The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Road Bike Shoes

By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor
Friday October 11, 2019
We do our best to drive all of the bike shoes we buy directly into the ground  as seen here with the fi’zi:k Infinito R1s.
We do our best to drive all of the bike shoes we buy directly into the ground, as seen here with the fi’zi:k Infinito R1s.

When we approach our reviews, our aim is to be as thorough as possible. We're gearheads surrounded by other unbearably nerdy and discerning gearheads. When we conduct our analyses, we want to make sure they pass muster, but we also recognize that there are practical folks out there that just want the boil-down without the minutiae. We do our best to accommodate both of you, but recognize that the advanced gearheads are probably more interested in small-batch boutique releases of 1967 tungsten carbide cap bolts, finished on organic grass than the average cyclist, so we spend less time on that level of detail and just tease out the real-world performance of each bike shoe.

To produce our reviews, we look across the market to find the very best road bike shoes with our specific lens forged from technical analysis, research, experience, and judgment. From that, we whittle down the best of the best road bike shoes and get them sent out to our product analysts. Once there, we do everything we can to push, pull, prod, and destroy the cycling shoes so we can get a better understanding of their performance and overall value to riders.

We put in hundreds of miles in the saddle for each shoe we test. We do our best to go find all the weather and terrain conditions we can and if we can't find them outside, we simulate them on a trainer or in the shower.
We struggled and made a lot of sacrifices to get this road gear tested  even the hardass fi'zi:k Infinito R1s.
We struggled and made a lot of sacrifices to get this road gear tested, even the hardass fi'zi:k Infinito R1s.

They all saw road time, trainer time, and even time walking around in coffee shops and brewery courtyards. We made sure to get after hills, hit the hammer-fest crit rides, and spend time in tour mode tooling around at 18 for 3+ hours to see what kinds of flaws we could grind out to rate each shoe on a set of comparative metrics.

Beyond that, we look at claims made by the companies and how users are reporting their experience and test to see how those claims hold up in the field. Composite sole just as stiff as carbon? We have a regular 9% hill repeats route. We'll see. Best ventilation on the market? We know a blistering hot route on the south side of the mountains. Most comfortable shoe ever conceived? We know a princess who can feel a pea through 20 feather beds. Let's set up the trainer and do cadence work.

Durability matters when you put in the miles and expect performance to last.
Durability matters when you put in the miles and expect performance to last.

We were lucky enough to keep these shoes for long enough to get in hundreds of miles in hot, windy, wet, flat, hilly, and mountainous conditions. We tested primarily in southern Virginia, but also made it to hilly Richmond and the coastal and interior ranges along the Pacific surrounding San Diego. We're also sure to exploit our well-tenured friends and fellow riders for guinea pigging, feedback, tech gossip, and support. We use our testing, research, and analysis to bring you honest, unbiased reviews.

Our testing sometimes involves using other roadies as guinea pigs and aggressively interviewing them about the gear (Scott Road RC SLs  left  Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boa  right).
Our testing sometimes involves using other roadies as guinea pigs and aggressively interviewing them about the gear (Scott Road RC SLs, left, Fi'zi:k R5B Uomo Boa, right).

Throughout the review, we focus on five metrics, comfort, weight, power transfer, adjustability, and durability, which we describe below. We did everything we could to isolate each metric and exercise as much objective judgment as possible. Some measures were easier than others. Weight is pretty difficult to skew or get wrong, but other categories like comfort are a bit easier to insert bias into.

Comfort


This is a fairly subjective thing, but there are still some universals to comfort. We performed side by sides on the trainer and the road to see what would come out when we cranked and went through the repetitive pedaling motions to check for uneven materials that could chafe and rub and unpadded surfaces that needed padding. We also checked for linings that were too rough and hot spots that only came out on long rides.

Side by side comparison aided by the tortures of an indoor trainer help parse down what's comfortable walking around the store for a minute from what's comfortable after some friction and force in the saddle.
Side by side comparison aided by the tortures of an indoor trainer help parse down what's comfortable walking around the store for a minute from what's comfortable after some friction and force in the saddle.

Weight


As we said, this one was pretty hard to screw up or ruin with bias. It was the easiest measure to check, simply using a digital food scale and the good old triple check method. All of the shoes we weighed were men's 44 and didn't have any additions like cleats. It's pretty straightforward. As might be expected, the more expensive carbon fiber shoes tend to be the lightest and the less expensive shoes tend to be heavier.

Two of the lightest shoes in the lineup were the Giro Empire ACC and the Pearl Izumi Road (now discontinued).
Two of the lightest shoes in the lineup were the Giro Empire ACC and the Pearl Izumi Road (now discontinued).

Power Transfer


Testing power transfer was slightly more complicated than the other measures. It is mostly a measure of stiffness in the sole, which can be discerned from researching the materials and verifying with a few good climbs and sprints. What complicates it is that power can also be lost if there is too much give or movement in the upper, which takes more time, more miles, and longer, harder efforts to reveal.

You notice power transfer the most on short  punchy bits  but it's just as important when you're out putting in the miles.
You notice power transfer the most on short, punchy bits, but it's just as important when you're out putting in the miles.

Adjustability


Adjustability comes into play at foot entry, during exercise, and at exit. We first tested this by tinkering with fastening systems to see how effective each one was - it's easy to open up and lock down when you get in, but is it going to adjust when you're in the middle of a pack that keeps surging into the 30s? We spent a good deal of side by side time beside and on the trainer looking at the ease of entry and exit, in-motion adjustability (catch a buckle at the top of the stroke without stopping), and quick stop adjustment (stop pedaling without losing your pace). We also tested incremental adjustability at mid-ride for each shoe as our feet swelled.

Each shoe has its own fastening system  which is tested on and off the bike to determine how easy it is to use and how incrementally it can be tweaked. The Sidi Tecno 3 Push Buckles scored among the highest.
Each shoe has its own fastening system, which is tested on and off the bike to determine how easy it is to use and how incrementally it can be tweaked. The Sidi Tecno 3 Push Buckles scored among the highest.

Durability


We looked at design, material, and wear to test this measure. Attributes like carbon fiber, premium synthetics, low-profile fasteners, reinforced wear zones, and heavy stitching help us determine durable designs. Rough, hard riding help us put those designs through the wringer. We also look to see if other users experience durability problems and pay special attention to any features that other users report as weak or low quality.

Superior designs often improve durability. Sidi has included more replaceable parts like toe pads in its Wire Vent Carbon (right)  which vastly prolongs its life over its 5 year old cousin  the Ergo 4 (left).
Superior designs often improve durability. Sidi has included more replaceable parts like toe pads in its Wire Vent Carbon (right), which vastly prolongs its life over its 5 year old cousin, the Ergo 4 (left).