The Best Men’s and Women’s Cycling Shoes

Cycling shoes come in many styles, with different features and for different types of riding. There are dedicated models for everyone—commuters to roadies, mountain bikers to BMXers, indoor spinners, even those among us who dare wear sandals that clip in. For the sake of keeping this collection of our favorite cycling shoes focused, however, we’ve included only traditional road and mountain bike shoes for both men and women

Road Cycling Shoes

Road-shoe soles are typically stiff (for maximizing pedaling efficiency) and smooth (no tread equals lighter weight). Many—mostly higher-end models—utilize a triangular, three-bolt cleat-mounting pattern that’s compatible with the most common road-pedal systems—Look, imitation Look, and Shimano. Some road shoes offer a four-bolt sole compatible with Speedplay pedals. Low- to midrange road shoes often have a two-bolt pattern, in addition to a three-bolt pattern, to also accommodate mountain bike-style cleats. This allows the rider to use dual-sided pedals (which are easier to step into) as well as pedals that have a clipless mechanism on one side and a platform on the other (for shorter rides in regular shoes).

Mountain Bike Shoes

Mountain bike shoes come in two styles: clipless and flat. Compared with road shoes, clipless mountain shoes have grippy lugs and are built exclusively to accept two-bolt cleats. While top-end mountain shoes can have carbon soles and be every bit as stiff as a road-racing shoe, many clipless models have a bit of flex in the toe to make hiking easier. Mountain shoes usually use heavier-duty upper materials to withstand more rugged conditions—dirt, mud, rocks, roots—and often have armoring on the toes and heels to add durability and reduce the pain of rock strikes.

Flat shoes don’t have clipless cleat mounts and, like skate shoes, have sticky rubber soles. You ride them with platform pedals, and the absence of cleats means you can get on and off easier—good for stop-and-go commuting or bailing on downhill runs. And since you’re not locked in, the feeling is free and more surf-like. You’ll pedal differently with flat pedals because you can’t pull up on them. Brands like Five Ten and Vibram make extra-grippy soles that stick to pedals better.

Stiffness Is Important, But It’s Not Everything

A very stiff sole will make power transfer more efficient, but the lack of give can cause hot spots and discomfort. Brands typically use nylon in lower-cost shoes, which can feel less efficient but is more flexible and thus more comfortable, especially on bumpier terrain. Midrange shoes include some carbon-composite-enhanced materials. And the stiffest, highest-end soles will be entirely carbon, which is so stiff that not as much of it is needed, resulting in a lighter shoe.

Choose the Right Closure

Laces: After being spotted in the professional road-racing peloton, the laces trend has grown on the highest-end road shoes. The retro look has its fans, plus laces are light. They’re also found on entry-level shoes and almost all flat-pedal shoes. Laces provide a simple, effective, and easy-to-repair/replace closure. Another benefit to a laced shoe is that it tends to be very accommodating to unique foot shapes. The only downside: Laces are difficult to fine-tune mid-ride.

Hook and LoopThis Velcro-type closure system is found on shoes at all prices. It’s light, easy to adjust, easy to fine-tune, and can be placed at multiple points to provide tailored snugness. The downside: The hook-and-loop system can easily get caked with mud and other debris and lose its grip over time.

Dial: A system with a hub that, when you rotate it, tightens a cable, which acts as the lacing of the shoe, snugging the upper down over your foot. Boa is the king of dial closures, and you’ll find this system on mid- to high-end shoes from many companies. There are other dial-closure systems, though, such as Atop and Northwave’s SLW2 system. Dials usually offer the most closing force and are micro-adjustable, weather- and mud-resistant, secure when locked in place, and easy to adjust on the fly. They can get jammed or damaged, however, rendering them unusable (though they’re often easy to repair or replace).

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How We Tested

Every pair of shoes on this list has been used and abused by our team of test editors. We’ve used these shoes for racing, training, commuting, and of course social riding. We’ve clambered over rocky hike-a-bike sections and walked through muddy fields to connect roads that didn’t really connect. We’ve ridden through rain storms and put the shoes away wet. We evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, fit, and value to determine this list of best men’s and women’s cycling shoes for the road and mountain.

1.Sidi Alba 2

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ABOUT ITEM

  • Sidi has built a strong reputation on high style, high performance, and commensurate high price. But the Alba 2 bucks that trend with a level of performance and value that’s uncharacteristic for the flashy Italian brand.
  • The Millennium 4 Carbon Composite sole is the same as what’s found on some of its pricier models, and has replaceable rubber lugs on the toe and heel.
  • We were pleasantly surprised by the stiffness of the sole, as it far surpassed expectation for a shoe at this price. The upper is made from a synthetic material called Politex that gives the luster of leather with extra durability to resist scuffs and scratches, and conformed to our tester’s feet in a way you’d expect from a pair of swanky Italian kicks. T
  • he Techno 3 dial closure at the top of the shoe functions in a similar fashion to a Boa dial, with small buttons on the outside that we found easy to adjust on the fly. Though not as easy to use as Techno 3 dials, the two Velcro closures at the toe and mid-foot were good enough to dial in the fit. And we can’t ignore the style.
  • Although the Alba 2 falls on the cheaper end of the Sidi spectrum, they retain the level of style Sidi is famous for.

2,Specialized S-Works Ares

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ABOUT ITEM

  • The newest addition to the S-Works family of shoes is not lighter or more well-ventilated than its brethren. It does, however, boast the most secure fit of any shoe we’ve tested.
  • That’s remarkable in two ways. First, the two-dial Boa closure created such consistent pressure across the foot that it allowed us to tighten the shoes far more than usual without creating hot spots. Additionally, the shoe held our feet so well that even without cranking down the dials there was hardly any movement inside the shoe.
  • Our only complaint is that we found it tougher than usual to slide these on. But that feels like a fair price to pay for one of the best-fitting shoes we’ve ever worn.

3.Giro Imperial

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ABOUT ITEM

  • Although Giro jumped on the twin-Boa bandwagon, it’s taken a unique approach to how the dials function. Loops of webbing, as opposed to plastic guides, direct the cables. The company claims these “soft guides” reduce hot spots.
  • The Imperial’s upper is lightweight mesh reinforced with the Teijin TPU found in Giro’s other shoes, and the materials are welded together, making the upper almost seamless.
  • This shoe is built on the same last as Giro’s other road models for a fit that leans toward the snug and low-volume end of the spectrum. However, the upper is exceptionally supple and forgiving, so riders might find the Imperial more accommodating than they’d typically expect from Giro.
  • The Imperial carves out space as one of the lightest dual-Boa shoes you can buy. It offers enough support and stability for all situations, and it’s extremely breathable,

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4.Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II

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ABOUT ITEM

  • The Course Air Lite II offers weight, features, and performance comparable with the highest-end road shoes, but cost a bit less. It’s not exactly a value, but at least a better deal. The shoe is pretty standard fare for high-end road models these days: two Boa dials, a thin and stiff carbon sole, an insole with adjustable arch support, and a slotted cleat mount for more fore-aft positioning range.
  • Though we do wish the heel retention was a bit better. The LG’s standout feature is a window on the outside that’s covered with a flexible material, which allows the shoe to accommodate feet in widths B to D+. Take note: This shoe fits slightly large.

5.Five Ten Freerider Pro

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ABOUT ITEM

  • Ever noticed all those people riding flat pedals—the ones in bike parks, downhill races, even on your local trails? This shoe (and earlier versions of it) helped make that happen.
  • Though Five Ten didn’t invent bike shoes for riding with flat pedals, it pretty much perfected the category with this shoe. The Freerider Pro is light and comfortable, has the right amount of stiffness (good for riding, okay for walking), and the sole sticks to your pedals like glue.
  • The latest version is well-ventilated, dries quickly, and has extra protection on the toe as well as some modest protection around the heel. Bonus: It looks almost like a street shoe, so your significant other won’t cringe when you wear yours to dinner. And at $150, the pair is pretty reasonably priced.

6.Specialized S-Works Recon

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ABOUT ITEM

  • The magic of the Recon is largely in the materials. At the bottom, where your foot meets the pedal, Specialized uses its stiffest, lightest carbon footplate. That insane lightness extends to the strong upper, made of Dyneema Mesh.
  • The shoe has a nice roomy toe box and incorporates Specialized’s Body Geometry design, which the company claims reduces injury risk, improves efficiency, and, of course, boosts power.
  • At $425 for the pair, the Recon is not cheap. At all. However, it’s extremely durable and should last several seasons of seriously hard wear.

7.Specialized Torch 1.0

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ABOUT ITEM

  • This is a stiff, comfortable, good-looking road shoe that’s just $110. The single Boa dial doesn’t crank down the shoe as tight or as evenly as two dials, but the Velcro strap across the toe box is a good compromise.
  • The nylon sole accepts three-hole cleats and has rubber bumpers under the toe and heal for safer walking on slick surfaces.
  • This shoe brings a level of high performance that’s uncommon at this price.

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8.Fizik Infinito X1

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ABOUT ITEM

  • The X1 is a no-nonsense shoe designed for high-­performance mountain bike and gravel racing where every watt counts. It features a full carbon sole and dual Boa dials, and the outsole has large lugs and a little bit of reinforcement to guard against the inevitable abuse of riding in the rough.
  • The two-Boa wire closure cinched around our feet nicely, and the break-in time was remarkably quick. The best part, however, is how well the shoe interfaces with the pedal; there’s almost no side-to-side play.
  • Some riders may find the sole too stiff for longer days in the saddle, but it’s tailored to racers who are interested in maximum power transfer.

8.Shimano S-PHYRE RC9T

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ABOUT ITEM

  • This is a high-performance shoe that makes no performance sacrifices for the sake of increased comfort. The sole is crazy stiff and the synthetic leather upper felt like it was getting molded around our feet when tightening down the Boa dial.
  • That single dial does an impressive job of uniformly distributing pressure across the entire foot when tightened, with no pinch points or hot spots. In fact, it does such a good job it renders the Velcro toe strap useless.
  • Our feet felt extremely secure ensconced in these kicks, and the direct connection to the pedals was palpable. Adding to the secure feeling is directional material and a rubber strip inside the heel cup.
  • This is a superb shoe for high-powered racing, and track riders who use toe straps will appreciate the single dial located high enough on the shoe that it’s out of the way.

9.Giant Bolt Nylon SPD/SPD SL Sole Road Shoe

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ABOUT ITEM

  • With ample mesh panels on the Bolt’s upper, we expected to be left with cold feet after some chilly winter rides. But even on a day in the low 40s, and with lightweight socks underneath, our tester was pleasantly surprised to come home without frozen feet.
  • While that bodes well for winter rides, it leaves us wondering how hot these shoes might feel during the peak of summer.

10.Giro Jacket II

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ABOUT ITEM

  • This budget flat-pedal shoe scores high marks not only for style but also for substance. The Vibram sole is sticky and stays put on the pedals, and the midsole is stiff for efficient pedaling and control on the bike.
  • However, the front has plenty of flex, making it easy to both hold your foot on the pedal and walk around after the ride.
  • In a post-COVID19 world, these shoes will be great for hitting the bar straight off the trails. The toe box has decent protection from rock strikes, and the heel is nicely cushioned.
  • Ankle support is good for such a low-cut shoe, and we love the old-school style

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FUTURE THOUGHT

Plenty of women wear “men’s” cycling shoes or unisex shoes with no problems. That said, women tend to have narrower heels and smaller feet than men, and women’s shoes start in smaller sizes. Therefore, if you have a small foot, it makes sense to look for a women’s-specific cycling shoe.

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