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The Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Cycling Shoes

What’s the difference between cheap and expensive cycling shoes?

To a cyclist, every memorable adventure begins with several pairs of cycling shoes harmoniously locking into their respective pedals and pushing off into the sunset, ready to ride the road ahead. By securing you to the bike, a cycling shoe significantly improves foot stability, maximises efficiency and helps you tackle long roads and harsh terrain with confidence.

However, like everything in life – not all cycling shoes are made equal. With such a vast breadth of choice, it can be difficult to delineate the critical differences between a top-of-the-range shoe and an entry-level one. If you understand the differences between the two though, and how each area can affect the shoe-pedal interface, you’ll be much better equipped to select your next pair of cycling-specific kicks successfully.

Sole Material

One significant difference between an entry-level shoe and a higher-end shoe will be the material and quality of the sole. On most entry-level shoes, the soles are constructed from plastic, which is comparatively thicker and more flexible, than the stiffer, lighter carbon soles found on higher-end shoes. Because of this difference between sole materials, the higher-end shoe offers improved stiffness and platform stability, which translates to a notable improvement in power transfer and speed out on the road.

The Shimano RT5 road shoes which are listed below are a perfect example of a set of road shoes that are great for beginners but could lack the stiffness required by more experienced riders who are pushing more power through the pedals. The Shimano RP9’s, on the other hand, have a carbon sole, and as a result, will deliver power much more directly from rider to road.

Man on bike wearing white cycling shoes

Closure System

Another critical difference between these two types of cycling shoes is the closure system. While cheaper shoes typically fasten using a Velcro system, more expensive models tend to come fitted with Boa-style dials or ratchet mechanisms. Although a Velcro closure system provides a fit which is probably just as secure as Boa-style dial, it lacks the same precision and ease of adjustability on the bike.

With a Boa dial, if you need to secure your feet quickly before a ferocious sprint or punchy climb, you can, with a quick click of the dial your shoe fits precisely and promptly with minimal effort. With a Velcro closure system, however, a quick adjustment like this is almost impossible. As such, higher-end shoes offer a more precise, easily adjustable, secure fit. The Fizik Infinito and the Bont Vaypor S road shoes are both excellent examples of shoes that offer great adjustability throughout the foot thanks to their dual Boa-dial closure systems.

Man wearing black cycling shoes

Upper Material

The upper material of the shoe will also act as another clear point of difference between an entry-level and pro-level pair of kicks. Most entry-level shoes are composed of a combination of PU leather and lower quality nylon. While these materials can offer some level of durability, they’re nowhere near as pliable or breathable as materials that are used to make pro-level shoes, such real leather or a lightweight synthetic microfibre used to make the shoes below.

If you plan on riding for an extended period, and especially during warmer conditions, a shoe made from pliable and breathable material is vital for your lasting comfort. As such, more expensive shoes tend to be more comfortable and breathable than cheaper ones.

Man sitting on road bike

Don’t neglect your footwear – your shoes act as one of the essential contact patches between you and your bike. Considering how well the sole, fastening system and the upper part of the shoe can do their job, will help you to get the most out of the shoe itself, which will, in turn, help you to get the most out of cycling.



Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn

Writer and expert

With almost a decade of riding under his belt, Tom has dabbled in almost every major cycling discipline. These days, he's usually found aboard his fixed-gear gravel bike tackling the best trails and towpaths around Manchester and the Peak District.