10 best cycling shoes that will maximise your riding performance
We racked up the miles on the road to bring you the most impressive footwear
Get your shoes right and you’re a long way down the road to cycling comfort; get them wrong and you’ll be on the highway to hell.
Your feet do an awful lot of work when pedalling hard – transmitting all that power you’re generating through the pedals to the cranks.
Decent shoes will fit snugly without crushing your feet, and they should be nice and stiff so that all your energy goes into propelling you forward rather than flexing the soles unnecessarily. 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 line up have holes where you can attach the three bolt cleats used in all the major road pedal designs including Shimano’s SPD-SL, Look and Speedplay.
Although they are known as clipless systems, they actually clip into the pedal, holding your foot secure and letting you pull up on the cranks rather than just pushing down.
If you have never used them before, try riding with just one pedal initially, and keep 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 a bit daunting at first but you’ll soon get used to it.
Manufacturers fasten up their shoes in a range of ways. Simple laces are making a comeback as they are so simple to use and offer weight savings, although they’re not ideal for those who like to make micro adjustments to the fit as they ride.
Wire-lacing systems such as Boa and Atop 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 will 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 on the move.
All our shoes are unisex and can also be used at indoor cycling classes as long as you fit the appropriate cleats for your gym.
We have tried to offer some guidance as to how we found the fit of our test pairs, but 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 RC7: From £126, Chain Reaction Cycles
These weren’t the sexiest shoes in our test, nor were they packed with fancy features, but boy were they impressive. At just 505g (size 43), they are incredibly light yet remain sturdy enough to be used all year round. Bear in mind though, the ventilation they offer is so good you’ll need overshoes to keep your tootsies toasty in colder weather. Shimano have used Boa’s L6 lacing system – two dials on each shoe which you twist to tighten and pull out to release.
The upper ratchet pulls a flap across the top of your foot to spread the pressure more evenly. The carbon composite soles are rated at 10 on Shimano’s own stiffness scale (it goes up to 12), so they are firm enough to let you transfer power to your pedals while retaining a bit of flex for comfort. The black pair we tested looked great, but take a look at the yellow alternatives if you crave something a bit different.
Suplest edge3/pro carbon: £310, Sigma Sports
Shoes are Swiss maker Suplest’s sole focus – they don’t dabble in helmets, jerseys, bikes or any of the other stuff some bigger brands produce. This premium-priced pair are very impressive and packed with details. There are two Boa IP1 dials on each shoe and you can tighten or loosen them by twisting the dials on the move, or simply pull them out to activate the quick release feature.
The tongue wraps across, meaning there’s no annoying seam down the outside of your foot. It’s topped off with a thin, flexible layer of carbon fibre that helps to spread pressure when the lacing is tightened, also helping to improve comfort. On the inside you get posh cycling-specific insoles from Solestar and there’s a combination of rubber dots and “shark skin” fabric to hold your foot in place. The carbon soles have replaceable heels and you get a nice carrying bag with a bear on it. In a petite size 42.5 they weighed just 583g.
Fizik tempo r5 powerstrap: From £73, Wiggle
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.
Giro empire e70: From £152.99, Evans Cycles
Knitting? That’s for socks, scarves and jumpers, surely? Well, apart from being a great talking point in the cafe, knitted shoes offer that extra little bit of flexibility, allowing the uppers to follow the contours of your feet more closely. They also breathe superbly, too, thanks to the thousands of tiny holes. This pair has a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to stop light drizzle getting through, plus a hardwearing finish at the heels and toes to give a bit of extra protection from scuffs.
The Easton EC70 carbon composite sole was plenty stiff enough for us, and there’s a replaceable heel you can swap out if it wears down. The laces add to the quirky look and, as with the Rapha classics listed below, there is a little elastic strap you can loop them through to prevent the snagging on the chainset. The absence of lacing dials and straps mean they weigh in at a very impressive 584g in a size 45.
DLKiller ks1 road: £390, DLKiller
This fabulous footwear from Italy will turn heads with every pedal stroke. Extroverts can choose from a range of colours including red, blue or gold. For those of us who like to keep things a little more understated there are black and white versions too. Whichever colour you pick, there’s nothing ordinary about this offering from former professional rider Danilo Di Luca, aka "The Killer".
The handmade, super-stiff carbon fibre soles look and feel as though they could have come off a Formula One car, while the uppers are supple leather that will shape to your feet as you put the miles in. If the sole doesn’t quite fit perfectly you can heat up the hull with a hairdryer for around seven minutes and then reshape it – there’s a video here to show you how. DLKiller have opted for a twin-dial Atop lacing system and, as you would expect at this price, there’s a replaceable heel block. Our size 46 review pair weighed in at just 533g without cleats. These are shoes you will cherish for years to come.
Rapha classic: £180, Rapha
Classic is the perfect name for this minimalist, rather old fashioned pair of shoes. The leather-look microfibre uppers mould to the foot beautifully, with the combination of laces and a single Velcro strap allowing you to fine-tune the fit. The sole is a work of art with trademark Rapha stripes carved into the heel and toe. A broad section of the full carbon fibre sole peeks through the protective outer layer at the point where the cleats bolt on.
Tiny holes cut into the uppers offer ventilation. There’s a roomy toe box and the sizing was spot on, although we reckon the fit is best suited to those with narrower feet. You get a nice Rapha-branded sack to carry them in, spare laces and an extra pair of supports for anyone with high arches. Our size 45's came in at 638g.
Dhb aeron D road shoe: £96, Wiggle
A full carbon sole and Atop lacing makes this pair quite a bargain and help to keep the weight down to 603g for a size 45 pair. The PU artificial leather uppers on our white pair were easy to clean after mucky training rides, and we reckon the black versions look even cooler. If you use them mainly as a wet weather or winter pair you might want to stick a bit of tape over the three vents in the sole – they’re great for ventilation but will let water in when the heavens open.
Along with the Atop dial, Dhb have added a couple of Velcro straps to let you find your ideal fit without fuss. There’s a nicely padded tongue and they’re quite a long shoe, so if you’ve got narrower feet it might be an idea to come down a size from your usual fitting.
Le Col pro carbon road: £250, Le Col
Boutique British brand Le Col has dipped its toe into the shoe market for the first time, but you’re going to have to move quickly if you want to grab a pair. Just 500 have been made, and only in sizes 43, 44 and 45. These 595g (size 45) shoes are astonishingly comfortable thanks to the use of super-supple PU artificial leather for the uppers. It gives them a glossy, almost patent finish that looks amazing and wipes clean easily if splashed with mud or road grime.
Inside there is a shark’s skin-type fabric that will grip to your socks when the two Atop lace dials are tightened up, holding your feet firmly in place as you pedal. Mesh cutouts have been strategically positioned in the uppers to aid ventilation and also relieve pressure on the sides of your feet, helping to boost comfort. The soles are full carbon and incredibly stiff, with a couple of mesh air holes. They are compatible with three bolt road cleats.
Specialized torch 2.0: £158, Evans Cycles
Specialized have gone for comfort over outright performance with this mid-market pair – yet they still weighed in at bang on 600g (size 45). The US firm’s body geometry insole design is popular among those with dodgy knees – and those trying to avoid them – as it helps to keep your joints straight as you pedal. Rubber sections at the toe and heel of the medium-stiffness sole make walking less daunting than in some designs.
Added to that there’s a nice tall toe box, a broad fit and a plush padded cuff around the ankle – all there to ensure you can rack up long pain-free hours on the road. Lacing is courtesy of Boa’s more expensive IP1 dial which you can twist to tighten or loosen on the move, backed up by a single velcro strap. If you're looking for something a bit more exciting than the black pair we tried, check out the red and yellow versions.
Shimano RP1: From £34.99, Chain Reaction
We just had to include this budget pair in our line up as they’re such amazing value. Okay, the design might be a bit clumpy and adjustment is via two simple Velcro straps, but they are comfy and not too hefty (500g for a tiny size 40). They’re a great choice for anyone who wants to try out clipless pedals but doesn’t want to commit to a pricier pair until they know whether they will stick with them. They’re also perfect for younger riders with rapidly growing feet. Bear in mind that most users of this pair recommend buying at least one size up from their usual fit.
The verdict: Cycling shoes
You really can’t go wrong with the Shimano RP7 – our best buy – lightweight, smart and comfy, they are everything you need in a cycling shoe. Lovers of the finer things in life will be blown away by our pricier picks from DLKiller and Suplest. Both pairs are light, packed with features and incredibly comfortable – as you would expect at more than £300 per pair. If you want to turn heads without breaking the bank, go for the stylish Rapha classics.
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