9 best men’s cycling shoes to improve your riding performance

The footwear we’ve found is perfect for keeping fit, commuting and even road racing

Aaron Roe
Tuesday 13 April 2021 14:32
<p>From carbon-soled wonders to do-anything adventure models, we tested a range of styles</p>

From carbon-soled wonders to do-anything adventure models, we tested a range of styles

Find the right cycling shoes and you’ll be a long way down the road to cycling heaven – but get them wrong and you’re on the highway to hell.

Your feet do an awful lot of work when riding hard – transmitting all that power you’re generating through the pedals to the cranks of your bicycle.

Decent shoes will fit snugly without crushing your feet, and they should be nice and stiff so 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 that offers a bit of give for extra comfort.

Although they are known as clipless systems, these shoes do actually clip into the pedal, holding your foot secure and letting you pull up on the cranks rather than just pushing down.

Most of 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-SLs, and those made by Look and Speedplay. One of our picks, meanwhile, features a mountain bike-style two-bolt set-up, allowing the addition of a rugged sole that makes the shoes much better for walking in when gravel riding, touring or commuting. All of our shoes can also be used at indoor cycling classes, as long as you fit the appropriate cleats for your gym.

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Manufacturers fasten up their shoes in a range of ways. Laces are making a comeback as they are so simple to use and offer weight savings. Wire-lacing systems such as Boa and Atop are also popular, as they use dials to tighten a fine wire that pulls the sides of the shoe together to hug your foot. Velcro-backed straps, meanwhile, might not be the coolest solution, but they are simple to use and can be easily adjusted on the move.

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 shoe.

We tried these shoes in a variety of situations – on long training rides, indoors on the turbo trainer, and even off-road in the hills for one pair. We didn’t just look at outright comfort, we wanted to see how easy they were to get on and off, and whether they could be adjusted on the move.

We also wanted to find shoes at a range of prices – from budget designs for those looking for their first pair, right up to top-end kicks worn by the world’s best racers – so you can be sure to find something here that will be as easy on your wallet as they are on your 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 SPD-SL road cycling shoes

These mid-market shoes look a lot more expensive than the price tag suggests – 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 the vast majority of riders won’t notice. Lacing and adjustment is via a Boa dial and there is an additional velcro strap at the toe. The uppers are built from synthetic leather and thermoplastic polyurethane, making them really easy to wipe clean. On the road, they are 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.

Rapha explore shoes

As the name implies, this is a shoe designed with long rides off-road in mind, but they will also be happy on a commute. With a grippy, rubber sole and reinforced heel and toe, these will be right at home on gravel trails where a spot of hike-and-bike might be in order. With two-bolt fittings, they will also excel on any weekend bikepacking trips you might have lined up. The combination of laces and a strap make it easy to find the perfect fit, and the upper is constructed from a single piece, so there are no seams to dig into your foot. They come with a carrying bag, some spare laces and inserts for high arches.

Giro empire road cycling shoe

There’s something so satisfying about lacing up a pair of cycling shoes – maybe it’s the fact that it harks back to the sport’s golden age. This pair from California is lightweight (550g in size 42.5), soft and comfortable thanks to the supple Teijin Samo microfibre uppers that really mould to your feet. The Easton carbon fibre sole is super stiff, and you can replace the little rubbery heel block if it wears down. You get spare laces, arch supports, a carrying sack and spare cleat bolts in the box.

They are a touch on the narrow side compared with some shoes, but you can loosen or tighten the laces as required to find your fit. We rode in the classy white version but they also come in plain black, which is a bit more forgiving when it comes to dirt and marks, or an eye-catching orange, if you want to make a statement.

Suplest edge+ pro road cycling shoes

This Swiss brand makes fantastic shoes. This pair features Boa’s top-of-the-range IP1 dials which work in conjunction with laces made from 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 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 and swell, and with the twin-dial system you can really fine-tune the fit. Carbon fibre wrap-over tongues mean there are no pressure points digging into the top of your feet. The carbon soles are incredibly stiff and the insoles comfy, 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.

Dhb dorica road shoe

At a glance you’d be pushed to tell the difference between this budget pair and the much more expensive Giros – they certainly look very similar with their laces and ventilation holes. The near £200 saving manifests itself in synthetic uppers made with a separate toe section, and the lack of a stiff carbon sole – although the composite ones on these doricas are far from floppy. They’re not as comfortable as a premium pair, but they are a million miles away from the budget shoes that were on offer just a few years ago. For a cycling newcomer, someone who doesn’t rack up too many miles, or a keen rider looking for a cheaper winter pair, they’re a great buy.

Le Col pro carbon cycling shoes

These 595g shoes from boutique brand Le Col are astonishingly comfortable thanks to the use of super-supple PU artificial leather on the uppers. It gives them a glossy finish that looks amazing and wipes clean easily if splashed with mud or road grime. Inside you’ll find a sharkskin-type fabric that will grip to your socks when the two Atop lace dials are tightened, holding your feet firmly as you pedal. Mesh cutouts have been strategically positioned in the uppers to aid ventilation. They 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, and they are drilled for three cleat bolts.

Specialized torch 2.0 road shoes

Specialized have gone for comfort over outright performance with this mid-market pair, yet they still weigh in at a featherweight 600g in a 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 that are all there to ensure you can rack up long, pain-free hours on the road. Boa’s more expensive IP1 dial has been used – you can twist it to tighten or loosen on the move – and it’s backed up by a single velcro strap.

Rapha pro team shoes

This pair is crafted from Rapha’s Powerweave woven fabric and it really seems to mould to the shape of your foot, making these some of the most comfortable shoes in our line-up (we think it looks pretty cool too). 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, along with an old-school tongue, so they’re really easy to get on and off. If you want to turn heads check out the stunning orange shade that’s sure to be a huge hit on the roads this summer. They come with a shoe bag and a pair of inserts for riders with high arches.

Fizik vento infinito carbon 2 road shoes

Everything about this pair of shoes looks premium, from the lovely feel of the synthetic uppers to the air vents carved into the soles that have the look of a Formula One car’s air intakes. The vents do a great job in keeping fresh, cool air moving throughout the shoe, although if you plan to use them in wet winter weather you might want to cover them up with a bit of gaffer tap. The carbon sole is designed with racing in mind — it’s extremely stiff to aid power transmission. Fizik have opted for two Boa dials for ease of tightening and a classic tongue and band combination to avoid any uncomfortable pinch points.

The verdict: Men’s cycling shoes

Whether you’re a racer or just starting out on a bike, you’ll find something suitable in our line up. The Shimano RC5s are amazing shoes at a great price, and they look fantastic too. If you want great all-rounders you can use on adventures or when riding to work, take a look at the excellent Rapha explore shoes. Anyone looking for a premium pair with a plush feel could do a lot worse than checking out the super supple Le Cols.

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