The parts of a cycling shoe

The materials, features and fit of a cycling shoe directly impact the comfort and performance you feel when you ride. When looking for cycling shoes it’s important to consider which factors will or will not benefit you and your style of riding.

What are the different parts of a shoe?

Soles – the bottom of the shoe

The soles of cycling shoes are made to be stiff so they can provide great power transfer. They’re usually made of nylon or carbon fibre. Mountain bike shoes also have grippy rubber treads on the soles for walkability and traction on the trail. Carbon fibre-soled cycling shoes are super light, very stiff and offer the best power transfer of any material. Higher-end road and mountain shoes tend to have carbon soles.

Uppers – the top of the shoe

The uppers are the part of the shoe that wraps around the top of your foot. Uppers are made from either synthetic fabrics or leather and have a varying degree of cutouts and mesh for breathability. Mountain bike shoes also incorporate abrasion-resistant materials into high-wear areas for better durability in rough environments. Sometimes uppers are designed with reflective and hi-vis elements that increase your visibility and make it easier for cars to see you. As cycling shoes go up in price, the uppers are generally made with lighter, more high-tech materials and additional features like slip-resistant heel cups.

Closure systems – keep your shoes on!

Common lacing systems offer a wide range of fine-tuning and quick fastening capabilities that keep your shoes comfortably attached to your feet. Laces give you the most control over how the tension is spread over your foot, and The Boa System emulates this using quicker, less cumbersome technology. Many shoes use a few different types of fasteners to provide the best overall fit.

What are the different closure systems?


Laces take more time to fasten, but give you a secure, comfortable fit. Be sure to double check the laces periodically and tuck away the strings so they don’t get caught while you are riding.

Straps and ratcheting buckles

These are very quick to fasten, though you don’t have the ability to customise your fit as much as you do with laces or The Boa System. Once you stick or ratchet your straps into place, they stay.

The Boa System

This system uses a dial and cable system for a precise, fine-tuned fit that’s super easy to adjust on and off the bike. It’s like laces, but better. You can typically find this closure system on higher-end cycling shoes.

How cycling shoes fit

It’s a good idea to try on a few pairs of cycling shoes in order to find the ones that fit you best, just like you would with regular shoes. We highly recommend going into your local bike shop to try on shoes. If they aren’t comfortable when you take a few spins on the shop’s stationary bike, they’re going to be painful on longer rides. Keep in mind that introductory and intermediate-level cycling shoes often have a bit roomier fit than higher-end shoes. High-performance and racing-specific shoes have an aggressive, snug fit to maximise power transfer and efficiency.

Width and length

You want your cycling shoes to be snug and supportive, without pinching. They should be long enough that your toes aren’t touching the tops of your shoes. Cycling shoes tend to run narrow, but more and more manufacturers are making wide cycling shoes now, which is good news for those who have found cycling shoes uncomfortable in the past.


Most cycling shoes come in European sizes, but the sizing and conversions aren’t always consistent across companies. Make sure you ask your salesperson and consult conversion charts to ensure that you are getting the right size.

See Bontrager shoe sizing


Good cycling shoe insoles help properly support, align and stabilise your feet for added comfort and performance while riding. Look for cycling-specific insoles because they’re designed to provide great support without taking up too much room in your shoes. Many insoles are available with different levels of arch support, and some high-end insoles can even be heat-moulded to your feet for a perfect fit.

Why use insoles in cycling shoes?

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