In the market for a new pair of road bike shoes? We researched over 60 pairs before purchasing the best 12. We put each one through extensive side-by-side comparisons via loads of hours of testing. We go into quite a bit of detail about the qualities, performance, and value of a large group of the best road cycling shoes across brands. We primarily examine clipless bicycle shoes meant for road cycling, but may reference or slip in the occasional mountain bike shoe or triathlon shoe if it has a lot of crossover value. This is a rolling review, so we constantly update it as new cycling shoes come available or new versions are released. You'll find a thorough review of the best road bike shoes available on the market today.
The Best Road Bike Shoes
|Price||$335.03 at Amazon|
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|$499.99 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|$252.76 at Amazon|
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|$379.99 at Amazon|
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|$184.99 at Competitive Cyclist|
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|Pros||Sexy, breathable, great adjustability, great power transfer, fits like a glove||Awesome power transfer, comfy upper, stylish, great adjustability||Durable, micro-adjustment, stiff with superior power transfer||Extremely lightweight, very comfortable, rigid, vents keep cool in summer||Extremely light weight, very stiff, great adjustability, super comfortable|
|Cons||Pricey, sole scuffs, may be narrow for some feet||Pricey, stiff upper might rub||Heavy, rigid upper, difficult to put on and take off||May scuff and show wear, fastening can be a hassle, vents are very cold in winter||Heel may be loose, lacing could be easier to cinch up|
|Bottom Line||A sleek, sexy, refined road shoe ready to lay down the watts.||This is a pro-level road shoe for serious riders looking for serious performance.||A top-of-the-line premium shoe with high performance materials meant for serious roadies.||A super stylish premium road shoe that offers fantastic performance at a great price.||An affordable pro-level shoe that won’t let you down.|
|Rating Categories||Fizik R1 Infinito||Scott Road RC SL||Sidi Wire Vent Carbon||Shimano S-Phyre RC9||Course Air Lite II|
|Power Transfer (25%)|
|Specs||Fizik R1 Infinito||Scott Road RC SL||Sidi Wire Vent...||Shimano S-Phyre RC9||Course Air Lite II|
|Measured Weight||20 oz||18.4 oz||22.1 oz||19 oz||18.7 oz|
|Closure||BOA||BOA||Tecno 3 Push Buckle||BOA||BOA IP1 micro-adjustment|
|Upper Material||Laser-perforated 1.2mm microtex||Carbitex||Microfibre Techpro||Synthetic leather||High-density microfiber|
|Outsole||Carbon||HMX Carbon||Vent carbon||Carbon||Carbon Air Lite|
Best Overall Model
Fizik R1 Infinito
Fi'zi:k knocked it out with their awesome Infinito R1 road cycling shoes, which is why they earned our Editors' Choice award. The first thing you'll notice about these cycling shoes is that they're really sexy shoes! They're sleek, refined, and elegant and their operation is simple and clean. The aspect that rockets them up to the top of the radar for professional cyclists is that they're super stiff. Their Uni Directional full carbon outsole is one of the stiffest on the market. Pairing that with a firm, tight cut of microtex for the upper, they come out with one as some of the best road bike shoes on the market for power transfer. Their superior cut and design also place them among the most comfortable cycling shoes out there. Add to that their unique fastening system and you can understand why they're considered some of the best cycling shoes on the market.
As with any of the best cycling shoes, they can't all be perfect for everyone all of the time. There are some considerations that might disqualify the R1s for you. The biggest concern is that they're really stiff. Of course, this is the exact draw for a lot of professional riders and serious cyclists, but it's really not for everyone, especially casual riders. Somewhat related, they also run a little narrow, which can improve power transfer, but that reduces comfort for some. The last concern we had was that the toe pad on the outsole wasn't robust enough to prevent long-term damage to the outsole. But generally, this is a robust shoe that you can beat the hell out of while riding in style and outperforming all your buddies and blasting the local group rides out of the water.
Read review: Fizik R1 Infinito
Best Bang for the Buck
Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II
These win our Best Bang for the Buck Award because it delivers premium performance, but comes in at a substantial discount to the other top models. Remember, we're distinguishing between low-cost and bargain here, with the LGs falling into the latter category. What sets these apart is their combination of low weight, power transfer, and remarkable comfort. It is a top-range shoe that retails in the middle of the range.
But before rushing into these, there are some things to keep in mind. They're comfortable, but their fit might not be right for all riders. Some of our testers found that the X-Comfort Zone caused a hot spot and chafed a bit, contrary to its intended purpose of expanding the range of foot widths it fits. There are also minor fit considerations like a slightly loose heel and a tongue that slips down if you don't hold onto it when you put the shoe on. These are for serious riders looking for top-level performance who are more concerned with delivery than packaging. They don't quite have the flash and appeal of more expensive road bike shoes, but they sure compete at just as high a level as the best cycling shoes.
Read review: Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II
Top Pick for Lightweight Racing
Shimano S-Phyre RC9
The Shimano S-Phyre RC9 retains our Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Shoe Award, with top scores in both comfort and weight, and nearly earning the highest score in power transfer. At 19 ounces, it's one of the lightest road bike shoes out there. Its carbon sole and secure fastening system ensure that there is no waste in your pedal strokes while the supple synthetic leather upper and foldover burrito design ensure comfort. It also has the distinction of being a gorgeous shoe.
Our word of caution here focuses mostly on the heel. In terms of the fit and comfort, the heel is a bit loose. To combat that, Shimano uses a cat-tongue lining inside the heel to try to hang on, but it yields mixed results. And for those concerned with aesthetic, the smooth, shiny heel cover is vulnerable to scuffing. Even so, these are shoes for fashionistas, but they're also serious cycling shoes for serious riders, especially guys looking to get out there and race in comfort. The carbon sole and sleek upper aren't just for stats; they're for superior performance worthy of the Grand Tours.
Read review: Shimano S-Phyre RC9
Why You Should Trust Us
This review and analysis of road bike shoes comes to you from OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editor and multi-sport athlete Ryan Baham. Originally from Florida, Ryan now resides in the endless summer of SoCal, where the hiking, running, swimming, and cycling just never stop and there's never an excuse not to rack up the miles. He holds two bachelor's degrees from the University of South Florida and went on to pick up a master's in public administration and a graduate certificate in procurement from Old Dominion University.
The work of this review started with a close look at the road shoe market, followed by a selection process resulting in the cycling shoes discussed here, which we purchased and put to the test. Testing was structured to examine several performance areas that are critical ingredients in a great road shoe. Our test measures are designed to quantify cycling the shoe attributes most important to cyclists, which can also be used to more objectively compare competing road bike shoes. Alongside substantial research, we use our experience and judgment to analyze the road shoes and whittle down the best applications and value. And of course, the way we get a good deal of the performance information is by getting into shoes and out on the road and the trainer with a notepad (or Google Docs on the phone from the side of the road). While the trainer can be a good approximation for rainy weather, we also do our best to travel go find unpleasant weather and hard conditions to make sure we capture a fuller performance picture of the best bike shoes.
Related: How We Tested Road Bike Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
After riding hundreds of miles in all sorts of conditions while researching material and performance, we were able to evaluate our cohort on five all-important measures: comfort, weight, power transfer, adjustability, and durability. You'll notice we mention fashion quite a bit, but don't include it in the measures. It's pretty subjective, and an endogenous group like cyclists are really in no position to assign value to fashion.
Related: Buying Advice for Road Bike Shoes
Our choice for Best Bang for the Buck, the Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II, offers the best balance between performance and price. It scores better than all non-award winners, just behind the top bike shoes, but comes in at a bit of a discount to the very best bike shoes. This is one of the best road bike shoes and exemplifies what we mean when we talk about value. If you're looking for something at the pro-level, one of the best cycling shoes you can find is the Fi'zi:k Infinito R1, but it definitely has a higher price of admission. If 1.5-2 ounces of weight savings is something you're after, another option to consider is the Shimano S-Phyre RC9. These three options are clearly distinguished from the rest of the pack, and we believe one will meet your needs no matter your budget.
When we discuss comfort in cycling, we fully recognize that you're a cyclist because comfort isn't really your thing - you spend your leisure time inflicting pain on yourself, fighting traffic, and hammering in the blazing sun and cold because you need the edge. That said, no one begrudges a comfy shoe. We considered a few different aspects when we compared comfort. We were looking for something that fit the form of the foot (with caveats and considerations given to aggressiveness of lasting curve), while having a modest amount of cushion in the right spots and a snug, hugging heel cup. The toe box also needs to be negotiable. We recognize that your weird feet aren't like the average foot, so we kept you in mind too - all bike kicks need to be versatile enough to work for both Average Joe and Weird Mike.
One of the most welcoming features in a road bike shoe is soft padding lining the heel and collar. The Giro Republic's micro-suede heel counter is one of the only models to provide much of it.When you think about what makes road bike shoes comfortable, you're forced to consider the shape of the shoe. Narrow toplines and snug collars help keep the feet stable and prevent heel lift. Both the Editors' Choice Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 and Top Lightweight Racing Shoe winner, Shimano S-Phyre, do a fantastic job with that. One thing that sets them apart is their closure. The Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 uses a standard closure with the two halves of the upper coming together over the tongue to be tightened. Shimano uses a burrito design that folds the upper over the foot and then uses a wire lace to secure the fold. While the Fi'zi:k Infinito R1s have superior padding and liner, the Shimanos have a preferred closure.
The Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 also makes it up into the top of this measure. That's not surprising given that the company is mostly known for designing saddles meant to make sitting on a small piece of plastic and metal for hours at a time a reasonable activity. The premium Infinito is a form-fitting model that hugs the foot like the Shimano S-Phyre, except its cut is different. Both models use a burrito design that folds over the foot and reduces hotspots. The Fi'ziks' Infinite closure system design also limits hotspots and improves fit by allowing each of the two Boa IP1-B dials to control different aspects of upper volume and foot support.
The big difference between the two is that the Shimanos have a little more padding and don't feel quite as locked-in while the Infinitos feel a little stiffer with a tighter fit. The area that might be most noticeable is in the heel. The Shimanos have a looser heel that allows your foot to lift slightly, especially when you climb. The Infinitos allow you to lock in the heel a little better with their top Boa dial and an in-built arch support feature that stabilizes the foot even more.The Best Bang for the Buck winner also enters the fray here. The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II uses a high-density microfiber upper, thick padding lining the inside, and a high heel to match the fit and comfort of the other two standout winners in this category.
Cycling is where weight weenies make their home. There is an incredible premium on lightweight materials in this sport. Luckily for us, the measure is straightforward to measure - just break out the digital food scale, plop the naked shoe down, record, check a second time, move to the next shoe. As for what makes the shoe light, that's something that requires a little more research and prodding. Typically, the lightest road bike shoes have a scaled down carbon sole, sometimes with a good deal of venting. They also tend to have thin uppers made of some sort of synthetic fiber with limited inner padding. There are certainly tradeoffs for having such light shoes, and usually, they come in the form of comfort, sturdiness, and longevity.
The Scott Road RC SLs follow this rule. They are insanely light at just 18.4 ounces in men's 44, and that's one of the reasons they picked up the top award, but that weight savings comes at the price of comfort. They're reasonably comfortable, but some of the other models that are nearly as light are notably more comfortable.
Yet, there are exceptions to the tradeoff rule. The Louis Garneau Course Air Lite II are a masterful improvement over their earlier Air Lite I version, carefully excising all unnecessary attributes and adding in just enough padding and cushion to keep riders comfortable over the course of a century. They're an incredible 18.7 ounces in men's 44.
But the rule exception is best exemplified by the Shimano S-Phyres, coming in at just 19 ounces in a pair of men's 45. They use a thin carbon sole and a thin Teijin Avail microfiber synthetic leather upper to achieve incredible lightness without seriously reducing longevity or sturdiness. These are arguably the lightest shoes in the lineup. However, they are a size larger than the rest of the field, so they end up being two-tenths of an ounce heavier than their nearest rival.
That rival is the Giro Empire ACC, coming in at 18.8 ounces in a pair of men's 44. To achieve that weight, it uses a very thin Evofiber microfiber upper, an Easton EC90 ACC carbon composite sole, and noticeably reduces the stack height to 6.5mm, helping to cut weight.
The Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 just barely sled in to get a top spot in this measure, coming in at 20 ounces in men's 44. They got there by limiting the padding and using a Uni Direction Full Carbon outsole. They were able to maximize strength and stiffness while reducing overall weight.
A surprisingly competitive model in this race is the Pearl Izumi Race Road IV, coming in at 20.5 ounces in men's 44. The lightest shoes are typically much more expensive mid-level and premium shoes, like the two models mentioned above. However, the Pearl Izumi is very much entry level and the most affordable in our lineup.
One of the first things a seasoned rider notices when trying on a new pair of kicks is the power transfer. It's especially pronounced moving from a nylon or composite sole to a carbon sole, but the design of the upper also plays a major role. Most carbon soles will transfer power extremely well, but if the foot is kicking around and shifting in a poorly fitting upper that can't be locked down properly, power will be wasted. For this, we looked at the general stiffness of the upper combined with the way it conformed to the foot. We were surprised to find that Lake's CX402s were actually remoldable in the oven and the improved fit substantially reduced energy loss inside the shoe and noticeably improved the power transfer.
One of the top scoring kicks here is the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon. What the Sidis bring to the table is a combination of great fit, great design, and excellent materials. They're well shaped to the foot, so they work with the foot instead of allowing poor weight distribution, extra space, and excess material to interfere with hammering. The design ensures that the forefoot platform takes the brunt of the force and that the closure system, especially the Heel Retention System, doesn't sap wattage while the thick carbon sole and stiff Techpro microfiber upper transfer energy directly into the pedals.
The Scott Road RC SLs blew it out of the water. They use a sturdy Carbitex upper, which is a super stiff carbon textile material that is just barely malleable enough to remain comfortable, but stiff enough to transfer every watt from your foot into the pedal. They also use a premium HMX carbon sole that combines with the stiff upper to compound the direct transfer of energy into the bike.
It's worth noting here that both the Scotts and the Mavic Cosmic Ultimate IIs use carbon uppers and carbon soles, but the Scotts are designed to flex just enough in the upper to be a bit more comfortable than the Cosmics. The Scotts also use a Power Zone design in the heel to allow a bit of torsional flex so your foot can still move naturally, whereas the Mavics feel more like tight wooden boxes, and you end up fighting because they're just a bit too stiff.
The Mavics are understandably super responsive and transfer about as well as the top scoring shoes, but their open collar design makes the shoe looser, so it allows the heel to slip out, sapping power away from propulsion.
Runner-up was Shimano S-Phyre, which also has a fantastic carbon sole and a well-designed upper that secures the foot to the sole without leaving excess room. The difference is that they don't secure the heel as well, though they can tighten down, and they use a unique cat-tongue heel liner, which helps the shoe stick to the heel. The Fi'zi:k Infinitos also have a very similar design to the Shimanos, except their sole is nylon with carbon reinforcement, so it flexes a bit compared to the other two. The difference is that their narrower topline and deeper heel cup allows them to grab the heel better and prevent slippage than the Shimanos.
And it should come as no surprise that the Editors' Choice Fi'zi:k Infinito R1 also came in near the top of this measure. To get it there, it had a few salient features that made it among the stiffest on the market and such a popular pick in the pro peloton. The 1.2mm Laser Perforated Microtex upper is the first major feature to make the shoe such a great transferer of power. The material is super strong and it's cut so that it folds over the top of the foot for better closure and fit, which translates into a closer, snug fit with less energy wasted moving around inside the shoe. There's almost no flex anywhere in the shoe.
The Infinito Closure System also goes a long way toward improving energy transfer. Its upper dial alters the way the arch support interacts with your foot, and the lower dial adjusts shoe volume. One of the only other shoes to execute this design quite as nicely is the Shimano S-Phyre RC9 SPD-SL Both models have a nice fold-over clasping design that secures the foot and reduces hotspots. The primary difference between the two is that the Shimano's heel is a bit looser, so you need to tighten the upper dial a little more than you otherwise might while the Infinito's upper strap rides a little higher, so it locks the heel down a little more naturally and reduces energy waste.
The last and most important attribute is its unidirectional carbon fiber midsole. Producing this type of carbon simply involves aligning the fibers, you guessed it, in one direction (back/forward, up/down, left/right, etc.). It results in a lighter, stiffer style of carbon that's used in applications like aerospace where forces are primarily applied in one direction. The outcome in the fi'zi:k cycling shoe is a superior bike shoe.
The best road bike shoes use all sorts of fastening systems: straps, laces, ratchets, buckles, dials, secured cabling, unsecured cabling, and every combination among them. Boa dials and their competing proprietary cousins are the newest fastening systems to spread across the industry and they're pretty fantastic. They use a fairly straight-forward design, but even they have a great deal of variation: unidirectional, bi-directional, pop to release, no release, large and grippy, small and sleek, low power, high power, and lots more. We particularly look at the ability to micro-adjust the shoes with the fastening system and the ability to tighten on-the-fly, so riders can reach down and make a quick tweak at a traffic light, or, if they're good enough, while in the middle of a group ride without causing carnage.
We don't just look at the fastening system. We also look at the design of the shoe to make sure that the fasteners can do their job. If the fasteners are top-notch, but the shoe is made of a material that doesn't flex enough to tighten, then what good is a fancy fastener? If the material and fasteners are fine, but the fastener is placed in a ridiculous place where it's tightening down a part of the shoe that doesn't need tightening, that's also a problem.The top honor here goes to the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon. They use two Sidi Tecno 3 Push buckles to fasten the upper. They allow for some serious micro-adjusting and quick release. The design of the upper also allows the shoe to adjust to the foot when the fasteners are manipulated. This becomes clear when comparing to the extremely stiff Mavics, whose upper is almost incapable of being fastened beyond the general mold of the shoe. The Sidis have the perfect mix of stiffness and flex in the upper to both transfer power and adjust to the foot.
One major caveat here is that they aren't the easiest to adjust on-the-fly, but it's still doable. As much as we might love the Tecno 3 buckles for being so mechanistic, they do require two hands to incrementally loosen, and it makes us wish Sidi would look into partnering with Boa or find some other solution. Scott, Shimano, and Fi'zi:k came in just behind them. All of them use IP1 Boa dials with bi-directional adjustment and a pop-out quick release. All three shoes are extremely easy to micro-adjust and adjust on-the-fly, though it can be annoying to reach down mid-stroke to try to get a quick turn tighter only to accidentally pop the quick release.
For the Shimanos, the top dial is attached to the top strap, and the cable anchor is attached to the side of the shoe. That means when the top strap is open or loose, and you try to tighten it with the dial, the dial twists the top strap unless you hold the strap down. The dial and strap are the inverse of the Tecno 3 Buckle on the Sidis where the buckle is attached to the side of the upper, and the cable anchor is attached to the strap; when you twist the buckle, nothing moves other than the cable.
For the Scotts, the issue is similar to the Mavics, in that the stiff carbon upper is challenging to adjust. It's just a bit too rigid to get a good adjustment, while the Fi'zi:k upper is made of a malleable Microtex that will remold and adjust to however you tighten it. There are of course, tradeoffs in power transfer and durability, but this is about adjustability.
One of the primary advantages Sidi has over its biggest competitors in this review, Shimano and Scott, is its Heel Retention System. The heel is already a bit of a weak point for both the Shimanos and Scott, and Sidi exploits that by fortifying its heel with an adjustable device meant to improve fit and power transfer. It is a substantial advantage that the Italian shoes have over all three, Scott, Shimano, and Fi'zi:k.
Fi'zi:k and Shimano have a good deal of overlap in the Infinito and S-Phyre, which could be why they both perform so well here using just two dials. Neither is going to touch the Sidi with their additional adjustable heel retention system, but they're still outstanding while remaining fairly straightforward. They both use side-mounted bi-directional BOA dials that pull the upper over the foot like a burrito for a closer fit. The difference between the two is that the Shimanos use a toe cleat so you can fold the cable over and get a tighter fit over the toes while the Infinitos use an infinite wire and anchor configuration and slightly different BOA placement to control tightness over the forefoot.
There's nothing more frustrating than dropping a few hundred dollars on gear only to have it break down before the year's out. The best road bike shoes will typically last at least a few years before showing any wear. We did a good deal of research, looked at materials and design to consider vulnerabilities, monitored wear and degradation over the 150 or so miles we put in for each shoe, and did a lot of checking customer reviews and complaints to see what was wearing down and how frequently.
Some of the most significant indicators were replaceable parts, how many pieces were in the upper, and toughness and thickness of the upper material. Understandably, a shoe that uses a thick upper material with limited seams and heavy glue and threading will do better than a thin upper with light threading and lots of seams. A shoe that uses plastic or nylon in its sole instead of carbon will likewise see performance degeneration well before the carbon sole.
The Scott Road RC SLs and Sidi Wire Vents had the most durable features and topped this measure. Sidi uses a tough Techpro microfiber upper with heavy stitching that not only resists scuffing and tearing reasonably well but will also do a better job of holding its shape and resisting the elements than some of the other shoes. Its thick, full carbon sole will also take more abuse than some of the thinner soles and certainly some of the composite materials like plastic and nylon. What we're super stoked about its replaceable toe pad (which is also a sliding vent cover). The toe and heel are the two parts of the shoe that take damage every single time you stop (unless you're one of those monsters who insists on track standing at every light). The Sidis are the only shoe in our lineup to have a replaceable toe pad.
Scott also put out an excellent road bike shoe with the Road RC SL. The Carbitex upper is both stiff and strong, like steel-reinforced concrete. It has very few exposed spots, and those areas that are exposed, like the heel, have extra girding. There are very few concerns that it could tear or take much damage should you fail to keep the rubber side down or scrape the side of the shoe across something rough. Of course, as with most other shoes, the Boa dials could tear off, but those are mostly replaceable, depending on the level of damage you do. The HMX carbon fiber sole is also a premium carbon that will perform as well as thicker, heavier carbon soles.
After these come the Fi'zi:k Infinito R1s. Their use of a clean 1.2mm microtex upper with minimal seams reduces the areas of potential wear and catastrophic damage. Their outsole is an interesting unidirectional build that bolsters strength against the typical lateral forces applied during cycling. The flipside is that the sole could be vulnerable to forces from other directions, but it shouldn't be a serious concern. They also use replaceable parts, which is always a good move for extending the life of a product. The heel pad is replaceable, and so are the Boa dials, something we can't say for the fasteners used by Sidi.
Alongside them are the Lake models, the CX402s and the CX237s are both tough puppies.The more affordable CX237s use full-grain leather, widely considered to be the most durable form of leather, for their upper. The CX402s use K-lite kangaroo leather, which is widely considered to be the toughest natural leather out there. Like the Shimano S-Phyre, both pairs of Lakes use a single piece to cut down on seams and vulnerabilities, whereas the Sidis use a few pieces for its upper. But like the Sidis, the Lakes' strength is aided by their heavy-duty stitching. Both the CX402s and CX237s also have a thick carbon fiber sole comparable to the Italian shoes, but they leave their sole vulnerable to wear by only having a replaceable heel pad, leaving the toe to slowly wear down over time until to begins to damage the sole and upper.
Once again, the Mavics deserve mention here. One would think that such a carbon-intense shoe would be the most durable shoe. That's a reasonable consideration. They have a stiff carbon framed upper, their Energy Frame, atop a light mesh material. Below that is their Energy Full Carbon SLR Outsole. That's great, but the weakness is that neither heel pad nor toe pad are replaceable, and they're both reasonably piddly. To top it off, and this is the real concern, their vents in the outsole are enormous, running along most of the middle of the foot and another at the toe. They are large enough that they could potentially allow stones, rocks, and sticks to poke through and do damage. The Shimanos also have large vents, but not nearly as large as the Mavics and only at the toe and heel. Both the Sidis and Lakes have vents, but they are less than the size of a fingernail.
To bring you the best possible review, we spent months doing everything we could to tear these shoes apart and strip them down. We ignored the hype and just looked at performance. We spent hours on the bike in each shoe, careful to get time in on the trainer, out on hot flats, chilly mornings, rainy afternoons, punishing climbs, hard crit rides, and of course, the casual group rides. We spent forever looking at materials and design, and we investigated both the claims of the shoe companies (and material producers) and those of customers who had a thing or two to say about the shoes. We did our best to cut through the morass and just tell you what we thought was legitimate and what we thought was bull. We recognize that our reviewers won't have the same views and preferences of you guys out there, but we hope you'll find the research and advice useful, even if you don't agree on all points or judgment calls. Stay safe and happy riding.
— Ryan Baham