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Cycling Shoes Buyer's Guide

Do you need special shoes for riding a bicycle? Wearing the right shoes can make your cycling more comfortable and more efficient. Even if racing or riding fast and far do not appeal to you, keeping your feet happy helps you to enjoy your bike rides more.

A common feature of most cycling shoes is a very stiff sole compared to casual shoes. The stiff sole allows more of your effort to be directed into turning the pedals.

Most cycling shoes are designed to work with "clip-in" pedals. Clipping in allows you to push down and pull up with both feet at the same time while you pedal, which makes your pedaling more efficient. The "cleats" refers to the parts that attach to the shoes that provide the clip-in mechanism. The cleats are specific to the pedals, and are usually supplied with the pedals, not with the shoes.

You can wear your regular shoes!

Despite all of the above, you can wear whatever works best for you when you ride your bicycle. Whatever your goals are for your cycling, there's a shoe that works. When you're bike commuting or running errands by bike, sometimes it's better to dress for the destination, not the journey! Your sneakers or running shoes will work fine with most flat pedals, and if you've already got a nice warm pair of winter boots, those will work great for fat biking in the snow. Noodling down the boardwalk on your beach cruiser bike? Riding in sandals or flip-flops will fit right in!

Mountain Biking Shoes

Mountain bike shoes have an aggressive and grippy tread pattern on the bottom. This makes it easier to run or walk, for those steep uphills or other situations that force you to dismount from your bicycle. These shoes can use laces like a traditional sneaker, but usually, they use hook-and-loop straps, a ratcheting buckle strap, a Boa™ ratcheting cable system, or some combination of these.

The cleats designed to work with mountain biking shoes and pedals are small enough so that they can be recessed into the tread of the shoe. This makes walking in these shoes easier, since the cleat will have no or minimal contact with the ground. Because of this, many cyclists who mostly do bicycle touring, bikepacking, and even road cycling prefer to wear mountain bike shoes.

See our related article Bicycle Pedals Buyer's Guide for more details about the differences between mountain biking and road biking cleats.

Giant Transmit 2 Off-Road Mountain Biking Shoe

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit Mountain Biking Shoes

The bottom tread of the Giro Cylinder Mountain Biking Shoes

Crank Brothers Zero Float Mountain Bike Cleats

Bicycle Touring Shoes

As mentioned above, many people prefer to use mountain biking shoes for bicycle touring or bikepacking. Touring-specific cycling shoes use the same two-bolt style of cleats as mountain bike shoes. However, the overall look of touring shoes is more subdued and less aggressive, similar to road cycling shoes. Or, some touring shoes look more like regular sneakers or running shoes, allowing the wearer to have the advantages of a clip-in pedal, but blend in more as a non-cyclist when walking around off the bike.

The sole of touring shoes may be less stiff compared to more race-oriented mountain bike shoes, but still more stiff than casual shoes. The tread will not be as large and aggressive as on mountain bike shoes. This still makes it easy to walk around, but without the need for the large grippy treads that you'd need to walk on dirt or muddy trails.

Pearl Izumi Women's All-Road V5 Bicycling Touring Shoe

Giro Gauge Bicycle Touring Shoe

Bottom tread of the Pearl Izumi Women's All-Road V5 Bicycle Touring Shoes

Road Cycling Shoes

Like mountain biking shoes, shoes made for road cycling have stiff soles for pedaling efficiency, and hook-and-loop straps and/or buckles for a secure, customizable fit. The cleats used with road bike pedals have a large, triangular shape. The larger cleat provides a bigger area to spread the weight and pressure of your foot around, resulting in less likelihood of soreness, hot spots, and other issues with your feet on long rides.

Road cycling shoes usually have smooth soles with very little traction. This, combined with the larger cleat, make walking around off the bike more difficult compared to mountain bike and touring shoes. Some have small rubber inserts in the heels and/or toes to help with traction on smooth pavement and floors, but you should take great care in any case when walking in road cycling shoes. For this reason, road bike specific shoes are meant for racers and other riders who want to get on the bike, ride fast and hard for a couple of hours, and be done without a lot of hanging around in the middle of the ride.

See our related article Bicycle Pedals Buyer's Guide for more details about the differences between mountain biking and road biking cleats.

Liv Macha Comp Women's Road Cycling Shoe

Giro Stylus Road Cycling Shoe

Bottom of the Giro Stylus Road Cycling Shoe

Shimano SPD-SL Road Cycling Cleats

Flat Pedal Mountain Biking Shoes

Some mountain bikers are prefer not to clip into their pedals, especially those riding in bike parks doing jumps, flips, and other tricks. They often use pedals with metal tractions pins to help grips the soles of their shoes, but don't "lock" them in place in the same way as clip-in pedals.

Shoes designed to be worn with these pedals have a flat rubber sole but are still stiff overall to provide some of the efficiency of clip-in shoes. These shoes usually have laces, but some use straps or buckles.

Giant Shuttle Flat Off-Road Cycling Shoe

Five Ten Freerider Women's Cycling Shoe

Bottom of the Giant Shuttle Flat Off-Road Cycling Shoe

Giant Pinner Elite Off-Road Flat Pedal in Blue

Winter Cycling Boots

Do you like to ride your bike year-round even in the cold and snow? There are cycling shoes for that, from ankle-high mountain biking shoes, to insulated boots for keeping your feet warm in subzero temperatures! Most are made to work with clip-in mountain bike pedals, but some are available for flat pedals.

45NRTH Ragnarok Cold Weather Cycling Shoe

45NRTH Wolvhammer Winter Cycling Boot

45NRTH Wolfgar Winter Cycling Boot

The bottom of the 45NRTH Wolvhammer Winter Cycling Boot

Got more questions about what cycling shoes are right for you? Contact Us or stop into one of our four stores to chat with one of the friendly staff at Century Cycles!