Providing greater comfort and security while boosting efficiency, the best cycling shoes will take your pedalling to the next level
True or not, using cycling shoes is often seen as the mark of a “serious” cyclist. And while pedalling in trainers works just fine for many, swapping to a pair of the best cycling shoes has serious benefits. First, cycling shoes allow you to use clipless pedals. These clever pedals are like mechanical traps, and combine with the cleats on cycling shoes to allow you to attach your feet to them: simply step on to engage and twist your feet sideways to clip out. This process takes a few tries to master, but it’s worth persevering, as using dedicated cycling shoes and clipless pedals provides greater security and improved pedalling efficiency.
Designed for use on the bike, cycling shoes are stiffer, with a closer fit than regular trainers. As you press on the pedals, this will ensure your efforts aren’t wasted, while keeping your feet comfortable. Covering both road and mountain bike formats, we’ve rounded up a selection of what we consider to be the best cycling shoes currently on the market.
How to choose the best cycling shoes for you
Cycling shoes are split into two key categories: road and mountain bike. However, each design has uses beyond these categories.
Road-type shoes have an almost unembellished sole and accept larger plastic road-type cleats (which will need to be attached to the three mounting points on the shoe). Used with single-sided road pedals, this system creates a very stable attachment. They’re also extremely light, which is ideal for athletic road riding. However, the lack of tread and prominence of the cleats makes such shoes challenging to walk in.
Mountain bike-style shoes use a much smaller two-bolt cleat. Made of metal and recessed within the shoe’s tread, this makes them much safer to walk in. Working with double-sided mountain bike pedals, this system is easier to clip into but isn’t quite as stable once locked in as the road-type style described above. Mountain bike-style shoes and pedals are ideal for beginners of all kinds along with more experienced off-road and touring cyclists.
Which cleats do I need?
Cycling shoes attach to the pedals via intermediary pieces called cleats. These arrive with the pedals and are specific to their brand and style. Road cleats have three mounting points and are made of plastic, while mountain bike cleats have two mounting points and are made of metal. Both types bolt directly to the shoe, with road cleats being the larger and more prominent of the two. Both will eventually wear out and cost around £20-25 to replace.
Which features should I look out for?
The material used for the sole is a crucial factor. Stiff and lightweight, carbon fibre comes into its own as the sole of a cycling shoe, and these properties mean it can be finely tuned by the manufacturer. However, it’s very expensive.
At the budget-conscious end of the market, most cycling shoes are made with nylon soles, which aren’t as stiff. Composite carbon-reinforced plastic soles are an improvement and remain affordable but can’t compete with full carbon alternatives.
Of course, stiffness is more crucial in racing shoes than those used for more leisurely cycling. In fact, if you want to walk a bit between your time on the bike, a degree of flex can be helpful. Weight is also an important factor if you’re concerned with racing-style performance. Features such as ratcheting straps or rotating dials can be easier to adjust and are often a more secure alternative to laces or velcro, but these will be more expensive. At the top of the range, branded fastenings such as those made by Boa use wires threaded through the shoe to offer almost instant tightening.
Finally, the material that composes the upper part of the shoe can impact comfort and breathability.
How much do I need to spend?
The cheapest cycling shoes start from around £60. Ideal for beginners, they’ll also work well for shorter sessions on the bike, such as spin classes. As you reach about £100, you’ll start to see more specialist designs. Well into the three-figure mark, and you’ll find lightweight and stiff carbon replacing plastic on the soles. At the top of the market, you’ll unlock elite features, exotic materials and clever technology such as turn-to-tighten ratcheting dials.
The best cycling shoes to buy
1. Shimano MT3: The best cycling shoes for touring and leisure use
Price: £72 | Buy now from Wiggle
This outdoor-style inspired cycling shoe offers the performance of a dedicated mountain bike shoe while being comfortable to walk in, like a trainer. They’re easy to use, with a sporty style that allows you to cycle as well as walk without having to clip-clop about. They don’t look too weird off the bike, either.
Taken from Shimano’s mountain bike range, the MT3 has a glass fibre reinforced shank plate to aid rigidity and allows the foot to flex when walking while providing a stable platform for the pedal. A chunky rubber sole hides the recessed two-bolt cleat and means you should have grip on whatever surface you’re walking over, while the one-piece upper uses simple laces.
The shoe isn’t too heavy, and there are perforations on the upper for breathability so you don’t sweat too much. On the more recreational end of the spectrum, the MT3 shoes can manage a bit of everything and are an excellent option for beginners and more relaxed cyclists of all stripes.
Key features – Style: MTB two-bolt; Sole: Nylon; Fixing method: Laces; Other features: Comfy for walking
2. Shimano XC702: The best cycling shoes for cross-country racing
Price: £189 | Buy now from Sigma
As seen on the feet of various elite-level cyclocross and cross-country (XC) racers, these racing shoes from Shimano prioritise stiffness and low weight, and at their core is an exceptionally rigid carbon sole. Making sure none of your cycling effort goes to waste, they’re not designed for extended amounts of walking, but their grippy rubber soles mean you’ll be able to manage short sprints on foot quickly enough.
You’d be forgiven for imagining the relatively minimalist uppers, with their striking metallic design, might follow tradition by being narrow and constrictive. However, they’re roomier than you might expect. A boon on long hot days when your tired feet can swell slightly, their volume can also be easily tailored via two separate Boa fastening dials. These allow you to customise volume or lock yourself in for the final sprint or extended climbing. Not cheap, but far from the most expensive shoes you can buy, they’re great for purposeful off-road riding.
Key features – Style: MTB two-bolt; Sole: Carbon; Fixing method: Twin Boa dials; Other features: N/a
3. Adidas Road Cycling Shoes: The most stylish road cycling shoes
Price: £130 | Buy now from Adidas
There are more technically accomplished road cycling shoes at this price point, but these models from Adidas still have a lot going for them. For one, they look fantastic. In a world of over-engineering and occasionally ugly design, they take the simplicity and style Adidas is known for and bring it to the cycling market.
They’re not all about aesthetics, though. Adidas’ cycling shoes perform very well, too. The key to this is the shoe’s fibreglass-reinforced nylon sole. Less flashy than carbon, it’s still pretty light and stiff. The simple mesh-like uppers, made from the same Primegreen recycled material as Adidas’ football boots, are both pleasingly breathable and extremely comfy. These combine with the shoe’s simple laces to ensure they wrap your feet without putting strain on any pressure points. While breezy in the summer and ideal for indoor use, they might be too chilly in the winter, but will you be going out riding then anyway? Finished with three reflective stripes, they’re a stylish and straightforward alternative to overdesigned road models.
Key features – Style: Road three-bolt; Sole: Nylon; Fixing method: Laces; Other features: Reflective stripes
4. Specialized Torch 1.0: The best entry-level road cycling shoes
Price: £100 | Buy now from Sigma
A high-end-looking road shoe at an entry-level price, Specialized’s Torch models take the Body Geometry ergonomics of the firm’s posher, more expensive road shoes and apply them to a more affordable design. We’re big fans. By tailoring the angles of the footbed and sole, the hip, knee and foot are kept in perfect alignment. Also reducing uncomfortable pressure as you push on the pedals, the shoe’s injection moulded nylon composite is moderately stiff and fits both two- and three-bolt cleats.
User-friendly without being dumbed down, they’re a great option if you’re looking to grow in your riding or you’re unsure which system is best for you. They’re relatively lightweight and fix to your feet via a single Boa brand L6 dial, which allows for quick fitting and easy on-the-fly adjustments. Backed up by a lower velcro strap to help you tailor their volume, they’re available in easy-to-match shades of black or white.
Key features – Style: Road two- & three-bolt; Sole: Nylon; Fixing method: Boa dial/velcro; Other features: Twin two- and three-bolt fixing fits both pedal styles
5. Giro Cylinder II: Best all-around cycling shoes for mountain bikers
Price: From £91 | Buy now from Wiggle
Mountain biking is a diverse discipline. Riders might do the odd race, but most spend more time mucking about in the woods. This makes performance when pedalling important, although at the same time, it’s not unusual to find yourself hiking up hills when they become too steep to ride. In short, mountain bikers need a shoe that performs equally well on foot as on the bike.
The rugged and hard-wearing Giro Cylinder do just this. With a stiff sole, the shoe has a hardy tread that makes walking reasonably easy. Fitting is quick and secure thanks to the Boa dial, which is a nice feature on a shoe at this price point. There are even fixings for studs if you want to race in the mud. They’re not too heavy, either, making them highly versatile. These shoes are at home on the trail but will also work well for gravel riders or even XC or cyclocross racers. Their earthy tones mean they scrub up well, too.
Key features – Style: MTB two-bolt; Sole: Nylon; Fixing method: Boa dial/velcro; Other features: N/a
6. Rapha Explore Powerweave: The best cycling shoes for gravel riders
Price: £260 | Buy now from Rapha
Gravel cycling is terribly trendy at the moment. When riding drop handlebar bikes over unpaved backroads, any mountain bike-style shoe and pedal combination will work well. However, those looking for a pair of kicks created specifically for gravel cycling should check out Rapha’s Explore Powerweave shoes. These high-end models have a tread that’s tailored to the sort of conditions you’ll find on the average gravel ride.
Less aggressive and without the replaceable studs found on mud-focused XC shoes, they’re incredibly light. This is furthered by a carbon sole and titanium mounting points. Sculpted at the heel for a secure fit and with adjustable arch support beneath the insole, they offer great ergonomics for fast all-day riding. The Powerweaves are finished off with woven uppers for durability and moisture management and can be fine-tuned for a perfect fit thanks to two separate Boa dials.
Key features – Style: MTB two-bolt; Sole: Carbon; Fixing method: Twin Boa dial; Other features: Gravel-specific
7. Le Col Pro Carbon: The best high-end road cycling shoes
Price: £250 | Buy now from Le Col
Ticking off all the features racing cyclists demand from their shoes, Le Col’s Pro Carbon models provide low overall weight, stiff carbon soles, ratchet dials, and classic leather uppers. With barely a whiff of rubber on their undersides, you won’t want to walk in them. Instead, the Pro Carbons focus on efficiently transferring every watt of energy produced by your pedalling onto the road.
These shoes may look quite traditional from the outside, with their uppers being made from perforated and stitched leather panels. However, inside they feature a traction-boosting material around the sides and heels, to ensure that your feet don’t move around inside the shoe, and external adjustment is taken care of by two ratcheting dials. The shoe’s carbon soles also feature sizable air vents to prevent your toes from getting sweaty. A good choice for racers or keen road cyclists, they’ll require some looking after, but provide fantastic performance.
Key features – Style: Road two-bolt; Sole: Carbon; Fixing method: Ratchet dial; Other features: Leather uppers