Specialized Audax Road$250 1 of 13
Minimalistic and timeless in design, this monochromatic shoe has a low profile build, extra room in the toe box and more padding around the heel and ankle for comfort during long stints in the saddle. The Audax is not as breathable as other offerings with a mesh upper, but the Micromatrix synthetic leather is super durable and conforms nicely to the foot over time. The shoe is available in wide sizes, and Specialized offers additional colorways to match almost any kit. We'd opt for a lighter and stiffer option for road racing, but for an everyday cyclist who wants comfort, durability and performance for long rides while looking sharp, look no further.
Liv Macha$320 2 of 13
Liv's Macha road shoe represents significant innovation for a category that can sometimes be an afterthought for women's-specific brands. The ExoBeam outsole features a distinct, almost wave-like design that provides incredible stiffness in the forefoot while utilizing flexion zones to reduce tension and strain in the lower leg. Meanwhile, the upper's 360-degree foot enclosure subtly pulls up on the arch of your foot--you won't notice it, but Liv says it helps improve power transfer, comfort and efficiency. We've taken the Macha out for hundreds of miles of road riding and adored the near-custom fit and seamless connection with the bike. They're also lightweight and super durable despite the all-white color scheme (they're also available in purple and black), but wide-footed women take heed: They run a little narrow in the toe box.
Giro Apeckx II$150 3 of 13
With a comfy fit, stiff sole, eye-catching looks and a reasonable price to boot, the Giro Apeckx II checks a lot of boxes for those seeking a new pair of road cycling shoes. The undeniably "Euro" look might turn off those riders who seek all black everything, but it's hard to imagine roadies hating on the super supportive footbed, feather weight, classic closure system (two Velcro straps and a buckle) and a welded and bonded upper that reduces hotspots. The Apeckx II also comes in a wide range of sizes, which includes half sizes from 39 to 47 and whole sizes to 50.
Pearl Izumi Race Road IV$150 4 of 13
In need of a versatile road shoe without the hefty pricetag? The Race Road IV is compatible with both road and SPD pedals--perfect for commuters or local Saturday shop rides. While not the stiffest on this list, the fiber reinforced composite sole is rigid enough for weekend warriors or cyclists looking to transition to clipless pedals. The shoe is highly breathable and the micro-adjustable BOA reel guarantee a reliable, snug fit. Unlike the industry trend, the rubber heel bumper is not replaceable--but it did outlast the wear-and-tear we threw at it.
Shimano SH-XC70 MTB$270 5 of 13
This low profile offering from Shimano quickly became one of our favorite XC shoes. The carbon cleat plate paired with the glass fiber midsole was plenty rigid, and the lightweight construction added to its overall agile feel. The shoe runs true-to-size (available in wide sizes), and the micro-adjust buckle and strap combination secured the foot with no slippage or hotspots. One downside: we question the sole's long-term durability. There's lots of traction, but if you're someone who walks around a lot during (or after) a ride, the sole may not last as long as others.
DZR Mechanic$99 6 of 13
Daily commuters who don't want to break out their spandex and road shoes will love California-based DZR's line of clipless bike shoes. A lot of bike companies forget women--especially when it comes to commuter gear--but DZR has both women's and men's sizes available. We wore the Mechanic on daily commutes and found them to be stiff and durable enough to withstand different weather conditions and daily abuse. The shoes don't come with cleats, but we paired ours with Shimano SPDs and were pleased to see they sit flush against the sole--meaning no "clack clack clack" sounds or pesky shoe swaps at the office.
Giant Charge Carbon Sole MES Off-Road$320 7 of 13
As the most expensive MTB shoe on this list, we expected a lot out of the Charge--and it didn't disappoint. Paired with the ExoWrap upper, the dual boa closures provided a highly customizable fit that was comfortable on even the longest rides. The ExoBeam sole was the shoe's biggest draw--the forefoot stiffness provided excellent power transfer and allowed us to lean confidently around turns without feeling any flex. Unfortunately, the outsole didn't deliver as much traction as we'd like when running up steep climbs off the bike. And while snug, the upper isn't as breathable as other lower tier offerings. If you're in the mood to splurge, these slick-looking shoes from a popular cycling brand are a worthy investment.
Shimano SH-WM64$120 8 of 13
This women's specific off-road offering from Shimano falls right in the middle of the comfort vs. competition range. It is the first high-end women's model to use Dynalast's ergonomically efficient technology, which is designed to help the interior shoe cavity conform better to the natural contours of the foot. The heel sits deeper in the shoe than others on this list, but we liked the snug, close fit it provided. The midsole was appropriately stiff at the instep, and we liked both the increased comfort and power transfer that the independent flexibility the front and back section brought. The ratchet straps were the only downside--we found it much harder to achieve the perfect fit than with a Boa dial system.
Nalini Snake$139 9 of 13
It's hard to come by a true Italian road shoe that costs less than $150. This offering from Nalini is not only on the inexpensive side, but it includes features usually only seen on more expensive models. A twist closure system allows the wearer to dial in a more precise fit, the mesh upper allows for excellent ventilation, and the nylon sole has the stiffness we'd expect. The white material does get dirty easily, but this is an issue we can overlook at this price point (especially for the sleek, definitive Italian look). The shoe runs slightly on the narrow side, so wider feet be warned.
Shimano RP5$150 10 of 13
Shimano has outdone themselves in 2016 by releasing a handful of new road-specific cycling shoes. Stiff but not too stiff, conforming but roomy, attractive but minimalist, the RP5 definitely hits all the sweet spots for long days in the saddle. The upper is a combination of faux leather and mesh, and two Velcro straps and a buckle closure system kept a good, snug fit. Plus, the rigid sole is glass fiber reinforced nylon with a carbon fiber composite plate. We found the shoe ran true to size, and it is both SPD and road cleat compatible. For a mid-tier road shoe, the comfort and power transfer of the RP5 can't be beat.
Louis Garneau Granite MTB$160 11 of 13
Louis Garneau has created a shoe perfect for a rider looking for the next step up in performance without shelling out $300. The Granite's upper has a glove-like fit--the synthetic leather material is extremely supple and contours the foot like a dream. While the sole is sans carbon, it's plenty stiff, and the Ergo Grip outsole provided sufficient traction when off the bike. If you're a rider who needs arch support, the included Hot Stuff insole will need to be replaced with a more supportive alternative.
Specialized Women's S-Works 6$400 12 of 13
Specialized's S-Works road shoe has been popular with female cyclists for the past few years, but the 2016 model brought a few welcome design changes. For starters, the toe box is significantly roomier--in fact, there's enough room to wiggle your toes without touching the top. The PadLock heel and ultra-stiff carbon sole locks your foot in securely and delivers impressive power transfer in your pedal stroke; meanwhile, the Boa closure system lets you easily tune your tension mid-ride. Personally, we love Specialized's road shoe line, as they fit true to size and always boast thoughtful women's-specific design touches well worth the high price tag. With the S-Works 6, they've set the bar even higher.