Ridden and reviewed: Women’s road shoes

by Anne-Marije Rook


Shoes are a highly personalised item. What works for one person is not guaranteed to work for another. Wide or narrow toe box, high or low arch support, laces or straps or Boa –everyone has their own preference. This makes reviewing shoes quite difficult.

| Related: Read our kit reviews.

You know you have a good shoe when it’s barely noticeable. Shoes should fit snugly, yet with enough room to wiggle your toes. Your heel meanwhile should not move around.  The tongue and top of the shoe shouldn’t have hard creases or create any hot spots. A shoe also needs to breathe to avoid hot foot. If you are getting blisters or hot spots, something’s not right.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of shoes, remember to:

  • Try them on. Always try a pair of shoes before buying them unless you are currently riding that brand and model
  • New to buying shoes? Try a variety of styles and closures
  • Always check to see the shoe’s cleat compatibility. There are but a few models that are both two-bolt and three-bolt compatible.
  • Get a cleat fit
  • You can always customize your shoe with insoles

Should you buy a women’s specific shoe?

Maybe. Try lots of shoes and buy whichever shoe works for you. Manufacturers do claim that women’s specific shoes are different from their men’s models in the obvious narrower fit, smaller sizing and colourways to the more complicated adjustments to address women’s biomechanics. Typically, women tend to pronate more, have a lower body mass and have a differently shaped foot

ABOUT THE TESTER:

  • 1,65m and 60ish kg  (all muscle and cookies!)
  • Bike commuter and Cat 1/Grade A racer
  • I ride my bike(s) everyday, rain or shine. From bike commuting to road races to playing in the dirt, my gear gets put through the wringer.
  • I prefer a light and narrow shoe with low arch support.

Items reviewed by alphabetical order:

BONTRAGER  

Perhaps best known for its wheels, Bontrager says it does shoes pretty darn good, too, claiming they’re the “best fitting, most comfortable [women’s] shoes on the market.”

With such a bold statement, I was keen to get acquainted with Bontrager’s pretty impressive line of women’s shoes, which features no less than 10 women’s specific models across disciplines.

Meraj Womens Shoe  – size 39 –  $219.99 USD

image2 (1) (1024x772)

Closure: Boa IP1 and strap
Sole: Carbon/fiberglass composite sole
Cleat compatibility: three-bolt
Weight: ultra light
Heel Cup: fitted
Toe Box width: medium
In sole/arch support: inForm Pro last – Ergonomically optimized high-performance fit

There is no doubt that this is a high performance shoe. As Bontrager’s top-of-the-line women’s shoe,  the Meraj features a super stiff carbon-fiber glass composite sole and it may very well be the lightest shoe I have tried.

It also features the Boa 1P1 dial, which is the best closure Boa offers with two-way adjustments for on-the-go tightening or loosening of the shoe.

Made with with synthetic uppers and mesh panels, the shoes breathe superbly and perform very well in heat. It feels like a climber’s shoe.

Bontrager Maraj

The good: Super lightweight and stiff with good power transfer. The Boa system allows for a snug fit. Great for hot, summer (uphill) rides and races. White and cyan colourway made for a sleek looking shoe.

The bad: The toe box is a bit too roomy for my liking, and when tightened snugly, there’s some extra fabric that creases out to the sides. The material is so light, I wonder how durable it is. It seems maybe too thin. Would be worried about using it for anything but a warm-weather shoe.


Bontrager Anara Womens Shoe – size 39 – $159.99 USD

bontrager anara

 

Closure: Boa IP1 dial and toe strap
Sole: Nylon composite sole
Cleat compatibility: Compatible with both 2-bolt SPD-style and 3-bolt cleats
Weight: light
Heel Cup: medium
Toe Box width: medium
In sole/arch support: inForm Race last – Slightly roomier performance fit

Fresh out of the box, the Anara looks like so many other women’s shoes on the market: black with pink. Off-putting to me at first, I have to admit that with the Boa system and trickle-down technology, it’s actually a pretty good, professional looking shoe –especially for its price point.

As the introductory model into Bontrager’s high-end women’s road shoe range, the Anara offer a bit more sturdiness than the Meraj reviewed above. And with the compatibility for a two- or three-bolt cleat, this shoe should appeal to broad range of cyclist from spandex commuters to weekend warriors.

Slightly favouring comfort over performance, the shoe features a roomier fit than the Maraj though the Boa closure allows you to tighten the shoe quite a bit. The Velcro toe strap however doesn’t add much support and I found the toe box a little too roomie. Thicker socks may solve this problem.

The Nylon composite sole is plenty stiff for what the shoe is made for and the Powertruss cutout keeps the weight down. I wouldn’t recommend walking on it a ton however. The overall sturdiness of the shoe, however, is definitely a plus as it looks to last a long time no matter the weather.

Tip: if you’re using a three-bolt cleat, be sure to also secure the two-bolt plate or it will slide around while riding.

The good: Stiff and light weight, the Anara seems to be a benefactor of trickle-down technology, and is, the best shoe I’ve seen at its price point. A great all-around shoe for the recreational rider.

The bad: The Velcro toe strap however doesn’t add much support and I found the toe box a little too roomie. 

 

Popular women's colour scheme: black with pink highlights. Pictured: Specialized Motodiva (top), Bontrager Anara (bottom)
Popular women’s colour scheme: black with pink highlights. Pictured: Specialized Motodiva (top), Bontrager Anara (bottom)

GIRO EMPIRE ACC LIMITED – WOMEN’S – size 39, $299 USD

giro empite acc limited

Closure: Laces
Sole: Easton EC90 ACC carbon fiber
Cleat compatibility: three-bolt
Weight: 239 g
Heel Cup: snug
Toe Box width: narrow
Insole/Arch support: customiseable with three different inserts

Laces! It had been a while since the bike industry had seen a modern, highly-technical shoe with lace-ups and eyebrows were raided when Giro introduced its Empire shoe last year. But a year later, consumers seem to have welcomed them as well as stylish retro look.

More than stylish, Giro claims that the laces allow for more contact points than the more common three strap or BOA closures and as such, it gives you a more precise and personal fit.

Additionally, Giro has added a little loop on the outside of the tongue to tuck in the anti-stretch laces after you’ve tied them so there’s no laces flapping in the wind, no coming undone and no getting them caught in your drivetrain.

However, there is also no adjusting mid-ride (unless you get off). This wasn’t a concern for me, but it could be for those who like to tighten their shoes before a sprint.

The sole is an ultra-stiff EC90 ACC Carbon sole made by Easton, which Giro claims, is one of the stiffest and lightest on the market. It surely is one of the lightest and stiffest I have tried. The shoes come with the “SuperNatural Fit Kit” insoles which include three foam arch pads of varying thickness that attach on the bottom of insole with thin Velcro. This allows you to customize your arch support.  For me, even the low arch support option was a bit too much for my pronating issues and caused foot pain so I stick with my custom insoles.

Shoes

The good: Massive style points. They’re clean, sleek and look fantastic. They’re also lightweight and a very good narrow fit.

The bad: The upper seems thicker than other high-performance shoe. And while the shoe is made from perforated Evofiber –a lightweight and breathable fabric –the solid black colourway and thickness of the upper, caused some serious hot foot issues when temperature got above 28 degrees Celsius and sunny.

Pearl Izumi Women’s ELITE RD IV – size 39 – $200.00 USD

Closure: Bidirectional Boa dial and Velcro toe strap
Sole: Elite grade uni-Directional carbon
Cleat compatibility: three-bolt
Weight: Ultra light
Heel Cup: snug
Toe Box width: medium
Insole/Arch support: Built-in longitudinal arch support

I’m not a fan of pink and so the white-and-pink upper and hot pink carbon soles is bit much for me. But they are quite comfortable and I found myself riding in these shoes more and more despite the colour. Especially in hot weather, these were my go-to shoe.  Luckily this shoe also comes in black for those who, like me, shy away from pink products.

A mid-range model in their performance range, the Pearl Izumi Elite Road IV shoe borrows heavily from the P.R.O. Leader shoe, which retails for $70 more.

The upper is slightly sturdier than the ultra thin upper used in the P.R.O Leader shoe but still made from a single piece of material to eliminate any hot spots. The shoe is closed and tightened with a BOA dial on the tongue and a Velcro toe strap. The bi-directional Boa dial –which seems to be becoming a standard in high-performance shoes –allows you to adjust on the go.

The shoe gets its stiffness from an Elite grade carbon sole, and the shoe, in its entirety comes in at just 250g.

The shoes were true to size and the Boa does a good job keeping your foot from moving around. The shoe is vented all around and performed very well in heat.

The good: light, stiff and well vented.

The bad: The pink-and-white colour scheme is not my favourite especially after the white sidepannels discoloured quickly.

Editors Picks