Proper footwear is crucial for alleviating pressure and reducing injury while engaging in physical activities such as cycling and running. It ensures comfort throughout the activity. 

Cycling and running shoes, despite their similarities, serve different purposes and there are key differences between them. 

Cycling shoes are designed for optimal power transfer to the bike. Running shoes, on the other hand, provide maximum cushioning and flexibility to reduce muscle strains and absorb impacts while running. 

Read on to learn all about cycling shoes vs. running shoes, from how these two types of shoes compare to the advantages and risks of using them interchangeably. 

What Are the Key Differences Between Cycling Shoes and Running Shoes? 

The variations in footwear design and features are essential to consider when it comes to cycling and running.

Each sport comes with different physical demands and movements, hence the development of specialized shoes to cater to these needs. 

But no two shoes are the same! So, how do running shoes and cycling shoes differ from each other? Let’s explore the differences between the two in aspects of design, performance, and fit. 

Feature Cycling Shoes Running Shoes
Sole Rigidity Stiff soles for maximum power transfer Flexible soles to accommodate foot movement
Closure System Advanced (e.g., ratchet systems, dial closures) Traditional lacing systems
Heel-to-Toe Drop Minimal Varying to accommodate different running styles
Cleat Compatibility Cleat system for pedal attachment None
Ventilation More ventilation Less, depending on design
Upper Material Synthetic materials or leather Synthetic materials and mesh
Support & Cushioning Less cushioning More cushioning for shock absorption
Weight Heavier Lighter
Tread Smooth soles or minimal tread Significant tread for traction
Aesthetics Sleek and aerodynamic design Casual design, often with vibrant colors

Design and Structure

One prominent variation between running and cycling shoes is the presence of metallic protrusions from the latter. Apart from that, several distinctions set the two apart.

Presence of Metal Cleats or Rubber Spikes

Cycling shoes have unique metal attachments, allowing cyclists to integrate their feet into the pedal easily. These protrusions are also called cleats, and they attach to the bottom of your cycling shoes. 

Cleats help your foot adhere and clip to the pedal firmly, preventing slips so you won’t need to change the position of your foot with every stroke. That way, it minimizes the risk of injury.

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This feature also allows powerful strokes and better control. They help cyclists make quick movements and traverse challenging terrains with ease. 

However, these attachments are not present on running shoes, and this is the most unique feature that tells both products apart. 

Instead, running shoes have rubber or plastic spikes at the bottom, which ensure better grip on different surfaces, preventing slips and falls.

Cycling shoes on a white background
Cycling shoes on a white background

Rigid Soles and Cushioning

The soles of cycling shoes are harder to help distribute force efficiently. That way, the force the cyclist exerts with every stroke transfers to the pedals, minimizing strains or fatigue, especially in long rides. 

Meanwhile, running shoes have much softer and flexible soles for better foot movement. Most running shoes also feature shock-absorbing cushioning for support during impacts, which reduces stress on the muscles as well.

Material and Durability

Since cycling shoes are more rigid, the soles are usually made with carbon fiber, nylon, and other synthetic materials. On the other hand, running shoe soles are mostly made with rubber.

Regardless of the material type, the durability of good quality running or cycling shoes is on par. 

Here is a great video explaining how to choose a proper pair of cycling shoes.

Comfort and Fit

Cycling shoes are generally heavier than running shoes. 

Despite being heavy, good-quality cycling shoes are designed with breathable materials and adjustable straps or closures for a secure fit. The same applies to running shoes. 

When it comes to fit, cycling shoes wrap snugly to your foot, limiting movement. This is in contrast to running shoes that have enough room for your toes to move around. 

Despite not having extra room on the toe part, running shoes are snug around the middle portion of the foot and heel.

New unbranded running shoe, sneaker or trainer isolated on white
New unbranded running shoes

Can I Use Running Shoes for Cycling?

We discourage wearing running shoes to cycle, especially for long rides. Using running shoes for cycling isn’t only uncomfortable, but it’s risky as well.

Using running shoes to cycle offers more disadvantages than advantages. Here are some points proving why you shouldn’t do it:

Less Force Distribution Means More Energy Loss

Running shoes have soft and flexible soles that cushion the effects of impact. Using these shoes to hit the pedal will make the shoes shrink or compress.

When that happens, most of the energy you exert goes to waste. 

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That way, you’re likely to strain your feet and legs often by putting in extra effort to compensate for the impaired energy distribution. It also causes pain and discomfort, especially on the ball of the foot.

Therefore, using running shoes is disadvantageous, especially for long, bumpy rides. 

Discomfort and Poor Control

Since a soft-soled, spiky running shoe can be too wide and adheres poorly to the bike’s pedals, you’ll likely struggle with keeping your foot in place, making it slip out more often.

Having to reposition or adjust your foot from time to time limits control. Hence, treading challenging terrains and speeding is difficult. 

young woman jogging front cement wall

Are Cycling Shoes Suitable for Running?

When running, you wouldn’t want to wear a rigid pair of cycling shoes that are narrow at the toe part, restricting movement. Put simply, you can’t run in cycling shoes.

Even walking around with it isn’t recommended!

It’s uncomfortable and can cause potential injury due to a lack of cushioning and support. At the same time, the cleats are pretty slippery to walk around with!

one road cycling shoe standind at small metal sprocket
Road cycling shoe

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the disadvantages of cycling shoes?

Aside from being priced higher than non-cycling shoes, the compatibility of cycling shoes with pedals is limited. That’s not to mention that adhering or clipping it to your pedal can be quite tricky for beginners.

Is it safe to work out in running shoes?

While running shoes are great for basic exercises like running on the treadmill and mat exercises, using them for heavy lifting and other strenuous workouts isn’t recommended. 

What to avoid in running shoes?

Avoid running shoes that are either too small or tight. A shoe that’s too large isn’t good either. You should also avoid running shoes with incompatible cushioning.

Conclusion

With distinct features unique to their respective purposes, cycling and running shoes are suitable investments for those who want to make the most out of their respective athletic activity. 

Cycling shoes have metal cleats while running shoes have rubber spikes. Also, cycling shoes have narrow soles and are more rigid, whereas running shoes are flexible with spacious soles to allow for more movement. 

However, using these shoes for other athletic activities aside from their designated purpose isn’t only uncomfortable but increases the risk of injury as well.

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