If you’re riding a bike for exercise or hobby, chances are you’re clipping in; if you’re clipping in, you’ve experienced the pleasure of an efficient ride with optimal power transfer. Though we have three contact points with the bike — pedals, saddle, bars — the connection to the pedals via the shoes is the only one that’s mechanical. (Unless you’ve got mutant capabilities, not much power is being transferred through the butt into the bike.) It’s therefore essential that the shoe fits properly.
There’s no single good choice — there are a lot of them, at different budgets, with different materials and closures. In general, more expensive shoes are lighter, stiffer and offer a more feature-rich fitting system. We’ve picked out 10 road bike shoes that cover the spectrum, letting you become one with the bike. Namaste.
Best Lace-up Bike Shoes: The laces most commonly found on bike shoes today (and snowboard boots, running shoes and medical braces, for that matter) are of the Boa Closure System variety. Knock off a few years of tech, though, and you’ve got the Giro Empire, based on the custom shoe designed for Taylor Phinney for the 2012 Giro d’Italia and Olympic games. It closes with regular old shoe laces, but don’t call it an ordinary lace-up: the Empire has a comfortable one-piece Teijin upper, Giro’s SuperNatural footbed (it allows for arch adjustments), and a stiff Easton EC90 carbon outsole. It’s a pretty shoe. We’d almost rather mount it on the wall than scuff it up on a training ride.
Quoc Pham Fixed
Best Bike Shoe for Toe Clips: Hey, if a man can ride respectably in road cleats with laces, he’s also entitled to ride clipless-less, in toe-clips — especially on a track or touring bike. UK-based Quoc Pham makes just the shoes for this type of riding. Their Fixed line is a handsome dress shoe with a leather upper, rubber sole and a strip of reflective material on the back. This is the type of thing you put on a gift list or buy with a bonus. Polish often.
Best Entry-Level Moldable Bike Shoe: Australia-based Bont, maker of technologically advanced ice skates, entered the cycling market in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics and has since expanded to footwear for all cycling disciplines. Features from their high-end specialty shoes have tricked down to the new Riot, an entry-level carbon composite heat moldable shoe. It’s light, ventilated, and most importantly, built on a foundation of knowledge about how the foot behaves in a cycling shoe. That means good arch support, more room in the forefoot, an anatomical heel cup and a fully moldable chassis. At $150, it’s a steal.
Specialized S-Works Road
Best Race Shoe: The S-Works is a pro-level shoe, so it doesn’t take much selling. Plus, the honcho in the Specialized line of road shoes got an overhaul in 2013, and the new design is a lean slipper of a shoe. Its Boa system of steel lace, nylon guides and a mechanical reel takes shape on the S-Works with two S2-Snap dials that are knobby for a quick grab-and-adjust on the fly. The carbon sole is stiff and light; the upper is highly perforated for ventilation; and the Body Geometry footbed still offers the best fit options for our money.
Best Custom Bike Shoe: Want the best custom shoes money can buy? Book a ticket to Eagle County Airport in Colorado and head to Don Lamson’s workshop, where he’ll fit you for the shoes himself. D2 only makes fully custom shoes (right here in the U.S.A), and always with hand-laid carbon soles and custom cleat-drilling and orthotics. Their process starts with a personal consultation and an at home DIY fit kit; then they’ll make your shoe, choosing from a total of 41 sizes, nine widths and two different last types (foot shapes) — a total of 738 possible combinations — plus custom modifications for things like a prominent 5th metatarsal head or bone spurs or, say, a 6th toe. The Fly is the brand’s pro-level shoe, with carbon/velcro straps, carbon midfoot harness, carbon heel stirrup, and hand-stitched and hand-perforated uppers. The colors are, of course, custom.
Best Value Bike Shoe: Looking for a shoe right out of the gate that costs about the same as a running sneak but still delivers performance? We’ve ridden in the Avenge comfortably and fast for thousands of miles and counting. It’s not the sleekest, snuggest or lightest shoe, but it’s got a stiff carbon composite outsole and good venting and clamps down nicely with two straps and a ratchet. Drop in some Specialized BG footbeds and you’ve got a high-quality fit and enough left over for an espresso.
Fizik R3 Uomo
Best Use of Kangaroo Leather: Fizik is best known for their performance saddles, which are designed for riders based on varying degrees of spine flexibility. As they’re Italian, Fizik is also in the business of making shoes by hand. The R3 Uomo is one step down from their top shoe, the R1, but it’s also a touch lighter. The upper is made from kangaroo leather and nylon mesh, the outsole is carbon, the buckle is aluminum, the straps are sail cloth, and the fit is precise thanks to a tongue that accepts inserts for adjustable volume. As Italian shoes go, the R3 offers a more spacious fit than Sidi.
Rapha Grand Tour Shoe
Best-Looking Bike Shoe: Rapha, with some exceptions, is the Brit king of understatement in cycling. The Team Sky sponsor partnered with Giro on the Grand Tour, a borderline erotic pair of shoes that sports the same Easton EC90 carbon outsole and SuperNatural fit system as the Empire. There’s a different game up top, though: the upper is perforated Yak leather, the ratchet buckle is machined aluminum and the styling is just plain elegant.
Sidi Wire Vent Carbon
Best Bike Shoe for Narrow Feet: Sidi is the Ferrari of bike shoes, and indeed, the T700 carbon fiber sole on the Wire is made in a factory that also contracts with both Ferrari and Ducati. This is a very stiff outsole with a vent that slides closed for riding in cooler weather. Like the S-Works, the Wire closes with a line closure system — its proprietary Tecno 3 buckles, which ratchet down in small increments for an ideal fit; a memory foam footbed ensures snugness and comfort, and Sidi’s Adjustable Heel Security System allows the rider to lock in the top of the heel cup to keep the foot in place. The brand’s shoes are known to run narrow, but they also come in three different widths — so put them on before passing judgement.
Shimano Custom Fit Dynalast SH-R260
Best OTC Custom Fit: You don’t have to shell out $500 to get a heat-moldable, custom fit from Shimano. The SH-R260 is a brand-new update on the R240 and slots just below their top-of-the-pile race shoe. What Shimano calls “Dynalast technology” puts the foot in an optimal position — particularly toward the front, above the spindle — to decrease the loss of power at the back of the pedal stroke and increase overall power transfer throughout the rider’s body. $300 is no small coin, but it’s a relative value compared to what’s out there.