If you’ve not already been bitten by the gravel bug, then it’s only a matter of time. The off-road drop-bar love in is spreading in popularity like wildfire as those who previously strictly only rode one of road- or mountain bike are having their eyes opened to how much fun the mish-mash of the two is.
Cycling brands are never slow to miss a trick either and jump on a new trend. Practically every bike manufacturer has now launched its own take on the discipline, and now it’s the turn of the clothing brands.
And while it can often seem like a ploy to get cyclists to part with their cash for another discipline-specific set of gear (gravel gloves, anyone?), when it comes to shoes, the brands might have a point.
Why ‘gravel’ shoes?
It’s worth appreciating that the demands of a gravel rider are quite different to those of road and mountain bikers, just as a downhiller would have very different needs to a cross country rider, for example.
While stiff-soled road shoes may offer the best power transfer, the recessed cleats of clipless mountain biking shoes make them much more suitable for riding off-road, with the inevitable bit of walking on rough ground.
Into this vacuum enters the gravel-specific shoe – the perfect kicks for those riders looking to take the road less travelled and push the limits of their drop-bar whips.
Here are ten of the best currently available on the market, including a few mountain bike and road models that are more suited to these purposes. And while some of the most rapid races in the USA have been won on road bikes with road cycling shoes, all of the shoe models you’ll find here are two-bolt SPD compatible. This makes the shoes easier to walk in with a recessed cleat, more robust with metal rather than plastic cleats, and enables you to clip in on both sides of the pedal.
1. B'Twin Triban RC 500
A solid budget choice, Decathlon’s in-house brand B'Twin's Triban RC 500 are marketed as a road shoe, with SPD recessed cleat fittings making them a great choice for cycle touring and light gravel use; perfect for riders that seek endless linking gravel roads rather than more technical rocky singletrack.
The RC 500 features a lace-up closure, plus a highly perforated upper and mesh tongue for ultimate breathability in warmer climates. The nylon and fibreglass sole gives a compromise between stiffness for pedalling and flexibility for ease of walking, like when you get to the cafe stop.
2. DHB Dorica MTB
The lace-up off-road offering from online giant Wiggle’s in-house clothing brand dhb, the Dorica shoes showcase many of the features of big name brands at a fraction of the cost. Choose from matte black, white or jazzy green camo with orange laces and detailing.
Although not a gravel-specific shoe, the Dorica features a compliant-yet-stiff nylon sole for both pedalling and walking, and has generous tread for when it gets rough. Paired up with the reinforced toe, they’re designed for tricky conditions, and can also be fitted with toe studs if you fancy your hand at cyclo-cross.
3. Lake MX1
These neat leather and microfibre lace-ups from US-based shoes specialist Lake are certainly subtle, featuring classic styling with the addition of a rugged sole to bring traditional cycling shoes up to speed for 21st century use.
Unlike many other brands, Lake offers its shoes in a range of different fits, including wider options. The roomy toe box makes these shoes more comfortable for longer days in the saddle, which is perfect for the more adventurous gravel rider.
4. Giro Privateer Lace
Although not specifically a gravel shoe, the off-road centric Privateers from Giro have become a popular choice among gravel riders. If you’re the kind of rider that enjoys multiple disciplines including cyclo-cross, these could be a great choice, thanks to the ports for toe spikes which come in handy for mucky CX climbs on foot!
You’ll find these neat lace-ups in black, two-tone red or khaki with a gum sole. Featuring good breathability thanks to a network of perforations on the upper, Giro has found a match of both rugged and super comfortable materials to make these a solid option for off-road adventures that you can enjoy all day long.
5. Fizik Terra X4
Specialising in bike contact points since 1996 – saddles, shoes and bars – Fizik knows a thing or two about comfort. Although other models of its Terra off-road shoes could be used for riding gravel, it took things one step further by introducing the X4, its first gravel-specific model.
Featuring its unique Powerstrap velcro closure system, the Terra X4 shoes are minimalist in design and available in three gorgeous colourways; simple black, dark grey and a deep red-purple, and the graveller’s classic khaki with a gum coloured rubber sole.
6. Specialized Recon 3.0
Designed with the XC and gravel rider in mind, the Recon 3.0 is a great choice for the gravel rider who likes to push things more into mountain bike territory. The more technical a trail, the more likely you’re going to have to endure a bit of hike-a-bike, so the ability to walk well for extended periods becomes really important here.
Specialized has managed sole stiffness and walking comfort carefully here, introducing a flexible sole where you need it with its Carbon STRIDE toe-flex technology, yet retaining good power transfer for pedalling through a more solid mid-sole. This is complemented by an aggressive tread pattern on the sole, giving you grip on even the loosest and most slippery terrain.
7. Quoc Gran Tourer
Perhaps the hipster’s choice, these sleek and trendy lace-up shoes were built with multi-terrain riding in mind. A chunky tread of rubberised compound gives plenty of grip underfoot, extended to a rubber coating around the perimeter of the shoe to prevent scuffs from hiking or narrow trails.
The shoe’s ‘no-sew’ upper is constructed by using heat to fuse the panels, leaving a more watertight offering that can withstand most puddles, splashes and stream crossings that delightfully feature on many adventures. The microfibre inner is cushy, and designed to keep you comfortable for miles and miles, whether pedalling or on foot.
8. Shimano RX8
A dedicated gravel riding shoe, Shimano’s RX8 model is a blend of features from its extensive road cycling and mountain biking ranges. Starting off with its elite road shoes, which feature a stiff carbon composite sole that delivers great power transfer to the pedals, the Japanese experts then added the dual micro adjustment laces of the latest BOA closures and a soft synthetic upper, improving adaptability to a range of different foot shapes.
The off-road element comes in at the sole. The same robust material that forms the tread of Shimano’s XC shoes is used here, although the depth of the tread from heel to toe is less, making off-the-bike manoeuvrability more easy.
9. Rapha Explore
Premium British apparel brand Rapha entered the cycling shoes arena a few years back, but the Explore is its first off-road model, complimenting and completing its line of more adventurous and gravel-specific clothing. As worn by Lachlan Morton on his race-winning GBDURO ride, these lace and toe-strap shoes are available in subtle khaki, black and matte black.
The stiff carbon sole helps to maximise power transfer, but stops before the toe box to allow more flex for walking. This sole is then kitted out with a rugged rubber tread to give you grip in all terrain and weather conditions. Combined with a low cut heel and carefully moulded heel cup, this is a shoe built to keep you comfortable in style, either on or off the bike.
10. Mavic Allroad Pro
The Allroad Pro shoes from French componentry specialist Mavic are rather jazzy in appearance, but the reason is more than skin deep. The shiny weave of the upper is Mavic’s ‘Matryx’ patented material – a fabric that integrates Kevlar into the weave for ultimate strength and robustness. For context, Kevlar is also used in bulletproof vests and chainsaw safety kits.
The result is a sleek and classic looking shoe without the bulk of alternative materials, rounded off with reinforcement around the toe and thin dark grey laces.