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Best cycling shoes for winter: buyer's guide

Joseph Delves
9 Dec 2020

We gather together the best winter cycling shoes for cold and wet conditions...

Like soft-top cars, cycling gets sold on the premise that life is perpetually warm and sunny. Writing this in December, nothing is making me as conscious of this fallacy as my toes. Head out in winter wearing standard, heavily-vented cycling shoes and you’ll soon find that what suited the height of summer isn’t so ideal for the other three-quarters of the year.

The traditional solution to this situation has been to employ overshoes. These throw-over covers will keep out the rain but have an annoying tendency to wear out within a season or so of use. Plus they add another item to fiddle about with each time you head out.

Which leads us to winter-specific cycling shoes. These extra-protective cycling shoes range from the fully waterproof to the merely better insulated. Aiming to stop the breeze rather than let it through, most will also have an extended gaiter around the ankle to better resist water creeping in.

Often a little chunky looking, by convention, many also size up slightly larger, allowing you to fit thicker socks into them without compressing your feet. Ranging from the race-ready to touring-style options, it’s possible to find models matched to any style of riding.

Cleat type: SPD or SPD-SL?

SPD-SL pedals work with shoes that use a large plastic cleat on the bottom of a sole that has no usable tread. By comparison, SPD pedals work with shoes that use a small metal cleat that’s recessed within a tread pattern than allows for extended walking.

Racers favour the SPD-SL system for its lower weight and more solid pedalling platform. However, plenty of riders like the SPD system for riding in winter. Not only do the shoes and cleats last longer, but the whole system is less affected by mud. Plus, as the cleat is recessed within the shoe’s tread, you won’t slip over when stopping for a coffee.

For this reason, it’s also worth considering the SPD versions on many of the shoes listed below, along with the SPD-only Bontrager models...

Best cycling shoes for winter

1. Northwave Arctic R GTX winter cycling shoes

Northwave makes excellent high-end road shoes. Sitting in the middle of the brand’s winter range, these Arctic R GTX models are supposedly comfy down to minus 10°C. Arriving with a very stiff carbon-reinforced sole, breathable Gore-Tex waterproofing, and dial-and-wire adjustment they’re among the most race-orientated you’ll find.

Quite a svelt looking assemblage, the Arctic R GTX nevertheless hides a fleecy lining within its slick, defensive exterior. Topped by a flexible gaiter combining a Gore-Tex membrane with neoprene, this is integrated so neatly as to leave the shoes one of the few truly attractive pairs we can think of.

At around 750 grams, they’re also tougher than summer-season models thanks in part to an extended scuff-guard that covers the toebox.

The promise of being warm, waterproof, breathable and pretty racy, this particular model is enhanced by all-over reflectivity, making it an even better choice for gloomy days.

2. Fizik R5 Artica winter cycling shoes 

Looking like something you’d expect to find attached to a cold-water surfer and not a cyclist, the appearance of Fizik’s R5 Artica shoes is divisive. However, before I dive into the details, I will note that their featureless exterior should in theory make them very easy to clean, which is no small benefit.

Actually, I quite like them. Plus, with a nothing to snag either air or mud, they might even be pretty aero.

Done up with simple pull-tight laces, these are then hidden beneath the shoe’s zipper, and further guarded over by a high velcro cuff. With an internal membrane, the only way water should be getting in is if it finds its way in from the top.

Inside the insulation is moderate, meaning these should stay comfy to below zero. While the toe and heel of the boot benefit from a bit of extra material, the sole will be pretty familiar to users of the Fizik’s summer shoes.

With a minimal amount of tread, this is partly the reason for the shoe’s sub-800 gram weight.

Made of carbon-reinforced plastic, the sole itself isn’t the stiffest out there, but should be fine for most riders. Fitting is also inline with Fizik’s other shoes, being a little closer around the top of the foot than more roomy brands.

3. Sidi Zero Gore 2 winter cycling shoes 

Buy now from Tredz for £230

It seems possible to detect a little of Sidi’s motorcycle heritage in the design of the Zero Gore 2 shoes. A serious-looking bit of kit, they take the brand’s usual approach of combining racing-specific features with a robust and serviceable design.

With a Gore-Tex lining taking care of protecting your feet, this should keep you both dry from without, and let vapour out from within.

Designed to size slightly larger, this allows less restrictive contact with the foot, plus the ability to fit thicker socks in. Locked in place with a ratchet dial and wire closure system, the volume of the front part of the shoe can be adjusted with a simple velcro closure, while a similar arrangement covers the flap at the top of the foot.

Not a cheap option, race-heads will be pleased to see Sidi’s Millenium 5 carbon sole which ensures power transfer isn’t less than a standard set of summer shoes. With a replaceable heel pad, these should also prove longlasting.

Buy now from Tredz for £230

4. Lake CX 145 winter cycling shoes 

Buy now from Tredz for £195

The confusingly named CX 145 isn’t a cyclocross shoe, but rather a cold-weather racing bike model. Made by Lake, it features the brand’s sports-style fit and crucially comes in both standard and wide models.

Looking a little bit like a hiking shoe, waxed canvas, synthetic leather and a waterproof membrane form the shoe’s upper. With the laces going right to the top, they’re secured in place by two BOA IP1 dials per shoe.

Supposedly comfortable down to -4°C, their slightly unconventional looks belie a moderate weight and surprisingly aggressive level of stiffness courtesy of Lake’s Sport fibreglass-injected nylon sole.

Fairly waterproof, their exterior could be prone to accumulating water, although the shoe’s membrane should do a good job of keeping this on the correct side of the divide.

Tending to come up a bit small, it’s probably best to try them on to ensure you can get thick enough socks on too – especially as the amount of insulation inside the shoe itself is quite minimal.

Buy now from Tredz for £195

5. Bontrager JFW winter cycling shoes

Buy now from Trek for £170

Potentially a bit chunky for some roadies, these keenly-priced winter SPD cycling shoes from Bontrager could be a good option for commuting or mixed-terrain use. Medium in terms of mass, the JFWs use a single BOA L6 dial to tighten the main body of the shoe. A zip up the side of their flexible collar then completes the fit.

With a nylon composite sole, this is moderately stiff but won’t make extended periods of walking painful. Supposedly good for temperatures around -4 to 5°C, they definitely provide above-average insulation. However, when it comes to rain, the key is in the small print. Namely, that these are water-resistant rather than waterproof.

The main body of the shoe is protected by a membrane, but the high neoprene collars will eventually let in the water. So while they’ll shrug off showers, the jetwashing that is riding through a storm, or across extended periods of standing water will see them soaked through.

Still, in dry conditions, they’ll be a good deal warmer than a conventional option. Bright and with reflective detailing, they could be a good call for cold-weather gravel riders, commuters or cyclocross riders.

Buy now from Trek for £170

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