You can ride a bike in any type of shoe. But those who ride often get the biggest benefits from investing in a specific cycling shoe. Compared to typical athletic shoes, both road shoes and trail bike shoes are designed with stiffer carbon soles, heel cups and superior arch support. These elements provide a more efficient energy transfer as you pedal. They come in a variety of styles for all levels of riders.
The best shoes depend on the type of activity they’re needed for. For road cycling and racing, a stiffer, lightweight, road shoe with a carbon sole and wider, protruding cleats that clip into the pedal like a ski binding ensures smooth pedaling efficiency. These are not designed for extended walking with their relative lack of traction, stiff arch support, inability to flex and pedal-specific closure systems.
Most cycling road shoes use a 3-hole or 2-hole cleat closure system. For mountain biking, or slightly more casual riding, the shoe should be less stiff, have a more lugged exterior for easier walking when the trail gets too rough to ride, and have recessed cleats to protect them when walking. Some versions even offer toe spikes, heel cups, extra ankle protection, and waterproof liners for more rugged conditions. Mountain bike shoes utilize the 2-hole cleat system and also require compatible pedals. City bike shoes are best for urban, recreational, or indoor cycling. They are a hybrid of trainers/gym shoes and cycling shoes with a clipless pedal system, but have rubber soles and recessed cleats for even easier walking.