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Before you head out for your next gravel ride, you may be wondering about the best gravel bike and cyclocross shoes you should carry with you for the day. Like every great ride, there are a couple of different factors that will determine the performance you get while pounding the rough terrain, including the bike itself and the shoes on your feet.
Choosing the best gravel bike and cyclocross shoes is not quite as easy as it may seem. It is more of a trial and error than just buying the first pair you like. You will want to take a look at a few things before you buy these shoes. Most importantly, you will want to consider the purpose of the shoes. Is it just for fun or do you want them for a specific purpose like racing? For racing, you may want to look for a pair with a stiff structure and a lot of support. But if you are looking for a shoes to use for fun, you may want to choose shoes that are flexible as they will allow for better control, and they will also be easier to walk in.. Read more about best gravel bike pedals and let us know what you think.
As gravel bikes and gravel riding get more popular, so does the quantity of gravel-specific gear available to those looking to go off the beaten path.
Many large manufacturers have shifted their focus to developing gravel-specific footwear in the last year. According to our professional testers, these are the finest dirt bike shoes for 2021.
Is it really essential to wear gravel-specific shoes?
Because of the natural crossover between cross-country mountain biking and gravel riding in terms of riding conditions and pedal systems, a lot of mountain bike footwear is already well adapted to gravel.
As a result, several of the shoes on this list were developed specifically for mountain riding.
Specialized, Shimano, and Fizik, for example, are already offering gravel-specific footwear.
This new breed of discipline-specific footwear often lacks the substantial sole, heel, and toe protection seen in cross-country shoes, making them naturally lighter. The style is also more informal — but not necessarily.
Continue reading for our complete gravel shoe buyer’s guide.
The top gravel bike shoes for 2021, ranked by score
- £150 Terra X5 Fizik
- £124.99 / $140 Lace Giro Privateer
- £135 for MX176 is a lake in Mexico.
- £160 / €179.95 Mavic Crossmax Elite CM Mavic Crossmax Elite CM Mavic Crossmax Elite CM
- £219.99 / $250 RX8 Shimano
- £310 for DMT KM1 shoes
- £200 for the Sector Giro
- £120 / $150 XC5 Shimano
- £140 XC501 Shimano
- £340 / €435 Jarin, Sidi
- £340 / $425 for specialized S-Works recon
- £70 for the RC 520 Triban
- £219 / $275 Gran Tourer Quoc
Fizik Terra X5
Even though Fizik claims the X5 has a mountain biking history, it still feels like a road shoe with a rough edge. Immediate Media / David Caudery
- As tested, £150
- Pedaling efficiency
- Good fit
- On the bike, it’s really comfortable.
The Fizik Terra X5 shoes are tough enough for off-road adventures and include a wide tongue and asymmetric Boa dial for a balanced and secure fit.
Carbon soles with deep treads and TPU-injected studs are included on the shoes. This results in a pair of rigid shoes that shed muck effectively, but they lack flex and feel like muscular road shoes while walking.
On the other side, this means that the Terra X5s put more force through the pedals while climbing than some other gravel shoes. These will likely be an excellent option if your riding does not need you to hike-a-bike often.
Giro Privateer Lace
The Privateer Lace shoes from Giro look fantastic. Immediate Media/David Caudery
- As tested, £124.99 / $140
- Comfortable and effective
- Sizing is generous.
- Shoes that look fantastic.
The Giro Privateer Lace shoes were intended for mountain biking but are also excellent for gravel riding.
They’re light and airy, with a sole that strikes a nice balance between efficiency and comfort. We found the size to be a little large on these, so try them on before you purchase if you can.
They also look the part, in our opinion.
The Lake MX176 is described as a shoe intended for all-day comfort that can be used by both cyclists and off-road explorers. Immediate Media / David Caudery
- As tested, £135
- All-day relaxation
- Exceptional fit
- Rubber outsole inspired by mountain biking
The Lake MX176 shoes, which are billed as all-day comfort shoes that will perform equally well for off-road excursions and bike couriers, cover a lot of ground. But they do it well and at a reasonable price.
The sneakers have a rubber outsole with deep grooves that provide excellent traction.
The combination of the Boa dial and toe strap ensures a snug fit and effective pedaling, and although the sole feels firm in the hand, the shoes’ fit makes walking simple.
The MX176 shoes aren’t designed for road racing, but they don’t sacrifice power for comfort.
Mavic Crossmax Elite CM
The Crossmax Elite CM shoes from Mavic are perfect for winter gravel cycling. Immediate Publication
- As tested, £160 / €179.95
- Weatherproof to the core
- Soles that are stiff
- It’s not too heavy.
The Crossmax Elite CM shoes are a favorite among mountain cyclists who ride in wet and icy weather, so they’re a perfect fit for winter gravel grinders.
Unlike other waterproof winter boots, they feature a firm sole and aren’t overly hefty at around 900g for a size 44.
In chilly weather, the substantial toe and tongue portions make a significant difference, while the neoprene collar keeps ankles toasty even when wet.
Shimano’s RX8 is a gravel-specific shoe. Shimano
- As tested, £219.99 / $250
- Exceptionally light
- Excellent ride quality
Shimano’s specialized gravel shoe, the RX8, is a near cousin to Shimano’s outstanding S-Phyre XC9 mountain bike shoe. Despite a reduced retail price, it manages to save almost 100g (in a size 45) over the aforementioned.
Once clipped in, the RX8s are fantastic, combining the finest aspects of road and mountain biking shoes.
Rubber grip portions on the sole enable you to dab your feet without harming the shoes while still providing lots of traction in muddy situations.
They’re a mountain bike marathon shoe, but they’re also good for gravel riding. Immediate Media / David Caudery
- As tested, £310
- Stiff but not too heavy
- Extremely relaxing
- Mounts with two studs
The DMT K1 is a gravel shoe that was originally designed for mountain bike marathon racing.
These sneakers are very comfy and well-ventilated. The strong carbon bottoms are protected by Michelin’s rubberized coating, making the shoes comfortable to walk or run in.
The additional grip provided by the twin stud mounts will be appreciated by cyclocross racers and certain XC riders, but most of us will leave them in the box.
They’re also not very hefty; our EU45 test pair weighted just 682.5g.
However, the hefty retail price is still a tough pill to swallow.
The Sector from Giro is a simple shoe to wear, and its comfort from the start enables you to focus on the task at hand: worry-free riding. Immediate Media / David Caudery
- As tested, £200
- Comfort for long rides
- There’s no need to break in.
- System with two Boa dials
The Giro Sector is a mountain bike shoe that works well as a gravel shoe because of its all-day comfort, power transmission, and lightweight upper.
The Sector is finished with a dual Boa dial system that allows for precise adjustments, and the supportive footbed outperforms the competition. The toe box is likewise very large.
Padded tongue and collar, and a one-piece, lightweight upper that molds to your foot nicely.
The carbon composite sole aids effective pedaling, which pays off on hills and when dirt rides include tarmac sections.
The rubber outsole offers a stable foundation for walking, but the tiny lugs don’t fare well in muck.
The Shimano XC5 lace-up MTB shoes are also suitable for gravel. Immediate Media / Josh Patterson
- As tested, £120 / $150
- Rubber outsoles by Michelin
- Closure with lace-ups
- Midsole with carbon reinforcement
The Shimano XC5 isn’t technically a gravel shoe, but it’s still a competent one.
They’re reasonably priced and have a grippy sole and soft uppers that provide lots of support and comfort.
The Michelin-coated carbon-reinforced bottom provides helpful midsole traction if you miss your pedal, and the elevated toe, heel, and forefoot tread blocks provide safe walking.
These, like the other lace-ups on our list, take a bit longer to put on and aren’t adjustable on the fly, but they look great.
The Shimano XC501 is a cross-country mountain bike shoe that also works well for dirt riding. Immediate Media / David Caudery
- As tested, £140
- Upper with a soft feel
- Power transmission is excellent.
- Snug fit
The Shimano XC501 is mainly a mountain bike shoe, but due to its racing heritage, it can easily handle gravel riding.
The firm sole transfers power quickly and offers a stable pedaling base. Because the XC501 isn’t particularly flexible, it’s not perfect for dirt riding that requires a lot of walking, but if efficiency on the bike is your goal, this shoe will serve you well.
The synthetic upper has mesh holes for ventilation and is secured with a Boa dial and top strap, which aids in the shoe’s exceptionally comfortable fit.
The Jarin from Sidi is a cross-country mountain bike shoe, but this olive green variant is geared at gravel riders. Immediate Publication
- As tested, £340 / €435
- Grip and closures that can be replaced
- Strong yet still well-ventilated
The gravel market is served by this olive green variant of Sidi’s premium Jarin. It’s lighter than Sidi’s previous top-of-the-line off-road shoes, at 760g for a pair of size 45s, but with the same removable grips protecting the carbon sole.
Sidi’s microfibre uppers are durable and provide enough weather protection, yet the laser-cut pinhole vents provide ample airflow.
For retention, you get two of Sidi’s Tecno 3 Push dials, with the top one functioning in conjunction with a strap across the instep. Sidi’s dials aren’t as simple to use as the two-way micro-adjustment of the newest Boa dials, but they’re still straightforward to operate and stay in place during extended rides.
The large volume provides comfort, but the spacious fit may not be suitable for everyone, and the firm heel cup provides stability.
S-Works Recon (Specialized)
The S-Works Recon from Specialized is another gravel-friendly MTB shoe. Immediate Media/David Caudery
- As tested, £340 / $425
- Boa dials in two alloys
- Exceptionally light
- The price is high.
The S-Works Recon is an excellent mountain bike shoe that is ideal for dirt riding.
Apart from the exorbitant price, it’s impossible to find fault with these shoes. The uppers may be cinched to your liking thanks to two metal Boa dials, and a Velcro strap across the toes further refines the fit. The carbon sole is Specialized’s stiffest, and it has a bonded dual-density grip area.
They’re also very light, weighing just 665g (for a pair size EU46).
Triban RC 520
The RC 520s aren’t flashy, but they’re a durable set of sneakers. Immediate Media/David Caudery
- As tested, £70
- Excellent value for money
- Very relaxing.
- Adjustability is good.
Decathlon’s design staff has kept things basic with these sneakers, and it’s all for the better.
The Triban RC 520 shoes are a real bargain, costing considerably less than the next lowest shoe on our list.
While the sole provides some protection, these shoes aren’t designed for trekking on hazardous terrain or through deep muck.
They’re also a bit hefty, weighing in at 798g for a pair of size EU42s, but they’re a great deal.
Quoc Gran Tourer
A sticky rubber outsole is included on Quoc’s Gran Tourer dirt shoes. Immediate Publication
- As tested, £219 / $275
- Design that is fashionable
Quoc has created a pair of beautiful shoes that are especially suited for gravel riding.
The lace-up uppers are made without stitching, which makes them very comfortable as well as water-resistant.
A strong carbon-composite midsole and sticky rubber outsole intended to preserve your cleats while walking are another feature of the SPD compatible soles.
They’re not the lightest, but they’re similar to many cross-country mountain bike shoes in terms of weight.
Take into account…
When our professional evaluators examined these gravel shoes, they gave them a rating of less than four out of five stars, but they are still worth considering.
A gravel bike shoe buyer’s guide
The finest gravel shoes are very dependent on how you define the term “gravel.”
Some of us think of gravel as a quick trip down a few green roads, while others think of it as anything that combines asphalt and dirt in one ride – even if the dirt necessitates mountain bike skills on drop bars.
In many cases, the location is also a factor. In the UK, the term “gravel” is more likely to refer to rural lanes and bridleways than in the United States, where well-maintained gravel roads like those used in events like Unbound are more prevalent.
The distinction between gravel and cross-country mountain bike shoes is often blurred. Immediate Media/David Caudery
However, regardless of how you define gravel riding, your gravel shoes will almost certainly need to combine rigidity and efficient power transmission with comfort for extended rides and walkability for rough terrain or off-the-bike usage.
As a result, much like the finest gravel bikes, the best gravel bike shoes are typically slightly different from riding gear intended for other sports.
Gravel shoes are intended for walking comfort and are a little more forgiving than road shoes. They also vary from most road shoes in that they include two-bolt mountain bike cleats rather than three-bolt road cleats.
Flat-soled mountain bike shoes, on the other hand, may be comfortable off the bike, but their flexible soles aren’t ideal for power transmission.
The closest equivalent is performance XC (cross-country) mountain bike shoes, which is why certain designs are labeled as mountain bike and gravel hybrids. In fact, the difference between the two is sometimes so little that it’s as if they’re indistinguishable, and one will suffice for the other.
When searching for gravel shoes, there are five factors to keep in mind.
The best place to start, like with everything bike-related, is to think about your personal abilities, fitness, and preferred riding style to determine if you want to sacrifice some walking comfort for stiffness or whether comfort is still paramount.
However, there are five key factors to consider while purchasing a pair of gravel shoes:
- Closure and fastening
- The uppers of the shoes
- The shoe’s bottom.
Closure and fastening
The Boa dial is a technological marvel that provides a rock-solid fit that’s simple to adjust even while riding, but there’s less space for tension fluctuation along its length.
A strap over the toe area that can be tightened separately is a popular combination, as is a Boa dial or similar over the mid-foot. It’s a design that works well in most cases, as long as the toe strap can be adjusted sufficiently.
Old-school laces, on the other hand, have their devotees. If you have a high instep, you’ll probably find that they provide for the tension difference that allows for a tight forefoot fit with ease over the instep that you need for maximum comfort.
The disadvantage of laces is that they tend to loosen up throughout a ride, particularly if walking is required, which is probable on more difficult gravel rides.
The double Boa is the gold standard, since it enables you to tighten the forefoot and instep separately. This, in our experience, results in a secure and comfortable fit that remains in place during your ride.
We expect a lot from the uppers of any cycling shoe, but maybe even more so from dirt shoes.
Gravel shoe uppers must assist transmit power in the same way that road shoe uppers do, but they must also have enough flexibility to allow for walking. They must also be very tough and resistant to scuffs caused by clambering over rugged terrain.
Synthetic uppers may be found in a variety of pricing ranges. Perforation and mesh inserts are often used to provide breathability in synthetic uppers. They don’t mold to the contour of your foot as leather does, but they’re also less expensive, and fastening along with other variables like insole selection may virtually eliminate this problem.
When putting on gravel shoes, don’t expect that any early pain will go away with time. Check for rubbing wrinkles, that the tongue sits smoothly with no pressure spots, that the collar isn’t too high and nudges against your ankle bones, and that there are no visible internal seams.
The sole of gravel shoes has lugs, which is one of the major differences between road and gravel shoes. Immediate Media / Jack Luke
We demand the impossible of the sole unit of gravel-specific shoes if we ask a lot of the top of bicycle shoes in general.
These must be rigid enough for us to turn off the power yet flexible enough for us to walk in, as well as light enough to not be uncomfortable but sturdy and grippy enough to keep us grounded.
If you try a bunch of shoes, the first thing you’ll notice is that just stretching them between your hands is no indication of how comfortable they’ll be to walk in. The second point to consider is that the fit is more essential than the stiffness of the sole.
The sole should be stiff through the middle of the foot, with flex visible in the toe portion beyond the cleat. If your toe portion has any spring, it will rise up off the ground instead of remaining flat, allowing your foot to roll.
Gravel shoes tend to feature a more open lug pattern than off-road shoes, with outsoles composed of rubber or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) adding traction and durability. In theory, this gives them adequate grip while also allowing them to drain muck more quickly.
In practice, an all-over lug design is ideal for stability on tougher terrain. The decision to add studs is a personal one, but it’s not a big deal for us until we’re racing cyclocross, when the additional traction can make or break a race.
A gravel shoe’s fit should be snug but not too tight, and comfortable but not too loose. Make the mistake of believing that tightening the fastenings would compensate for a shoe that is little too large, or that you can wear in one that is too small.
You should be able to walk without your heel pulling out after you’ve secured a gravel shoe.
Pay special attention to the breadth and length of the shoe. Some shoes are designed for larger feet, and if there is too much volume, you will lose efficiency on the pedaling upstroke as well as walking stability.
The Rapha Explore Powerweave shoe’s footbed may be swapped out for a more customized fit. Immediate Media / Jack Luke
It’s nearly as essential what’s on the inside of a shoe as what’s on the outside.
For many gravel cyclists in the UK, puddles, water, and mud will almost certainly be present on rides for the most of the year.
To keep water out of the cleat holes, you’ll need a sealed footbed. Remove the insole, inspect the surface, and run your fingertips over it. The smoother the inside of the forefoot portion feels, the less likely you are to notice the cleats.
In some shoes, insoles are practically an afterthought: they’re thin and provide little support. A cushioned insole with a contoured arch, on the other hand, provides a layer of comfort and may help you fine-tune your fit.
Some manufacturers, like as Rapha, provide arch inserts that may be customized to provide the support you need. Other manufacturers, like as Specialized, provide premium insoles as an upgrade option in their footwear collections.
Insoles are a simple addition to a cheap shoe that may save you money on costly fit errors.
It’s been a while since I have bought a new pair of cycling shoes from a shop, mainly because most shops don’t stock the best gravel bike shoes. So, I have been getting my shoes from a company called BikeFeet.. Read more about fizik gravel shoes and let us know what you think.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- gravel bike shoes
- best gravel bike pedals
- shimano rx8 gravel shoe
- gravel shoes
- giro gravel shoes