Whether you are mountain biking or road cycling, you’ll quickly realize that normal shoes don’t provide enough grip and traction for either.
That’s why proper cycling shoes, both road cycling shoes and MTB shoes, have become popular for the different types of cycling.
Unfortunately, however, they are not the same. Certain shoes are more suited to certain types of cycling, and when it comes to MTB shoes vs road shoes, there are quite a few glaring differences.
Below, we’ll explore the differences between the two.
Road and MTB cycling shoes
Road cycling shoes are, as the name suggests, designed for cycling on a road, which is the most traditional type of cycling.
On the other hand, MTB cycling shoes, which are known as mountain bike shoes, are specifically designed for cycling on rough and uneven terrain, focusing much more on a better grip and control.
You’ve probably noticed that road bikes and mountain bikes look pretty different, so it’s only natural to have different types of shoes as well.
For those who might not know too much about cycling shoes, there probably doesn’t appear to be much difference between the two types. But the features are, however, very different.
In road cycling, your body is kept in the same position for lengthy periods of time, however, on a mountain bike, you use your entire body to control your bike as you go over the rough and uneven terrain.
With that in mind, road shoes are made to ensure comfort for long periods of time. The sole is very stiff and doesn’t bend.
They are lightweight and sleek. And they are not suitable for walking in! In fact, they are incredibly uncomfortable for wearing off your bike. High-end versions are made with expensive lacing, carbon fiber soles and wooden insoles.
The design of the cleats on the bottom of the sole is in line with road bike pedals. They are typically three-bolt and allow you to clip tightly to your road bike, keeping your feet in one, fixed position, and spreading the power-ratio across your whole foot.
Mountain bikes shoes differ as they are often simpler in design and a bit beefier, making them heavier. The sole is normally flexible and rugged, which gives a very different feel to a road shoe.
That’s because mountain bikers need to adjust the position of their feet a lot quicker to reflect the terrain they are cycling on.
A main design difference between the two types of shoe is the compatibility of MTB shoes with running and walking.
You can easily get off your bike and walk around, which you definitely wouldn’t want to do with the stiff, wooden insoles of a road shoe. That’s a big advantage for those looking for a multi-purpose cycling shoe.
When it comes to cleats and clipping in, MTB shoes feature a two-bolt system and are also easier to clip in and out of, as well as adjust in different positions on the pedals. That also opens the doors to a variety of cycling styles.
SPD and SPD-SL cleats
SPD has become the go-to for mountain bike pedals, while SPD-SL is more for road bikes, with reduced weight and a more fixed position.
SPD cleats are made of metal and are a lot smaller than the road bike version.
They use two bolts to fix to the shoe, so are sometimes referred to as ‘two-bolt cleats’. Most SPD cleats are double sides so you can clip in and out on either side. As mentioned above, one of the main advantages of SPD cleats is you can walk with them off the bike.
On the other hand, SPD-SL cleats have three bolts to attach them to the shoe and are made of plastic for a more lightweight feel. The main benefit of SPD-SL cleats is the focus is all about low weight and power delivery, in one fixed position.
Your shoes will either have a three or two bolt hole, but you can get an adapter that lets you attach two-bolt cleats to the 3 holes of a road shoe.
Getting the right shoes
Why does it even matter? Well, getting your cycling shoes right can be just as important as getting your bike right. Making the wrong choice can lead to an uncomfortable ride and foot pain.
Making the right choice can improve the overall biking experience by improving your control, grip, efficiency, power and comfort.
If you use road bike shoes on a mountain bike, you’ll sacrifice grip and control. Similarly, if you use MTB shoes on a road bike, you’ll be far less comfortable as the shoes are a lot stiffer compared to normal road bike shoes.
If you had to do one or the other, MTB shoes would perform better on a road bike than road shoes on a mountain bike.
Using road shoes on a mountain bike is generally not recommended. In fact, it would significantly make the cycling harder.
Equally, you’d find MTB shoes particularly uncomfortable for longer road cycles, due to the increasing pressure on your feet.
Road shoes distribute the pressure to the entire surface of your foot, making them much more suitable for long days in the saddle.
If you are on a strict budget and can only afford one or the other, but want to do both types of cycling, MTB shoes are the more versatile option.
MTB shoes work with mountain bikes, road bikes, and also provide better comfort for walking and running.
Hopefully, now you have a clearer picture in your head about the difference between the two.
Simply put, do not use road bike shoes for mountain biking, and while it is possible to use MTB shoes for road biking, it’s not recommended. Use shoes that are fit for purpose for comfort and performance.
Founder of Vivi Nation, the cycling, running and active living brand. Chris is a sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete and experienced cyclist, having led multiple cycle tours across Europe.