If you’ve ever asked anyone what the best cycling shoes ever were and they quickly spewed out a list of bike shoes, they were most likely a salesperson. This time around, you get to get a little more detailed bike shoe buying advice from a real cyclist. Here, I’ll walk you through the entire cycling shoe selection process so that you can pick up a pair of bike shoes you’ll love for years.
I’ve listed out a few bike shoe recommendations, but the thought that they’re the best of the best or the only options anyone could buy has never crossed my mind.
In this post, you’ll find a comprehensive buying guide that aims to increase your confidence around cycling shoes.
- Why Should You Listen to Me?
- 7 Best Cycling Shoes of All Time
- 1. Shimano SH-RP1 All-Rounder Bike Shoes (SPD & SPD-DL Compatible)
- 2. Lake CX332 Extra-wide Road Cycling Shoes (Expensive But Super Wide)
- What Makes the Lake CX332 Bike Shoes a Great Fit for Wide Feet?
- 3. Giro’s Empire W VR90 Women’s Off-Road Cycling Shoes (Best for Narrow Feet)
- A Secret that Works for Guys with Very Narrow Feet
- What If You Have a Narrow Heel But a Wider Forefoot?
- 4. Gavin Cycling Shoes for MTB (Best Budget MTB Shoe, Versatile Too)
- Best budget road cycling shoes?
- 5. Five Ten Adidas Men’s Trailcross LT MT Shoes (Best for Flat Pedals)
- 6. Lake MXZ303 Men’s Insulated Winter MTB Boot (Best for Winter Cycling)
- 7. Tommaso Veloce 100 Triathlon Road Shoe (Best Cycling Shoe for Triathlon)
- How to Choose the Best Cycling Shoes for Your Riding Style
- Reasons to Invest in Good Bike Shoes
- 1. What Kind of Cycling Will You Mostly Do?
- 5 Types of Cycling Shoes
- 2. Features to Look for in Cycling Shoes
- 3. How Should Cycling Shoes Fit?
- 4. Men Cycling Shoes vs. Women’s Cycling Shoes
- 5. What If You’ll Ride in the Winter?
- 6. Best Cycling Shoe Brands?
- 7. What If I Have Wide Feet?
- 8. What If I Have Narrow Feet?
- 9. What’s a Good Price Point for Good Bike Shoes?
Why Should You Listen to Me?
As to the recommendations presented here, think of these picks as good-to-great bike shoes that have worked for me, my husband, and many other cyclists out there.
While I’ve not worn every possible cycling shoe ever designed since the discovery of biking kicks, I’ve owned quite a few pairs. Over the years, we’ve collected quite a pile of OK-ish, good, decent, and great cycling shoes.
So, we mostly recommend products we’ve used, and where that’s not the case, we always mention it for the sake of transparency.
We also spend tons of time digging around the vastness of the web to find useful products that truly alleviate our readers’ pain.
7 Best Cycling Shoes of All Time
Let’s dive right in and see what these reviews of the best cycling shoes ever have for us. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, you’ll likely find something you like.
*Affiliate Links Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Last update on 2021-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
1. Shimano SH-RP1 All-Rounder Bike Shoes (SPD & SPD-DL Compatible)
Who wouldn’t want a cycling shoe that performs well indoors as well as outdoors? One that’s affordable and works well on the road as well as on a Peloton bike?
Whether you buying a shoe for your fitness bike workouts or for doing long rides on the road, the Shimano SH-RP1 got you covered.
The shoe comes with a 5-hole cleat system so that you can use it on SPD-SL and SPD pedals. And yes, they’re also compatible with Peloton’s Delta cleats. You won’t get any cleats though, but didn’t your pedals come with cleats?
It features a reinforced fiberglass sole that’s relatively light and stiff. Well, don’t expect this sole to be as stiff as the best lightweight carbon soles. But it’s not like fiberglass sucks at power transfer.
The upper boasts durable synthetic leather construction, which means it lasts but not forever. This shoe is also considerably breathable thanks to the large vents around the toe, the tiny holes on the upper, and the mesh on the collar.
Speaking of the collar, it’s quite thick and doesn’t rub against the ankle when pedaling. Also, the shoe is remarkably comfortable for a road shoe.
The closure is a two-strap hook-and-loop mechanism that creates a snug fit. But not as snug a fit as you’d get with a 3-strap fastening system.
As for fit, go with the Shimano size chart. If you a size 10.5 US, that converts to a size 45 EU. Note: the toe box can get quite tight for some feet.
So, stay away from this option if you have Mr. Fred Flintstone-like feet and get the Lake CX332 Extra-wide shoes below.
Note: These aren’t very useful as MTB shoes. They’re not even good for walking when you get off your road bike. These are basically road shoes that also work with SPD MTB pedals. So, you’ll still walk like a duck as you enter restaurants for that delicious burger.
2. Lake CX332 Extra-wide Road Cycling Shoes (Expensive But Super Wide)
So you have wide feet. That’s OK, except you can’t seem to find wide-width cycling shoes that actually work for you. But that’s where the Lake CX332 Extra-wide bike shoes come into play.
How do I know that the Lake CX332 Extra-wide is the widest bike shoe on the market today? Because a guy my hubby rides with owns a pair of wide feet. Like 5E wide feet. And the CX332 fits him like a glove.
Before my hubby’s buddy found this shoe, he’d ordered shoes from every brand that claims to carry some wide options. Shimano Wide Fit cycling shoes were wide, but not wide enough for this big boy. He hated it because everyone said that the Shimano were super comfortable.
Then there was the Sidi Mega line of wide bike shoes. These ones promised to add a whole 4mm to the shoe’s width — wide but not really wide. Plus, the price point was prohibitive.
Our friend even tried the Giro high-volume model, and this too was quite wide, except his wide feet needed a little more room than that. Most supposedly wide Giro bike shoes only look wide but offer a surprisingly narrow fit.
What Makes the Lake CX332 Bike Shoes a Great Fit for Wide Feet?
It was all frustration and returns until our guy found the Lake CX332 Extra-wide. It’s my informed opinion that Lake bike shoes are the best cycling shoes for cyclists with wide fat feet.
But how wide is the CX332 Extra-wide Lake shoe? It’s really wide, 3EEE width wide, but it also works for our friend who is 5E wide even though the fit was a little too snug. Fortunately, leather can be stretched pretty easily. After our friend’s cobbler applied his shoe-stretching magic on the heat-moldable shoe, it fits him like a glove.
If this shoe won’t fit your wide feet, you probably have the widest feet in the world. And you need custom bike shoes, not this one or any other kind of cycling shoe praised for its roomy toe box.
You can buy the shoe in black or white, but the price could be lower. The upper is meticulously crafted out of high-quality abrasion-resistant K-Lite kangaroo leather with multiple tiny air vents that dramatically boost breathability. And Lake’s Outlast SmartFabric Technology labors hard to keep your feet’s temperature more or less constant.
Then there’s the dual-BOA closure system that enables micro-adjustments for even pressure distribution so you can dial in a comfy fit.
What’s more, the outsole is made out of lightweight carbon, and that means awesome power transfer so that you can conquer the toughest ball tearers on the road.
These guys are built for serious racing. They come in a 4-hole design that’s compatible with 3-hole and 4-hole pedal/cleat systems. You can even use these shoes with Speedplay pedals for a pretty low stack height so you can win races.
3. Giro’s Empire W VR90 Women’s Off-Road Cycling Shoes (Best for Narrow Feet)
I don’t have narrow feet, nor does my husband who’s my cycling partner most of the time. But I spent quite a bit of time talking to a professional bike fitter and a bunch of road cyclists. I also read around the web while interacting with other lovers of the wheel.
My research found that Giro and Sidi provide a couple of narrow-fitting bike shoes. But what if you have very narrow feet? What if bike shoe companies keep asking for a video describing how you measured your feet …because your measurements seem like they belong to some blinking cycling alien?
That’s where the Empire W VR90 Women’s MTB Shoe comes to your rescue. Generally, Giro women’s cycling shoes offer the so-called Women’s Performance Fit.
Now, this fit is designed to accommodate low-volume feet. The resulting models are significantly narrower than those emanating from the company’s Standard Performance Fit. These guys come with a narrower forefoot and a narrower heel cup.
A Secret that Works for Guys with Very Narrow Feet
If you’re a guy with the narrowest feet on Earth, you likely won’t find options that work well for you. A cyclist (a guy) I bumped into online recently said they had probably the narrowest feet this side of the Milkyway Galaxy.
The guy said he ended up wearing women’s shoes (Giro) because they were the only ones that worked for his feet. And the funny thing is that no one’s ever noticed that the dude rides in women’s shoes — no one, ever.
If you want the specifics, the guy uses the Giro’s Empire W VR90 Women’s Off-Road Cycling Shoes.
These shoes come with an adjustable footbed that makes it possible to fine-tune the fit as well as arch support. The end result is a nice and snug fit that holds his narrow fit like a friendly vise.
Combine this comfy fit with a non-stretch synthetic upper (Teijin) and a stiff carbon sole featuring Vibram rubber tread. And you have tons of power transfer, control, grip, and stability. But don’t expect very comfortably in these shoes when you dismount. It’s a road shoe, after all.
These off-road bike shoes use lace-ups to create a nice and snug custom fit. There’s no better way to manage foot volume than using good old traditional laces.
But the upper is synthetic and may not stretch much at all. However, this upper breathes really well — as most synthetic uppers do — keeping the feet comfy and cool when riding in hot weather.
As for cleat/pedal compatibility, the shoe works well with all 2-hole pedal/cleat systems. Think Shimano SPD, Crankbrothers, Time ATAC, and whatnot.
What If You Have a Narrow Heel But a Wider Forefoot?
That can be a huge problem, but there’s a solution. The best option I know that works best for off-road cyclists with narrow heels and wide forefeet is high-end Sidi shoes. Typically, these shoes come with a clever heel cup adjuster so you can customize the tightness around the heel however you want.
I’ve yet to test the Sidi Ergo 2 CL Vernice Road Shoe because I don’t have narrow feet. But a few cyclists with narrow heels but wider forefeet recommended them. I suggest that you give them a trial. This shoe features an adjustable heel retention mechanism so you can easily tweak heel width as you like.
But premium Sidi bike shoes can be sinfully expensive. And that’s where Specialized bike shoes come in. Specialized has always been a go-to bike shoe brand for people with narrow heels but wider forefeet. Visit their site and read reviews. You might like an option there.
4. Gavin Cycling Shoes for MTB (Best Budget MTB Shoe, Versatile Too)
Maybe you just don’t want to spend a boatload of money on bike shoes just yet. You just want a pair of affordable wearable MTB or road bike shoes. Consider the Gavin Cycling Shoes for mountain biking. The option comes in at $60-ish as of this writing, and that’s pocket-friendly for an OK-ish MTB shoe.
The shoes look and are comfortable with perforated, quick-drying insoles and lightweight mesh uppers for maximum breathability. If you want cheap Velcro strap mountain bike shoes that offer decent traction while keeping your feet nice and comfortable, pick up these shoes.
As for sizing, it works well — true to size for the most part. But if you’re in between sizes, don’t size. Instead, use the EU size chart and order the recommended size for your feet measurement.
Three Velcro straps keep things nice and snug, and the heel cup holds the heel firmly in place. Whether you’re riding in hot weather or wet weather, the straps won’t disappoint because they’re easily accessible and easy to use.
However, these shoes come without cleats — you’ll have to order them separately. If that’s too much of a bummer for you, then definitely pass up this pick.
Attaching the 2-bolt cleats wasn’t difficult for my man. These entry-level MTB shoes are compatible with SPD pedals and Crankbrothers.
And because the cleats stay below the surface of the soles, you can walk without issues. The tread is also pretty aggressive. You shouldn’t easily slip off the pedal platform or off the ground while walking.
One last thing: this shoe is super versatile. Many indoor cyclists really like this shoe. Because it works, and it’s quite affordable.
Best budget road cycling shoes?
The Men’s Premium Microtex Road Cycling Shoes should be a great bet. These come in a slew of nice colors, and the pricing is attractive. But like the costlier budget men’s MTB shoe above, these ones don’t come with cleats.
These cheap bike shoes are designed to be compatible with pretty much all kinds of cleats. They should work well with almost all road and mountain bike cleat/pedal systems — Shimano, Look.
The upper is synthetic, of course, and it’s not very breathable. And at that price, it’s incredible you’re getting a BOA closure system. But my hubby thought this quick-release fastening system was a little flimsy, who knows maybe they’re cheap knockoffs. But the system didn’t like fall apart in a week.
The soles are plastic, and they weren’t stiff enough for intense road biking. But you shouldn’t expect better at that price. And these shoes aren’t super light.
5. Five Ten Adidas Men’s Trailcross LT MT Shoes (Best for Flat Pedals)
If you belong in the flat-pedal crowd, you’ll probably love the Five Ten Adidas Trailcross MTB shoes. These kicks are extremely well ventilated, and you won’t need to replace cleats every couple of years.
And you’d be hard-pressured a lighter MTB shoe. Compared to the Five Ten Freerider Pros, the 5.10 Adidas Trailcross weighs about the same.
You can literally feel the wind traveling through these shoes and cooling your feet. They’re what you need when the weather heats up but the trails keep throwing the same challenges at you.
The tongue stays in place during rides, and the lace-up closure design comes in handy there. But the padding around the collar feels a little too thin at that price point.
My hubby said his shoes rubbed his ankles a bit as he rode or walked. Fortunately, swapping the socks with something somewhat thicker helped alleviate the annoyance.
At that price point, my man didn’t expect such floppy stock insoles. But that is hardly surprising when it comes to cycling shoes — you almost always need to drop in better footbeds. You’ll want to remove them for aftermarket insoles that provide better stability and support.
Also, the toe comes reinforced with a toe cap for durability. And these shoes last as most good bike shoes do.
As for fit, these shoes offer a larger fit than the 5.10 Freerider Pros, but they’re still pretty narrow. They don’t work very well for cyclists with lumpy feet. Anyone with a little wider feet should expect to get blisters and a few hotspots after some time riding around in these shoes.
The shoes come with a modified sole tread, and the sole is produced from tough, grippy rubber. When hiking in loose dirt, you should feel sure-footed with these rubber soles.
But my husband felt there could be more aggressive tread around the heel and forefoot. That said, the tread is grippy enough and should keep you on most flat pedals.
6. Lake MXZ303 Men’s Insulated Winter MTB Boot (Best for Winter Cycling)
When fat biking across the icy tundra in North America, you need water-resistant and waterproof boots specifically built for winter cycling. And you won’t go wrong with the Lake MXZ303 Men’s Insulated Winter MTB Boots.
The upper material has been constructed using Pittards WR100 leather that comes equipped with a temperature-regulating liner. The insulation insole is referred to as Thermosol Composite Insulation insole. More insulation (3M Thinsulate Insulation) goes to the toe box.
Where the laces are supposed to be lies a leather flap that blocks nasty moisture and wind when you’re pedaling against snowy weather.
A BOA mechanism mounted to the side of the shoe makes works together with a buckle at the top. The buckle also serves to keep an additional leather flap nice and flat, shutting out the rest of the harsh weather elements and windy weather for good.
This buckle’s end sticks onto a velcro strap that goes around the shoe through the beginning of the buckle. A strap sewn onto a protruding leather piece at the back of the shoe makes putting it on and off easier.
Once you fine-tune the push/pull BOA lacing system and work the Velcro-ended buckle, you can fat bike all you want in the snow. And you won’t end up with wet, cold feet.
The tough, soft, flexible rubber sole gives you total surefootedness. The sole ensures your feet stay on the pedals so you can keep generating even more heat for your winter ride or wet-weather commute.
Last but not least, the shoe offers winter cyclists cutting-edge heat reflective technology inside the heel and tongue.
This heat-retention mechanism releases heat back into the shoe to counteract temperature drops so you can have warm, dry feet throughout your wintry cycling session.
With these winter cycling boots from good old Lake, you’ll take on frosty days like a monster.
If overshoes, winter cycling socks, balaclava, and winter cycling gloves and jacket won’t warm your core satisfactorily, wear these shoes. Your feet will love you more for it.
How warm are these winter cycling shoes?
It depends on how cold and wintry your winters get. But my husband rode in these shoes in 35-degree weather last winter, and the feet stayed nice and warm. I bet you can comfortably use them in even lower temps.
What about cleat compatibility?
These winter shoes should work well with any regular MTB SPD pedals. So, will these shoes work with road bike pedals? Yes, if the pedals are regular SPDs and NOT the more common SPD-SL road bike pedals.
How Does the Lake MXZ Winter Boot Fit?
Lake shoes generally fit wider, but the MXZ3030 isn’t particularly wide. My hubby says these actually have a narrow toe box contrary to what some reviewers say.
But width perceptions are personal, huh? Jason also owns the Lake CX331, and in comparison, the CX331 offers a noticeably wider fit.
7. Tommaso Veloce 100 Triathlon Road Shoe (Best Cycling Shoe for Triathlon)
Are you planning on doing morning cardio on an exercise bike/stationary bike? Maybe you’re training for a triathlon or a century race? Maybe you need an easy-to-put-on shoe for riding through the warmest days? In all these situations, the Tommaso Veloce 100 wins.
With that many air vents, you couldn’t ask for a more comfortable shoe. Couple that with the fact that this shoe lacks a tongue, and the top of your feet stays cool the whole time you’re pedaling. It gets better. Lacking a tongue also makes sure your feet dry off fast after the swim split when racing.
But when the weather gets cold, you’ll probably need different shoes. Otherwise, get indoors, straddle that stationary thing and spin the heck out of your spin classes.
Some people think the no-tongue thing needs some getting used to, though. But that wasn’t my husband’s case.
These triathlon shoes fit true to size — for the most part. But if you an arch of whatever height, you won’t find these affordable Tommaso racing shoes very comfortable.
I suggest that you swap out the stock insoles and drop in footbeds that work for your foot shape. I bet you could use the footbeds from your old running shoes.
What Makes the Tommaso Veloce 100 a Good Triathlon Training Shoe?
So, why are these shoes good for a triathlon race? Because there’s no tongue, which means it never gets in the way when you need to sink into the shoes in a hurry.
Another reason is that these kicks feature a super easy to operate closure system. There’s a Velcro near the toe, and you likely won’t need to loosen that.
As for the top velcro strap, it’s designed in a way that prevents it to slip out during an intense training ride. But you’ll likely notice a sort of weird crinkle around the top strap on the side of the shoe.
Finally, the heel loops at the back make getting this shoe on and off very fast, but they seem a little too long.
What about the cleat compatibility of this Tommaso shoe? This option should work with SPD, SPD-SL, Look, and even Speedplay. That gives the shoe tons of versatility in the pedal/cleat compatibility department.
Overall, a great shoe for cyclists training for a triathlon.
How to Choose the Best Cycling Shoes for Your Riding Style
There’s one question lots of people that are new to cycling keep asking. Can I ride a bike with any shoes I have or must I invest in cycle-specific shoes? Yes, you can ride your road bike or mountain bike in whatever shoe you like, but there are quite a few good reasons many bikers choose to buy proper bike shoes.
Reasons to Invest in Good Bike Shoes
Sneakers and other kinds of everyday shoes are good for cycling, but many cyclists sink tons of money into proper cycling shoes for a variety of reasons.
Below are 5 good reasons you really should consider earmarking some spend for decent bike riding shoes.
1. Good Cycling Shoes Keep Your Feet on the Pedals.
When your feet stay planted on the pedals especially when you’re riding in wet weather, you’ll appreciate the feeling of safety and security that comes with that.
2. You Have Better Bike Control With Good Cycling Shoes.
Have you ridden a bike with sneakers when it’s all muddy and slippery outside? Well, many cyclists have, and that includes yours truly. And what happened?
Your feet kept slipping off the pedal platform. And that probably caused you to lose balance. Can you imagine of a more certain path to a messy bike crash?
Better balance on a road bike or mountain bike typically means more safety while having fun on your two-wheeled vehicle.
3. You Get to Look Like a Real Cyclist.
An old joke in cycling goes, “If your bikes and cycling gear and equipment aren’t worth more than your car yet, you aren’t a real cyclist, yet.
So, yes, owning a nice pair of proper bike shoes or two (seriously you need more) means something. It means you’re serious about becoming a better bike rider. And you’ll look really cool as well.
I hear lots of people out there think cyclists are some of the coolest (actually hottest) folks on the planet. See, you really got to start wearing nice shoes, jerseys, helmets, and whatnot if you want some of the attention, dude.
4. Who Doesn’t Want to Ride Their Rig in Comfort?
Some everyday street shoes can be awesomely comfortable, and there’s no reason you can’t use them for cycling if you so prefer. But nothing comes close to the level of comfort you stand to gain when pedaling in a pair of the finest cycling shoes.
The best of the best cycling shoes come equipped with a whole slew of comfort-fostering features. One of the ways bike shoe makers increase comfort is by incorporating highly breathable materials or components into the overall shoe design.
Breathable biking shoes offer efficient airflow between the inside of the shoe and the outside. And that keeps your feet nice and fresh.
Honestly, though, I’ve never owned any cycling shoes that didn’t smell after a demanding cycling adventure. Some smelled less than others, but all did give off a bit of odor after a hard ride.
But it gets even better — many of the best bike shoes on the market are lightweight and won’t fatigue your feet. Treat your feet well with a pair of great cycling kicks and they’ll always thank you for it.
5. The Best Bicycle Riding Shoes Are Also Long Lasting.
Bike shoes that are worth the money typically consist of high-quality upper and sole materials. And as everyone knows, products made using good components tend to outlast crappy stuff.
Decent biking shoes come with stiff soles and the upper is sturdy and looks nice. Such strong soles hold things together firmly and help the shoe withstand shoe-pedal friction better.
I’m yet to see any sneaker that takes abuse the same way a worthy cycling shoe can.
6. Proper Cycling Shoes Can Encourage Workouts
If you’re always obsessing about spinning, it makes sense to be prepared all the time. You want to have a pair of kicks designed for a real workout on a spin bike at a cycling studio.
If you ride across disciplines like some of us and frequent cycling studios some of the time, invest in a nice pair of 2-hole SPD MTB shoes. But why MTB shoes for spinning classes and not road cycling shoes?
It’s because spin bikes typically are designed to work with such shoes. The pedal design of most exercise bikes offers fuss-free compatibility with that kind of cleat style.
Do you know what more time at a cycling studio means? It means toned muscles, activated hamstrings, and a firmer backside. Aren’t these great benefits that any right-thinking spinning enthusiast should want to get?
7. Finally, Proper Bike Shoes Offer Better Power Transfer
Unless you’re a complete Fred or Freida (new to cycling), you’ve likely heard experienced road cyclists or mountain bikers talking of power transfer.
If you’re new to biking and are looking to join the road biking community, here’s a resource to help you learn road cycling lingo. And if you’d rather become a mountain biker, read this: Mountain Biking Slang.
When you pedal a bike, power transfers from your foot to the pedal and then to your wheels, and you roll forward. While you can transfer pedal power to your wheels using pretty much any shoe, it never gets as good as it does with real bike shoes.
Even the crappiest bike shoe comes with stiff shoes that shine at power transference. When you ride your bike using cycling-specific shoes (shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals), you’re more likely to make smoother circular pedal strokes that rotate your crank instead of wreaking havoc on your bike shoes.
Now that we’ve established why it makes sense to spend some of your outdoor gear fund on good bike shoes, let’s learn how to choose the best cycling shoes.
1. What Kind of Cycling Will You Mostly Do?
First off, decide what kind of riding you’ll be doing. Will mostly be mountain biking? Maybe you’ll mostly be road biking? Perhaps you’ll be commuting or touring? Maybe all you want to do is cycling for leisure or road touring? What about triathlon shoes?
Whatever riding style you’re planning on getting into, get the right cycling shoes for the job. Because different kinds of cycling demand different bike shoes.
For example, the best road shoes for road riding won’t work well for mountain biking. But even though some mountain bike shoes work for road cycling, they may not always be the most suitable product for all use cases.
5 Types of Cycling Shoes
1.Road cycling shoes
2.Mountain bike and touring shoes
3.Leisure and commuter bike shoes
4.Triathlon cycling shoes
5.Indoor spinning shoes
Road Cycling Shoes
Road cycling shoes focus on three things: weight, stiffness of the sole, and pedal/cleat engagement. Of all bike shoes, road cycling shoes have the strongest pedal/cleat engagement. They have also the stiffest soles, which means they deliver the most power transfer.
Also, road shoes are low-profile options that really like being lightweight and efficient. The best ones have lightweight, breathable uppers and carbon soles. And even though they’re not meant for walking around, they have a bit of tread on the heel for some support and stability.
And because roadies are all about winning important races, their shoes may also have certain aerodynamic design advantages. Finally, these kicks have a wide variety of fastening mechanisms.
Mountain Bike Shoes
When riding mountainside trails deep in the woods, you’re going to need to dismount from time to time and walk. That’s why MTB shoes have recessed cleats and also have more and deeper tread than road shoes. They feature lugged soles that make for great traction, and you need traction when navigating rough terrains.
This shoe is also designed to kind of shed most of the debris and mud that try to accumulate on it. Their soles are stiff, not as stiff as road shoes. MTB shoes offer more flexibility, and that’s a nice thing since you’ll hike part of the trip.
Usually, these shoes come with a toe for protecting the toe area from tree roots, rocks, and more. And because the riding conditions can get wet and muddy sometimes, MTB shoes typically come with uppers designed to prevent water ingress. As for closure mechanisms, these kicks boast as much variety as their road counterparts.
Also, MTB shoes tend to be bulkier and heavier than road shoes. One more thing, these options usually have a higher profile compared to road options.
Note: while most MTB shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals, some are crafted to work with flat-platform bike pedals. Flat pedals have a wide flat foot platform and don’t have any kind of toeclip-and-straps. Nor do they have any place for cleats to clip into.
By the way, clipless pedals/shoes are called clipless because they don’t use the more traditional toeclip and straps. But in reality, you clip in through the cleats, and that’s confusion right there.
MTB Shoes designed for flat-platform pedals normally have super grippy rubber soles that keep your feet on the pedal’s platform.
Do MTB Shoes Make Good Road Touring Shoes?
Most mountain bike shoes also make for great touring bike shoes. Bike tours have you walking your bike some of the time, which means you need shoes with functional tread and hidden cleats. And that makes MTB shoes the better option for road touring compared to road shoes.
But should touring shoes be clipless or flat? I prefer riding with flat cleat-less shoes because dismounting is very easy that way. When riding in wet weather with bike bags weighing the bike down, I find that riding clipped in feels more stable and safer.
Leisure and Commuting/Urban Shoes
With off-road-inspired looks, leisure cycling shoes look pretty much like casual sneakers. They’re the sort of shoe you’d wear for riding to town for work, to your local retail store for groceries, or just recreation.
These are nowhere near high-performance shoes — they’re created purely for use as versatile recreational cycling shoes.
Most non-cyclists would have a hard time telling apart leisure cycling shoes from other kinds of streetwear. No more looking like a strange dude when walking around the mall or wherever.
While road, MTB, triathlon, and urban shoes prioritize performance, leisure biking kicks focus on comfort and aesthetics. These kicks are all about making your feet happy while helping keep roving eyes from strangers looking elsewhere rather than at what you’re wearing.
As for commuter bike shoes, these are a kind of leisure shoe geared more toward on-road use rather than off-road leisure riding. Like leisure shoes, commuter options offer considerable longevity and pretty good tread.
Also called urban bike shoes, commuter kicks look pretty much like MTB and leisure bike shoes in terms of design. They have recessed cleats that make walking easier. Also, the soles offer greater flexibility than road bikes do for the same reason — the need to walk some of the time.
And don’t worry, most urban/leisure bike shoes come with reflective features so you can run your errands in the city or do your commute in perfect peace.
Triathlon Bike Shoes
Triathlon shoes, like road shoes, focus on performance rather than comfort. The best triathlon bike shoes have super-stiff soles, are lightweight, and aim for as much pedal/cleat engagement as possible.
So, what’s the difference between road shoes and triathlon shoes? The main difference between road bike shoes and triathlon shoes is the closure type each shoe type features.
Unlike road shoes, triathlon kicks have pretty simple closure mechanisms. That’s because triathlon bike shoes need to support quick transitions, and these cyclists need to be able to slide into and out of their kicks very fast.
One feature that makes triathlon options really easy to put on and get out of is the loops at the heel. Simply hold these loops and just slide into your kicks. To make things even easier, makers of these shoes usually include just one hook-and-loop strap or some other simple and easy-to-use closure system.
Also, triathlon shoes are more breathable than road shoes because the sport they’re used for is a summer cycling sport. And feet sweat a lot.
Indoor Spinning Bike Shoes
Indoor spinning shoes help you stay fit and heath without hitting the roads or trails. These shoes are lightweight, look really nice, and have smoother soles than off-road shoes meant for rougher riding.
An indoor bike may use one of four different pedal types namely flat pedals, clipless pedals (one-sided), double-sided pedals, and toe caged pedals. You’ll have to learn what shoes will work with the pedal type of your exercise bike.
2. Features to Look for in Cycling Shoes
When choosing bike shoes, take a hard look at each of the features below.
Uppers: Leather Bike Shoes vs. Synthetic Shoes
Homes have roofs and cycling shoes have uppers. The upper is the upper part of the shoe, and it’s the most visible part of a bike shoe. It’s the part that unites with the sole to make a complete shoe.
The most common upper material is synthetic, but leather uppers are also available. As you might expect, leather bike shoes come in at a premium. That’s why synthetic cycling shoes are the most common on the market.
If you don’t like wearing products made using animal products, there are many man-made upper options that’ll suit your taste.
Synthetic uppers are cheaper and easier to maintain than leather uppers. Also, you can expect them to be somewhat easier to break in than leather uppers. But leather uppers offer more durability than synthetic uppers. And when it comes to repairing scuffed bike shoes, things kind of get easier with leather.
Also, synthetic shoes tend to be more breathable than leather shoes. Synthetic uppers can be paired up with mesh full of tiny holes that aid air circulation. As for water resistance and waterproofness, leather wins. But there are all kinds of treatments that improve the waterproofness and water resistance of synthetic uppers.
Comfort-wise, leather feels a tad comfier than man-made materials. But synthetic materials are lighter than leather, and being lightweight matters a lot when it comes to walking during rides. If you’re a mountain biker, you’ll walk some of the time. You need lightweight bike shoes that with a cleat system that allow walking.
In the end, both materials are good, but each outshines the other in certain departments. Your preferences and budget will be the final decision-makers.
Outsoles: Look at the Material, Tread, Flexibility, and Holes/Bolts
You need stiff soles because without stiffness power transfer won’t be as good. Bike shoe soles are typically made out of carbon, nylon, or fiberglass composite with carbon being stiffer, lighter, and more expensive.
The best road shoes usually have lightweight, super-stiff carbon soles that transfer pedal power extremely well. In comparison, mountain bike and leisure shoe soles provide a little more flexibility. Bit why should MTB soles be more flexible than road soles?
It’s because you’ll have to walk in your MTB shoes and leisure shoes some of the time. And extremely stiff soles aren’t the best option for walking.
Human feet don’t stay straight and stiff during normal walking. Instead, they flex and move. That’s why you need soles that flex in tandem with these foot movements.
MTB Soles Have Rugged Tread
MTB shoes also tend to have tread or lugs to hold your feet securely to the ground while walking. That helps a lot when walking over loose-packed surfaces. Also, being considerably flexible lessens fatigue.
As for road shoes, the sole doesn’t have much tread and isn’t designed for much walking. These shoes have large protruding cleats that make do the all-too-familiar duck waddle that we’ve all noticed when road bikers are stopping for a coffee and snack.
Here’s one more thing. Look at the holes on the soles. You need to have the right number of holes positioned in a way that works well with the pedal/cleat system you intend to use.
If you’re a beginner, you probably don’t need expensive carbon bike shoes. Nylon soles should do, but if you spot a nice carbon shoe and money isn’t an issue, grab the deal. Bike shoes last a long time in most cases so it helps if you invest in a good shoe from the get-go.
Insoles: Do Insoles in Bike Shoes Really Matter?
Bike shoes usually come with paper-thin insoles commonly referred to as stock insoles. Some bike fitters say insoles don’t matter one bit while the rest think good bike shoe insoles can and do make a world of a difference. I belong in the camp that believes decent footbeds can transform your cycling experience.
Do insoles make any real difference in a bike shoe? Yes, they do. Good insoles work well with your arch height and that increases the overall comfort inside the shoe during rides.
Good Bike Shoe Insoles Improve Foot Stability
Proper insoles noticeably improve foot stability by increase your brain’s awareness of where your feet are while cycling. That mental idea of foot position in space is referred to as proprioception. Good footbeds stimulate the sensitive nerves located on the bottom of your feet making your brain more aware of where the feet are at any given time.
Another way insoles boost foot stability is by providing more space over which your weight can be distributed.
What’s more, having a foot-shaped insole reduces the pressure around your forefoot and can also help address foot numbness and hot spots.
With a pair of decent insoles in your cycling shoes, you no longer have to claw your toes around the toe box to stay stable.
What Cycling Shoe Insoles Are the Best?
If you want great performance from your shoes, consider replacing the stock insoles with better-quality footbeds. But what insoles work best for pretty much everyone? In my opinion and that of many bike fitters and cyclists, Superfeet insoles work well for most people.
Compared to the pricier G8 Performance 2620 insoles, Superfteet insoles are a great bet. But if money isn’t too tight for you, I suggest that you invest in a nice pair of G8 Performance 2620 insoles.
Why? It’s because G8 Performance insoles come in at least 5 different arch heights and shapes so that there’s a suitable option for every foot shape and arch height. You may have to read good reviews on what insoles work for which arch type before choosing any of them.
Each G8 Performance insole type is designed to provide a particular fit and places your feet in a specific position inside the shoes. With the right insole, you should be able to customize the fit in a way that works very well for you. Some G8 insoles even feature heel wedges so you can customize the fit even further while not needing to buy heel wedges separately.
The right insole allows for natural foot movements and flexibility within typically stiff-soled bike shoes. If the stock insoles that come with your new bike shoes seem worn or folded or just low quality, swap them out for better insoles.
Cleats: Recessed and Protruding Cleats
Cleats are pieces of metal or plastic that are mounted onto the soles of bike shoes. With MTB shoes, these cleats are recessed, that is, the cleat stays hidden in the shoe rather than on the shoe. And because the cleats are recessed, walking in mountain bike shoes is pretty easy.
As for road-style cleats, these ones are large and protrude from the surface of the sole. That’s why it’s more difficult to walk in road shoes.
Also, because the cleats for MTB kicks stay hidden, they don’t need frequent replacement as do road cycling cleats. You should also make sure to match your shoe’s cleats with the pedal system your bike features.
2 Main Types of Cleats
- Two-bolt cleat systems
- Three-bolt cleat systems
Two-bolt cleats have two holes where to bolts are screwed onto the sole to secure the cleats. Typically, mountain bike shoes have 2-bolt cleat systems. A two-hole is designed to allow for easy walking as well as clearing debris and dirt.
That said, some road shoes have a two-cleat system on top of their usual 3-cleat system. Such road shoes should be compatible with Shimano SPD, Time, and Crankbrothers pedals.
Road cycling kicks typically work with 3-bolt cleats and there’s a reason for that. A three-hole cleat is bigger than a 2-bolt cleat. And because it is larger, it provides a little more stability while riding.
Also, this cleat system sees reduced pressure on the connection points, and that often translates into increased power transfer.
Three-hole cleat shoes are designed to work with cleats and pedals from pedal/cleat manufacturers such as Time, Shimano SPD-SL, and Look.
Read the following article to understand what pedal types exist and any differences and similarities between them. Flat pedals vs. Clipless bike pedals.
For efficient power transfer, you need good soles. But you also need to have a solid closure system, one that keeps your bike shoes securely strapped onto your feet.
When it comes to cycling shoes, there are usually 4 types of closure systems to choose from namely:
- Traditional laces
- Velcro straps
- Ratcheting buckles and straps
- BOA closure systems
Not many bike shoes have traditional laces for securing them on the feet. But with Giro’s Empire shoes, it does seem like lace-up cycling shoes are making a quiet comeback.
Laces allow you to create a truly customized fit, plus laced-up bike shoes feel pretty comfortable. But some laces have trouble staying tied and keep coming loose.
Also, if lace extra laces are too long and you fail to tuck them away, they might end up being caught in the chain and who knows what might happen.
Laces can also get pretty dirty and wet while riding through muddy, wet trail conditions. So, wash them when cleaning your cycling shoes.
Related: How to Clean Cycling Shoes
Velcro Straps (Hook-and-loop straps)
Hook-and-loop straps are quite common in cycling shoes, and that’s because they work. Velcro straps come in handy when you’re weaving your way through muddy, wet conditions. They’re quick and easy to use in such conditions, and you can make adjustments on the go, something you can’t do with laces.
Velcro straps don’t stretch as much as laces do. Additionally, straps stay where you stick them for long. Bike shoes typically come with 2 or 3 velcro straps, and the more straps a shoe features, the easier it is to tweak the fit.
Notched Cam Straps with Buckles
Others come with notched cam straps with buckles, but these rarely come without velcro straps as well. Usually, shoes will come with two power straps and then a notched cam strap with a buckle at the top.
This closure system tends to add to the cost of the shoe. But the upside is that you get amazing security and foot clamping power. Your shoe will remain securely on your foot, and that means uninterrupted power transfer for highly efficient pedaling.
BOA Closure Systems
Some bike shoes feature a BOA closure system instead of traditional laces or straps. This securing system relies on a dial system consisting of lace-like cables and an adjustable knob to operate the dial system. A BOA closure leverages a quick-release mechanism to loosen or tighten the cable laces.
BOA systems work — when they do — which isn’t always all of the time. But when they work, these systems are a quick, fuss-free way of creating a custom fit. Typically, shoes with a BOA system cost significantly more than those with different closure systems.
Like Velcro straps, a BOA system can be adjusted on the go. But I’d say Velcro straps are less demanding to use.
In the end, what closure type you choose is a matter of personal preference and sometimes budget. Whatever system you choose, make sure it’s designed to maintain a secure fit.
Toecaps Increase Bike Shoe Longevity
Toe caps are more common in mountain bike shoes. They’re pretty much like steel caps seen on boots. Mountain bikers are always encountering tree roots, baby heads, sharp stumps, and other obstacles that could tear or damage shoes.
And that’s where toe caps come into play. With toe caps, your shoes should last longer. That’s because roots and pointy rocks have a harder time reaching the front of the shoe and ripping it.
Anti-slip Heel Lining Around the Heel Cup
Most cycling shoes come with a solid heel cup that together with the tightness around the midfoot prevents your shoes from endlessly sliding back and forth as you ride.
If your heel keeps going up and down around the heel cup, all the friction generated there can cause problems. The friction can cause discomfort and other related fit problems that can detract from the quality of your ride.
Good cycling shoes come with an anti-slip liner that prevents your feet from lifting as you ride your bike. If your budget allows, you need a pair of cycling shoes with a heel cup having a non-slip liner. With such a heel cup, your shoes will give your feet a rock-solid hold during rides.
Note that having a heel cup especially one paired with a non-slip feature comes at a price. But what’s money for if it can’t buy you comfort?
Reflective Features for Safety
Wearing a cycling jersey with reflective features can help you stay easily visible to drivers while on the road. But you could also make things even better by wearing bike shoes with reflective features.
Your feet are making circular motions the whole time, and if the shoes have reflective features, that can increase your safety on the road.
Now, reflective features on bike shoes may not be something most cyclists lose sleep over, but they can save your life.
Most biking-related accidents happen during the day, and one study completed in Denmark recommended using daylights to increase safety during daytime cycling.
Other research has suggested that highlighting moving limbs on top of wearing contrasting colors are also great ways of increasing visibility for cyclists on the road.
That’s why bike shoe brands have been increasingly offering shoes with reflective features. So, keep an eye on that when buying.
3. How Should Cycling Shoes Fit?
Should cycling shoes fit like regular shoes? Yes, a properly fit biking shoe should fit like a well-fitting everyday shoe. Fitting cycling shoes should have a snug fit, meaning they shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. Also, note that biking shoes become a little loose and roomier over time, so get a snug fit.
As for the fasteners of a well-fitting bike shoe, they should provide a secure fit but shouldn’t pinch your feet at all. When you’re walking, you shouldn’t feel like there’s too much wiggle room inside, nor should your feet be moving all around inside the shoes. Finally, your heel should feel comfortable when pedaling.
What if you’re between sizes? Bike shoes, like most normal shoes, typically fit true to size. So, should you size up if between sizes? Yes, sizing up when between two sizes is OK. For example, if you’re a size 10.5 in your everyday street shoes, size up to size 11.
But if you’re contemplating sizing up because your feet are wider, that’s not a good idea. In that case, it’s best to look for a bike shoe brand that offers wider sizes. Remember, cycling shoes stretch over time pretty much quad skates or inline skates.
4. Men Cycling Shoes vs. Women’s Cycling Shoes
Generally, women’s feet are smaller and narrower than men’s feet. Also, women’s feet tend to have a smaller height from the sole through the upper.
So, women cyclists often need shoes with a narrower fit as well as having a shallower profile. Some cycle brands such as Sidi and Bontrager offer bike shoes in smaller sizes for women.
That doesn’t mean a female rider can’t use a guy’s riding shoe. You just need to account for the size and shape differences and you’ll be good.
5. What If You’ll Ride in the Winter?
Who wants to stay indoors all winter when everyone else is outdoors in their balaclava riding their fat bike? No one, that’s who.
But not every bike shoe works well for winter biking. For winter cycling, you need winter boots designed for use in such harsh weather conditions.
Well, you can always use neoprene overshoes to close the ventilation holes of your regular bike shoes and use them for winter riding. In fact, overshoes are a great way to keep rain and mud out of your nice shoes.
But if you’re a serious cyclist that wants to do things right every time, definitely invest in proper winter boots for cycling. The best winter boots for riding a bike should keep your feet reasonably dry and warm throughout the adventure.
Usually, such boots come taller than normal biking shoes and have a neoprene collar and Thinsulate insulation to keep things nice and warm inside.
Typically, the uppers of good winter cycling shoes feature certain treatments or materials designed to keep the feet warm and dry. One way to do that is to use Gore-Tex in the shoe’s upper.
6. Best Cycling Shoe Brands?
Brand really doesn’t matter all that much. The best shoe for you is one that fits your feet and isn’t too cheap as to be useless right out of the box.
I don’t care whether you go with Bontrager, Sidi, Specialized, Shimano, Northwave, Giro, or whatever. Just be willing to spend a reasonable amount, say $100 or a little more, and you’ll be fine.
7. What If I Have Wide Feet?
You’ll have to find biking shoes that have been designed with enough room in the toe box and heel to accommodate fat feet.
Lake shoes and Shimano come in wide-fitting designs, but they’re not the only ones. I recently wrote a post on the Best Cycling Shoes for Wide Feet. Look at it and see if you can find shoes that work for your wide feet.
In some cases, you can stretch out your bike shoes a little using any number of approaches. In this post, I describe various ways of creating a little more room to make your bike shoes pack bigger feet. Learn how to Stretch Cycling Shoes here.
Some cycling shoes such as Bont bike shoes even come with heat moldability so that you can bake them and make them somewhat roomier.
Many Lake and Shimano bike shoes today are also heat moldable. You can actually heat heat-moldable bike shoes in an oven to make them more comfortable or just to hasten the break-in process.
8. What If I Have Narrow Feet?
While it might be possible to stretch cycling shoes a little in some cases, it’s harder to make them smaller or narrower.
If your heels and forefoot are on the narrower side of things, you’re going to need to search for cycling shoes that run narrow or with a narrow fit.
Cyclists with narrower feet should be able to find a fitting pair of shoes from Sidi. Because Sidi cycling shoes run a little narrow.
9. What’s a Good Price Point for Good Bike Shoes?
Some bike shoes cost as little as $50 while others can come in at over $500. If you’re a casual rider that’s out like 2-3 times each week, you probably shouldn’t spend too much on shoes. Anything that’s not too cheap should be good enough in most cases.
What if you consider yourself a serious biking enthusiast and are willing to spend more for more? You can go for the sleekest leather shoes on the market. The best leather biking kicks can last a long, long time.
Plus, leather shoes tend to have a somewhat tighter fit than regular bike shoes on top of being a tad comfier. Aren’t those the kinds of bike shoes you’d want for the longest bike rides?
Depending on your budget you can find any number of good, decent, or great bike shoes for your needs. I encourage you to devour a few best bike shoe reviews from sites you trust (including skatingmagic.com, huh?) before shelling out for that shiny pair.
Generally, pricier shoes are stiffer, have carbon soles, are lighter, more breathable, and perform better than cheaper ones. Also, more expensive shoes are created using materials that make for increased longevity.
That was a pretty long bike shoe buying guide. I hope you found it helpful. If I left out an important selection aspect, please tell me about it in the comments below.