While budgets aren't limitless, upgrading your cycling shoes from a cheaper pair is one of the best investments you can make. And just so you don't have to weed through the hundreds of different models on the market, we've checked out five of the top road cycling shoes on the market to give you the lowdown on which shoes are the best of the bunch for 2015.
Fizik R5B$170 1 of 11
The "B" in the new R5B shoe from Fizik stands for the BOA dial closure, a steel lace that provides even distribution of pressure across the shoe closure. The Microtex upper with reflective inserts that makes up a majority of the shoe has a tough, durable feel that should improve longevity, making it a good option for training and high-mileage commuting.
Fizik R5B Continued$170 2 of 11
While it's a little heavier (at 260 grams) than the R3B model because of the lack of full carbon sole and sailcloth straps, the weight is a compromise for the decrease in price. As with all of Fizik's line of cycling shoes, we found these to be among the best of the bunch in comfort and craftsmanship.
Giro Empire SLX$350 3 of 11
Are shoe laces really supposed to be the latest trend to sweep through the cycling industry? The shoe is lightweight (175 grams) and the carbon sole on the Empire SLX is comfortable, but it does feel like it leans a bit heavy on style. The laces and design give it a modern-retro feel that is attractive, but it doesn't offer any additional performance benefits that justify ranking it above other models in its class.
Giro Empire SLX Continued$350 4 of 11
Shoestrings and weight savings from using lighter-weight materials also raise durability issues, which make the value of the SLX (at $350) questionable. This model is good for those cyclists who put style consciousness and weight savings high on the priority list.
Bontrager RL Road Visibility$189.99 5 of 11
The RL Visibility from Bontrager is a well-fitting road shoe that cups the heel snugly and has two straps and one buckle to dial in the closure. It has a stiffness index of 10/10, and the 268-gram weight feels lighter on the bike than it does on the scale.
Bontrager RL Road Visibility Continued$189.99 6 of 11
The real star though is the color. While it's flashy, it also serves a purpose. For commuters doing lots of miles in the early morning or late evening, these shoes will help you to be seen by motorists; it's almost like having an extra pair of lights on your feet. The durability of the RL is an issue. The straps feel thin and cheaply made, and the material used throughout the shoe has a plastic feel that might not last more than a year's worth of hard riding.
Specialized Audax$299 7 of 11
When it comes to comfort, the details of a shoe can make a big difference. Most Boa dials close the shoe with even pressure in the forefoot, mid and upper. The Audax uses the Boa only on the strap of the upper, which lets you fine-tune adjustment over each part of the foot. With the Audax, you can loosen the shoe the same way you tighten it by turning the dial in the opposite direction—something you'll appreciate when you attempt to adjust the fit while on the bike.
The styling is simple, with no loud logos or color schemes to attract attention. The design—complete with quality leather on the upper and a stiff carbon sole that will fit into any era—is also timeless.
Specialized Audax Continued$299 8 of 11
The ergonomics of the footbed prevent foot numbness and were comfortable on rides longer than 60 miles. The pad inserted into the heel and the material in the upper prevents that uncomfortable "digging" into the foot that's common after a few hours on the bike or when the shoe is tight. If you're looking for a high-performance shoe that's fit for long-mileage training or racing, you won't be disappointed with the Audax.
Pearl Izumi Elite IV$200 9 of 11
For a shoe with Boa lacing and a uni-directional carbon sole, the Elite IV from Pearl Izumi is a bargain buy. The longitudinal arch support provides good power and efficiency during pedaling, and the replaceable heel bumper is a nice touch that improves the wear and longevity of the shoe.
Pearl Izumi Elite IV Continued$200 10 of 11
The placement of the Boa dial was also slightly different from what you'll see on other models. By placing it at the top of the foot, you'll get more of an even distribution of pressure on both sides of the foot. While the Elite IV may lack some of the bells and whistles of the Audax and R5B, it's a solid shoe that's suitable for a wide range of cyclists and boasts an extremely reasonable price point.