We consider whether old-school laces are the future of cycling footwear

With the dominance of Velcro straps, ratchets, wire and Boa locking systems, it looked like lace-up cycling shoes were consigned to the history books.

However, this all seemed to change when, following a crash that wrote off his standard Giro Factor shoes, Taylor Phinney was spotted wearing prototype Giro lace-up shoes at the 2012 Giro d’Italia.

Since then lace-up shoes have grown in popularity and several top pros have been seen wearing them, including Sir Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador.

Fashion trend

giro empire vr90 shoes laces

Despite this resurgence, there are doubts as to their performance merits. Dino Signori, the founder of Sidi, has very clear thoughts: “Laces are [definitely] only a trend, because retro things are in fashion, but there is no comparison between laces and the newer closure systems.”

>>> Are carbon-soled cycling shoes necessary?

The appeal of dials and buckle systems is obvious — they can give a firm and secure fit while also allowing you to change the tension of your shoes on the fly. However, they are not without their faults; they can, for example, cause pressure points on the foot, and dials can become jammed.

This is one of the reasons why Stuart Hayes, Giro product manager at distributor Zyro, is adamant laces are advantageous. “They provide unrivalled comfort around the whole foot. With laces you get superior instep mapping — a closer, more flexible fit and adjustment for wider feet,” he says.

In contrast to Signori, Hayes believes the historical use of laces is a positive: “Laces have not been the preferred choice for general footwear for hundreds of years without reason. Laces just work.”

Lightweight and aero

Specialized Sub 6 cycling shoes

A lace-up offering from S Works

In addition to the claimed comfort, lace-up shoes are said to offer other benefits. “Currently, laces are a suitable closure for building an aerodynamic and lighter shoe,” says Rob Cook, design director of footwear and soft goods at Specialized.

He explains that by removing the buckle or dial, the size of the shoe is reduced: “The smaller the shoe volume, the less air needs to be disturbed.” A lace-up shoe could be as much as 35 seconds faster over 40km compared to the dial shoe equivalent, Cook claims.

>>> Which climbs faster – an aero bike or lightweight bike? (video)

Better comfort and faster — it is a pretty compelling argument for laces not being a flash in the pan. However, the elephant in the room is the inability to adjust the fit as you ride.

How many times in races do you see riders reaching down to tighten their shoes before a sprint? Cook acknowledges this: “The obvious drawback with laces is that they cannot be adjusted while riding.”

Contador’s shoe selection at the 2015 Giro d’Italia illustrates both the positives and negatives of lace-up shoes. For the majority of the race, when adjusting the tightness of the shoes would be beneficial, he used a dial system; however, for the individual time trial he opted for laces, since the shoes are lightweight, aerodynamic and allow you to get an optimum tension that will last for the duration of a shorter event.

Laces or not, keep your toes warm in winter

Our take

The improved comfort, along with the enhanced aerodynamics and reduction in weight make lace-up shoes an appealing prospect. However, the inability to adjust the fit on the fly mean lace-up shoes are likely to remain confined to short races — crits, time trials and track racing — and more leisurely rides where stopping is not an issue.

Are lace-up shoes the future?

Yes: Stuart Hayes, Giro product manager at Zyro

A product doesn’t need to look like it has super-modern functions to be a technical performance shoe. With seven points of contact, laces allow you to get more of a custom fit.

The performance comes from the lower weight and smoother more aerodynamic profile — ultimately, if the fit is better and more comfortable, you are going to perform at your optimum. In my opinion, laces are here to stay.

No: Dino Signori, founder, Sidi

Lace-up shoes offer no benefit in performance. I believe laces are purely for aesthetics and for nostalgic people!

For me, comfort on the bicycle means having the chance to adjust the closure system while riding — the main advantage of wire and dial systems is that you can easily do this. Simply imagine your laces come undone while riding… would you stop to tighten them during a race?

  • davies

    Not true, it is not about coming loose. In warmer weather, and particularly warm climates, the feet swell during the ride and the shoes need to be loosened gradually otherwise severe discomfort can arise. Laces again? No thanks.

  • Paul Jakma

    I’ve had a great idea on how to allow laced shoes to still be tightened on the fly to fully secure the foot to the pedal when required. My idea is to add straps attached to the pedal that loop around the foot. With a suitable buckle, these could be left at a comfortable tension for most of the race, and then pulled tight at the end before a sprint for maximum power straps.

    I call them “Power Straps” and will patent the idea. I expect to make lots of money as the pros flock to this new technology over the next few seasons!

  • Pedalbot

    I like the look of laces but do adjust my shoes during rides and races. Yes, some of it’s mental but I find that after I’ve left the house I may need to tighten the shoes if it’s cold out or loosen them if it’s a hot ride. I’ve found the Giro velcro straps work best for me and allow me to even adjust the shoes under overshoes.

  • Ed E W

    I know people who always use the ‘inability to adjust tension while riding’ argument, but they are going out this time of year on 4 hr rides wearing neoprene booties over their shoes and never have the need to stop and make adjustments.

  • Mate

    Used to use Velcro and ratchet systems until I got my Empire SLXs a few months ago. Never going back. No issues with adjusting on the fly, it takes about 2-3 times till you find your fit, but works excellent afterwards. Laces are also easy and cheap to replace, and offer another place for customizing your outfit.

  • Mike Prytherch

    I’ve never adjusted my shoes once I’m riding, nothing wrong with laces, less to go wrong, I don’t recall any lace needing to be replaced, but velcro loses its grip over time, dials break, give me laces anyday.

  • I prefer the convenience of velcro/dials – much quicker (and easier with numb fingers!) Either way, buy what you want!

  • Dan Cole

    The ability to adjust shoes on move is often overplayed: they don’t come loose and a well fitting shoe shouldn’t need tightening for finale of a race – I think its more of a psychological benefit than bio-mechanical.