If you’re not ready for it, the sticker price on high-end shoes is potent enough to put you into anaphylactic shock. $500 for a pair of shoes?! You can get a decent bike for that price. But before you pass out and vow to never buy shoes again, consider everything that goes into that seemingly absurdly expensive pair of cycling slippers. Also consider that the most important contact point on your bike is your foot’s connection to the pedals.
Here’s a look at the highest end shoes we carry with some insight and analysis to help guide you through your next purchase.
The categories we’ll examine are weight, outsole construction, insole quality, upper material/closure system and price. Fit is a huge factor we’re leaving out because it’s so subjective. But that’s why we have a feature called Shoefitr on our site so you can see exactly how a shoe fits from the inside out. Plus we offer free return shipping so if you buy the wrong size, it’s easy to send back. The shoes we’ll be evaluating are the Fizik R1, Giro Factor, Sidi Ergo 3, Shimano R315 and the Specialized S-Works. We’ll reveal our winner at the bottom of this post in the conclusion.
The S-Works narrowly beat out Giro’s Factor to claim the lightest weight of the shoes evaluated. The Fizik R1 was by far the heaviest, weighing in almost 100 grams heavier than the S-Works. The stars are based simply on a shoe’s rank in our lineup (1 star for the heaviest, 5 stars for the lightest).
Fizik R1 – 344 g: 1 star
Giro Factor – 253 g: 4 stars
Sidi Ergo 3 – 316 g: 2 stars
Shimano R315 – 283 g: 3 stars
Specialized S-Works – 249 g: 5 stars
Every shoe in this review features a full carbon sole that is really, REALLY stiff. The differences are likely minimal and it’s tough to rate the stiffness of a shoe qualitatively. But one feature we like to see on high-end soles is vents to keep air flowing.
Fizik R1 – 4 stars: The R1 uses a 3D flex sole that is stiffest at the base to ensure maximum power transfer with a carbon heel cup called a Mobius Rail to hold your heel in place. The R1 is the only shoe in this category without a vent.
Sidi Ergo 3 – 5 stars: The Vent Carbon sole of the Ergo 3 is lighter than the sole found on the Ergo 2. It has vents that can be opened and closed to customize the amount of airflow. The sole maintains remarkable rigidity for the performance-oriented cyclist.
Shimano R315 – 5 stars: The R315 has an ultra-light, uni-directional carbon sole designed to maximize power and save weight. A vent in the middle of the sole supplies air flow.
Specialized S-Works – 5 stars: The FACT carbon sole of the S-Works is the lightest, thinnest and stiffest in the Specialized lineup, earning a 12.0 stiffness ranking on their scale. Body Geometry features built into the outsole help reduce hot spots and improve knee/foot alignment.
Fizik R1 – 4 stars: The R1 comes with heat moldable, vibration absorbing insoles that provide a custom fit. The only downside is that you must have a Fizik oven to mold the insoles so you can’t really do it on your own. The pre-molded version of the insoles feature a very high arch, so keep that in mind when considering this shoe.
Giro Factor – 5 stars: The SuperNatural Fit Kit comes with three different arch options so you get a custom fit without the hassle of baking your insoles.
Sidi Ergo 3 – 2 stars: The vented dual-density insoles of the Ergo 3 are very basic and are the only thing on the Ergo 3 that isn’t technologically advanced. For how expensive these shoes are, we’d like to see a more fine-tuned insole.
Shimano R315 – 5 stars: With nice arch support out of the box, the R315 insoles can also be heat molded to your foot. Perforations on the arch allow airflow.
Specialized S-Works – 4 stars: The Body Geometry features built into Specialized’s footbeds are impressive. A metatarsal button spreads out your toes to keep your foot from cramping. Specialized makes three different footbeds and the S-Works comes with the red insoles, which have the least amount of arch support. The S-Works looses one star because if you have a medium or high arch, you will likely have to buy replacement footbeds.
Upper Material/Closure System
Fizik R1 – 5 stars: The upper on the R1 is fashioned from silky smooth Kangaroo leather. The two straps are made from extremely durable sail cloth and the carbon buckle looks very cool.
Giro Factor – 4 stars: The Teijin microfiber upper material on the Factor is also used on high-end soccer cleats and conforms to your foot beautifully. Our tester’s only complaints were that the white version of the Factor shows a lot of dirt and the material stretches out slightly after a few months of use.
Sidi Ergo 3 – 5 stars: Made of a supple material called Lorica, the Ergo 3 features an awesome closure system with one Velcro strap to secure the toe box, a rotating buckle to tighten the mid-foot and a traditional buckle that clamps down the ankle.
Specialized S-Works – 5 stars: We love the dual Boa dials of the S-Works shoes. Some maintenance is required but they provide an unparalleled fit that eliminates potential hot spots. The Micromatrix material is water resistant and cleans up easily.
We’ll dish out stars for price the same way we did for weight: 1-5 based on most expensive to least.
Fizik R1 – $399.99: 2 stars
Giro Factor – $289.99: 5 stars
Sidi Ergo 3 – $499.99: 1 star
Shimano R315 – $379.99: 3 stars
Specialized S-Works – $359.99: 4 stars
And the winner is….the Specialized S-Works. The lightest of the shoes tested, the S-Works really has everything you could want in a high-end shoe – stiff sole, innovative and effective closure system plus a fit based on medical research. The Sidi Ergo 3 came in last, a casualty of its high price and weight and a flimsy insole. The Factor and R315 tied for second with the R1 in fourth. Here’s the final breakdown:
Fizik R1 – 3.2 stars
Giro Factor – 4.2 stars
Sidi Ergo 3 – 3 stars
Shimano R315 – 4.2 stars
Specialized S-Works – 4.6 stars
We tried to be as objective as possible in this analysis but a high ranking doesn’t mean a thing if the shoe doesn’t fit. If price isn’t an issue for you, these rankings would also look a lot different. In other words, take these rankings with a grain of salt and know the best way to find out if a shoe works for you is to try it for yourself. For more in depth reviews, check out our reviews of the Giro Factor here and the Specialized S-Works here.