Any experienced cyclist knows (and any newbie will quickly learn) that this sport certainly isn't cheap — cycling requires a lot of gear. And cycling shoes are an absolute must-have if you really want to lean into the sport.
Cycling shoes allow you to clip into the pedals of your bike, essentially making your body part of the machine. As a result, you move faster and more powerfully because you're able to engage more muscles in your lower body throughout the pedal motion.
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But as with most things bike-related, there are so many options on the market. Don't stress, though! With the help of an expert, we've gathered the best cycling shoes for all kinds of biking.
How We Chose
We chatted with Garret Seacat, CSCS, cyclist, cycling coach and founder of Absolute Endurance, who offered product recommendations and helped us break down what to look for in the best cycling shoes. We selected our products based on their criteria, including:
- Sole construction
- Sole firmness
A Quick Language Note
We make deliberate choices about the language we use when it comes to gender. While more brands now carry gender-neutral shoes, you’ll still typically see clothes and shoes marketed to men or women. So, we've listed both women's and men's picks below where it applies.
However, the main difference between most men's and women's shoes lies in the shoe's width and size. In some cases, men's shoes are built to support greater weights. So people with larger bodies may want to opt for men's versions, whereas people with smaller bodies may prefer women's versions.
1. Best for Beginners: Bontrager Circuit Road Cycling Shoe
Compatibility: SPD, Delta
These cycling shoes are great for beginner cyclists, especially for the price, according to Seacat. These have a spin dial fastening system, so all you have to do is twist the button on the upper to tighten the laces. This gives you a customized fit each time with quick fastening.
Plus, these come in three different colors and the mesh upper offers plenty of breathability as your rides get longer.
2. Best for Road Cycling: Specialized S-Works 7 Vent Road Shoes
Compatibility: Delta and other 3-bolt cleats
Long road rides on black asphalt can get pretty sweaty. But Specialized's road bike shoes are known for their exceptional ventilation, thanks to the breathable, quick-drying fabric and design.
These are also made with carbon in the sole, which means they're extra durable and allow you to transfer more power into the pedals. The high-quality materials also put these shoes on the higher end of the spectrum, according to Seacat. In other words, these are ideal for an experienced cyclists who likes spending hours on the bike.
The two BOA dials also give you a precision fit, so you can get your foot perfectly snug and secure in the shoe.
3. Best for Mountain Biking: Specialized Recon 2.0 Mountain Bike Shoes
Compatibility: All major two-bolt cleat pedals
These mountain biking (MTB) shoes are among Seacat's favorites. And if you follow any cycling athletes or influencers on social media, you've probably already seen them, too.
Equipped with deep lugs on the bottom, Specialized's shoes offer plenty of traction and flex, much like a hiking shoe, but maintain firmness for maximal power on the bike. The nylon outside of the shoe is covered in Specialized's SlipNot compound, which helps keep traction even in rainy conditions.
Another bonus? These come in so many colors and can match anyone's style, he says.
4. Best for Studio Cycling: Tiem Slipstream Indoor Cycling Shoe
TIEM's shoes are shaped more or less like a typical sneaker, allowing you from your bike to your car seamlessly, says Lisa Niren, CPT, a certified personal trainer and indoor cycling instructor. (Most indoor bike shoes have a hard bottom that can become damaged when walking.)
Adding to their comfort, the mesh fabric in the upper also allows your feet to breathe during class, she says. Plus, they come in a variety of colors and styles, perfect for your next stationary bike workout.
5. Best for Gravel Biking: Shimano RX8
Combine elements of a road shoe with an MTB shoe and you get gravel. These Shimano cycling shoes have all the elements you need to ride comfortably on gravel and are among Seacat's top picks.
These are stiff and lightweight, giving you a solid base for power with every push and pull. And the bottoms also have several large, durable lugs for extra traction, should you need to hop off the bike onto uneven path.
6. Best for Indoor Cycling: Shimano SH-IC501
These indoor cycling shoes are ideal for hours spent on your bike trainer during the winter season, according to Seacat. The upper has a breathable mesh for when your feet get (inevitably) sweaty, and the no-slip rubber sole allows you to walk freely in your home without damaging your floors.
You don't necessarily need cycling shoes for indoor biking, as many stationary bikes (like the ones in a gym) have either foot cages or flat pedals. But indoor cycling shoes offer plenty of benefits, helping you engage more muscles in your lower body to make it an overall better workout.
7. Best for Versatility: Pearl Izumi Quest Road Cycling Shoes
Compatibility: Delta, SPD, SPD-SL, Look Road, Look Mountain, Time Road, Time Mountain
As a cyclist myself, I'm a huge fan of Pearl Izumi cycling gear (including their bike shorts) — and these road bike shoes are a must-try. Their best feature definitely involves versatility, as they have both a two-hole and three-hole design, making them compatible with a huge array of cleats and pedals.
As a narrow-footed person, I really love the velcro straps. When I'm 50 miles into a ride, the thought of fumbling for a dial seems too complicated, whereas the velcro is just an easy pull system.
8. Best on a Budget: Tommaso Ready to Ride Indoor Cycling Shoes
Although these are labeled as indoor cycling shoes, they can work with any Delta bike pedal. Plus, you even get the cleat pre-installed and included with the shoe — a rarity for cycling shoes.
These have thousands of positive Amazon reviews and are an excellent option for anyone who has a lower budget or just looking to do some leisurely weekend cycling.
3 Things to Consider Before You Shop
1. Your Type of Cycling
What is the best shoe for cycling? Well, it's not a cut-and-dry answer.
Before you buy a new pair of cycling shoes, the first thing you need to consider is the type of biking you like to do, according to Seacat. Different types of cycling entails a different shoe, so this factor can definitely help you narrow your options.
"There are shoes designed for almost every style of riding now, including spinning, triathlon, road, gravel and more. So, having an idea of your goals can help set you down the right path," he says.
Road, gravel and mountain biking shoes all have slightly different fits, so your preferred type of cycling matters. Road bike pedals typically provide less float (the amount of angle your foot can wiggle in the pedal before coming out). So, you want your foot to feel super snug in the shoe, Seacat says.
For new mountain bike shoes, you want the make sure your heel doesn't slip up when you walk in them. You won't be walking much when riding a mountain bike but there will likely be moments when you have to trek on foot.
Gravel-specific shoes are the newest to hit the market, he says. Generally, they're designed like a mountain biking shoe but they often use normal shoe laces for fastening. This isn't the case for each and every gravel shoe, but you want the ability to tie your shoe pretty tight, as gravel roads can get bumpy.
2. Your Pedal Type
First and foremost, there's no one best type of clip or pedal. The best type of pedal or clip is the kind that's best suited to your cycling needs. But if you're looking to really get the most power output during your bike rides, yes, cycling shoes can make a tremendous difference — take it from a cyclist, herself.
Cycling cleats are where things can get really confusing. Don't worry. We'll break everything down.
Cycling shoes secure to your bike with metal cleats that "clip" your shoes into your pedals (these are also known as clipless pedals, which, yes, is ironic). These doodads screw into the holes in the bottom of your shoes, and most road, gravel and indoor shoes come in two main types: SPD and Delta.
Most pedals are compatible with SPD cleats (two holes). However, many stationary bikes are compatible with Delta cleats (three holes). But that's not always the case, which is why it's important that your shoes are compatible with the cleat type that works on the bike or bikes you plan to use.
Mountain bike shoes are a different category, according to Seacat, so knowing whether you're buying MTB shoes or road shoes is key. Some mountain biking shoes have a clipless system (meaning they clip into the pedals — again, we know, it's confusing), while others have a platform, which is no attachment at all, making it easy to smoothly hop on and off the bike.
Is your head spinning yet? When in doubt, before buying shoes, look at your bike's product info (or the pedals you buy) to find which cleat works with it. And if you're unsure, you can call the company that manufactures your bike or pedals to double check.
Another important factor worth mentioning: Unless your shoe packaging explicitly says otherwise, you have to buy cleats separately.
3. Your Budget
Like most things bike-related, cycling shoes can get pretty pricey — some can cost more than $300 per pair! So, your budget plays a big part in narrowing your options.
However, you certainly don't need to break the bank for a solid pair of cycling shoes. I spend countless hours on my bike each week and have been rocking the velcro Pearl Izumi road bike shoes for nearly a year now.
Realistically, you can expect to spend at least $100 on a good pair of cycling shoes. Also like most things cycling, the more you spend on your shoes, the better they're likely to perform, according to Seacat.
Cheaper shoes usually start around $80 and are typically a plastic sole with very little flexibility, he says. Mid-range shoes generally cost around $150 to $200 and usually have a carbon sole and BOA laces, ratchet straps or velcro straps to hold your foot snug. Jumping to the higher end entails spending $250 or more, giving you stiff, supportive carbon shoes with high-quality BOA laces and incredibly light and breathable fabric.