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How to choose bike shoes:  The complete guide

In this guide we’ll take a look at bike shoes and explore the different kinds, the reasons to consider them, and what you should look for when shopping for a new pair. Read all about how to choose, then check out all our great shoes.

Bike Shoe Styles

What kind of cycling shoe are you after? It’s important to buy a pair that are designed for the riding you like to do, and there is quite a bit of difference between the styles. Read more below.

Clipless mountain bike shoes are great for trail riding

Mountain bike shoes

Mountain bike shoes are designed to be tough enough for the demands of off road riding, and many are designed to be extra walkable for those times on the trail when you need to hop off your bike. 

The soles of mountain bike shoes are usually less stiff than road bike shoes, as you want some flexibility for walking and comfort while riding rough terrain. 

These shoes also tend to be much more durable, since you’ll probably scrape up against a rock now and again. 

Not all mountain bike shoes make you clip into the pedals. Many riders prefer mountain bike specific flat shoes that give them plenty of grip while letting them be independent of the pedals.

Road bike shoes will help you generate more power and ride more efficiently.

Road bike shoes

Road bike shoes are all about speed and efficiency. Compared to mountain bike shoes, road cycling shoes are usually lighter and stiffer for maximum power transfer and weight savings. 

They are typically less comfortable to walk in than mountain bike shoes since riders are less likely to spend considerable time off the bike, but they make up for that with serious performance benefits where it matters. 

Almost all road bike shoes require the rider to clip into the pedals.

Multisport bike shoes look like regular shoes but have a recess for cleats.

Multisport bike shoes

Multisport bike shoes are specifically designed for both on and off the bike use. 

They look a lot more “normal” than other clip-in shoes, and have a more traditional rubber bottom that you can walk comfortably in. 

Think of multisport bike shoes like a light hiking shoe with the option to clip in. 

These shoes are great for riders who prioritize comfort and capability both on and off the bike, or for those who are looking for a shoe they can wear around town after a ride.

Do bike shoes make a difference?

Bike shoes are designed specifically for cycling, but do they actually help you ride better? In short, absolutely. Below are several great reasons to give cycling shoes a try.

Increase your pedaling power and efficiency

Road bike shoes and mountain bike shoes that clip into the pedals allow you to generate more power. By being more connected to your pedals, you’ll be able to generate power on the upstroke as well as the downstroke, which in turn will help you ride with more momentum.

For road cycling, this translates to more speed and climbing ability as well as a more efficient pedal stroke. For mountain biking, being clipped in helps you power through technical uphills and keeps your feet planted on the pedals on chunky descents.

Proper stiffness means more comfort and efficiency

While some riders may prefer everyday shoes, the soles of normal shoes aren’t usually stiff enough to provide efficient power transfer or support. While riding your mountain bike in a pair of vans might make you feel cool, the soft soles will likely slip and make your feet ache after a rowdy ride on difficult terrain.

Prevent joint pain

Another benefit of bike shoes that clip into the pedals is that you’re able to keep your foot in a consistent position. Keeping a constant posture can prevent pain in your knees, and lots of riders who have nagging joints prefer to clip in for a better riding experience.

Flat vs clipless bike shoes

There are two main types of bike shoes: shoes designed for flat platform pedals, and clipless shoes that are designed to lock into the pedals.

If clipless shoes actually “clip” into the pedals, so why are they called clipless bike shoes? Let’s answer this quickly: before the cleat systems that most modern clipless shoes use, riders used toe clips and straps like exterior cages attached to the pedals to keep their feet in place.

Many bike shoes now rely on cleats, which attach to the shoes and lock into the pedal, so the toe clips have largely been replaced. Hence, they’re called “clipless” although most people still refer to the act of shoes locking into the pedals “clipping in”.

Many mountain bikers prefer flat shoes for platform pedals.

Bike shoes for flat pedals

While commuters and casual road riders also use flat pedals, regular athletic shoes will often work just fine for that style of riding. If you’re thinking about buying a bike-specific shoe for flat pedals, you probably ride mountain bikes. If you ride trails and prefer platform pedals, these mountain bike shoes will give you great traction, comfort, style, and walkability.

Clipless bike shoes attach to your pedals via cleats.

Clipless bike shoes

Clipless bike shoes connect your shoe to the pedal, giving riders great benefits. If you want to pedal faster and more efficiently while preventing your feet from slipping off the pedals, clipless bike shoes are a complete game changer. While not all riders prefer this style, riders who do will often never go back to platform pedals for serious riding.

What to look for when shopping for bike shoes

By now you probably have a good idea of whether you want to use flat or clipless shoes, so let’s break down some of the features to look for when shopping for a new pair of bike shoes.

Weight

While having a lightweight shoe is ideal for all riders, this is usually a major factor for road cyclists. Whether you’re counting grams or you just want a better riding experience, a lightweight bike shoe can certainly make pedaling easier.

Stiffness

Stiffness is measured on its own specific index, ranging from least stiff (1) to most (14). Stiff bike shoes make power transfer more efficient and help dampen impacts from rough terrain, but too stiff and your shoe will feel less comfortable and versatile. Road bike shoes tend to be stiffer since power transfer is key and road riders don’t need as much walkability.

Breathability / Insulation

Are you going to be riding in the summer heat or frigid winter cold? Make sure to read the product descriptions and set yourself up for a good ride by choosing a breathable shoe for warm weather or an insulated shoe for low temps.

Walkability

We’ve mentioned walkability several times in this guide, but it’s definitely a good factor to consider. While road cyclists may not need to think about it much, gravel riders and mountain bikers will appreciate the ability to hop off the bike, walk around comfortably, and explore.

Bike Shoe Size Chart

Cycling shoe sizes are often measured a little differently than regular shoes, although some brands will list normal US sizes on their products. But remember, just like all shoes some brands will have a slightly different fit. If you have questions about a specific model, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask our team. We’ll be happy to give you advice.

Just in case, here’s a cycling shoe size chart to get you on the right track:


3838.53939.54040.54141.54242.54343.54444.54545.54646.5474849
US Men55.566.577.588.599.51010.51111.51212.51313.51414.515
US Women6.577.588.599.51010.51111.51212.51313.51414.51515.51616.5
Heel to toe (cm)23.72424.324.62525.325.525.926.226.526.927.127.427.828.128.128.729.029.329.930.6

Best Bike Shoe Brands

Bontrager bike shoes
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Shop All Bike Shoes and Accessories

Shop all bike shoes.

All Bike Shoes

Find the perfect pair of bike shoes right here, whether you ride road or mountain.

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Shop bike pedals

Bike Pedals

If you haven't already found a good set of bike pedals, check out our flat and clipless models here.

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Read Our Bike Pedals Guide

Shop bike shoe accessories like shoe covers

Bike Shoe Accessories

Need shoe covers for the rain or other accessories? Click here to explore.

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Shop cycling socks

Cycling Socks

Grab a pair of breathable, durable cycling socks while you're at it!

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Bike Shoe FAQs

What are the best shoes for biking?

It depends on the style of riding you do, how you like to ride, and the performance benefits you’re looking for. Road cyclists typically love the improved efficiency and power transfer of clipless shoes, while mountain bikers are split between durable clipless and grippy flats.

Do all bike shoes fit all pedals?

No. Flats, or platform pedals can be used with any shoe, but clipless SPD pedals require shoes to have special cleats to lock into.

Do clipless pedals make you faster?

Clipless pedals improve your power transfer and allow you to get more momentum from the upstroke, making them more efficient and often faster when pedaling and climbing is involved.

How should bike shoes fit?

Like in any activity, your feet will swell a bit when you exercise. You’ll want a little room for your toes without getting a size that’s so large your feet slide around. Bike shoes should be snug but not overly tight and uncomfortable.