The Best Cycling Shoes

Cycling shoes can have a profound effect on any given ride, considering not only the pressure the foot is under from constant pedaling, but also because it’s the main contact point between rider and machine – and the only point where your leg power is transferred directly to the bike. Therefore cycling shoes must balance comfort and efficiency, while also providing a reliable closure system and overall durability. This test put six shoes through not only a lot of road miles, but we tested them under widely varying conditions including rain, heat, cold and gravel riding. We also used them for everything from casual training to race-day sprinting and pretty much everything in between. For this group we chose shoes priced $320-$500, which is considered high-end. These shoes will serve any purpose, but are specifically designed to ace race day.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Louis Garneau Carbon LS-100
96
Best in Class
2015
Stiffness / Power Tr... 10
Fit / Comfort 10
Closure System 8
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 9

Outstanding stiffness-to-weight

Smooth, secure dial closure

Comfortable for long rides with race-ready performance

Adjustable bolt holes

Excellent ventilation throughout

Awkward tightening with left hand

Does not allow micro-adjust loosening

Arch support almost non-existent on flimsy insoles

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
Pearl Izumi Elite RD IV
95
Stiffness / Power Tr... 9
Closure System 9
Construction / Durab... 8
Off-Bike Performance 9

Carbon-fiber outsole among stiffest in class

Boa dial closure is sleek, simple and aero

Excellent ventilation including underfoot

Difficult to secure fit around mid-section of foot

Narrow opening around tongue

Minimalist construction

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
Giro Factor Techlace
94
Best in Class
2018
Power Transfer 9
Fit/Comfort 9
Closure system 9
Durability 9
Breathability 8

Light

Comfy

Race ready

Boa laces unfurl when opened

Tongue wanders

Could be stiffer

MSRP
$350.00
BEST DEAL
Bont Vaypor+ 2016
94
Power Transfer 9
Fit/Comfort 8
Closure system 10
Durability 9
Breathability 8

Excellent BOA system

Warm

Kangaroo Leather Upper

Less comfy

Expensive

Stiff Upper

MSRP
$500.00
BEST DEAL
Giro Trans #70
93
Stiffness / Power Tr... 9
Fit / Comfort 10
Closure System 7
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 8

Carbon outsole offers superb stiffness and power transfer

Among lightest in group

3 Interchangeable arch supports included

Highly supple exterior and plush interior

Could use a large ventilation cutout on upper

Buckle lacks micro adjustments

Heel slip during intense efforts

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
Scott Road Team Boa
93
Stiffness / Power Tr... 7
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 9
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 9

Best closure and micro adjustment in class

Sleek, contoured and well ventilated

Excellent heel hold and all around fit

Adjustable bolt holes

Injection Nylon outsole flexible under heavy load

Relatively heavy, especially for racing

MSRP
$175.00
BEST DEAL
Specialized S-Works 6
93
Power Transfer 9
Fit/Comfort 8
Closure system 9
Durability 9
Breathability 8

Nice fit

Stiff

Light

Hard to get in/out of

Heel cup tight

Expensive

MSRP
$400.00
BEST DEAL
Specialized Audax
92
Stiffness / Power Tr... 9
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 7
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 8

Excellent stiffness and power transfer

Snug, secure fit with simple micro-adjust

Interchangeable Body Geometry insoles

7 color options

Relatively poor ventilation

Stiff upper and detached cable means tricky on/off

High price for category

Flimsy cable guide

MSRP
$250.00
BEST DEAL
Bontrager XXX
92
Power Transfer 9
Fit/Comfort 8
Closure system 9
Durability 8
Breathability 8

Stiffest shoe we tested

Excellent closure system

Lightest shoe we tested

A bit stuffy

Spendy

Tongue movement

MSRP
$400.00
BEST DEAL
Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III
91
Power Transfer 9
Fit/Comfort 8
Closure system 8
Durability 8
Breathability 8

Eas entry

Innovative closure

Comfortable

Heavier than some

Bulky

Runs small

MSRP
$320.00
BEST DEAL
Louis Garneau Course Air Lite
90
Power Transfer 7
Fit/Comfort 9
Closure system 7
Durability 8
Breathability 9

Stiff

Light

Nice closure system

Easily scuffs

Low heel

Laces unfurl when Boa opened

MSRP
$360.00
BEST DEAL
Giro Factor Techlace

The Giro Factor Techlace is an achievement. An extremely light, durable, and comfortable shoe that performs at the highest levels in terms of stiffness. The Giro is the shoe you choose to wear when you have options, it is slipper-like in fit and comfort, yet has the stiff and aggressive platform for racing or all-day riding efficiency.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Competitive Cyclist

Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III

Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III is a refreshing shoe in a category that is largely redundant in design and approach. The tongue mounted closure system with two Boa dials was surprisingly effective and comfortable, providing ease of entry and exit, while the construction methods that wrap portions of the upper around the carbon sole reducing distance between the pedal and the foot (reducing energy loss). Weighing in at 240 grams for size 44.5 shoe (8.5 ounces size 10.5 U.S.), this was one of the heavier shoes we rode in a category of feather-weight booties, something the weight conscious may want to consider. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III checks every box for us, and is a great money saver if you can tolerate the extra weight.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Backcountry.com

Bont Vaypor+ 2016

The Bont Vaypor+ 2016 may be a great fit for someone, but it wasn’t for our testers. Very stiff around the upper, a bit of a closed-in toe box, and construction that looks substandard. At the same time, the BOA system was one of the best we tested and the carbon sole is outstanding.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Specialized S-Works 6

The Specialized S-Works 6 is stiff, tight, and feels like a slipper. The stiffness of the shoe comes through, with a profound sense of stability emanating from the sole to the upper. It’s ideal for a race where weight and stiffness really mattered.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Louis Garneau Course Air Lite

The Garneau Course Air Lite is a premium shoe that is comfortable enough for long rides, and light and stiff enough to race with. The closure system is especially well done, and the upper positively encases the foot for an almost luxurious feel. A low stack height makes the Garneau Course Air Lite a natural choice for racers or others chasing comfort and efficiency.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Backcountry.com

Louis Garneau Carbon LS-100

The Carbon LS-100 truly works as well for long event type riding as well as shorter more intense racing. Even as one of the less expensive and lightest shoes on our list, it outperforms most of the others for intense training and racing purposes. It is also the best value at its $200 price tag. The legitimate drawback was the ability to loosen the Boa dial with micro-adjustments. This can be a bigger issue than it sounds, especially on the fly.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at LeftLane Sports

Scott Road Team Boa

If cost is critical, the Scott Team Boa, the lowest priced shoe in our group, is an outstanding option. The fit is snug and well contoured, and the heel holds tight under sprint conditions. The bi-directional Boa dial closes smoothly and spreads evenly over the mid and upper foot. Despite the minimalist inner, which may be a detriment if you prefer a more plush feel, the shoe is a tad heavy and not quite stiff enough for racing and serious climbing. 

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Pearl Izumi Elite RD IV

The Elite RD IV stands out for stiffness and light weight of a racing-level shoe for powerful solo efforts and climbing efficiency. It rivals many higher end shoes we’ve tested. The only thing lacking in this shoe is the overall snug hold required for stand up sprints to the line.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Moosejaw

Giro Trans #70

The softest, most supple feeling shoe in the group, the Trans is also a very solid performer, and by no means simply a comfort shoe. The Easton E70 carbon-composite outsole is among the stiffest in our test group offering impressive power transfer. But like with many high performance shoes at a lower pricepoint, the buckle is sub-par and the heel cup seemed unable to lock some testers heels in tightly.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

Specialized Audax

Specialized is very clear in its positioning for the Audax – it’s specifically designed for the endurance or gravel-road crowd and not necessarily for racers or casual enthusiasts. However it works if you’re primarily an endurance rider who only occasionally races. The upper is quite stiff, so getting your foot in or out can be a hassle (triathletes beware), and the boa cable can be unwieldy too. Ventilation/drainage is minimal.   

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

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High End Cycling Shoes Review Results

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No matter the level or price, cycling shoes can have a profound effect on any given ride, considering not only the pressure the foot is under with constant pedaling, but also because it’s the main contact point between rider and machine – and the only point where your power is transferred directly to the bike. Therefore cycling shoes must balance comfort and efficiency, while also providing a reliable closure system and overall durability. This is a delicate balance to be sure, and often the higher you go in price/level, the more you sacrifice comfort and vice versa. However, this test shows the two can be well balanced, assuming you’re not looking for the extreme on either side. Pure racers who care only about grams, seconds and podiums – especially those who race shorter events – should look at lightest and stiffest shoes in this review to maximize the stiffness-to-weight ratio. On the other end, those who simply ride for fun and rarely push the pace should consider the more comfortable of these shoes or check out our other cycling footwear reviews.

Stiffness-to-weight

The standout in this group was quite clear, with the Bontrager XXX offering superb stiffness in an impressively light package at 220 grams. No matter how we torqued on the XXX, it simply offers no give. As Bontrager’s stiffest offering, one would wonder if it eventually becomes uncomfortable, but not so. We thoroughly enjoyed the Bontrager XXX through our testing, and truly appreciated the stiffness of the sole in such a light package. In fairness to the others, all shoes in the class were absolutely stiff enough to race on. Further, we couldn’t discern much flex in any of them.

Fit & Comfort

Once upon a time the question was, do you want efficiency or comfort. They were different shoes. Not so anymore. You can absolutely have your efficiency and your comfort in the same footwear. It comes down to trying different shoes to observe the subtle differences and how they accommodate your foot. Narrow or wide? Stiff upper versus more flexible? The contours of the carbon sole? These distinctions will impact your impressions of the shoe. All that said, the lighter shoes with the more flexible materials tended to be more comfortable. Examples include the Garneau, Giro and Specialized.

Closure System

Every shoe we tested used a Boa system to close the shoe, sometimes combined with another technology like Velcro or other lacing systems, and in all instances they were reliable across our testing. They were not attempting to be overly clever simply to encase the upper around the foot, binding it against the sole with comfort. The Garneau Course Air Lite had the best closure system for our testers, featuring two Boa dials and a lower lacing system attached to the bottom dial. The Giro Factor Techlace also has a great closure system with a Boa and two Velcro pull tabs.

Construction & Durability 

Specialized has long been among the best producers of high-performance, lightweight shoes that are also well built and highly durable. Given our limited ability to test these shoes over time, we aren’t able to put enough miles on them to really find their breaking point. The Specialized S-Works 6 is a more complex shoe than some, featuring a mix of materials in the upper as opposed to some shoes that simply use a single material. However, that complexity does not necessarily negatively impact longevity, and could actually enhance it.

Breathability & Drainage

Again, at this level, shoes are expected to vent and drain well, as riders who put in serious miles  – and likely also race – need to keep their feet cool and dry or all sorts of issues can affect performance. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Leader III had the best air movement, owing to it’s largely perforated upper, allowing air to freely move through the shoe. Of course you may feel the cooler weather in the Pearl, and the drainage was average. The Garneau Course Air Lite has large mesh components in the sole, which enables water to freely escape, making it a good shoe in wet weather, and also good for air movement. The Bontrager XXX gets an honorable mention here with nice ports for water and air to escape as well.

Test Methods

The shoes in the class were tested on both road and gravel bikes in the wild, and on trainers in the house. The reasoning for this is to try them in a variety of diverse circumstances. Shoes were often ridden side by side, with one brand on one foot, a different brand on the other. This would enable us to zero in on subtle differences between the shoes, and to identify their unique characteristics. These shoes were pushed to their limits doing huge climbs and descents, sprinting, and the occasional race. Wearing the shoes in a variety of weather conditions from hot to cooler/cold, dry to wet, and even in the snow is our effort to understand how they perform.

Nice road biking shoes, like most competitive sports footwear, have transformed from the days when the number one criteria of an effective product was that it hurt your feet. Ski boots, ice skates, even running shoes have undergone a technological revolution where comfort no longer has to be sacrificed in order to achieve optimal efficiency. In fact, if your feet are uncomfortable, your performance will suffer. Every shoe we reviewed in the High-End road shoe category was very comfortable once we got into it. Years ago that would not have been the case. To boot, they are all very stiff, and very much designed to give your foot a proper hug.

All the shoes we viewed in this category used carbon soles, which are fabulously light and stiff. They are also durable. Synthetic materials were the most common for the uppers, though we do have one company using kangaroo leather! The Boa dial system for closure was the most common, we also saw various lacing systems, typically tethered to a Velcro tab. There are still laced shoes in the market, however none were available at this price level.

A good shoe is somewhat subjective, however less so than was once the case. Ensuring a good fit from a width perspective is likely the most important thing. If you have wide flippers, you will need to seek out a shoe to accommodate that. Beyond that, focusing on what will provide you with the most pleasure while riding is key. Is light weight the priority? Maximum stiffness? Comfort? In the High End category, you likely don’t have to choose, you can get them all in a single shoe.

How We Tested Them

Multiple test rides on road and gravel bikes, generally between one and four hours, on varied terrain including short power hills, sprints, and extended climbs. Testing also included multiple rides on stationary bikes while swapping brands regularly for comparison. We rode in shoes with the included insoles, but also tested with our own insoles for consistency.