Road bike shoes may actually be considered an extension to a bike rather than apparel. These shoes have a firm fit and a rigid sole construction, guaranteeing an excellent power transfer, maximum efficiency and an outstanding performance whilst cycling. When looking for road bike shoes, the most expensive pairs aren’t necessarily the best. Plus, maybe you don’t even want super lightweight shoes with extremely stiff carbon soles.
In addition to their performance-boosting features, you’ll want to find a pair that fits you perfectly. Only by wearing the right shoes can an efficient power transfer be guaranteed. Unfortunately, cycling shoes that are too small, too large or too narrow are more likely to cause pain, which can spread from your feet over to your knees and to your back. To prevent this from happening, we’ve put together a few tips to help you find the best road bike shoes:
Only buy road bike shoes that have a great fit
It’s incredibly important that the shoes fit perfectly on all sides of your feet to prevent unpleasant pressure points, numbness and the shoes from slipping. The toe box should offer your toes enough space, the shoes shouldn’t be too narrow nor too wide and your heel should be comfortable and stay in its position. In addition, both the tongue and the closure play an important role to ensure a comfortable fit.
Another important feature to ensure a great fit and boost your performance includes the shape and curvature of the sole. When trying on road bike shoes, they should feel snug even before you close the closure. The closure will only support the fit, so it’s not the only factor to look at. If the shoe’s shape doesn’t conform to your feet, tightening the hook-and-loop fasteners will actually prevent your blood from reaching your feet.
You shouldn’t automatically assume that a good pair of road bike shoes are uncomfortable because of their low amount of cushioning and excellent power transfering abilities. Most road cyclists and professionals actually tend to prefer stiffer models, and these can even be more comfortable than the softer models made for recreational road cyclists.
Road bike shoes’ sole constructions
Road bike shoes’ soles are either made of nylon or carbon laminates and are extremely stiff. They’re equipped with a hole system at the ball of the feet that allow you to mount bike cleats. When choosing cycling shoes, make sure the cleats can be attached in the right position (approximately in the middle of the ball of the foot). If the road bike shoes are too big, the cleats may not be in the right place, which will negatively affect the power transfer and your comfort. In addition, the shoes should be curved to ensure the heel is slightly higher than the forefoot. This ensures the forces can be transferred to the pedals whilst accelerating.
Look, SPD and SPD-SL pedals
Road bikes are equipped with clipless pedals, into which you can snap your shoes’ cleats into place. To unclip, you simply need to turn your heel sideways away from you. The most widely used pedal systems are from Shimano (SPD and SPD-SL) and Look. These types of cleats are similar in their construction, but Look cleats tend to be slightly larger. Time, Speedplay and other manufacturers also produce special pedal systems, but due to the wide use of Look and Shimano pedals for road bike shoes, we’ll only focus on these two systems today.
Road bike shoes have three drilled holes in the sole that either match the Look or SPD-SL systems. The SPD system, which is mainly used on mountain bikes, features two drill holes. You can also purchase adapter plates and mount them between the shoes and the cleats to use your shoes with different systems.
Different cleats and the optimal setup
When choosing cleats, they’ll either need to perfectly match the pedal system, or you’ll need to use the appropriate adapter plates. Cleats are available in different models, which will vary in the amount of lateral freedom of movement they provide. For example, Look and Shimano offer three different cleats that are designated by colours.
Deciding between cleats and choosing a setup will vary from person to person, so you’ll just need to test things out. It’s also possible that you’ll have a different setup on each foot.
Easily adjustable closure systems
Road bike shoes come with various types of closure systems. Surprisingly enough, classic laces are becoming more and more rare because the laces could break off, get caught or come undone. Instead, manufacturers, such as Giro, Shimano and Mavic use hook-and-loop fasteners, ratchet systems and twist closures. Most shoes are actually equipped with at least two of such systems.
For example, you can find a pair with a hook-and-loop fastener and a ratchet closure, a BOA closure with a hook-and-loop fastener, or laces with overlapping hook-and-loop fasteners. Some road bike shoes even have double BOA twist locks to ensure an optimal fit whilst cycling.
Another advantage of such modern closure systems is that you can readjust them using only one hand whilst cycling.
When choosing between closure systems, there’s no right or wrong. The perfect fit will depend on the shoes, the closure and your feet. Some cyclists swear by hook-and-loop fasteners with ratchets, while others prefer twist locks.
Ventilation and weather protection
Most synthetic leather and leather shoes are equipped with mesh inserts with ventilation openings at the toes, sides and the instep. Other manufacturers prefer to use small openings and perforations instead of mesh inserts. These openings and perforations allow the cool air to enter and let excess heat and moisture escape to the outside.
Depending on the cycling shoes, breathability and ventilation can vary greatly. If you ride in hot temperatures, then you’ve got to look at the amount and size of the ventilation openings. Whilst riding in spring and autumn, it’s best to look for models that provide less air supply and can protect your feet against the cold winds. In winter, you’ll need a special pair of insulated road bike shoes with a warm cuff to protect your ankles.
One important thing to note is that most road bike shoes are not waterproof, which means your feet can quickly get soaked. Some models are equipped with waterproof and breathable membranes, such as GORE-TEX, to keep your feet dry, but they don’t allow much air flow in warmer conditions. As a result, GORE-TEX road bike shoes are rather used by professionals.
Using waterproof cycling overshoes, which enclose the shoes like a gaiter, is much more common. These ensure that both your feet and the shoes remain pleasantly dry. They have a cut-off at the soles, allowing you to use clipless pedals. Overshoes are flexible and lightweight, and the insulated models will protect you against both moisture and the cold.
Speed, power and performance not only depend on the bike, but also on the shoes. We hope this buyer’s guide will help you on your search for the perfect road bike shoes!