Choosing Mountain Bike Shoes:
Happy Feet Ride Best

Mountain bike shoes are a necessity if you are going to be a serious mountain biker or even if you plan on riding on an regular basis. As with much other mountain bike gear, I questioned the importance of needing specific shoes for mountain biking as a beginner and rode in sneakers on flat pedals. Not only did my feet keep slipping off the pedals, causing me to frequently knock my shins on the pedals, but my feet got sore from all the bending and developed blisters from moving around inside my shoes.


My riding buddies often told me that I could be a better rider if I used clipless pedals, but the thought of having my feet stuck to the pedals scared me. Eventually, I did decide to transition to clipless pedals and compatible biking shoes. There was only a short learning curve (3 falls, 2 of them in a parking lot and no injuries, except to my ego) and riding became easier, safer, and more comfortable.

For more information on how to decide whether clipless pedals are right for you, please visit our page on Mountain Bike Pedals

Bike shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals have a metal cleat on the sole that attaches to the pedal. On mountain bikes, the cleat can attach to either side of the pedal.

Most mountain bike shoes are compatible with a specific pedal system developed by Shimano called Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD), which is by far the most common pedal system. These cleats are called SPD compatible. Some cycling shoes have cleats that are compatible with some or all major pedal systems.

Mountain bike shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals range from being very stiff and efficient racing shoes to more casual and recreational shoes that are comfortable for walking and resemble hiking shoes.

Cross Country Biking Shoes


The type of mountain biking shoe I have has a stiff sole that does not allow my foot to move around or bend much while pedaling. I chose this type of cycling shoe because I wanted to increase my riding speed and have more power when climbing hills. It works just fine for hike-a-bike sections of trail, but would not be a good shoe for a lot of hiking.


Cross country biking shoes have stiff soles that do not have a lot of padding. This gives you better pedaling efficiency because all or most of your pedaling energy goes into the pedal. If you have soles that are not as stiff, your foot is bending and it is absorbing some of the energy that could be going into your pedal stroke.

Mountain biking shoes differ from road biking shoes in that they have a more aggressive tread pattern, often with studs, designed for those times when you have to walk your bike up slippery or muddy slopes. The cleat is also indented in the sole, or recessed, so it is more protected when you walk. Generally, the stiffer the sole, the more expensive the shoes.

Although this type of shoe is designed so that you can do some walking with your bike, they are not comfortable for walking longer distances. If you think you are going to be doing a lot of walking or hiking in your cycling shoes, you may wish to get a somewhat more flexible sole.

Hybrid Mountain Bike Shoes

If you are a beginner who is not ready for or sure about whether you want to ride with clipless pedals or if you are a more casual rider, a great option is the hybrid type of mountain bike shoe. This type of bike shoe is sometimes referred to as a recreational clipless shoe or a multi-purpose mountain biking shoe.


Hybrid biking shoes often look more like a hiking shoe. They have a flat sole that is more flexible than the sole on a racing mountain bike shoe and is more comfortable for walking and hiking.

Some brands even offer hybrid biking shoes that can also be used for running. this type of bike shoe is a good option if you are touring and don't want to carry more than one pair of shoes.

The nice feature about the hybrid type of biking shoe is that it has a removable rubber patch where cleats can be installed if you decide you want to go clipless later.

Downhill / Freeride Mountain Bike Shoes

Downhill and freeride mountain biking shoes are more heavy duty than cross country mountain bike shoes. Downhill and freeride mountain biking shoes often have high tops to provide more protection to the ankles and also a reinforced toe area. The sole has a larger platform than a racing or hybrid cycling shoe to fit better on platform clipless pedals.

There are also downhill and freeride cycling shoes available for use without clipless pedals. These shoes have a hard flat sole with a sticky type of rubber that stays on the pedals very well. this gives you the option of having great stability with the ability to get out of the pedals quickly.

General Tips

  • There is a difference between men's and women's cycling shoes. Women's feet generally have narrower heels and a higher arch. Women specific mountain bike shoes address these differences for the best fit. Mountain biking shoes also are available in wide, medium, and narrow widths.

  • If your biking shoes have laces, make sure there are not exposed so that they can get caught on the bike chain, pedals, or branches. Often when bike shoes have laces, they are covered by the tongue of the shoe to protect this from happening.

  • Mountain bike shoes should be snug but comfortable. There should not be any pinching and the tongue should not bunch up. With racing cleats, you generally go a half size smaller than your regular shoe size. There should be a little space between your toe and the front of the shoe so that your toe isn't pressed up against the shoe, but less space than you would want in regular shoes. Your heel should stay in place in the heel cup during pedaling.

  • Consider the type of riding you are planning on doing and look for a cycling shoe that meets your needs and is comfortable. Your feet will thank you.

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