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Looking for the best road bike shoes? We got our hands on and feet into 13 of the best bike shoes around for a side-by-side test. We narrowed our selection down from more than 25 of the top road shoes on the market and pulled from our years of experience testing more than 80 models. When we test our shoes we spend weeks researching materials, performance, and issues while putting in 100 miles or at least 6 hours in the saddle on Zwift or some other similar platform. We make sure to put in the time so we can deliver the best review possible.
Editor's Note: Our summer update included several new products from Fizik, Bontrager, and Louis Garneau. This article was updated again on November 9, 2022, to share more information on our testing and scoring process.
Fizik's updated Vento Infinito Carbon 2 landed on top of the podium yet again. The platform was already impressive enough for us to name-drop it to friends and recommend it here. The update brought finer adjustability with new BOA dials, an even lighter, stiffer outsole with its cleat placement moved back, and a redesigned upper. The result is a slightly more comfortable ride that kicks just a bit more. The most notable improvement is the increased rigidity of the outsole combined with the cleats being moved farther back to help with power transfer and reduction of stress on the knees and other joints.
Despite the updated unidirectional carbon sole being the top of Fizik's stiffness range, it's still not as stiff as some of the models offered by Sidi or S-Works. What it lacks in absolute rigidity it makes up for in form fit and comfort. Another interesting development is in the way their redesigned upper folds. When it's closed, it's beautiful, but it actually gets caught sometimes when you're trying to fasten the shoe, which was an unexpected annoyance. It's not a deal-breaker, you just have to pay attention when you're putting the shoe on. We suspect that, like us, most serious roadies with a preference for long cruises in comfort piqued by a few red-line efforts and climbs will enjoy these premium road bike shoes.
Weight: 20.8 oz | Upper material: PU laminated mesh
REASONS TO BUY
Simple to use
REASONS TO AVOID
Can produce hotspots
The Fizik Tempo Overcurve R4 is a pretty streamlined, utilitarian bike shoe. It's fine, but not fancy, and that's why it earns recognition for its great value. It doesn't rely on a ton of advanced features or gimmicky selling points. You get a fairly standard upper made of polyurethane-laminated mesh with a single two-way BOA dial for a fastener. It's as comfortable as it needs to be and no more. The R4 outsole is a little unique in that it's carbon-injected nylon, which improves power transfer and reduces weight without kicking up the price too much. The result is a somewhat stripped-down shoe with great performance but no frills.
With its limited use of premium features and add-ons, you can expect it to come with a few caveats and deficits, especially compared to the high-end full-carbon shoes. The upper isn't quite as supple as the top bike shoes. You'll get a little more rub and potential for hotspots in these. As we mentioned before, there's only one BOA dial, so fit and fastening isn't as precise as it could be. And, of course, the outsole is mostly nylon, so you get a little more flex when you're cranking on the pedals. Still, it's a great shoe for any rider on a budget looking for a solid, dependable bike shoe.
The Bontrager Solstice earns our pick for the best value option on a tight budget. It's everything you'd want in an affordable budget bike shoe. It hits the entry-level cost point. The upper comfort and form-fit are honestly pretty good for its market tier. So far as Velcro strap closures go, it's one of the better ones, particularly with the somewhat pliable upper. It's a simple shoe meant to get you in the saddle without much fuss.
You're not going to be pushing the limits in the Solstice. It's not a high-performance road shoe, so you're going to see some flex in the nylon composite sole when you're climbing. It's going to be a little warm and might not tighten down as finely as the premium shoes. That said, you'll be happy enough if you're new to the sport and just looking to tip-toe in without dropping tons of cash upfront. If you want a quick Peloton or spin shoe to get you through your 45-minute or hour sessions, this will be just what you're after.
Weight: 18.8 oz | Upper material: Synthetic leather
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Fastening can be a hassle
The incredibly popular flashes of blue lightning you've seen powering the drivetrains throughout the pro tours of Europe and the A-rides at your local shootout are back with a slight revamp to make them even faster. The Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre went through some design changes that took them from sweet and supple to serious and sharp. We'll admit that the comfort and visual finesse of the earlier model will be missed, but it's hard to deny that the newest iteration isn't a serious shoe that deserves its spot in the pro peloton. Where it's sacrificed a little comfort, it makes up in precision and efficiency. Its Teijin Avail microfiber upper is leaner to reduce energy waste, and its heel cup has been revised to improve lateral stability and overall power transfer.
The result of these refinements is a top-of-the-line performance road shoe for serious cyclists who don't mind dropping some of the extra room and softer niceties found in the previous model. That said, riders who lean to the leisurely side of riding might not be as happy in these bike shoes as they might in a mid-tier shoe with a little more padding and less rigidity. Certainly, it can make the feet ache a little for those not used to stiff shoes.
Weight: 17.6 oz | Upper material: High-density microfiber
REASONS TO BUY
Improved fit and comfort
Updated BOA dials
REASONS TO AVOID
Runs a bit narrow
Tongue may rub
The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite XZ is a refined version of the Course Air Lite II, already among our favorite finishers in the past. This time around it picks up hardware for its outstanding comfort. While there were other major competitors, it's hard to deny that the blend of performance with comfort was what got it over the top. It features hard-to-beat details like the inclusion of three adjustable arches meant to work with the Ergo Air® Transfo 3D insole, extra splay space in the toe box's X-Comfort Zone, and significant ventilation throughout the upper and outsole. It's quite an impressive offering from Louis Garneau.
Given its quality and superior performance, you should fully expect its premium asking price. We stand by the position that these are the most comfortable premium road bike shoes, but there are still caveats to consider. For example, they run a bit narrow and might not be comfortable for all feet. The design of the tongue might also grind a little. But all in all, it's an excellent road shoe meant for serious riders who want the locked-in feel without sacrificing comfort.
Weight: 22.9 oz | Upper material: Microfiber Techpro
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent power transfer
REASONS TO AVOID
Can feel too stiff
The first thing you'll notice about the Sidi Wire 2 Air Vent Carbon is that these are just objectively gorgeous cycling shoes. When you start factoring in their top-end performance, like unmatched power transfer and the great ventilation justifying its name, you'll understand why we were so seduced by them. Their ultra-strong carbon sole, robust fastening systems, and durable upper with reinforced structures combine to make it the best for stiffness and power transfer.
There are a few tradeoffs for these qualities, though. You probably won't find a better road bike shoe when it comes to customized fit or adjustability. You can adjust so many different parts of the Wire 2, but it's not quite as easy to adjust them while you're riding - ahead of or after a sprint point or climb, for example. It might seem minor, but compared to a two-way BOA dial, the Sidi closures just don't beat the ease. They are a lot cleaner and low-profile, though. It's also worth pointing out that the shoe's sturdiness doesn't come without a little extra weight. It's actually one of the heavier shoes in the lineup, but we still think they're well worth the extra few ounces.
We kicked off this review by examining what's currently on offer in the road shoe space. From there, we pulled out the top shoes that fell in line with our selection requirements, which are designed to capture high-performing bike shoes across a broad spectrum of materials, styles, and price points. Once we've narrowed down our models and have them in hand, we begin a testing regimen of our own devising meant to push the shoes to find weaknesses and limitations, as well as their strong points. Our test measures are designed to quantify cycling the shoe attributes most important to cyclists, which can also be used to more objectively compare competing road bike shoes. Alongside substantial research, we use our experience and judgment to analyze the road shoes and whittle down the best applications and value.
Our testing of road bike shoes is divided across five rating metrics:
Comfort (25% of total score weighting)
Power Transfer (25% weighting)
Adjustability (20% weighting)
Weight (15% weighting)
Durability (15% weighting)
This review and analysis of road bike shoes comes to you from GearLab Senior Review Editor and multi-sport athlete Ryan Baham. Originally from Florida, Ryan now resides in the endless summer of SoCal, where the hiking, running, swimming, and cycling just never stop and there's never an excuse not to rack up the miles. He holds two bachelor's degrees from the University of South Florida and went on to pick up a master's in public administration and a graduate certificate in procurement from Old Dominion University. When he's not testing products for GearLab, he works as a business systems analyst consulting for companies like Genentech, Tesla, and Meta.
Analysis and Test Results
The remainder of this article delves into the details of our five performance measures: comfort, power transfer, adjustability, weight, and durability. These are the evaluative criteria we use to compare road bike shoes to each other with a more objective lens. To minimize unfair comparisons, we generally select similar shoes for a 1:1 match-up. You'll primarily see straight road bike shoes that use Speedplay or Look cleats with maybe a few commuter or courier bike shoes with SPD or some double-entry style. You'll see the best of the best under each of the subheaders below.
When we consider the different areas of value, we tend to lean toward function or performance versus cost. No amount of beauty in a shoe or prestige in its designer will make up for poor performance, especially in comfort and power transfer. As we look at performance, we also consider its purpose. We consider whether it's meant to get you an extra edge on the competition when you're grinding up a 20% grade or if it's meant to get you from home to work on a 15-minute commute. In this section, we'll highlight the shoes we felt had the best value for their performance.
The Fizik Tempo Overcurve R4 offers the best balance between performance and price. It scores right in the middle of the pack, just behind the top road bike shoes, but comes in at around half the price of some of the very best premium models. If you're looking for something with pro-level performance, our favorite cycling shoe is the Fizik Vento Infinito Carbon 2. It definitely has a higher price of admission, though still less than the highest in our test lineup. If weight savings is something you're after, another option to consider is the Bontrager Velocis. The Velocis is among the lightest shoes we've ever tested, and though not quite as comfortable or high-performing as our award-winners, has a reasonable price for what it offers. Newer cyclists just looking for a decent pair of shoes for spin classes or commuting should check out the Bontrager Solstice, our favorite budget-oriented model.
For this metric, we looked for something that fits the form of the foot while having a modest amount of cushion in the right spots, and a snug, hugging heel cup. The toe box also needs to be negotiable. We recognize that there is no such thing as an "average" foot, so all bike kicks need to be versatile enough to work for everyone.
Lots of road shoes are effectively just tough outer shells with minimal lining to mitigate chafe and hotspots, which makes sense in a world with such a premium on low weight. Finding a high-performance road shoe with anything approaching a comfortably padded upper is a huge feat. The best execution is typically seen with a sculpted heel cup protected by a thin layer of padding rolling up to the heel collar where the bones grind. The risk in road shoes is that thicker padding and cushier lining often increase friction and heat as the ride goes on.
The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite XZ offers a unique design feature called the X-Comfort Zone insert. It enables the foot to expand on the downstroke, which relieves potential hotspots on the outer edge of the foot. We found it disappointing that other high-end shoes didn't offer a comparable attribute. Additionally, the slightly relaxed fit increases the comfort level without sacrificing much power transfer. This is one of the most comfortable shoes overall.
The shape of the shoe, with narrow toplines and snug collars, helps keep the feet stable and prevents heel lift. Both the Fizik Infinito Carbon 2 and the Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre do a fantastic job with this. One thing that sets them apart is their closure systems. The Infinito Carbon 2 uses a standard closure with the two halves of the upper coming together over the tongue to be tightened. The S-Phyre uses a burrito design that folds the upper over the foot and then uses a wire lace to secure the fold. While the Infinito Carbon 2 has superior padding and liner, the S-Phyre has a preferred closure style.
The premium Infinito is a form-fitting model that hugs the foot like the SH-RC9 S-Phyre, except its cut is different. Both models use a burrito design that folds over the foot and reduces hotspots. Fizik's Infinite closure system design also limits hotspots and improves fit by allowing each of the two BOA IP1-B dials to control different aspects of upper volume and foot support.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the S-Phyre offers a touch more padding and doesn't feel as locked in. Meanwhile, the Infinito is a bit stiffer and tighter, which is most noticeable in the heel. The looser-fitting heel of the S-Phyre enables you to slightly lift your foot, particularly on the climb. The Infinito allows you to lock in your heel slightly better with the top BOA dial and an in-built arch support feature that stabilizes the foot even more.
The Specialized S-Works Ares is not just light and stiff but also among the most comfortable shoes we tested. This model shares some of the more successful designs used by Shimano and Fizik, like the foldover burrito upper and BOA fastening system, but has two big differences. The first is a Dyneema-reinforced sock-like upper that perfectly hugs the foot for a cushy, secure fit, and the other is a suite of design features collectively called Body Geometry by Specialized. They include a supportive structure for the arch, a wedge built into the sole for ergonomic alignment of the hip, knee, and foot, and a footbed structure meant to relieve pressure on the metatarsals.
One of the first things a seasoned rider notices when trying on a new pair of kicks is the stiffness of the sole, which is a huge component of power transfer. This is 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 and sliding around in an upper that can't be locked down properly, power will be wasted.
For this metric, we first examined how stiff the upper was in addition to how well it conformed to the foot. Next, we inspected the heel cup and collar to determine the degree of slippage. One of the most challenging design aspects is eliminating heel slippage while the rider is standing and cranking, poised aggressively forward, or going hard on the upstroke. However, we found numerous models are solid enough to mitigate slippage.
One of the top-scoring kicks here is the Sidi Wire 2 Air Vent Carbon. What these shoes 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.
Alongside the Sidi sits the Shimano SH-RC9 S-Phyre, with its fantastic carbon sole and well-designed upper. This is an updated version that's a little stiffer, faster, and tighter than the previous version. The cut is more aggressive and the upper is slightly more rigid while the throat is narrower. The result is less movement, but more power transfer.
And it should come as no surprise that the Fizik Vento Infinito Carbon 2 also came in near the top of this measure. It has a handful of solid features that make it among the stiffest on the market and such a popular pick in the pro peloton.
The 1.2-millimeter Laser Perforated Microtex upper is the first major feature to make the shoe such a great transferer of power. The material is super strong and it's cut so that it folds over the top of the foot for better closure and fit, which translates into a closer, snug fit with less energy wasted moving around inside the shoe. There's almost no flex anywhere in the shoe. The Infinito Closure System also goes a long way toward improving energy transfer. Its upper dial alters the way the arch support interacts with your foot, and the lower dial adjusts shoe volume.
The last and most important attribute is its R2 unidirectional carbon fiber midsole. Producing this type of carbon simply involves aligning the fibers, you guessed it, in one direction (back/forward, up/down, left/right, etc.). It results in a lighter, stiffer style of carbon that's used in applications like aerospace where forces are primarily applied in one direction. The outcome in the Infinito Carbon 2 is a superior bike shoe.
We should also mention the success of the Specialized S-Works Ares in this measure. This high-performer has a stiff FACT Powerline™ carbon sole, as well as some unique design features in the upper. This includes the suite of ergonomic improvements in the sole and footbed which Specialized calls Body Geometry. These are meant to boost efficiency and comfort. Their sock also improves fit, allowing for a tighter, more adherent upper that won't have your feet shifting and sliding around when you're trying to crank. And the lockpin to the design is the PadLock™ heel that cradles the heel without impeding it.
The best 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 straightforward 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 somehow more. We particularly look at the ability to micro-adjust shoes with the fastening system and the ability to tighten on the fly, so riders can 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.
The top honor here goes to the Sidi Wire 2 Air Vent Carbon, which uses 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 tightened. The Sidi has the perfect mix of stiffness and flex in the upper to both transfer power and adjust to the foot.
Everything on the Wire 2 is adjustable, but when you look across the market at the other competitors, they seem to pull off sufficient adjustability without all the bells and whistles. As BOA dials have spread throughout the high-end road bike market, the once vanguard fastening mechanisms used by Sidi now seem overly complicated with lower functionality.
To our undying chagrin, no matter how cool they are, the Sidi Wire 2 isn't the easiest to adjust on the fly. As much as we might love the Tecno 3 buckles for being so mechanistic and steampunk, they do require two hands to incrementally loosen, and it makes us wish Sidi would see if they can't come up with a new proprietary design that preserves their unique elegance while giving us comparable function to dials. The Shimano and Fizik models came in just behind them. All of them use BOA dials with bi-directional adjustment and a pop-out quick release. 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.
For the Shimano S-Phyre, 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, it twists the top strap unless you hold the strap down. The dial and strap are the inverse of the Tecno 3 Buckle on the Sidi Wire 2 where the buckle is attached to the side of the upper and the cable anchor is attached to the strap. When you twist the Sidi buckle, nothing moves other than the cable.
One of the primary advantages Sidi Wire 2 has over its biggest competitors is its Heel Retention System. The heel is already a bit of a weak point for most bike shoes. 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 competing companies like Shimano and Fizik.
Cycling is the natural habitat for weight weenies and they tend to drive trends at the higher end of the market, with fancy materials like carbon fiber and titanium. This is the very easiest metric for us to measure since it involves a scale. The harder part is tearing down the components and material to determine where the savings happened — or didn't, and whether the engineering and design choice was the right call from a performance perspective.
The lightest road bike shoes often have a scaled-down, premium 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 overall lightest shoes in our test lineup are the Bontrager Velocis, weighing in at 16.4 ounces for a pair of Men's Size 44.5, and the Giro Imperial, coming just behind at 16.6 ounces in a pair of Men's Size 44.5
Typically, there's a tradeoff between comfort and weight. The lighter the shoe, the less supple the upper materials and the less padding hugging and protecting your foot. Yet, there are exceptions to the tradeoff rule. The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite XZ is a masterful improvement over their earlier AirLite versions, carefully excising all unnecessary attributes and adding in just enough padding and cushion to keep riders comfortable. They've come down more than an ounce over their previous versions, now to 17.6 ounces in Men's size 44.5.
The Sidi Wire 2 Air Vent Carbon is an interesting shoe here because we tend to associate high-end road bike shoes with super-low weight, especially with their fancy carbon fiber soles. Interestingly, the Sidi is among the heaviest in our group and the is the heaviest among the high-end premium racing shoes. The carbon sole is super thick and heavy (relatively). The argument here is that the power transfer and durability are worth the difference in weight.
There's nothing more frustrating than dropping a few hundred dollars on new gear only to have it break down before the year's out. The best road bike shoes will typically last at least a few seasons before showing any wear. We did a good deal of research, looked at materials and design to consider vulnerabilities, and monitored wear and degradation over the 150 or so miles we put in for each shoe.
Some of the most significant indicators of durability are replaceable parts, how many pieces are in the upper, and the 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 Sidi Wire 2 Air Vent has 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. 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. The Sidi is the only shoe in our lineup to have a replaceable toe pad.
Next comes the Fizik Infinito Carbon 2. The use of a clean 1.2-millimeter upper with minimal seams reduces the areas of potential wear and catastrophic damage. The outsole is an interesting unidirectional build that bolsters strength against the typical lateral forces applied during cycling. The flipside is that the sole could be vulnerable to forces from other directions, but it shouldn't be a serious concern. This shoe also has replaceable parts, which is always a good move for extending the life of a product. The heel pad is replaceable, and so are the BOA dials, something we can't say for the fasteners used by Sidi.
We put a serious amount of thought and effort both on the road and at our desk into understanding what went into the design of shoes and how they perform in the real world after months of testing. The end product is a comprehensive review of the best road bike shoes on the market today. We hope we've answered your questions and helped separate the best from the rest so that you can select the best road bike shoes for your needs and budget.
We were out on the road and inside on the trainer for...
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