Road Shoes vs MTB Shoes: What is the Difference?

If you are just starting with mountain biking, the first thing you will realize is that your ordinary shoes are not good for this extreme outdoor activity. Ordinary shoes simply do not provide enough grips that biking requires. For cycling or biking, you have two options to choose from, MTB or road shoes. To help you pick the best one for your style of biking, we will explore the differences between the two in this road shoes vs MTB shoes article.

Road shoes are mostly used for road cycling, which is traditional cycling on city roads with no rough terrain. On the other hand, MTB shoes, also known as mountain biking shoes, are used for mountain biking on rough terrain which requires stronger grip and control.

As the cycles/bikes used for both along with other gear is also different, it is natural to have different types of shoes as well.

Cycling shoes can easily lift your biking experience by providing more control, better grip, and efficiency, but it can also turn into a nightmare if you are using wrong gear. For example, since road shoes are not for mountain biking, they will fail to provide you grip, and it will be difficult for you to keep control on bike pedals.

Similarly, if you wear mountain bike shoes (MTB) for road cycling, you will definitely feel pain and have a hard time moving because this footwear is stiffer compared to normal road cycling shoes. While you can still use MTB shoes for road cycling, using road shoes for mountain biking is certainly not recommended.

Road Shoes vs MTB Shoes

What is the real difference between them? Why they feel different and offer different features? For people who are new to this sport, it may be difficult to distinguish road shoes from MTB shoes. While both are built purposely for biking, there is a big difference in terms of features.

Let’s explore the answers to these questions in detail.

Road Shoes

Road shoes are designed for road cycling with a different purpose, as road cycling and mountain biking are two completely different sports. In road cycling, your body remains in the same position for a long-time, but in mountain biking, you use the movement of your entire body to control the bike on rough terrain.

That is why road shoes are designed to provide comfort to the body that remains in the same position for a long time. They feature very stiff soles that do not bend and come with light and sleek design. And because the sole is stiff, they are not good or comfortable for walking or running.

If you are looking for high-end road shoes, you’ll see that most of them are made of expensive and high-quality lacing and closure systems, carbon-fiber soles, and wooden insoles. The design of the cleats on the bottom of the shoes is also different from your normal or MTB shoes, which is designed just to attach to cycle pedals. These allow you to clip tightly onto the cycle pedals and keep your feet in one position on pedals.

Simply put, the cleats are designed to fix your feet on pedals, so you will not have to move your feet again and again to adjust shoe position on the pedal. This makes riding easy and more fun. It also adds comfort to your body position and keeps it stress-free during long rides.

Overall, the road shoes are stiffer. Some even have wooden insoles that make them good for only clipping to pedals in one position. These shoes are not recommended to use for activities that require your feet to move a lot like during jogging, walking, and running.

Road Bike Cleats

Three-Bolt Cleat System on a Road Bike Shoe
Three-Bolt cleat system.

In addition to the difference in shoes, road bike shoes also use a completely different cleat system. Road bike shoes use what is known as the three-bolt cleat system. Mountain bike shoes use a two-bolt cleat system. Each system requires its own type of pedal and therefore road bike shoes can’t be used with MTB pedals and vice versa.

Road bike shoes three-bolt cleat system is best for road biking as it large in size which is great for when you’re putting constant effort through the pedals. A larger platform reduces the amount of pressure that the ball of the foot experiences and hence gives a more comfortable ride.

MTB Shoes

Mountain bikes shoes are different in design and offer different feel compared to road shoes. While road shoes are simple in design, MTB shoes are beefier. They also include flexible and rugged sole which is a completely different design feature. This is because as a mountain biker, you have to adjust your feet position very quickly.

On the other hand, MTB shoes are designed to be comfortable for running and walking. As in mountain biking, you have to get off of your bike again and again and run along with your cycle, which you can’t do with stiff and wooden insoles used in road shoes.

Mountain bike shoes are also easier to clip and offer you a good grip and control over pedals. But compared to road shoes, they are easier to adjust in different positions on pedals. Road shoes are designed to remain in one position for a long time.

Mountain Bike Cleats

Two-Bolt Cleat System on a MTB shoe
Two-Bolt cleat system.

Mountain bike shoes use a much smaller but more durable two-bolt cleat system shown above. The much smaller design means that smaller pedals can be used to pair them too which leads to less rock strikes out on the trail.

MTB cleats are typically constructed using different types of metals making them hold up to the harsh conditions that mountain biking can put on the gear. They also tend to sit recessed into the shoe and so walking in mountain bike shoes is usually not a problem.

More importantly though mountain bike cleats are easier to unclip than road bike cleats which at some point or another you will be very thankful for out on the trail.

Road Shoes vs MTB Shoes: Conclusion

We are sure you now have a very clear idea about the difference between the two. You cannot use road shoes for mountain biking, and even for walking and running. While it is possible to use MTB shoes for road cycling if you want, it still is not recommended because of the footwear’s special features that are specifically designed for an intense bike ride.

You may find the road shoes strange if you cycle for short distances, but if you are road cycling for a long distance while using MTB shoes, you’ll feel an increasing pressure on your feet. The road shoes are very stiff with wooden insoles; it distributes the pressure to the entire surface of the feet, making them more comfortable and appropriate for longer cycling.

All in all, despite similarities in other features, both shoes are designed for different purposes. And with plenty of options available, it makes perfect sense to buy road shoes for road cycling and MTB shoes for mountain biking. You will have a better experience and have more fun if you use shoes designed for the specific purpose.

But if you have a budget for only one shoe that you want to use for both sports, we recommend MTB (mountain bike shoes) shoes as they can work with mountain bikes and road cycles, both and also offer comfort while walking, jogging and running.

Find out more about the difference between road and mountain bike pedals here.


Here we have put together a few common questions about the difference between road and mountain bike shoes.

Can You Put MTB Cleats On Road Shoes?

Mountain bike shoes and road bike shoes use two different cleat systems and therefore MTB cleats cannot be put on road bike shoes. The same is true for the reverse as you cannot put road bike cleats on to mountain bike shoes.

Can You Ride Clipless Pedals With Normal Shoes?

The short answer is yes you can, but is not something you would want to be doing regularly. To go into a bit more detail it depends largely on the type of pedals that you have. If you have large platforms on your pedals then it will be much more comfortable than small cross country pedals.

Having said that the cleat system does mean that your feet can’t connect properly with the platform anyway so it is still best to avoid it if you can.

In conclusion, if you’re just cruising about and not doing any serious MTB trails then you won’t have any issues using normal shoes on clipless pedals.

On the other hand, if you are going out on the trails you will struggle to find grip on the pedals. This can be very dangerous and is not recommended.