How To: Buy road cycling shoes

Uppers, soles, retention systems and fit explained

How To Shoes Tech
Your perfect shoe is the one that provides the features you want, and fits without causing discomfort. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Your perfect shoe is the one that provides the features you want, and fits without causing discomfort. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art’s Cyclery. The original post can be found here.

Cycling technology doesn’t end with the bike. Helmets, sunglasses, and apparel have nearly as much research and development behind them as your favorite pro’s carbon frame. Cycling shoes are no different. What you wear on your feet plays a crucial role in maximizing on-bike performance. But all that footwear technology sometimes means keeping track of a lot of features and buzzwords. To help you cut through the clutter, here is a primer on key considerations when buying a new pair of road cycling shoes.

Louis Garneau Course 2LS. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Louis Garneau Course 2LS are a top-flight option. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

Retention System

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 and Shimano SH-R088 shoe. Both offer a comfortable fit and are a great entry-level shoe from one of the sport’s most respected companies.

As you move up in price point, Velcro is often 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 that is adjustable on the fly. Sidi’s Wire Carbon Vernice has two Techno 3 closures with micro adjust tightening and release mechanisms.

Recently there has been a reemergence of the classically styled, lace-up shoe. Both the Giro Empireand 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, a basic Velcro upper will likely suit you just fine. But for those looking for more adjustability, a dial closure or lace-up shoe might be a better fit.

Vittoria 1976. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

The classically styled Vittoria 1976. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery


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 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 shoe cover for all-season comfort.

Empire VR90 with an EC90 platform paired with a Vibram-lugged sole. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

The Giro Empire VR90 with an EC90 platform paired with a Vibram-lugged sole. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery


Comfort and efficiency are greatly influenced by a shoe’s sole, which will range from plastic, to fiberglass, to Kevlar, to carbon. fiber 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 for times when you are off the bike. Giro’s Empire line of shoes offers an excellent range of soles. Every Empire has the same upper, but offers a different sole to fit your needs. The Giro 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 difference may 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. Many other manufacturers have similar offers with a variety of soles to suite your needs.


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 various models. If you are shopping through the brands, you can use the Shoefitr feature on Art’s shoe product pages to compare fit between shoes. 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.

About the author: Arts Cyclery

This article was originally published on the Art's Cyclery Blog. Art's Cyclery is dedicated to offering free expert advice, how-to videos, and in-depth product reviews on to help riders make an educated decision when selecting cycling gear.

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