Cycling shoes are an essential for any committed road cyclist. Clipping in for the first time with a set of shoes and pedals is a rite of passage for new riders, while experienced riders will pore over the details when choosing a fresh set of kicks. Is the sole stiff enough? Boa dial, ratchet or laces? Do I have socks to match?
There's more to selecting a set of shoes than style, of course. As in any walk of life, bad shoes - or inappropriate shoes - can cause a myriad of issues, but there’s plenty of choice out there when it comes to cycling footwear, with options to suit all budgets, from relatively cheap entry-level shoes to top-of-the-range kicks.
But what are the right shoes for you? We’ve picked out ten of the best road cycling shoes, as reviewed by the RCUK team, but first here’s a quick reminder about what to consider when buying a new pair of road slippers.
What makes a good cycling shoe?
There are four main things to consider when buying a new set of cycling shoes: the fit, closure system, sole and cleat style. Let's take a quick look at each of those, before running through some of the best shoes on the market.
Fit - try before you buy (if possible)
The humble cycling shoe plays an important role when it comes to your comfort on the bike, holding the foot in the best position to optimise power transfer without the risk of injury. However, fit can vary from one brand to another - Specialized shoes are known for having a narrow fit while Bont shoes are favoured by riders with wide feet, for example - and the best way to see what works for you is to try before you buy in your local bike shop. Some brands, including Shimano, also offer a 'wide' version on certain models, while heat-mouldable shoes, most commonly seen on some high-end footwear, allow you to customise the fit.
Closure system - dials, ratchets, straps and laces
With fit sorted, it’s then onto the closure system. What works best for you often comes down to budget and personal preference. Boa dials (or similar designs like Atop) are all the rage and offer a micro-adjustable fit, but are typically found on more expensive shoes. Laces have made a comeback in recent years and offer an element of old-school style and finely-tuned fit (you can tweak the tension at each lace hole), but some riders prefer the on-the-fly adjustability of other setups. Ratchet buckles are often found on mid-range shoes and offer some adjustability, while simple velcro straps are typically seen on entry-level shoes.
Sole - carbon fibre or plastic
Carbon fibre soles are found on mid to high-end shoes and offer lower weight and increased stiffness over more affordable nylon soles. Not all carbon soles are made equal, however, and the most expensive shoes will typically be stiffer than mid-range alternatives, even if both have a full carbon sole. Race-stiff soles aren't for everyone, though, and some riders prefer the additional comfort of a marginally flexier option. Some mid-range shoes use a combination of carbon and plastic.
Cleat style - two, three or four-bolt
Two-bolt cleat mounts are found on mountain bike, commuting or touring shoes, as they allow the rider to walk easier off the bike and are less likely to get clogged up by mud. Most road shoes, including all those featured here, come with drillings for the three-bolt cleats required for road cycling pedals, which offer a more stable platform to put the power down. There's one exception - Speedplay pedals use a four-bolt pattern.
For greater detail on any of the points raised here, or for a more comprehensive view of what to look for when buying new cycling shoes, including how to address any bio-mechanical issues, read our full buyer’s guide (with expert input from Cyclefit).
Now, however, let’s take a closer look at the best cycling shoes to have passed through RCUK HQ in recent months. Scroll through to see all of our selections or jump to a particular shoe using the links below.
Shimano RP9 - £219.99
Shimano’s RP9 shoes sit top of the Japanese firm’s ‘road performance’ range - aimed at endurance riders - and their price tag reflects that. These are high-end shoes, but not as expensive as Shimano's all-singing S-Phyre RC9 race slippers, which we'll come on to.
The RP9s provide superb performance and comfort for the endurance-focused rider, with a stiff carbon sole which still offers some comfort; a well-ventilated, comfortable and forgiving fit; and a single Boa dial for micro-adjustable closure.
"The RP9s set a serious standard; they are extremely good for racking up long miles on the road" (RCUK review)
dhb Dorica - £70
British brand dhb promised to shake up the shoe market when the latest range, including the entry-level Dorica, was announced at the back-end of 2017. We've also reviewed the Troika, which comes in at the same £70 price but with a ratchet closure, but have opted for the Dorica here thanks to its stylish lace-up design.
It’s not all about looks, of course - the classic get-up is paired with a fair amount of stiffness from the nylon sole and decent ventilation for the price. There are lighter shoes out there, and we’d advise you to be careful when it comes to sizing (dhb shoes typically come up big), but as entry-level shoes go, these are value-packed.
"They look good, offer a decent level of power transfer and provide enough ventilation for most kinds of riding" (RCUK review)
Giro Factor Techlace - £299.99
The Factor Techlace is Giro’s latest take on the classic lace-up look, combining the latest performance of a Boa dial with the head-turning style of laces and on-the-fly adjustability of velcro.
Richie Porte is among their admirers, and you can add us to that list, too – so much so we found a place in the RCUK 100 for them. Beyond the Techlace closure system, you get a flexible upper and super-light Easton EC90 SLX2 carbon sole, which all adds up to a winning combination: iconic style meets next-gen technology.
"What Giro have here are race-ready, WorldTour-worthy kicks that combine great levels of comfort and performance" (RCUK 100)
Specialized Torch 2.0 - £150.00
The Torch range features three models, with the 2.0 offering a single Boa dial, carbon sole and 100 per cent mesh and TPU upper. Upgrade to the 3.0 for stiffer carbon and an extra dial, downgrade to the 1.0 and you get velcro straps and a nylon sole. So why the 2.0? With a great balance of comfort over long miles and high-performance, these deliver superb bang-for-your-buck.
"Specialized has really hit the mark with the Torch 2.0 shoes. They are light, comfortable and offer a good level of stiffness for most riders" (RCUK review)
Northwave Extreme RR - £294.99
Northwave has gone all-in on the tech when it comes to the Italian firm's flagship Extreme RR road shoes. Central to the design is the X-Frame structure, which aims to offer a more uniform fit to alleviate pressure points.
It's just 0.5mm thick, with ribbed reinforcements along the length of the shoe - also acting as guides for the Dyneema closure cable, adjusted using Northwave's own-brand dial. As you'd expect for a top-end sole, there's also a carbon fibre sole, while the minimal construction ensures the shoes weigh just 220g each.
"It’s a big price to pay but we’re looking at the latest in shoe tech" (RCUK 100)
dhb Aeron Carbon Road Shoe Dial - £120
We’ve already looked at dhb’s new £70 Dorica shoes in this list, now let’s turn our attention to the top-of-the-range dhb Aeron Carbon Road Shoe Dial. The name might be a bit of a mouthful, but at least you get exactly what it says on the box: a full carbon sole and dial retention system. Oh, and did we mention it’s only £120.
The carbon sole takes centre stage and the 3k carbon weave offers very little flex so, while not the stiffest we’ve ever tested, you’ll struggle to find such efficient power transfer for climbing and sprinting at this price point. Closure is dealt with by the Atop dial, which is similar to a Boa if not as refined, and two velcro straps – simple and effective. Sure, the Aeron can't match the very best shoes for sock-like fit, but you're getting a lot for your money.
"They look good, have a stiff carbon sole, and offer a secure and adjustable fit" (RCUK review)
Sidi Shot - £350.00
Sidi’s Shot shoes sit top of the Italian company's race-ready range, built for pros including Chris Froome and boasting stiffness, performance and comfort to match. In fact, they are packed with features: there's a rigid carbon sole, evenly-distributed closure system, brilliantly retentive heel cup and very effective ventilation.
They are also comfortable. Very, very comfortable and, in our case at least, that was true from the get-go when we, perhaps ill-advisedly, jumped straight into a 100-mile sportive in our first outing in the new kicks. Yes, the price is eye-wateringly steep, but at least that's backed up by top-level performance.
"The Sidi Shots are the highest of high-level performance road shoes" (RCUK review)
Shimano S-Phyre RC9 - £319.99
Where the RP9s featured earlier are the flagship endurance shoes in Japanese giants Shimano’s latest range, the S-Phyre RC9s here are the top-of-the-range racing slippers - you'll see these in the WorldTour peloton. On their launch, they were the first Shimano shoes to adopt Boa dials – two of them, in fact – and the brand also redesigned the sole and added a carbon heel cup, too.
Naturally, that sole is full carbon and is married to a lightweight, supple, one-piece synthetic upper – dimpled and perforated with a mesh panel for breathability. Like the Sidi Shots above, top-level performance comes with a top-level price tag, but the S-Phyre RC9s have enough about them to justify their premium billing.
"There’s more to a shoe than looks, of course, but if you’re going to splash out £319.99 on a new pair of premium disco slippers then you want to look the part" (RCUK 100)
Gaerne G.Stilo+ - £319.99
The latest iteration Gaerne's G.Stilo+ shoe helped to bolster the Italian firm's reputation as one of the best in the business. The G.Stilo+ uses a super-thin carbon sole, decreasing stack height and boosting power transfer - stiffness is the name of the game.
The G.Stilo+ also gets a redesigned upper compared to the G.Stilo, its predecessor, with a laser-drilled microfibre helping to improve airflow through the shoe. Perfect for summer riding, and putting down some serious watts, the G.Stilo+ also boasts a new injection-moulded carbon heel-cup, with two Boa dials looking after closure.
"The bottom line is that these are among the very best shoes out there" (RCUK 100)
Fizik R4B Uomo - £159.99
Though we first tested these back in 2016, Fizik’s R4B Uomo continues to sit in the middle of the brand’s footwear range – and they hit a tidy sweetspot between race-ready performance, low weight and all-day comfort.
Sitting between Fizik’s carbon-soled flagship offerings and the nylon R5s, the R4B Uomo is built around a carbon-injected sole. It strikes a great balance between stiffness and comfort – in fact, we've put some miles in using the Fizik R4B Uomos and felt no discomfort at all, though some riders will want a full carbon sole at this price. The upper of the shoe also impressed - a perforated microtex fabric - while closure is taken care of by a Boa dial and two velcro straps.
"These Fizik R4B Uomo are an ideal performance road shoe for everyone; stiff and lightweight enough to race in, yet sturdy and comfortable enough for all day riding" (RCUK review)