From road and gravel racing to mountain biking and urban riding, cycling journalist Mark Bailey has tested the best cycling shoes for every style and budget…
For athletes whose feet don’t pound the ground like runners, kick balls like footballers or jump and land like basketball players, cyclists are surprisingly dependent on wearing the best cycling shoes. Although riders often neglect new shoes in favour of a stylish new jersey or a snazzy set of eyewear, they may be the most important kit investment a rider can make.
Our expert Mark Bailey tested an eclectic mix of shoes, from speedy road-racing and innovative gravel shoes to off-road winter boots and hybrid MTB and commuter kicks, so you can find your perfect fit and kick-start the new cycling season in style.
These are the best cycling shoes
- Le Col Pro Carbon Road Shoes – lecol.cc
- Shimano RX8R Gravel Shoes – gravel.shimano.com
- DMT KR4 Road Shoes – chickencyclekit.co.uk
- Fizik Terra Artica GTX Off-Road Shoes – fizik.com
- Oakley Drift RC MTB Shoes – oakley.com
- Specialized Torch 1.0 Road Shoes – specialized.com
Le Col Pro Carbon Road Shoes
- Stiff, power-packed carbon sole
- Elegant aesthetics
- Comfortable fit
- Shiny PU leather may scuff over time
- A premium product means a premium price
At $360 / £275, these range-topping leather and carbon road shoes from Le Col are certainly pricey. But in our eyes they’re worth every penny. They may look like a pair of tap shoes, but these lightweight race-ready pumps will have you dancing on the pedals. Soft leather uppers wrap comfortably around your feet and uni-directional carbon soles give you a stiff platform to maximise power transfer. Double Atop dials let you micro-adjust to find your perfect fit too.
Read our full Le Col Pro Carbon Road Shoes review
Shimano RX8R Gravel Shoes
- Lightweight gravel race design
- Ankle fit repels stones and grit
- Super-stiff carbon sole for extra power
- A high price for more casual riders
- Weight-saving sole limits foot grip
The Shimano RX8R is another carbon-soled offering but this lightweight shoe is aimed at gravel racers. It takes two-bolt SPD cleats rather than three-bolt road ones but is every inch a race shoe, so grips are minimal. At $275 / £269, it’s not for the budget conscious, but you’ll be rewarded by a light, comfy shoe that maximises pedalling efficiency while a soft knitted ankle cuff makes sure gravel won’t find its way in. There’s a Boa dial and cable system combined with a velcro strap for security, and we’re big fans of that burnished gold look.
Read our full Shimano RX8R Gravel Shoes review
DMT KR4 Road Shoes
- Comfortable knit fabric
- Feather-light road racing design
- Unique head-turning style
- Speedy racers might prefer a carbon sole
- No sole markers for easy cleat adjustments
The $210 / £175 KR4 features a nylon composite sole rather than a carbon one but at 8oz / 227g it’s lighter than most top-end race shoes. That’s mostly down to its minimal one-piece sock-like design, which ensures a sumptuous fit and eliminates pinch points. A single Boa dial takes care of tightening duties and adds to the KR4’s streamlined look and feel. We think this would be a great choice for enthusiast road riders looking to up their game and look good doing it.
Read our full DMT KR4 Road Shoes review
Fizik Terra Artica GTX Off-Road Shoes
- Warm and waterproof on cold days
- Confidence-boosting grippy soles
- Good versatility
- High price may be an obstacle
- Narrow toe fit might not suit wider feet
If you’ve discovered the unique joys of off-road winter riding, you should be looking at the $259 / £249 Fizik Terra Artica. The GTX in its name stands for GORE-TEX, so you know you’re getting a rugged shoe that’ll withstand the elements. A high cuff helps keep the cold out while a grippy outsole will give you plenty of purchase when things get unrideable. We think the Terra Artica is the perfect choice for MTB riders who don’t like the elements dictating when they ride.
Read our full Fizik Terra Artica TGX Off-Road Shoes review
Oakley Drift RC MTB Shoes
- Durable fully-welded seamless upper
- Mesh provides good breathability
- Excellent SUP Traction sole
- Stiffness may hamper off-bike comfort
- Some might find the lace fit too loose
The Oakley Drift is a strong choice for riders who dabble in trials riding, or who love tackling jumps at their local bike park. It’s equally suitable for mountain bikers who prefer the freedom of flat pedals, and who want a versatile shoe they can spend time in off the bike too. At $145 / £126 it’s a decent price, and has plenty of caché in the style department. We’re big fans of the SUP Traction outsole, which will keep you glued to your flats when you’re riding full-tilt round berms like you’re on rails.
Read our full Oakley Drift RC MTB Shoes review
Specialized Torch 1.0 Road Shoes
- Outstanding value for a major brand
- Boa dial and cable fit
- Advanced ergonomic shape
- Synthetic upper is quite stiff
- Could do with more heel support
The Torch is the cheapest on our list at just $89 / £99, but don’t think that means a budget spec. The shoe gets all the benefits of Specialized’s Body Geometry fit found on its high-end options, which helps enhance biomechanical efficiency. You get a Boa dial and cable system too, with a lower velco strap for a snug fit. And we’re really impressed that this sub-$100 / £100 shoe tips the scales at a mere 10.2oz / 290g too.
Read our full Specialized Torch 1.0 Road Shoes review
Benefits of the best cycling shoes
Your shoes are the key body-to-bike connectors. They help to maximise power transfer and speed as well as your bike handling ability. They provide vital grip, balance and control when riding. And whether you need good breathability over summer, or extra warmth over winter, your shoes are also essential for your overall comfort and enjoyment on long days in the saddle.
A quality pair should also offer benefits to match your own personal riding style and terrain. Road riders will benefit from light-weight shoes with stiff soles which enhance power output. Off-road riders will value durability in all conditions and good grip for when scrambling over rocks or gravel. And commuters will welcome everyday comfort and the simple ability to get their feet on and off the pedals with ease. There are no right or wrong shoes – but there are right and wrong shoes for you.
Testing the best cycling shoes
I tested an eclectic mix of shoes, from speedy road-racing shoes to off-road winter boots, hybrid MTB and commuter kicks and innovative gravel shoes. I tested all of them on the fast, flat and fun cycling landscapes of the East Midlands. I matched each pair to rides in relevant terrain, whether that be muddy 20-30km off-road adventures on the tracks and trails around Rutland Water and Wakerley Wood, or speedy 80-100km road odysseys around the zippy and empty rural roads of Rutland.
I conducted the tests over five weeks in winter, so although these shoes are not all winter models, they still had to handle some hostile conditions, including icy mornings to rainy afternoons, so I’ve kept a keen eye on their likely durability too. Now just find your perfect fit and kick-start the new cycling season in style.