Let's face it, roadies are gearheads and those that say they aren't are lying to themselves. It's an intense gear-centric sport and one of the most vital parts is the footgear. For that reason, we spent months tearing into the top products out on the market to tease out what's legit and what's fluff. We know most of you probably don't have the time to research and try out 100 pairs of shoes across all sorts of terrain and weather, so we did it for you. Take a look below to see what we had to say.
The Best Road Bike Shoes
|Price||$499.95 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$349.95 at Amazon||$200.00 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$240.47 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$112.46 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|Pros||Awesome power transfer, comfy upper, stylish, great adjustability||Durable, micro-adjustment, stiff with superior power transfer||Extremely lightweight, very comfortable, rigid, vents keep cool in summer||Extremely light weight, very stiff, great adjustability, super comfortable||Superior comfort, very affordable, easy adjustment, supportive heel cup|
|Cons||Pricey, stiff upper might rub||Heavy, rigid upper, difficult to put on and take off||May scuff and show wear, fastening can be a hassle, vents are very cold in winter||Heel may be loose, lacing could be easier to cinch up||Toe strap doesn’t allow true micro adjustment, sole flexes, on the heavy side|
|Bottom Line||This is a pro-level road shoe for serious riders looking for serious performance.||A top-of-the-line premium shoe with high performance materials meant for serious roadies.||A super stylish premium road shoe that offers fantastic performance at a great price.||An affordable pro-level shoe that won’t let you down.||Enough comfort, style, and performance to make most riders want to throw their top-of-the-line shoes out - you will not find a better shoe in their price range.|
|Rating Categories||Scott Road RC SL||Wire Vent Carbon||S-Phyre RC9||Course Air Lite II||R5B Uomo Boa|
|Power Transfer (25%)|
|Specs||Scott Road RC SL||Wire Vent Carbon||S-Phyre RC9||Course Air Lite II||R5B Uomo Boa|
|Measured Weight||18.4 oz||22.1 oz||19 oz||18.7 oz||22 oz|
|Closure||BOA||Tecno 3 Push Buckle||BOA||BOA IP1 micro-adjustment||BOA|
We spent the fall testing out this year's top shoes, which culminated in us awarding the Scott Road RC SL our coveted Editors' Choice while the Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II entered the fray as an affordable higher performance shoe, picking up the Best Bang for the Buck Award.
Best Overall Model
Scott Road RC SL
The Scott Road RC SLs earned our Editors' Choice Award this year. We initially hesitated at the prospect of an almost entirely carbon shoe, but it won us over after spending time in the saddle. Not surprisingly, the power transfer is like no other. Its thin Carbitex upper means that the shoe is both super strong and super light, but it's still super comfortable from the moment you slip your foot in because of its nice layer of padding throughout the inner lining. And to top it all off, the bi-directional IP-1 Boa dials make it much easier to get the perfect rightness and adjustment for the situation, whether cruising, sprinting, climbing, or just spinning.
But it's not all sunshine here. There are some caveats to keep in mind. The stiff upper has great transfer, yes, but it can be a bit much for some riders, even chafing or causing some degree of discomfort. It even took us about 2 rides and some serious climbing before we were able to adjust to it. It also only comes with a 3-hole design, so speedplay folks might be a bit miffed. But generally, these are solid shoes for serious riders looking to get top performance out of their shoes. Riders doing a lot of climbing and sprinting will also really appreciate the unbeatable power transfer. It's also worth pointing out that those just looking for a really tough shoe will get a lot out of these too.
Read review: Scott Road RC SL
Best Bang for the Buck
Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II
The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite IIs win our Best Bang for the Buck Award because it delivers premium performance, but comes in at a solid discount to the other top models. Keep in mind, we're distinguishing between low-cost and bargain here, with the LGs falling into the latter category (see the Fi'zi:ks below for the best low-cost choice). What really sets these apart is their combination of low weight, power transfer, and awesome comfort. It really is a top-range shoe that retails in the middle of the range.
But before rushing into these, there are some things to keep in mind. They're really comfortable, but their fit might not be right for all riders. Some of our testers found that the X-Comfort Zone actually caused a hot spot and chafed a bit, contrary to its intended purpose of expanding the range of foot widths it fits. There are also minor fit considerations like a slightly loose heel and a tongue that slips down if you don't hold onto it when you put the shoe on. These are meant for serious riders looking for top level performance who are more concerned with delivery than packaging. They don't quite have the flash and appeal of more expensive road bike shoes, but they sure compete at just as high a level as the top shoes.
Read review: Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II
Top Pick for Lightweight Racing
Shimano S-Phyre RC9
The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 retains our Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Shoe Award, with top scores in both comfort and weight, and nearly earning the highest score in power transfer. At 19 ounces, it's one of the lightest road bike shoes out there. Its carbon sole and secure fastening system ensure that there is no waste in your pedal strokes while the supple synthetic leather upper and foldover burrito design ensure there's no dearth of comfort. It also has the distinction of being a completely beautiful shoe.
Our word of caution here focuses mostly on the heel. In terms of the fit and comfort, there's a small are of concern because the heel is a bit loose. To combat that, Shimano uses a cat-tongue lining inside the heel to try to hang on, but it yields mixed results. And for those concerned with aesthetic, the smooth, shiny heel cover is vulnerable to scuffing. Even so, these are definitely shoes for fashionistas, but they're also serious shoes for serious riders, especially guys looking to get out there and race in comfort. The carbon sole and sleek upper aren't just for stats, they're for top-level performance worthy of the Grand Tours.
Read full review: Shimano S-Phyre RC9
Best Budget Buy
Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boa
The Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boas hit right in the middle of the sweet spot. They're super accessible for most riders and yet still deliver great performance. It's no lie that they are among the most comfortable shoes on the market and their simple toe strap and single Boa dial make them pretty easy to adjust to improve fit and comfort. And they ended up with this award because they're among the least expensive road bike shoes, but they perform nearly as well as $500 shoes.
As might be expected with a shoe touted as low-cost, the sole is a composite, which means it doesn't have the serious rigidity of carbon fiber or similar materials, so there's some noticeable flex when you're trying to lay down the watts. They're reasonably sexy shoes, but they do tend to scuff and retain marks from the abuse you put in. They're also a bit on the heavy side, but these are really meant for riders more concerned with comfort and price than weight and power transfer. They're great for riders on a tight budget and for new riders just getting into the sport who want to start off with quality gear without draining the bank.
Read review: Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boa
Analysis and Test Results
After riding hundreds of miles in all sorts of conditions while researching material and performance we were able to evaluate our cohort on five all-important measures: comfort, weight, power transfer, adjustability, and durability. Each of the five metrics was assigned an appropriate weight, and after careful analysis of our research, performance notes, and experience, all road bike shoes were scored across the metrics, and we arrived at a total score out of 100. Those results are presented in the table above.
We have a handy technique for visualizing performance return on your road bike shoe investment. Below is each of the models we tested, plotted according to retail price and overall performance score. Our choice for Best Budget Buy, the Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boa, at about a third of the price of some others, and scoring higher than all non-award winners. This shoe exemplifies what we mean when we talk about value. If you're looking for the best pro-level shoe you can find, the Scott Road RC SL delivers, but at a $500 price of admission. Another option to consider if 1.5-2 ounces of weight savings sounds appealing is the Shimano S-Phyre RC9, at $400. These three options are clearly distinguished from the rest of the pack, and we believe one will meet your needs no matter what your budget is.
When we discuss comfort in cycling, we fully recognize that you're a cyclist because comfort isn't your thing - you spend your time fighting traffic and hammering in the blazing sun and freezing cold because you need the edge. That said, no one begrudges a comfy shoe. We considered a few different aspects when we compared comfort. We were looking for something that fit the form of the foot (with caveats and considerations given to aggressiveness of lasting curve), while having a modest amount of cushion in the right spots, a snug, hugging heel cup, and a negotiable toe box. We recognize that your weird feet aren't like the average foot, so we kept you in mind too - all bike kicks need to be versatile enough to work for both Average Joe and Weird Mike.
One of the most successful shoes in this category is the Best Budget Buy winner, the Fi'zi:K R5B Uomo Boa. That's not surprising given that the company is mostly known for designing saddles meant to make sitting on a small piece of plastic and metal for hours at a time a reasonable activity. Perhaps their most welcoming feature is the soft padding that lines the heel and collar. Not only that, but the smooth elastane lining is rivaled only by the Giro Republic's micro-suede heel counter, which also cover a healthy amount of padding. Those shoes were hard to put on because we just wanted to keep rubbing them. Both shoes feel pretty great, but the Fi'zi:ks are better suited to hardcore long distance riding while the Republics do better with commuting, spin, and leisurely touring - all activities that require more walking.
The other quality that needs to be considered is the shape of the shoe. Narrow toplines and snug collars help keep the feet stable and prevent heel lift. Both the Fi'zi:k and Top Lightweight Racing Shoe winner, Shimano S-Phyre, do fantastic jobs with that. One thing that sets them apart is their closure. Fi'zi:k uses a standard closure with the two halves of the upper coming together over the tongue to be tightened. Shimano uses a burrito tongue and folds the upper over the foot and then uses a strap to secure the fold. While the Fi'zi:ks have superior padding and liner, the Shimanos have a preferred closure.The Best Bang for the Buck winner also enters the fray here. The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II uses a high-density microfiber upper, thick padding lining the inside, and a high heel to match the fit and comfort of the other two standout winners in this category.
Cycling is where weight weenies make their home. There is an incredible premium on lightweight materials in this sport. Luckily for us, the measure is straightforward to measure - just break out the digital food scale, plop the naked shoe down, record, check a second time, move to the next shoe. As for what makes the shoe light, that's something that requires a little more research and prodding. Typically, the lightest road bike shoes have a scaled down carbon sole, sometimes with a good deal of venting. They also tend to have thin uppers made of some sort of synthetic fiber with limited inner padding. There are certainly tradeoffs for having such light shoes, and usually, they come in the form of comfort, sturdiness, and longevity.
The Editors' Choice Scott Road RC SLs follow this rule. They are insanely light at just 18.4 ounces in men's 44 and that's one of the reasons they picked up the top award, but that weight savings comes at the price of comfort. They're reasonably comfortable, but some of the other models that are nearly as light are notably more comfortable.
Yet, there are exceptions to the tradeoff rule. The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II are a masterful improvement over their earlier Air Lite I version, carefully excising all unnecessary attributes and adding in just enough padding and cushion to keep riders comfortable over the course of a century. They're an incredible 18.7 ounces in men's 44.
But the rule exception is best exemplified by the Shimano S-Phyres, coming in at just 19 ounces in a pair of men's 45. They use a thin carbon sole and a thin Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather upper to achieve incredible lightness without seriously reducing longevity or sturdiness. These are arguably the lightest shoes in the lineup. However, they are a size larger than the rest of the field, so they end up being two-tenths of an ounce heavier than their nearest rival.
That rival is the Giro Empire ACC, coming in at 18.8 ounces in a pair of men's 44. To achieve that weight, it uses a very thin Evofiber microfiber upper, an Easton EC90 ACC carbon composite sole, and noticeably reduces the stack height to 6.5mm, helping to cut weight. A surprisingly competitive model in this race is the Pearl Izumi Race Road IV, coming in at 20.5 ounces in men's 44. The lightest shoes are typically much more expensive mid-level and premium shoes like the two models mentioned above. However, the Pearl Izumis are very much entry level and the most affordable in our lineup.
One of the first things a seasoned rider notices when trying on a new pair of kicks is the power transfer. It's especially pronounced moving from a nylon or composite sole to a carbon sole, but the design of the upper also plays a major role. Most carbon soles will transfer power extremely well, but if the foot is kicking around and shifting in a poorly fitting upper that can't be locked down properly, power will be wasted. For this, we looked at the general stiffness of the upper combined with the way it conformed to the foot. We were surprised to find that Lake's CX402s were actually remoldable in the oven and the improved fit substantially reduced energy loss inside the shoe and noticeably improved the power transfer.
One of the top scoring kicks here is the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon. What the Sidis bring to the table is a combination of great fit, great design, and excellent materials. They're well shaped to the foot, so they work with the foot instead of allowing poor weight distribution, extra space, and excess material to interfere with hammering. The design ensures that the forefoot platform takes the brunt of the force and that the closure system, especially the Heel Retention System, doesn't sap wattage while the thick carbon sole and stiff Techpro microfiber upper transfer energy directly into the pedals.
This year's Editors' Choice winner also had a top score here. The Scott Road RC SLs really blew it out of the water. They use a tough Carbitex upper, which is a super strong carbon textile material that is just barely malleable enough to remain comfortable, but stiff enough to transfer every watt from your foot into the pedal. They also use a premium HMX carbon sole that combines with the stiff upper to compound the direct transfer of energy into the bike.
It's worth noting here that both the Scotts and the Mavic Cosmic Ultimate IIs use carbon uppers and carbon soles, but the Scotts are designed to flex just enough in the upper to be a bit more comfortable than the Cosmics. The Scotts also use a Power Zone design in the heel to allow a bit of torsional flex so your foot can still move naturally, whereas the Mavics feel more like tight wooden boxes and you end up fighting because they're just a bit too stiff.
The Mavics are understably super responsive and transfer about as well as the top scoring shoes, but their open collar design makes the shoe looser, so it allows the heel to slip out, sapping power away from propulsion.
Runner-up was Shimano, which also has a fantastic carbon sole and a well-designed upper that secures the foot to the sole without leaving excess room. The difference is that they don't secure the heel as well, though they can tighten down and they use a unique cat-tongue heel liner, which helps the shoe stick to the heel. The Fi'zi:ks also have a very similar design to the Shimanos, except their sole is nylon with carbon reinforcement, so it flexes a bit compared to the other two. The difference is that their narrower topline and deeper heel cup allows them to grab the heel better and prevent slippage than the Shimanos.
Road bike shoes use all sorts of fastening systems: straps, laces, ratchets, buckles, dials, secured cabling, unsecured cabling, and every combination among them. Boa dials and their competing proprietary cousins are the newest fastening systems to spread across the industry and they're pretty fantastic. They use a fairly straight-forward design, but even they have a great deal of variation: unidirectional, bi-directional, pop to release, no release, large and grippy, small and sleek, low power, high power, and lots more. We particularly look at the ability to micro-adjust the shoes with the fastening system and the ability to tighten on-the-fly, so riders are able to reach down and make a quick tweak at a traffic light, or, if they're good enough, while in the middle of a group ride without causing carnage.
We don't just look at the fastening system though. We also look at the design of the shoe to make sure that the fasteners can do their job. If the fasteners are top-notch, but the shoe is made of a material that doesn't flex enough to tighten, then what good is a fancy fastener? If the material and fasteners are fine, but the fastener is placed in a ridiculous place where it's tightening down a part of the shoe that doesn't need tightening, that's also a problem.The top honor here goes to the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon. They use two Sidi Tecno 3 Push buckles to fasten the upper. They allow for some serious micro-adjusting and quick release. The design of the upper also allows the shoe to adjust to the foot when the fasteners are manipulated. This becomes clear when comparing to the extremely stiff Mavics, whose upper is almost incapable of being fastened beyond the general mold of the shoe. The Sidis have the perfect mix of stiffness and flex in the upper to both transfer power and adjust to the foot.
One major caveat here is that they aren't the easiest to adjust on-the-fly, but it's still doable. As much as we might love the Tecno 3 buckles for being so mechanistic, they do require two hands to incrementally loosen, and it makes us wish Sidi would look into partnering with Boa or find some other solution. Scott, Shimano, and Fi'zi:k came in just behind them on the chart. All three use IP1 Boa dials with bi-directional adjustment and a pop-out quick release, but Fi'zi:k only uses one dial, opting for a simple Velcro sailcloth toe strap instead of a second dial. All three shoes are extremely easy to micro-adjust and adjust on-the-fly, though it can be annoying to reach down mid-stroke to try to get a quick turn tighter only to accidentally pop the quick release.
The reason Shimano and Scott ended up next to Fi'zi:k instead of ahead of it, given their better toe fastener, is that for the Shimanos, the top dial is attached to the top strap and the cable anchor is attached to the side of the shoe. That means when the top strap is open or loose, and you try to tighten it with the dial, the dial twists the top strap unless you hold the strap down. The dial and strap are the inverse of the Tecno 3 Buckle on the Sidis where the buckle is attached to the side of the upper and the cable anchor is attached to the strap; when you twist the buckle, nothing moves other than the cable.
For the Scotts, the issue is similar to the Mavics, in that the stiff carbon upper is difficult to adjust. It's just a bit too rigid to get a good adjustment, while the Fi'zi:k upper is made of a malleable Microtex that will remold and adjust to however you tighten it. There are of course tradeoffs in power transfer and durability, but this is about adjustability.
One of the primary advantages Sidi has over its biggest competitors in this review, Shimano and Scott, is its Heel Retention System. The heel is already a bit of a weak point for both the Shimanos and Scott, and Sidi exploits that by fortifying its heel with an adjustable device meant to improve fit and power transfer. It is a substantial advantage that the Italian shoes have over all three, Scott, Shimano, and Fi'zi:k.
There's nothing more frustrating than dropping a few hundred dollars on gear only to have it break down before the year's out. Luckily, most road bike shoes will last at least a few years before showing any wear. We did a good deal of research, looked at materials and design to consider vulnerabilities, monitored wear and degradation over the 150 or so miles we put in for each shoe and did a lot of checking customer reviews and complaints to see what was wearing down and how frequently.
Some of the most significant indicators were replaceable parts, how many pieces were in the upper, and toughness and thickness of the upper material. Understandably, a shoe that uses a thick upper material with limited seams and heavy glue and threading will do better than a thin upper with light threading and lots of seams. A shoe that uses plastic or nylon in its sole instead of carbon will likewise see performance degeneration well before the carbon sole.
The Scott Road RC SLs and Sidi Wire Vents had the most durable features and topped this measure. Sidi uses a tough Techpro microfiber upper with heavy stitching that not only resists scuffing and tearing reasonably well but will also do a better job of holding its shape and resisting the elements than some of the other shoes. Its thick, full carbon sole will also take more abuse than some of the thinner soles and certainly some of the composite materials like plastic and nylon. What we're super stoked about its replaceable toe pad (which is also a sliding vent cover). The toe and heel are the two parts of the shoe that take damage every single time you stop (unless you're one of those monsters who insists on track standing at every light). The Sidis are the only shoe in our lineup to have a replaceable toe pad.
Scott also put out an excellent road bike shoe with the Road RC SL. The Carbitex upper is both stiff and strong, like steel-reinforced concrete. It has very few exposed spots and those areas that are exposed, like the heel, have extra girding. There are very few concerns that it could tear or take much damage should you fail to keep the rubber side down or scrape the side of the shoe across something rough. Of course, as with most other shoes, the Boa dials could tear off, but those are mostly replaceable, depending on the level of damage you do. The HMX carbon fiber sole is also a premium carbon that will perform as well as thicker, heavier carbon soles.
Coming up behind them are the Lake offerings. The CX402s and the CX237s are both tough puppies.The more affordable CX237s use full grain leather, widely considered to be the most durable form of leather, for their upper. The CX402s use K-lite kangaroo leather, which is widely considered to be the toughest natural leather out there. Like the Shimano S-Phyre, both pairs of Lakes use a single piece to cut down on seams and vulnerabilities, whereas the Sidis use a few pieces for its upper. But like the Sidis, the Lakes' strength is aided by their heavy duty stitching. Both the CX402s and CX237s also have a thick carbon fiber sole comparable to the Italian shoes, but they leave their sole vulnerable to wear by only having a replaceable heel pad, leaving the toe to slowly wear down over time until to begins to damage the sole and upper.
Once again, the Mavics deserve mention here. One would think that such a carbon-intense shoe would be the most durable shoe. That's a reasonable consideration. They have a stiff carbon framed upper, their Energy Frame, atop a light mesh material. Below that is their Energy Full Carbon SLR Outsole. That's great, but the weakness is that neither heel pad nor toe pad are replaceable and they're both reasonably piddly. To top it off, and this is the real concern, their vents in the outsole are enormous, running along most of the middle of the foot and another at the toe. They are large enough that they could potentially allow stones, rocks, and sticks to poke through and do damage. The Shimanos also have large vents, but not nearly as large as the Mavics and only at the toe and heel. Both the Sidis and Lakes have vents, but they are less than the size of a fingernail.
To bring you the best possible review, we spent months doing everything we could to tear these shoes apart and strip them down. We ignored the hype and just looked at performance. We spent hours on the bike in each shoe, careful to get time in on the trainer, out on hot flats, chilly mornings, rainy afternoons, punishing climbs, hard crit rides, and of course, the casual group rides. We spent forever looking at materials and design and we investigated both the claims of the shoe companies (and material producers) and those of customers who had a thing or two to say about the shoes. We did our best to cut through the morass and just tell you what we thought was legitimate and what we thought was bull. We recognize that our reviewers won't have the exact same views and preferences of you guys out there, but we hope you'll find the research and advice useful, even if you don't agree on all points or judgment calls. Stay safe and happy riding.
— Ryan Baham