Road Shoe Buying Guide

Technology doesn’t stop at the bike. Helmets, sunglasses, and apparel have as much research behind them as your favorite pro’s frame. Cycling shoes are no different, and play a crucial part in maximizing your on-bike performance. All that technology sometimes means keeping the features and buzzwords straight can be a little overwhelming. In this post, we will consider shoe brands, what they offer, and what you are paying for.

One of the most noticeable features of a shoe is the retention system. Different brands offer a variety of options including Velcro straps, various ratcheting buckles, BOA closures, other “BOA-like” dial closures, and the recently reemerging lace-up shoe.

On the low end of the pricing spectrum shoes tend to have either Velcro straps, or Velcro straps combined with a ratcheting buckle. Examples of this include the Shimano SH-R078 or Shimano SH-R088 shoe. Both offer a comfortable fit and are a great entry-level shoe. As you move up in price point, Velcro is replaced by a BOA closure or Sidi’s similar Techno 3 closure. These dial-type closures pull a wire lace through the shoe’s lacing points (eyelets). Multiple dials enable more precision and snugness in different sections of the foot. The Louis Garneau Course 2LS offers a double BOA closure for precise fit. Sidi’s Wire Carbon Vernice has two Techno 3 closures with micro adjust tightening and release mechanisms.


Louis Garneau Course 2LS

Recently there has been a reemergence of the classically styled, lace-up shoe. Both the Giro Empire and Vittoria 1976 shoe offer similar retro styling with a lace-up upper. For some, laces still offer premium comfort with the ability to fine tune tightness at every lace hole. If you’ve never had issues with hot spots on your feet while cycling, perhaps a basic Velcro upper will suit you fine, but for those looking for more adjustability, a dial closure or lace-up shoe might be more your style.


Vittoria 1976

When looking at uppers, consider the breathability of the shoe and your particular riding conditions. Colder climates might call for a shoe with fewer perforations so it will keep your foot warmer and keep that cold air out. On the other end of the spectrum, shoes like the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Road Shoe provide a well-ventilated mesh toe, great for warmer climates or summer riding. A well-ventilated shoe can always be combined with a shoecover for ultimate all season comfort.

Comfort and efficiency are greatly influenced by a shoe’s sole, which will range from plastic, to fiberglass, to Kevlar to carbon. Also take into consideration the type of terrain you will be riding. For those that find themselves doing a fair amount of gravel riding, a shoe with some added grip and tread lugs will be beneficial. Giro’s Empire line of shoes offers an excellent range of soles, and Art’s stocks seven different varieties of Giro’s Empire. Every Empire has the same upper, but offers a different sole to fit your needs. The Empire ACC features an Easton EC90 ACC carbon sole to keep the shoe light and stiff. Moving to the Empire SLX, the Easton EC90 SLX sole drops 68 grams per shoe off the ACC sole. So if you’re a weight weenie, the price different might just justify the weight savings. Lastly, for the gravel grinders, the Empire VR90 features an EC90 platform paired with a Vibram-lugged sole for ultimate traction. Other manufacturers have similar offers with a variety of soles to suite your needs.


Empire VR90 with an EC90 platform paired with a Vibram-lugged sole

Finally, the most important component of the perfect shoe is fit. If you already own cycling shoes, it is easier to buy within the same brand, as sizing tends to run the same throughout. If you are shopping through the brands, you can use the Shoefitr feature on Art’s shoe product pages to compare fit between shoes.

Art’s Shoefitr compares shoe fit

Remember that each brand of shoe has a unique fit. Your perfect shoe is the one that provides the features you want, and fits without causing discomfort. Feel free to give us a call if you have any questions about selecting shoes. If you need new pedals to go along with your purchase, check out our Rubber Side Down article on selecting pedals.

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.