What types of cycling shoes are there?

There are shoes designed for all different types of cycling, from road riding and mountain biking to cyclocross, indoor cycling classes and triathlons. Each have slightly different features to better suit their intended use.

Road bike shoes

Road bike shoes offer the best power transfer because they have the stiffest soles and widest cleats. They’re typically compatible with a 3-bolt cleat and pedal set-up, and they tend to be difficult to walk around in because the cleats are exposed and stick out from the sole. Road bike shoes are right for you if you ride on the road and won’t be spending a lot of time on your feet when you’re not pedalling. They're also the type of cycling shoes used by triathletes.

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Mountain bike shoes

Mountain bike shoes have stiff, rugged soles that are lugged to provide traction on rough terrain. They also have a recessed 2-bolt cleat design, which makes them much easier to walk around in. The walkability is a great feature of mountain bike shoes, especially if you encounter a section of trail you need to hike. Gravel riders and racers often use these versatile shoes, too.

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Cyclocross shoes

Cyclocross shoes are simply mountain bike shoes with spots in the sole that can be fitted with spikes for extra traction when running and jumping over barriers. In cyclocross, you spend time jumping off your bike to run up steep hills or clear obstacles, so this extra traction is a huge plus.

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Indoor cycling shoes

Indoor cycling shoes typically have soles with grippy treads and walkable, recessed 2-bolt cleats just like mountain bike shoes. They’re the kind of shoes you’d typically find for rent at an indoor cycling studio, but if you have a Peloton bike at home, you’ll want to look for 3-bolt road shoes.

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What’s the difference between clip-in or clipless shoes and flat-soled shoes?

The most common cycling shoes used today are called clip-in or clipless shoes. The name clipless is confusing since you actually clip these shoes into your pedals, but they’re called this because they don’t use toe clips – those cages that you see on platform pedals. Flat-soled road shoes were the go-to before the invention of clipless systems, and they were designed for use with toe clips. Now, you’ll mostly see flat-soled shoes used for mountain biking, but there are still some companies that make them specifically for road cycling. Clipless shoes are meant to work with clipless pedals, and flat-pedal shoes are meant to work with platform (or flat) pedals.

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