Words: Hannah Bussey
If you’ve read our clipless pedals article, the chances are your appetite for new shoes is now whetted. Whether your old sneakers no longer cut the mustard, your favoured old pair of bike shoes are due an upgrade, or you simply need another pair of shoes in your life, we’ve got seven pairs of clipless road shoes to give you some shopping inspiration.
But buying new shoes isn’t as simple as finding a pair to match an outfit. There are lots of elements to take into consideration, such as closures and pedal-system compatibility.
When trying on road-specific shoes, they should fit snugly but still allow you to wriggle your toes. Pedalling by its nature needs little foot movement, and feet can easily become numb if held in a specific position for too long. Having a bit of wriggle room will help keep the blood circulating and toes awake. Also, make sure you have enough arch support. Some manufacturers offer options with regard to inner sole varieties to support different foot shapes. If the only option is wafer-thin, it’s definitely worth investing in a pair that support the arch of your foot to help ward off aches and pains.
And remember, road shoes, in the main, are designed to be used on the bike and not to go trip-trapping around the streets. For this reason, they have very rigid soles, which helps harness your pedalling power — great for cycling, not so good for walking around. Road shoes’ smooth soles offer very little grip, which can turn even the most unassuming surface into a skating rink!
What to look for
There is a plethora of fastenings and closures that shoe manufacturers choose from nowadays. Ranging from Velcro to ratchet-style systems, the objective is to hold your food securely in the shoe and give you minute adjustability, allowing you to get the snugness just right. Too tight and you will quickly lose circulation; too loose will mean too much foot movement, which will cause problems too.
So if you’ve plumped for a new pedal system, make sure the shoe matches! Most road pedals and shoes come with the standard ‘Look’ three-bolt-style fixing system, but there are some variations out there, so make sure you double-check. If you prefer to use recessed-cleat shoes (MTB-style), you will need the two-hole SPD-type mount.
This is an important issue if you suffer from cold feet, as many cyclists do, or from sizzling tootsies when the weather warms up. Extensive ventilation isn’t ideal for cold-feet sufferers, whose problem it only exacerbates. If hot feet is your problem, opt for shoes with plenty of ventilation to keep them cool.
DMT Vision 2.0 £95
With a mesh toe area and side panels, the DMT Vision is great for people who suffer from hot feet. The three Velcro straps allow you to get the exact amount of tension when securing on to your foot. That said, if you have narrow feet, you might find that there is a bit too much strap; in our case, there was a significant amount of spare strap over the bridge of the foot. Our feet felt well supported when pedalling, if a little chilly. Like many of the shoes on test here, the Vision supports the three-bolt pedal systems.
Specialized Ember £110
These are the most expensive on test by a whole £10, but you do appear to get a bit more for your money. Great for narrow feet, the Boa lacing (a metallic lacing system) was a neat way to get exactly the right snugness required, without pressure from tight spots. The Ember is part of Specialized’s Body Geometry range, which means they help optimise your pedalling stroke by placing your foot in the correct position, something we certainly noticed. This was by far the most comfortable shoe on test, giving lots of arch support and holding our feet securely in place.
Lake CX160 £74.99
The Lake comes with both three and two-bolt fitting system options, so is one of the most versatile shoes on test, allowing you to opt for any number of clipless pedal systems. It does feel rather narrow, but we suspect the leather will ease slightly over time, making the CX160 worth considering, even if your foot isn’t particularly svelte. The leather and firm foot support makes it feel like a more expensive shoe. In our opinion, it offers excellent pedalling bang for your buck.
Gaerne G.Avia £89.99
Shoe sizing is not consistent from one manufacturer to the next, as illustrated by Gaerne with this model. The G.Avia was comparatively long and narrow, with a good, secure-cupped heel. The Velcro straps were shorter than some of the other brands’ — OK for narrow feet, not so great for wider ones. With minimal mesh and vents, the G.Avia kept feet warmer while on the road than some of the others, so this is a good choice for those who suffer from cold feet.
Shimano SH-WR61 £100
The three-bolt sole has toe and heel grip, so if you do happen to need to pound the odd pavement, these will offer a bit of traction. These came up quite small on test, so you may need to go up a size. The ratchet and offset Velcro closure system means that the pressure is spread evenly across the top of your foot, but the ratchet does mean the gaps between each click is pre-set. With vents in the sole, there was definitely a cooling around our toes, but more moderately when compared to some of the other shoes on test.
Louis Garneau Revo XR3 £99.99
One of the most vented shoes on test, with air channels in the sole, both front and on the instep back, although if you really do have hot feet, it’s worth knowing that there is an even more ventilated LG shoe actually called the Ventilator! Including carbon in the sole has made it a bit stiffer than the other shoes, but it’s not really that noticeable in practice. Like the Shimano SH-WR61, the REVO XR3 comes with a double closure system which has its good and bad points, but it does mean your feet feel really secure in the shoe.
Northwave Venus SBS £99
Another carbon reinforced three-bolt sole, again making it marginally more rigid than the other nylon soled shoes. The Venus is certainly for the wider footed person; our narrow foot tester struggled to get them 100 per cent tight enough with the ratchet due to the excess fabric. If you do have a wider foot, then you should be able to fit to perfection as even the ratchet is on a Velcro fixing. A high arch on the inner sole will mean it will be good for some, but not others.
The Specialized Ember certainly looks the part and there is no denying that it was the most comfortable shoe on test; the only reason it isn’t the test winner is that it is just slightly over our £100 price point. The Lake CX160 really punched well above its price-tag weight, with leather upper and the fact that you can run multiple pedal options. In our opinion it is a real steal at £74.99 making it the test winner. But as with most tests, it’s important to get the shoe that fits best for you, meaning that even our winner might not be yours.