Mountain biking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in many parts of the world. It’s not only a great way to get a meaningful workout, but it is also done just for the sheer enjoyment. While there are generally just a few items that are required for mountain biking, with the bike and the helmet being the most important, mountain bike shoes can be an accessory worth investigating.
One of the most important things to remember about mountain bike shoes is that they are not necessary. In fact, the majority of recreational mountain bikers do not wear sport-specific shoes when they go out on a ride. In most cases they typically wear regular sneakers, or in some cases hiking boots if they’re going to be riding on trails. When used with a standard platform pedal and toe clip, the only real requirement is that the shoe has a sole that easily grips the pedal.
However, if you’ve found yourself spending more and more time on your bike, mountain bike shoes might be something worth considering. They can offer design features which can make long, difficult rides a bit more comfortable and can, in some cases, make them a bit easier as well. They are sold in numerous styles and designs, but most of them have similar characteristics.
Most mountain bike shoes require the use of a clipless pedal system. These pedals are much different than a standard platform pedal, both in size and operation. A clipless pedal is designed to allow a properly outfitted shoe to “click” into place, thereby locking it to the pedal. By doing so, leg power is not only applied with each down stroke of the pedal, but on the upstroke as well; making these systems much more efficient than the traditional platform pedal design. In most cases, the locking mechanism is universal; meaning that any shoe designed to lock to the pedal will lock to any clipless pedal that is designed for a mountain bike.
Mountain bike shoes come in a few basic designs. Race cleats are the most aggressive style, featuring a rigid sole that is designed for performance racing situations. These shoes, while ideal for the rigors of professional mountain bike racing, are fairly uncomfortable to wear when not on the bike, and are somewhat awkward to walk in. They are also generally the most expensive type of cycling shoe you can buy. Downhill shoes are also designed for clipless pedals, but these shoes are designed more like a hiking boot and are made to be much more durable.
Mountain bike shoes also come in a hybrid design. These are made to resemble a more casual shoe, complete with a normal, flat sole. However, these shoes incorporate a removable section of the sole that hides a locking mechanism for a clipless pedal system. Hybrid shoes are much more comfortable to wear, even when not on your bike. Finally, there are the non-SPD designs. These shoes are designed strictly for use with a platform pedal, and will not work with clipless pedals.