Types of Cycling Shoes
Like ice cream, cycling shoes come in all different flavors and styles these days and picking the best pair for
your needs can be tricky business. The brand, looks, your foot characteristics, riding style and cycling discipline
all play a role in what type of shoe you will end up buying. Before you buy a shoe consider carefully what type of
riding you do and what type of pedal system you will be using. For an explanation of pedals and cleats go
Generally cycling shoes are broken into main categories of road, mountain
bike(mtb), triathlon, downhill, urban,
touring, and track. There are of course some crossovers between these categories
but features are common to each group that are better suited to that style.
Road bike shoes
Road bike shoes are smooth soled with a protruding cleat. They are not designed for walking; in fact
walking and can be downright dangerous if you are not careful. Cleat covers protect your cleat from
damage if you need to do any prolonged walking. Some shoes come with small rubber pads for better traction as
walking on pavement with carbon soled shoes is a recipe for disaster to your backside.
Road shoes are very stiff with carbon soled shoes being stiffest in top end models and plastic soles
being less rigid at the lower end. A very stiff sole is desired for best power transfer. Depending on
the shoe they have 2, 3 and 4 hole cleat patterns.
Some shoe makers create a specific shoe for time trials that incorporates features such as
extreme aerodynamic profiles. If you must have a specific shoe for TT check out the Bont Crono or Bont Zero cycling shoes.
Triathlon cycling shoes
Triathlon cycling shoes are similar to road shoes in that they are smooth bottomed and accept road style
cleats. Some models such as those from Louis Garneau have both the
three hole pattern and the two hole pattern for attaching SPD style cleats if desired. The strap system is simpler with no
ratchets and usually opens away from the drivetrain. The uppers are highly vented and there are design
additions such as heel loops and beefier heel and toe pads on the sole to make transitions easier. Stiff
carbon soles are the norm for best power transfer.
Mountain bike shoes
MTB shoes run the gamut from normal looking street shoes to full-on carbon soled race shoes depending on what
style of riding you do. Generally cross country shoes have a stiffer to very stiff sole and are designed
more akin to a road shoe. What is common to all mtb shoes is the sole has treads and the shoe is
designed to be more comfortable for walking. However sole design varies widely and can be a definite factor in
buying decisions based on where you live and ride. Dry Arizona riding will not necessarily need as aggresive
a sole as you would use in the rooty, muddy Pacific Northwest.
Downhill /Trail /Freeride bike shoes
Downhill bike shoes designed for a platform pedal have no cleat.
They contain a beefy upper with a sticky rubber sole to keep your foot on the pedal for as long as
possible. The sole also has extra cushioning for jumps and bumps. They come in a variety of designs and
some popular brands are Teva and Five Ten.
Urban/commuting cycling shoes
Urban cycling shoes look more like a normal street shoe. They are usually SPD compatible meaning they take
a recessed 2 hole cleat. While soles are stiffer than a regular street shoe they are comfortable
to walk in and if you don't like the look of a technical cycling shoe, these are a good choice. Perfect for
running errands around town or hangin' in the coffee shop without looking like a bike geek. Some
companies even make an SPD compatible sandal for sunny days. Check out the Pearl-Izumi X-Alp line or the
Shimano MTB line.
Touring cycling shoes
Touring cycling shoes are often
lumped in with mountain bike shoes but some companies market to this buyer segment. Shoes are typically fairly
stiff soled but walkable for those times when you are off the bike exploring along the route. They tend to be
well ventilated and have good rubber soles for walking. SPD compatibility means recessed cleat for easy
Indoor cycling shoes
Yes believe it or not there are now bike shoes designed for indoor cycling marketed as a must-have for spin
classes. Of course you can use any clipless shoe for indoor spin classes but some of the features these shoes
sport include increased breathability, better comfort, and lighter weight. A couple of the most important
features to evaluate are breathability and walkability. Because you are indoors air flow over
your shoes is minimal and feet sweat a lot during a workout.
If you want to go to and from your spin class wearing your cycling shoes, choose a comfortable shoe
with an SPD cleat rather than a three hole system with protruding cleat.
These shoes are not made with the same outdoor use in mind and are generally not built to take
much outdoor abuse. Top end indoor cycling shoes tend to have stiff soles for optimal power transfer and are
built on the same platform as their outdoor brethren.
Track cycling shoes
Track bike shoes are not the focus of this site as they are a specialty item. They are made specifically for the track rider and can be
expensive. Very light and comfortable, they are extremely stiff and have optimized lacing systems and features
such as heat moldable soles and high breathability. They are designed to maximize the power transfer between
foot and pedal. Manufacturers such as Bont and Riivo set the mark for high quality customizable track shoes.
This summary of cycling shoe types should start to give you an idea of what types of features may be important
to your cycling style and what type of shoe you may want to look at for your purchase.