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If you’ve recently gotten into cycling (or have been on a bike for years), you know it’s one of the best ways to get in a great cardio workout.
“You can count on a heart-pounding sweat session that can increase your VO2max and cardiovascular endurance—and burn tons of calories,” Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., previously wrote for Men’s Health. (This 75-year-old cyclist beat diabetes thanks to cycling.)
And if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a great addition to your exercise routine. Need proof? This guy lost 45 pounds in 3 months, this guy lost 103 pounds with cycling, and this dad lost 90 pounds. And this drummer lost a whopping 460 pounds with cycling.
Of course, the sport that requires you to be outfitted with some of the best gear. From helmets to bib kits, cycling equipment helps you look pretty cool—but the accessories are a necessity to help you have an efficient workout. (Looking for new cycling shorts? Here are our best picks.) If you’re in the market for a new pair of cycling shoes, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
If you’re uninitiated, terms like 2-bolt, 3-bolt, Boa closures, carbon…”don’t feel bad if you’re confused by all this stuff,” says Matt Phillips, senior test editor for Bicycling. Picking the right stuff doesn’t have to be that complicated, he says. (Although if you went through every rabbit hole on this, you could definitely make it complicated. You just don’t have to do that to enjoy a ride.)
Ask yourself a few questions to dial into the right shoe:
What kind of pedals does your bike have? “That’s the first thing to ask,” says Phillips. That indicates what kind of cleats you want. They’re generally going to be 2-bolt, or 3-bolt (looks like a triangle). Three-bolt cleats are generally more common on road bikes. You’ll want to buy cycling shoes that accommodate that kind of cleat.
Do you want shoes for outdoors or just indoor cycling? Indoor cycling is such a sweaty sport, Phillips points out, that super-vented shoes are helpful here.
How much do you want to spend? “You can get shoes for under $100 or spend literally thousands for a custom, handmade shoe,” he says. “What you spend will define features and options and what they look like,” he says. Higher-end shoes have a carbon sole, which is designed to help you deliver power to the pedals more efficiently, and sometimes fancier closure systems. Sometimes, as price increases, the likeliness of half sizes increases as well (less expensive ones tend to come only in whole sizes).
Do you like the way they fit? You’re going to be spending a lot of time in these. They should be your most comfortable shoes. You don’t need to buy them like running shoes and leave room in the toe, Phillips explains. You don’t want them to be too sloppy or it’ll be hard to ride efficiently. Of course, you don’t want your toe right up against the front of the cycling shoe, either.
Cyclists and shop staff love to talk about closure systems. Laces are super adjustable to fit your foot…but not while you’re actually on the bike (and you have to make sure they don’t come undone and get caught in your bike. Velcro, ratchet, and dial closures (Boa is a dial that many brands use) are easier to adjust on your bike (a blessing when your feet swell on long rides), although Velcro can catch a lot of dirt.
Do you like how they look? So much of shoe choice is aesthetics. And let’s face it, if you like the way it looks and feels, you’re going to ride your bike. And that’s what you’re going for.
Check out 12 of our favorite cycling shoe choices right now.
Explore Powerweave Shoe
This shoe by Rapha is built for wear and tear thanks to its 3D woven TPU-reinforced upper. It features the latest in technology, like adjustable arch support and a lightweight carbon sole to put you at the front of the pack. (2-bolt)
Shimano Sh-rc9 S-PHYRE Bicycle Shoe
This is one fast and flashy shoe. Shimano bills it for track, TT, and criterium specialists. But its sleek profile and stiff carbon sole would make you feel like a leader on any ride. (3-bolt)
Indoor: Nobull White Cycling Shoe
You want vents? Nobull hears you, and deconstructed the uppers on these for maximum coolness without sacrificing performance. The retro lace look adds style and lets you customize fit.
Indoor: Nike Men’s SuperRep Cycling Shoes
The double velcro closure keeps these snug on your feet so you can deliver power to the pedals while the upper lets your feet breathe. The soles also have strategically placed rubber so you don’t wipe out on a slippery floor on your way to the bike.
Gravel: Sector Shoe
The rugged look belies this shoe’s comfortable feel, thanks to the breathable upper, 3-D molded footbed, and the Boa closures that let you dial in fit. (2-bolt)
Gravel: Specialized S-Works Recon Mountain Bike Shoe
The stiff, super-light carbon plate lets you speed through the course and the Boa closures let you dial in comfort. (2-bolt)
Mountain Bike: Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
Take your bike out and don’t be afraid to go places—these shoes help you get anywhere on and off your wheels. The sole is stiff enough to keep you riding well and grippy enough for the walking part of your adventures. (2-bolt)
A solid choice with a reasonable price. The durable upper houses a toe box that some testers say runs wide. (2-bolt)
Peloton Cycling Shoes
If you have a Peloton bike, these shoes are a no-brainer. They have triple straps, and a ratchet clip toward the ankle for a tight fit.
Bontrager Circuit Road Cycling Shoes
These Bontrager shoes offer a slightly roomier fit, and have unique hook-and-loop toe straps. They also have single Boa L6 dials on each shoe that you can adjust for an optimal fit. (3-bolt)
Venzo Bicycle Men’s Road Cycling Riding Shoes
These shoes are a #1 best seller on Amazon, and they’re a great value. They have adjustable floating resistance for a comfortable fit, and are Peloton-compatible. (3-bolt)
Fizik Tempo R5 Overcurve Cycling Shoe
$114.23 (24% off)
These Fizik shoes are another super affordable option. They feature a Boa system with a Velcro strap near the toe for a secure fit as you ride.
Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, has been a health editor at properties including Marie Claire, Prevention, Shape and RealAge.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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