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How to Choose Bike Shoes

In this guide we’ll take a look at how to choose 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.

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.

Bike Shoe Styles

There are bike shoes for all styles of riding (mountain, road, gravel), so start your search with the style that's designed for the kind of riding you do. Mountain bike shoes come in two distinct designs (clipless and flat) but the choice is more straightforward with road, gravel, and multisport. Read on and we'll take you through each style in detail.

Clipless MTB Shoes
Flat MTB Shoes
Road Bike ShoesGravel Bike ShoesMultisport Bike Shoes
Shoe outsoleGrippy sole for traction, walkableRubberized outsole, walkableHard composite, not for walkingGrippy sole for traction, walkableRubberized outsole, walkable
Shoe soleStiffMedium stiffnessMost stiffStiffFlexible
Cleat positionRecessed into soleN/AProtruding from soleRecessed into soleRecessed into sole
Pedal compatibility2-hole cleats (SPD, crankbrothers, Time)Flat pedals3-hole cleats (Look, Time, SPD-SL)2-hole cleats (SPD, crankbrothers, Time)2-hole cleats (SPD, crankbrothers, Time)

Other Bike Shoe Styles

Winter cycling boots: These insulated and waterproof bike shoes keep your feet and ankles warm in chilly conditions. If cold weather shoes and shoe covers don’t cut it, these boots are a great choice for fat bike rides in the snow or ice.

Triathlon shoes: Triathlon shoes are meant to slip on and off quickly during a race. They are typically already attached to the bike’s pedals when athletes transition from the swim to bike ride. These shoes have large heel loops, easy-to-use straps, and plenty of ventilation.

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”. It's weird, and the world of cycling could probably adopt  less confusing term, but old habits die hard.

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.

2-Bolt vs. 3-Bolt Cleats

When it comes to clipless bike shoes, there are two main cleat types available: 2-bolt (often referred to as SPD) and 3-bolt (often called Look or SPD-SL style).

Generally, mountain bike and multisport shoes are compatible with 2-bolt cleats whereas road shoes use the 3-bold system. Some bike shoes have soles that can accommodate either cleat type.

2-bolt (SPD): 2-bolt cleats have a smaller profile and can be recessed into outsoles for increased walkability. There are typically four holes in the sole so riders can adjust the front-to-back cleat position to what works for them. These are most popular on mountain bike and multisport shoes, but can be used on road bike shoes.

3-bolt (Look/SPD-SL): The 3-bolt design is only found on road bike shoes. The wider profile of the cleat provides increased stiffness for optimal power transfer to the pedals. The large cleat protrudes from the smooth outsole and isn’t meant to be walked on. Riders can use cleat covers to protect the cleat when walking short distances.

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. Here are the most important things you should be looking for when shopping for bike shoes:

  • Stiffness
  • Breathability/insulation
  • Walkability
  • Closure type
  • Weight


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.


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.


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 to lighten your load, a lightweight bike shoe can certainly make pedaling easier. However, don't underestimate how important comfort is! Unless you're racing we advise everyone to pick comfort over weight savings every time.

Bike Shoe Closure Types

How your bike shoes tighten and secure your feet is definitely something to conider as well. Depending on the style of shoe you're buying you may have multiple options to choose from among different models, so think about which closure design suits you best.

Laces: Traditional laces provide excellent comfort and adjustability. The lacing pattern distributes tension evenly across the foot for a snug fit. For bike shoes with laces, make sure the laces are short or tucked away so they don’t get caught in the chain or pedals.

Velcro: Often seen in combination with other closure types or by itself, velcro closures are very easy to use and work great with gloves and give you a lot of control over tightness.

Hook-and-loop straps: A common choice for bike shoes, Velcro straps are quick and easy to use. There are typically two or three straps across the top of the foot. They won’t come undone like laces and perform well in most conditions.

Notched straps with buckles: Some bike shoes use higher-quality plastic straps that ratchet down with a buckle. They offer a very secure and snug fit that won’t come undone. Often, this type of strap is the top-most strap on a shoe with additional hook-and-loop straps.

Dials and cable laces: This design uses a system of thin cable or wire laces that are tightened down with a ratcheting dial. Brands like Boa have popularized this design that is sleek, lightweight, and usable on the fly.

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:

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

Mountain Bike Shoes

Clipless mountain bike shoes are great for trail riding

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.

Best Value Clipless Mountain Bike Shoes

Bontrager Clipless Mountain Bike Shoes

Best Buy Men's Clipless MTB Shoe

Bontrager Foray Mountain Shoe 

Bontrager Clipless Mountain Bike Shoes

Best Buy Women's Clipless MTB

Bontrager Evoke Womens Mountain Shoe 

Best Value Flat Mountain Bike Shoes

Best Buy Men's Flat MTB Shoe

CrankBrothers Stamp Lace

Best Buy Women's Flat MTB Shoe

Giro Riddance W

Road Bike Shoes

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

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.

Best Value Road Bike Shoes

Bontrager Clipless Road Cycling Bike Shoes

Best Buy Men's Road Shoe

Bontrager Circuit Road Cycling Shoe 

Bontrager Clipless Mountain Bike Shoes

Best Buy Women's Cycling Shoe

Bontrager Circuit Womens Road Shoe 

Gravel Bike Shoes

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

Some companies make a shoe that's designed to be ideal for gravel riding. 

These gravel shoes are similar to XC mountain shoes in that they use the 2-bolt SPD style cleats and have tread on the outsole for good off the bike performance, but there can be some differences.

For instance, mountain bike shoes typically have added levels of protection since trails can be more rugged, but the gravel specific models are typically a little lighter and sleeker.

That being said, you can definitely wear MTB shoes on a gravel bike and vice versa.

Best Value Gravel Bike Shoes

Best Buy Men's Gravel Shoe

Giro Rincon Shoe 

Best Buy Women's Gravel Shoe

Giro Ricon Women's Shoe 

Bikepacking Shoes

A bikepacker needs shoes that are super tough and durable. The last thing anyone wants is for their shoe to come apart on them 100 miles in the middle of nowhere. But a good bikepacking shoe must also be light, comfortable, flexible enough for the walk sections, and stiff enough for hours of uninterrupted pedaling.  That's a pretty tall order for one pair of shoes.  I've gone through several shoes myself trying to find the perfect fit. I've had buckles and Boa systems break in typical MTB shoes. I've gotten blisters from walking in shoes that are too stiff, and extreme sore spots from pedaling all day with shoes that are too flexible.  

Last year, I finally found a shoe that I think really checks all the boxes for a killer bikepacking shoe:  Bontrager's Avert Mountain shoe.  The upper is made of CORDURA and suede. It's extremely tough, weather resistant, and breathable. The shoe is lace-up, so it's also reliable and comfortable.  The laces neatly tuck under a convenient hidden elastic lace keeper.  The sole has a shock-absorbing EVA midsole for walking comfort.  Honestly, it's the best multi-purpose shoe I've ever used.  I love will too.

Shop Bontrager Avert Shoes

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.

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

Best Value Multisport Bike Shoes

Best Value Clipless Multipsport Shoe

Bontrager SSR Multisport Shoe 

Best Value Clipless Multisport Shoe Wmn

Bontrager SSR Womens Shoe 

Bike Shoe Features and Accessories

Here are some bike shoe accessories that can help you have a better, more comfortable ride.

Soles: Bike shoe soles are made from hard nylon or lightweight carbon fiber on premium models. Road bike shoes are designed to be as stiff as possible for efficient power transfer to the pedals and aren’t built for walking. Mountain bike shoes have additional tread for walking short distances off the bike.

Uppers: Bike shoes are made from durable materials that can withstand heavy outdoor use in the harsh sun, rain, and mud. That said, they must also be lightweight and breathable to increase comfort on long rides. Depending on their intended use, bike shoes have uppers with some ventilation holes and water-resistant properties.

Bike overshoes: To keep out the cold and wet weather, cyclists wear shoe covers, also referred to as overshoes. These accessories are made from neoprene or other insulating fabrics that help feet stay dry and warm while riding. They fit over bike shoes and have specific cutouts for the cleats and sole.

Toe covers: Toe covers offer a moderate amount of cold protection at a fraction of the weight. They are less bulky than overshoes and can save rider’s toes from going numb from the cold. Bike shoes are designed to be well-ventilated and breathable, so toe covers help block out the air in chillier conditions.

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.

Shop Bike Pedals

Read Our Bike Pedals Guide

Shop bike shoe accessories like shoe covers

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.

How to Take Care of Bike Shoes

Here's how to take care of your neew bike shoes so they last longer than your last pair!

1. Keep your shoes clean

After muddy or dusty rides, take a couple moments to wipe away the debris. Bike shoes are made from durable materials, so feel free to use a bit of warm, soapy water to get rid of any stubborn grime. Hook-and-loop straps don’t stick as well if they’re dirty, so be sure to keep them in good shape.

2. Dry your bike shoes

Get your bike shoes drying immediately coming back from a wet ride. Wipe away the external moisture and remove the insoles so they can start to dry separately. The fastest way to dry water-logged bike shoes is with a boot dryer. The easiest method is stuffing newspaper into the shoes which will work in a pinch.

Placing the shoes in the sun or in a warm spot is a nice trick to speed up the process so that the next time you ride, you’re not stepping into a pair of soggy shoes.

3. Replace cleats when necessary

The cleats on clipless shoes will eventually wear down and need to be replaced. Telltale signs of worn cleats include difficulty clipping into the pedals or unexpected releases. Simply purchase a new pair of cleats and install them on the bottom of the outsole with a hex key.