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If you’re serious about cycling, it helps to have the right equipment, including proper shoes. This article will explain the difference between mountain bike shoes and road shoes and why it’s crucial to choose the right ones for you.

man on a bike wearing mountain bike shoes

There are two main types of cycling shoes, called road bike shoes and mountain bike shoes, each designed for riding on the terrain in their name.

Many cyclists wonder if it’s possible to use one pair of shoes for both disciplines, but the shoes are actually quite different.

Sole Stiffness

The way that road and mountain bike shoes are constructed is very different. When you’re biking on the road, you’ll mostly be riding on paved, even surfaces.

Even if you need to go up or down hills, you probably won’t be changing your body or foot position too much.

Road bike shoes are designed to work with this premise. They have a very stiff sole that distributes the pressure of the pedal evenly across the entire foot.

This sole is often made of carbon fiber or even wood. This sole is uncomfortable for walking, but it helps keep the shoes comfortable for long periods of road riding.

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When you’re mountain biking, the terrain can change abruptly. You might ride through mud, over rocks or tree roots, up steep hills, along flat areas, or over slippery grass or leaves.

These changes in terrain mean that you’ll need to adjust your body and, by extension, your foot positioning frequently. Mountain bike shoes are made to be flexible to accommodate this. The soles are much softer than those of road bike shoes, and the entire shoe can bend.

The flexibility of mountain bike shoes means that the pressure of the pedal isn’t evenly spread out over the whole foot.

They’ll be uncomfortable if worn for long periods with your foot in the same position. If you frequently adjust your foot position, though, you’ll be relieving or spreading around the pressure yourself.

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Mountain bike shoes are also made with a flexible sole because they’re designed to be worn while walking or running. When you’re mountain biking, there will be many times when the terrain is simply too rough or too steep, and you’ll need to get off and walk your bike.

If you’re in a speed competition, you’ll need to run. Mountain bike shoes are designed for this.

Mountain bike shoes
Mountain bike shoes

Weight and Shape

Road biking is often about speed and stamina. The equipment used, including the bike, is very light. It makes sense, then, that road bike shoes are also lightweight.

They have a sleek, form-fitting design that helps to increase speed, and their light materials don’t feel heavy, even after a long ride.

Mountain bike shoes are designed to be durable. You might need to walk or bike over wet or rocky terrain, so you’ll need shoes that are rugged and can stand up to that sort of wear.

Speed is also less important when mountain biking, in general. For these reasons, mountain bike shoes are heavier and often look a bit thicker.


Another of the biggest differences between the two types of shoes is the cleats. These cleats aren’t like the cleats on a baseball or football shoe.

The cleats are designed to clip onto the bike pedal and keep the foot in the perfect position, ensuring that your feet don’t slip as you ride.

Road bike shoes have three cleats, called SPD-SL cleats. They’re usually made of plastic. These cleats clip very firmly to the pedal, locking the foot into the single position required for road biking.

It’s a bit harder to unclip these cleats since they’re supposed to stay secure and remain in the same position throughout the duration of the ride.

Pair road cycling shoes
Pair road cycling shoes

Mountain bike shoes have two cleats, called SPD cleats. They’re usually much smaller than the cleats on road bike shoes.

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As mentioned above, if you’re mountain biking, you’ll need to adjust your foot position frequently, so mountain bike shoe cleats are designed to clip and unclip quickly and easily.

You can even unclip the shoes from either side of the pedal, so you can change your position smoothly without thinking about it too much. This also lets you change up your cycling style as needed.

Because they’ll be clipped and unclipped so frequently, the cleats on mountain bike shoes must be durable, so they’re usually made of metal. They’re heavier than the lightweight plastic cleats on road shoes.

one road cycling shoe
one road cycling shoe

Grip and Control

If you’re riding on the road, you probably won’t need too much additional grip once your cleats are clipped to the pedal. Road bike shoes, therefore, don’t offer much grip.

Mountain bike shoes, on the other hand, provide plenty of grip, and the flexibility of the shoes gives you maximum control over your positioning, cycling style, and riding speed.

Can mountain and road bike shoes be used interchangeably?

If you’re going to be mountain and road biking, it’s almost always best to purchase a pair of shoes for each. You’ll be much more comfortable, and the shoes can make a big difference in your stamina.

If you only want to purchase one type of shoe, it’s better to go with mountain bike shoes. You can purchase an adapter that allows you to clip the two cleats of a mountain bike shoe onto a three-cleat road bike clip.

You’ll be able to ride on the road with mountain bike shoes, although they won’t be very comfortable.

It’s almost impossible to wear road bike shoes for mountain biking, though. You won’t be able to get off and walk your bike for any long distances. You’ll also lose the grip and flexibility that mountain biking requires.

Mountain bike shoe
Mountain bike shoe

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