10 Best Cycling Shoes
1. Sidi Dominator 7
The SIDI Dominator 7 has high grip tread for those pesky rocks and roots. It has Microfiber Microtech uppers that are water repellant as well as eco-friendly, as well as a SIDI heel cup that makes sure the foot is positioned for the most powerful upstroke possible, while also being adjustable to fit every heel type.
Evenly Distributes Pressure
The SIDI Dominator 7 has a Soft Instep 2 closure system that distributes pressure evenly along the foot, much like some other models mentioned on this list, reducing hotspots. It also has a ratchet closure at the top, ensuring it can be adjusted quickly at any point during a race or ride for a secure fit.
Cost and Value
The SIDI Dominator 7’s are one of the most expensive pair of footwear made for cyclists available on the market, but they have been known to last two decades. Their performance enhancing features combined with their level of comfort means they are ready and waiting for any racing off-road adventure, time after time.
Performance Enhancing Design
High Quality Materials
Won't Accommodate All Foot Types
2. Pearl iZUMi Pro Leader III
The soles of these shoes will not bend, no matter what you do to them, allowing you to maximize your pedaling efficiency and to have the best power transfer possible. In addition, they will not elevate you from the pedal, only giving a 5mm height, which means that you are close to the pedal, with added toe and heel bumpers to prevent sole damage.
These shoes feature IP1 micro-adjustable Boa closures which are perfect for adjusting on the go, even from your bike. They adjust via a dial and allow you to set the tension on either of the two closures. The tongue is padded, so you won’t feel any pressure where the closure runs, giving you a comfortable, well-padded shoe.
Cost and Value
These shoes are the most expensive item on this list. While they give you maximum performance and power transfer, they also provide you with a customized fit when it comes to padding, closure, and insoles (which are customizable so you can adjust to your own needs). If you are looking for excellent, professional grade footwear, then these are definitely the right choice for you.
- Replaceable Heel Treads
- Meshed Vents
- Seamless Upper
- Stiffness Rating 13
- 3 Bolt Road Cleat
- Extra Room in Heel Area
3. Five Ten Freerider
The best feature of the Five Ten Freerider is the fact that these shoes will give you some of the best grip on non-clip pedals, providing you with plenty of control, solid climbing, and excellent downhill performance. The upside of the soles on these shoes is that they will do well on all types of surfaces, dirt or pavement, and in all weather conditions, including rain and snow.
Even if you intend on spending all day on your bike and working up a sweat, these shoes will provide you with great breathability due to the suede and mesh upper that will allow moisture to escape more easily. While this means that you will need waterproof socks or overshoes when it’s wet outside, the construction is made so that there are fewer pieces and parts, extending the lifespan of these mountain biking shoes.
Cost and Value
These shoes cost average compared to the rest of the products on this list. They will provide you with excellent grip on non-clip pedals, will be comfortable for all-day use, and will do equally well off the bike as well as for when you are riding. The durable sole will last you a long time, regardless of the conditions you decide to use them in.
- Excellent Grip for Pedals
- Great for All-Mountain, XC, Park and Moderate Downhill Rides
- Breathable Upper
- Men’s and Women’s Styles Available
- Affordable Price
- No Shank
- Lighter Duty EVA Midsole
4. Venzo Shimano SPD
Their sleek construction is comprised of a quick-drying mesh that is highly breathable, a textile lining with a removable sockliner, and low-cut fit that allows them to be easily slipped on or off.
A light feel, flexible forefoot, and a running shoe beveled heel assure speed, performance, and durability don’t have to come at the expense of comfort. Rule the road and feel good doing it.
Cost and Value
Ranking average in price when compared to other models on this list, these boast a level of performance technology and comfort well beyond their price point, and they even come with pedals and cleats!
Award-Winning Performance Technology
Superior Quality for Fair Price
Pedals + Cleats Included
Run ½ Size Big
5. Shimano XC31
The outsole of these shoes is a good combination of stiffness and flexibility and takes into consideration that you may need to walk some parts of the trail when riding. It has mud-shedding properties, and is made out of and is made out of polyurethane, with an arch pad that will give you added pedal stability.
Durable and Lightweight
The outsole of these shoes is hard, and does very well with abrasion, so you can rest assured the Shimano XC31 will serve you well and for a long time. An added bonus is the fact that it is one of the most lightweight pairs of shoes you can find, weighing a mere 1lb 8oz. It has the advantages of Shimano Dynalast system that provides a better ergonomic position for a more efficient upstroke, all ensuring that your energy is saved and directed towards maximum performance.
Cost and Value
The Shimano XC31 is an excellent choice if you are new to cycling and are looking for a pair of shoes that won’t break the bank, but will give you better grip and power transfer than a regular pair of shoes. When you add the fact that the outsole is hard and resistant to abrasion, you get a shoe that will last you plenty of time at a cost that is affordable, and perfect for enthusiasts who don’t need all the features of professional grade footwear.
- Compatible With 2 Bolt SPD Cleats and Pedals
- Hard Polyurethane Outsole
- Velcro Closure for Easy Adjustability
- Enough Flexibility for Walking
- Shimano Dynalast System
- Slippery on Smooth Surfaces
- Lacks Transfer With Clipless Pedals
6. Fizik R5 Uomo Boa
The BOA IP1 closure system allows for on-the-go adjusting, crucial when time and speed are of the essence to the cyclist. The Fizik R5 also has an additional, micro-adjustment strap on the inside that makes for the snuggest fit possible. The main material used in its construction is Microtex, allowing for maximum flexibility of movement.
Carbon Fiber Outsoles
Though carbon fiber outsoles are not exclusive to this model, they allow for the maximum power transfer with every stroke and make it as durable as any other pair of cycling footwear. What sets this shoe apart from the others is its aircraft grade stainless steel construction, ensuring that the Fizik R5 UOMO is one of the most durable shoes on the market.
Cost and Value
While a more expensive shoe, it offers a combination of the some of the best features on the market. Carbon fiber outsoles, BOA IP1 closures and inner micro-adjustment strap, and an aircraft grade stainless steel construction make it an attractive package for its price point. It is also available in a wide variety of colors.
High Quality Materials
Wide Variety of Colors Available
7. Pearl iZUMi X-ALP Seek VII
These shoes have an outsole that is made out of carbon rubber, while the shank is fiberglass injected, giving you excellent power transfer and rigidity. Although for some users this will prove to be too hard an outsole for strolling, you will definitely appreciate these if you need footwear that will perform well when riding, and do well-enough for when you have to get off your bike.
Even though they run almost a full size small, you will find that these shoes will be comfortable enough, even for all-day wear. The EVA Alp-X midsole provides just the right amount of cushioning so that your feet don’t take too much of a beating. They give adequate arch support, but can also fit custom insoles for a winner combination focused on performance and comfort.
Cost and Value
The Pearl iZUMi X-ALP Seek VII come at a great value, especially when taking into consideration that they are versatile, SPD compatible, breathable and comfortable enough to wear all day long. Although you will need to study the sizing chart before ordering, they will prove to be a great choice if you need something that will provide you all the benefits of cycling shoes but will look more like regular everyday tennis shoes.
- Good Power Transfer
- SPD Compatible
- Great for Commuting and MTB Use
- Decent Arch Support
- Adjustable Lacing System
- Run Small
- Narrow Toe Box
8. Giro Treble II
The ability to cinch down your foot with three straps for precise adjustments make the functionality of this shoe immediately apparent over other types of closures. It has a molded EVA footbed for arch support, Aegis microbial treatment, and an injected nylon outsole.
Compatible with 2 and 3 Bolt Cleat Patterns
With a universal cleat mount system, it can accommodate 2 and 3 bolt cleat patterns. It also comes in a variety of colors options to suit the swathe of any cycling gear.
Cost and Value
While the Shimano brand is considered a sterling representation of comfort, design, and functionality in the cycling world, the Giro Treble II has all of that at a much lower price point. The economic but serious cyclist can be confident they’re getting a lot of bang for their buck while investing in a timeless shoe.
High Quality Materials
9. Pearl Izumi Select RD IV
It has a closure system that more closely follows the contour of the foot, with a 1:1 ratio anatomically closure system involving forefront straps at a 25-degree angle. It is also compatible with road or spd pedals for functionality that is far more versatile.
No Pressure Build Up
While other cycling footwear might have design elements that make them stiff, the Pearl Izumi Select RD V is designed for comfort. The anatomically correct closure system virtually eliminates hotspots and works to reduce swelling. New cyclists not used to long rides or racing will appreciate the comfort and lack of pressure build up.
Cost and Value
The Pearl Izumi RD V is a great shoe for beginner to intermediate cyclists. It’s ergonomic closure system and mid-range price point ensure cyclists stay happier pedaling, and spending.
Fair Price Point
10. Gavin VELO
The sole of these shoes is made out of nylon fiberglass, which gives these the rigidity you need for better power transfer so that you can develop maximum speed with less effort. The better foot to pedal connection will give you the opportunity to exercise more control over how your ride goes.
Lightweight and Durable
These shoes are made out of a synthetic leather material with plenty of vents that will give you a good level of breathability when you most need it. They are lightweight, which help your ride in the sense that it won’t slow you down, while the durability on these shoes is a feature that you will love, as they will serve you well, for plenty of time.
Cost and Value
These shoes by Gavin are the most affordable model on this list, which means that they are the perfect pair if you are just getting into cycling, and are looking to find out whether certain clipping systems will work for you. They are also a good choice for spinning class or indoor cycling. Note that clips are not included.
- Sturdy and Rigid Outsole
- Compatible With a Number of Clips
- Three Point Hook and Loop Closure
- Breathable Upper
- Runs Small
- Unsuitable for Walking
Though the choices are many, selecting the right shoe for you is simplified when considering its features, your skill level, and cost. Different types of footwear are required for different terrain, riding conditions, and comfort level. By being able to look at different brands for different cycling purposes, you can buy with confidence knowing that you’ve chosen the right shoe for your cycling needs. Having customization options, multiple versions of the same shoe style and a wide variety of color options make for an even more personal buying experience.
A rider wants to know if they can change the fit of a shoe based on their pedaling speed or weather changes. They want to know if a shoe is lightweight or more sturdy to deliver a better ratio of power per upstroke. They want to know if it can handle rough terrain, slick roads, and steep inclines, and whether or not their shoes are durable enough to survive them. The right cycling shoe means the difference between stopping your ride early and finishing strong, which for either the expert racing cyclist or the novice cruiser is the most important.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Cycling Shoes
Whether you’re cycling a long distance or a short distance, on the road or up a mountain, it’s important that your footwear has a high level of breathability. This keeps the temperature inside your shoe at a constant state and keeps your feet dry and cool. Look for mesh fabric or webbing that allows for good air flow, or integrated air intakes that will keep your feet dry and fresh feeling. Some models even have holes in the sole area that increase air circulation and keep you comfortable in warmer weather. Some cycling footwear will have a certain amount of insulation for colder months, but an appropriate amount of mesh will still be present to keep your feet properly ventilated. Although the amount of mesh present will depend on the type of shoe you need and the climate you’re cycling in, the need for breathability will always be there.
Not all footwear for cycling comes with the same pedal compatibility, and you will find that shoes made for this purpose come in three varieties; those that clip to the pedals of your bike, those that have cleats that snap into the pedals, and those that have no connecting system. Most models are designed to specifically work with pedals that are clipless. They have holes drilled into their soles for attaching the cleats needed to snap into the pedals and make a secure connection. Cleats come with pedals as a system, not already attached to the shoes. Therefore, the shoes you purchase have to be matched with appropriate cleats and their corresponding pedals. There are two types of hole systems on the bottoms of cycling shoes where cleats are placed:
The 2-hole system, or SPD system (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) as it is often referred to, is typically used for all types of cycling, from road cycling to mountain cycling, as well as marathons and simple cruising. The recessed cleat design, when matched up with the corresponding shoes, makes for a less awkward, hobbled gait when you dismount from your bike, not to mention minimizes the clip-clop sound as you walk.
The 3-hole system is almost always a road style system, due to the fact that it’s the more durable system, and offers performance-enhancing efficiency and high energy return for the rider. Since the cleat is larger, it’s able to disperse the force the rider applies to the pedal over a much wider area than the 2-hole system. This allows for the pressure to be reduced on the connection systems themselves and make them more secure when the rider is pedaling for long periods of time or at fast speeds.
Cycling footwear without pedal systems like cleats or clips mean that the rider is not bound to the connection of their bike, which can sometimes make a novice rider feel more comfortable. Being connected to your bike at the sole can mean more serious injuries if you fall and can’t extract yourself from it. It’s important to work your way up to pedal systems.
Traction and good grip for this type of footwear are best on road shoes and mountain biking shoes that are not a part of a clip or cleat system. Look for soles with good, thick tread if you want your shoes to stay securely on the pedals, especially over uneven terrain. It’ll also help your feet from slipping and sliding off the pedal with each push forward, giving you the most energy return you can have without having your foot secured to it.
Road shoes are generally more lightweight, allowing for greater bursts of speed since the rider isn’t working against the weight of the shoe itself. Mountain biking shoes will generally be heavier and bulkier to allow for thicker rubber soles, more tread, and materials that combat against certain environmental elements. Marathon and racing shoes may shed some weight in the uppers but keep weight in the soles, especially where they clip or snap into pedals. Cleats will also always add weight to a shoe as soon as they’re snapped on.
Shock Absorbing System
A good shock absorbing system is becoming more and more important in this type of footwear due to the presence of foot fatigue and joint pain, especially for marathon riders and those that pedal long distances. Whether you race hard for several hours at a time, cruise the open road touring for the day, or spend it battling the incline of a mountain trail, you need a shoe that can stand lots of impacts. Several brands design their shoes with footbeds which are removable and have pads to absorb the shock of impact, just like other athletic shoes. There are also areas in the shoe, under the forefoot and back towards the heel where gel packs are built into the footbed construction to give extra shock absorption. Each instance your foot pushes forward on the pedal, from the shoe outsole to the forefoot and all the way back, the shock absorption systems in place absorb this force of contact, leaving your joints pain free. This way you can pedal longer and harder without sacrificing your endurance or performance level.
To get the most out of your ride you need shoes that are comfortable, so you can concern yourself with getting where you’re going, not when you can stop and rest to give your feet a break. Many models featured on this list have built-in ergonomic designs with extra foam cushioning and arch support so that all pedaling is painless. Even certain closure systems along the uppers are designed to distribute pressure evenly along the foot, reducing swelling and hotspots. Performance shoes are often rigid along the midsole, making them stiff and much less comfortable. Luckily, most insoles can be modified for any rider that experiences pain at the forefoot, such as with the addition of a gel insert or having a custom-made orthotic insole made. Since most energy is expelled at the forefoot with each pedal push through, this is where most pain will be experienced, so taking the extra time and care to find the most comfortable fit in that area is paramount.
Footwear made specifically for cycling should never fit badly, seeing that ill-fitting cycling shoes can lead to injury of the foot during consistent wear, or allow a greater probability of slipping off a pedal and losing control of your bike resulting in an accident. The upper portion of your model of choice is where fit is most important and can be customized. Shoes for cruising or casual rides often have lace or velcro closures, whereas racing, touring, and marathon shoes often have ratchet-style buckles. Though one would think the tighter the shoe, the greater the energy transfer and return, in actuality, it can limit blood circulation and restrict blood flow, so a happy balance must be achieved. This type of shoes often comes in wider sizes for those that can’t fit into their ordinarily tapered design. Anatomically correct closure systems, whether ratchet, buckle, or lace-up eliminate hotspots, swelling, and injury.
Features most common to road shoes
- Fabric made from mesh for proper blood circulation and breathability
- Materials to make it lightweight
- Gel air intake along the forefoot
- Lace/buckle/ratchet closure systems
Features that are common to mountain shoes
- Heavy tread/lugs on the outsoles for grip
- Thick soles
- Waterproof construction
- Supportive midsole for arches
Energy transfer is one of the most critical components of a cycling shoe because it determines how effective your pedaling will be. This manifests in certain ways, like how much pressure is dispersed across the forefoot area, whether due to shoe construction or how the sole is clipped onto the pedal. A heel cup that makes sure the foot is positioned to make the most powerful upstroke it can, means that you will get a greater energy transfer and maximum energy return with every pedal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the best type of closure system?
A: Shoes made for cycling have several varieties of closure systems depending on their purpose. Casual riding shoes often just have laces or velcro, while performance racing shoes often have ratchet systems or buckles. The latter is designed in such a way as to facilitate quick customization and alteration on the go, but both are secure and simply vary in weight. Some can create different points of discomfort, so much of deciding on a lacing closure system depends on personal preference and the purpose of the shoe.
Q: What style of shoes withstands the most use?
A: Since there are many different types of shoes designed for different types of riding and terrain, deducing which style of cycling shoes is the toughest comes down to how well they perform in their designated category. Where road shoes are concerned, they won’t be thick and heavy to be tough, but they will need a high energy return, be comfortable, and breathable so that they last out on the open road. Mountain biking shoes tend to need to need lots of tread and lugs for proper foot placement, and those should be durable. Since so much of selection and wear comes down to personal preference, whichever style you choose it should stand up to your cycling habits.
Q: How long do these types of shoes last?
A: Cycling footwear should be able to last hundreds of miles. Marathon and other racing shoes are designed to last longer since so many miles are covered in a single day. Avid cyclists, despite how much ground they cover, expect shoes to last several years at a time. Any brands that have shoes that need to be replaced every 6 months are only suitable for cyclists that take casual rides.
Q: How do you clean these shoes?
A: Cycling shoes, especially those used for mountain riding, trail riding, or touring can get pretty dirty. If your shoes need cleaning, most are waterproof with a Gore-Tex lining that won’t be affected if you give them a rinse off with a hose or run water over them with some soap and a rag. Leave them outside to dry and don’t forget to remove the insole footpads to let them dry separately.
Q: Do you have to replace cleats?
A: Anytime you feel your footing get loose or see your cleats visibly cracking, they should be replaced to avoid injury and increase security. Avid cyclists will end up replacing their cleats about once a year based on simple wear and tear and as a part of annual maintenance.
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