Best Road Bike Shoes of 2021 – From Racing to Endurance Rides
If you spend a lot of hours on your road bike, whether casually exploring your area, logging long training miles, racing crits, or doing triathlons, a good pair of road cycling shoes are going to make you more efficient and more comfortable.
But finding the right road bike shoe can be tricky: There are so many options available in a huge range of price points, and it can be hard to know which features really matter for you. Here, we’re sharing our favorite tried-and-tested favorite road bike shoes. Then scroll down to read our buyer’s guide and frequently asked questions if want to learn more about materials, stiffness, carbon soles, or the merits of dials versus laces versus straps.
Note: The shoes on this list are all men’s or unisex options. A women’s road shoe guide is coming soon—but women may find that they prefer unisex shoe fits and styles (this editor certainly does!).
BEST OVERALL: Specialized S-Works Ares
The S-Works Ares from Specialized are Bikerumor staffer’s favorite shoes. They’re the top pick for both comfort and efficiency for editors. The wrap-around Dyneema-reinforced tongueless sock that’s built into the top of the shoe is both aerodynamic and comfortable, in addition to setting the shoes apart from a purely aesthetic standpoint.
The oversized wraps that cradle the top of the foot have been designed to avoid hot spots, improve pedal stroke, and transfer power as effectively as possible, all without having to cinch them down super tight. For such a racy shoe, we appreciate the extra space in the toebox, which helps prevent numb feet on long rides.
A grippy and replaceable heel tread makes them easier to walk in compared to many carbon-soled shoes. Specialized claims that the shoe is 1% faster than any other shoe they’ve made, but really, they’re just making you faster. (Read the full review here.)
- Closure system: BOA dials
- Sole: Carbon
- Weight: 220g for size 42
- Sizes: 36-49
- Colors: Black, red, white, team white
- MSRP: $425
PROS: Comfortable, yet also ultra-stiff
CONS: Pricey, might be too voluminous for narrow feet
BEST FOR ENDURANCE RIDING: Giro Empire SLX
If you love an old-school look with ultra-modern design and components, you’ll love the Giro Empire SLX. Bikerumor editors love these shoes for long rides and, honestly, they were pretty close to being our top pick overall, too.
The lace-up Giro Empire SLX looks classy but doesn’t sacrifice weight or efficiency to do so, thanks to a carbon sole and minimal upper. In fact, they’re the lightest shoes on the list at 186 grams, as well as the most breathable…perfect for long, hot days!
The adjustable SuperNatural Fit footbed system provides customizable arch support, while the laces allow you to really dial in your fit. They’re a bit more work to adjust perfectly, but it’s worth it for the utter lack of pressure points or hot spots. And there’s a small elastic loop to trap the laces so they don’t flutter into your chainring. Several of us have put in many, many 6, 7, and 8-hour days in these shoes with zero complaints.
- Closure system: Laces
- Sole: Carbon
- Weight: 186g for size 42
- Sizes: Euro 39-48
- Colors: Black, white, blue, matte black, black silver, white + black
- MSRP: $300
PROS: Great for endurance rides, tons of air flow, all day comfort, ultra-light
CONS: Laces might be annoying to some
BEST BUDGET RACING SHOE: Bontrager Circuit
Bikerumor staffers found that this shoe was easily the best option for racers looking for a less-expensive model that would hold up to the toughest racing situations. In the update to the Circuit, Bontrager made the shoe slightly less narrow, so it fits more comfortably while still staying snug. A combination of a BOA dial and a strap at the bottom ensure that your foot stays put, while a mesh window under the toe box keeps your foot cool. The nylon sole is rated mid-level in terms of stiffness, so it toes the line between comfort and efficiency.
Bonus: The shoes are compatible with both road and MTB pedals. We wouldn’t recommend them for mountain biking, but gravel riders may appreciate using them for the ease of MTB pedals with the stiffness of road shoes. Spin class devotees may even prefer using this with the SPD clips that most spin bikes use. Read the full review here.
Also available in women’s sizes.
- Closure system: BOA and Velcro
- Sole: Nylon
- Weight: 310g for size 43
- Sizes: US Men’s 3.5-14.5
- Colors: Black, white, red, yellow, and navy and coral
- MSRP: $135
PROS: Great price, premium look with most of the high-end features of shoes twice the $$
CONS: Not as stiff as some racier models
BEST BUDGET OVERALL: Shimano RC100
At $90, Shimano RC100 is hard to beat when it comes to price point. Like many brands, Shimano uses trickle-down technology to bring high-end features to budget shoes. Sure, they won’t be quite as lightweight or stiff as the high-end versions, and the materials used will be less durable. But the Shimano RC100 road shoes still work great for most riders.
The synthetic leather upper is comfortable and breathable, and while the nylon sole is less stiff than a carbon one. Riders who walk into cafes more often than they race crits won’t mind the slight decline in inefficiency. In fact, the tradeoff leads to more comfort. The heels are wider than most models, which adds to their walkability. The only downside is that rather than having dials to tighten the shoes, the Shimano RC100 relies on three hook-and-loop straps, which can wear out and be less effective over time.
- Closure system: 3 hook and loop straps
- Sole: Nylon
- Weight: 238g for size 42
- Sizes: Euro 36-50, wide sizes available
- Colors: Black, yellow, navy
- MSRP: $90
PROS: Can’t beat the price
CONS: We prefer a Boa and strap combo for adjustments
BEST FOR WIDE FEET: Bont Helix
For a stiff shoe that still caters to wide feet, you can’t beat the Bont Helix. High-end road shoes that are designed for the ultimate pedaling efficiency and stiffness tend to be on the narrow side in a bid to be more aerodynamic and keep weight low. However, if you have a wide foot or a wide toebox, that means more high-end road shoes will leave you in utter agony after a couple of hours of riding.
Luckily, Bont understands that issue, and designs shoes based on the anatomy of real feet. That means extra room at the widest part of your foot, memory foam padding for extra comfort, and even a customizable chassis that can be heat molded to allow extra room for (sorry) bunions, hammertoes, or just wide awkward spots on your feet. (Follow their directions here and don’t burn your feet in the process!)
“Hands down, Bont has the best shoe money can buy,” one avid road rider told us. And at $369, they’re certainly not the cheapest option on the market, but the Helix is going to be the best blend of comfort and performance for the wide-footed folks out there.
- Closure system: BOA
- Sole: Carbon
- Weight: 260g for size 46.5
- Sizes: Euro 36-50
- Colors: Black, black and white, white and gray, white and blue
- MSRP: $369
PROS: Great for wide feel
CONS: Pricey, unique fit isn’t for everyone
BEST AESTHETIC: Rapha Pro Team Shoes
Let’s be honest, sometimes you just want a shoe that looks damn good and sets you apart from the crowd. Enter the Rapha Pro Team shoes, which come in flashy shades like burnt orange and metallic blue/purple. But even the black and white versions stand out compared to most road bike shoes, thanks to the upper section’s single piece of woven fabric. No synthetic leather here. This means that the shoes not only look different, they feel different as well – a bit stretchier than your average road shoe.
The upper has a water repellent treatment, so it won’t soak through on drizzly days. The fit is tight, but not too tight, thanks to the BOA fit system and a padded tongue that helps prevent hot spots.
They’re more breathable, and lighter than leather. The carbon sole also adds to the low overall weight—220 grams for a size 42. (Read our review here)
- Closure system: BOA
- Sole: Carbon
- Weight: 220g for size 42
- Sizes: Euro 36-47
- Colors: Black, white, burnt orange
- MSRP: $355
PROS: Unique looks with solid performance and a comfortable upper
CONS: Can get chilly in cool weather without booties
HONORABLE MENTION: Sidi Wire 2 Carbon Air
We love a road shoe that actually takes walkability into account, and the latest Sidi Wire 2 Carbon Air does just that with a rubberized (and replaceable) heel pad, making the banana-peel slippages associated with carbon-soled shoes less of an issue.
Comfort comes from a centered instep closure system combined with an upper closure that pulls a wide flap over the top of the foot to reduce pressure points. A unique-to-Sidi adjustable heel retention system ensures the shoes fit like a glove (pardon that metaphor). Sidi’s house-brand dials even let you make tiny micro-adjustments easily during your ride without unclipping, then quickly release fully with the press of a button.
While the uppers aren’t very perforated, they do have a bottom vent that can be opened in summer and closed in chilly weather. The shoes don’t come in loud colors -black and white only- with classic looks that will last for years. Which is good becasue nearly every part on the shoe is replaceable – the insole, heels, dials, straps, and pads can all be replaced.
- Closure system: Dial and strap
- Sole: Carbon
- Weight: 342 grams for size 46
- Sizes: Euro 38-48
- Colors: Black, White
- MSRP: $499
PROS: Easy to replace parts, durable, timeless looks
CONS: Extremely expensive
HONORABLE MENTION: Bontrager Velocis
If you want stiffer than our budget pick Bontrager Circuit, consider the Velocis. It upgrades to a stiffer carbon-fiberglass sole and two-way adjustable BOA IP1 dial. Bikerumor staffers loved that the Bontrager Velocis was comfortable for long rides, but is designed to help you throw down on the racecourse. (However, unlike the Bontrager Circuit, the shoes cannot be used with MTB cleats.)
Wide widths are available, and the tongue has the most padding of any shoe listed here, making these shoes comfortable for most foot sizes. At $200, they’re one of the cheaper models to offer an ultra-stiff carbon-and-fiberglass sole.
- Closure system: BOA and strap
- Sole: Carbon / fiberglass
- Weight: 235 grams
- Sizes: Euro 39-48 (wide widths available)
- Colors: Black, blue, orange, white
- MSRP: $179
PROS: Comfortable upper, wide sizes, reasonably light and stiff sole at a great price point
CONS: Less versatile than the Bontrager Circuit, limited ventilation
Cycling Road Shoes Buyer’s Guide
Decide on how you want to ride and what features you care about. Are you planning to do really long rides on the road? You may value comfort over lightweight, and you might prefer a less stiff sole. If you’re the local crit champion (or hoping to be), then you may want the benefits that a stiff sole can provide.
Determine your price point. While all of the shoes in this list are our personal favorites, many of the big brands like Shimano, Specialized, and Bontrager will have a range of shoes in various price points where the technologies remain similar but the materials differ. And, mostly, the fit should be similar up and down each brand’s range as they (again, mostly) use the same lasts for every model.
At the higher end, shoes will be lighter and stiffer, but the cheaper models will still have many of the same great innovations. For instance, Shimano has our favorite budget shoe, the Shimano RC100, but then scales up the sole, upper, and closure system materials with the RC300, 500, 700, and 900.
Measure your feet carefully. Bont has a great guide for measuring your foot on a sheet of paper, and has an online shoe size calculator to help you find the best Euro sizing for you. If you’re ordering online, make sure you understand where your foot sits on the European sizing scale.
Most bike shoes are designed with Euro sizing in mind, then US shoe size values are assigned to them. Not every brand does those calculations the same, either, so the European measurement is almost always more accurate.
Check the size on other cycling shoes you’ve had in the past as reference, rather than your regular sneakers. Between sizes? If you are shopping online and the retailer offers free returns, buy both pairs so you can try them on and compare them, then send one pair back.
Make sure you try the shoes on with the socks you’ll be riding in. Whether you’ve ordered online or you’re going to your local bike shop to try on different options, wear your cycling socks. Because bike shoe fit is so specific, a slightly thicker or thinner sock can completely change the fit of a shoe.
Check the return policy. Whether ordering online or buying from a local bike shop, you’re going to want to be able to return your shoes if they don’t feel great when you try them on.
Walk it out. Before attaching cleats and taking shoes out for a spin, at least try walking across a room (carefully) to see if the shoes pinch or poke anywhere.
Frequently Asked Questions about Road Bike Shoes
What do I need road bike shoes for?
The obvious answer is riding on the road. They’re designed to be lighter, more aerodynamic, and generally a bit stiffer than shoes for other cycling disciplines.
You can also use your clipless pedals when riding indoors on a stationary bike that’s set up with your road pedals. What you don’t want to do is use road pedals when riding anything off-road. That means no road pedals for cyclocross or mountain bikes, and if your gravel rides tend to include sections where you need to unclip or walk, opt for MTB shoes and pedals over a road setup.
What road pedals should I get?
There are dozens to chose from, but the most popular are the Look Keo, Shimano SPD (make sure you get the SPD-SL road version, not the SPD MTB version!), and Speedplays. There are different pedal options in those ranges, but a Look Keo cleat will work with any iteration of Look Keo pedals.
When would I need clipless pedals versus riding with cages or flat pedals?
Flat pedals provide no assistance on the “up” side of your pedal stroke, meaning you’re downstroke is the only thing propelling you forward, so it’s not nearly as efficient. Cages, which can be used with regular running shoes, will help a bit, but can be tough to get in and out of, won’t be aerodynamic, and still won’t have the same efficiency as clipless road pedals and shoes.
How should a road bike shoe fit?
Road bike shoes should feel comfortable, though often they’ll feel a bit tighter than a gym shoe or running shoe. You don’t need to move your foot much in a road shoe, though you should be able to wiggle your toes slightly. And you should be able to adjust them to accommodate any swelling or expansion once you’ve been riding for a while.
There shouldn’t be any pressure points on the sides or tops of your feet once you’ve tightened the straps or laces. Walking might be a bit uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be at all painful, and you should easily be able to walk across a parking lot without developing a limp or cramp.
Do I need carbon soles?
You don’t need them, but they can make you a little speedier. Road shoes have either a carbon, nylon, or plastic sole (or a combination thereof, with some blending glass fibers in, too).
A carbon sole adds stiffness while also making a shoe more lightweight. The stiffer the sole, the less power that you lose in the transfer from your leg to your foot to your pedals. And of course, weight weenies will prefer carbon simply because you shed a few grams.
But for those on a budget, don’t worry: Nylon or plastic soles will be more comfortable, and you won’t lose more than a few watts. Plus, if you’re not used to ultra-stiff soles, a tiny bit of flex might actually feel better as you get into the sport.
Do I need women’s specific shoes?
In this list, we didn’t include women’s specific road shoe options -look for that list coming soon- but women can easily wear any of the shoes on this list. You may find that you prefer a women-specific shoe if you have narrower feet or higher arches, but no, there usually isn’t a major difference other than the colors on offer.
You can certainly stick with unisex or men’s shoes without an issue. Just be careful with the sizing! European sizes should be pretty consistent between men’s and women’s options, though US sizing will differ. Make sure you can return or exchange shoes before you buy if you’re not sure about sizing.
How do I walk in road shoes?
Very carefully—especially if you have a carbon sole! Road shoes are slippery, so if you’re not careful, you might end up doing a “banana peel” style pratfall onto your butt when hustling across a slippery floor. We’ve seen some people add a strip of skateboard grip tape to the toe and heel to help prevent this.
If you know you’re going to be walking a lot during a gravel ride or planning to run errands while you do a ride around town, MTB shoes or even flat pedals might be a safer option.
Can I use mountain bike shoes as road shoes?
Absolutely! The shoes themselves will likely be a bit heavier and less aerodynamic than road shoes, and because many are designed with the ability to walk in mind, they’re a bit less stiff. That means they’re less efficient, so you might lose a couple of watts as a result. But you’ll also save cash not needing two pairs of shoes (or be able to splurge on a single pair of higher-end shoes and pedals) so it’s really a judgment call.
That said, the top-level XC mountain bike racing shoes are usually very stiff, often comparable to high level road shoes.
Can I use road shoes as MTB shoes?
Please don’t. Road shoes are much harder to walk in and are significantly stiffer, this would be an unsafe experience.
When should I replace my road cleats?
If you notice that your foot is wiggling slightly in the pedal, or you suddenly start clipping out unintentionally during rides, it’s time to replace your cleats. The plastic edges wear out over time, and aren’t meant to last as long as your pedals.
What’s the best closure system for road bike shoes?
A lot of shoes use mixed closure mechanisms, combining Velcro straps with dials, or even a strap over laces. Some even use Velcro straps to pull laces tight! And many shoes use 2+ closures of the same kind, just in different spots.
We prefer something that has at least two distinct closures, for several reasons:
- In case of crash-related breaks mid-ride, the shoe won’t completely come loose.
- Multiple closure points tend to spread pressure more evenly across your foot to prevent hot spots
BOA Dials are the most common, although Sidi and Northwave make their own versions that are also great. These types of ratchet-based systems pull a cable running through multiple loops across the shoe to capture your foot. These tend to offer the best ability to dial in fit and make micro adjustments, especially while riding.
They are also more aerodynamic and lightweight than Velcro or plastic straps (just don’t let your dog gnaw on them. And if they do break, you can order replacement BOA pieces, rather than replacing your entire shoe. Higher end shoes come with higher end dials, the best ones having two-way adjustments so you can quickly loosen and tighten them while riding.
Laces are great because they really do spread the pressure across the largest possible area, but they’re impossible to adjust while riding. But they’re very lightweight, and if you spend the time to set them up properly in the beginning, they feel amazing. They’re also cheap and easy to replace, and you can customize the colors as much as you want.
Velcro Straps are quick and simple, but tend to have “memory” at the crease, making it harder to make micro adjustments because the bend in them wants to stay where it is. And the hook and loop material can wear out over time. But they’re cheap, which helps a brand put more money into other features and still offer a great shoe at a great price.