Mountain Bike Cleats Vs. Road Bike Cleats

By Rachel Lee
Published on
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Comparing mountain bike cleats and road bike cleats may present confusion. Knowing which to select for your bike can be troubling, too. Today’s expert blog post will help you.

As your cycling experience evolves, you become aware of the value of clipless pedals. You notice that there are two popular types of pedal systems, which are mountain and road.

But which is right for you? Should you choose mountain cleats or road cleats? What are the differences?

Discover those answers by reading further.

Mountain Bike CleatsRoad Bike Cleats
Two boltsThree bolts
Multi-way pedalsOne-way pedals
Versatile shoesAwkward shoes
Tolerates gunkTolerates less
Road-bike friendlyRoad bikes only
More durableMore about speed

Cycling Cleats Are Not All the Same

LOOK Keo Grip Road Cleats

You might have someone in your life who thinks differentiating between gear types is silly. They probably think all bikes are alike. Meanwhile, you know better.

You clearly understand that your gear choice directly affects the quality of your rides. Subsequently, you know that cycling cleats are not all alike. If they were, mountain bikers and road cyclists would use the same cleats, and this article would stop right here.

Mountain Bike Bicycle Cleat Set

Bicycle cleats vary, and one essential way is by purpose. For example, a mountain bike’s cleat should be versatile and rugged, and a road bike’s cleat should be light and rigid. Each type of cleat is constructed with those aspects in mind.

As a result, we generally advise mountain bikers to use mountain cleats and road cyclists to use road cleats. Still, this subject contains nuances, which we will detail along with other important information.

Helpful Bicycling Cleat Tips

Some of these tips will help you shop for the right bike cleats. Others will assist with using them. All are beneficial.

1. Different Cleat Types Are Simply Different Takes on the Same Technology

Today’s road bike cleats are still based on the game-changing clipless pedal system Look introduced in 1984. They employ a purpose-built shoe and a three-bolt cleat that can only attach to one side of their compatible pedal.

Road bike pedals maximize the transference of the rider’s energy. If you’ve already tried out a clipless system, you likely noticed that it enables you to push and pull your cycle’s pedals. That effect is obviously unattainable using a conventional, platform pedal.

As the mountain bike subculture grew in the 1980s, riders began adapting road bike advancements to their mountain rigs. Clipless pedal systems were a natural item of interest.

Importantly, a road bike’s shoes are too rigid and awkward for single-trail rides. Additionally, road bike pedal systems are not forgiving enough for long, intense mountain bike rides. That’s as true today as it was in the 80s.

Fortunately, bike-component giant Shimano saw the need for a mountain-friendly pedal system. In 1990, it introduced its SPD system.

Short for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, this system uses a two-bolt cleat instead of Look’s three-bolt setup. It also includes a symmetrical pedal that lets you click into the pedal’s two widest sides.

SPD was a hit. That fact remains true.

2. You Don’t Have to Be a Bike Cleat Pioneer

For most riders, the question of road cleats versus mountain cleats was answered by the end of the 20th century. Now, you do not need to pedal pioneer. You can simply pick the cleat system that matches your bicycle’s classification.

Of course, the world needs oddities, so feel free to create a mismatched bike that stirs your soul. The rest of us will be interested in your results.

3. For Most Riders, this Comparison Is Unnecessary

You might have arrived at the question of whether to select mountain cleats or road cleats out of impulse. It’s unneeded.

If you ride a mountain bike, trust us, you will be happier with the versatility of two-bolt mountain biking cleats. On a road bike, you will get more responsiveness out of a road pedal system.

Some riders like the versatility of mountain pedal systems on other types of bikes, and we’ll discuss that further later.

4. You Should Choose a Category and Compare within It

Rather than pit mountain bike cleats against road bike cleats, we suggest an alternative method. Mountain riders should compare the features and benefits of different clipless mountain bike pedal models.

If you’re a road cyclist, you should generally weigh road pedal systems against each other.

5. If You Ride a Commuter Bike, You’ll Probably Prefer Mountain Cleats

Commuting cyclists form a key group in this conversation. Your bike might feature narrow tires combined with a frame geometry that resembles a mountain bike’s. Probably, you don’t want to click into unforgiving road pedals. We recommend that you put a friendlier mountain system on your city cycle.

The above commentary also holds for riders of hybrids or crossbikes. Of course, if you own a road bike already, you’ll save money on mountain shoes and cleats if you simply put road pedals on your second bike.

6. One Class of Rider Should always Pick Road Cleats

Are you serious about road cycling? Does road racing call your spirit?

If you answered affirmatively, we entreat you to select a cleat system built for road bikes. Clipless road pedals’ three-prong cleats and rigid soles are lighter than mountain systems. They also convey energy more easily.

Experts and intermediates already understand these facts. If you’re a beginner road cyclist interested in standing on a podium one day, take our advice. Use road pedals and cleats. You’ll fly!

7. For More Performance, Pay More

Whether you choose mountain or road cleats, we urge you not to put price first. Regarding bicycles, that tactic never creates excellence. Often, it leads to your bicycle turning into a piece of sculpture or even a rack for drying your clothes.

While you might find pedal value at a mid-range price, you will not find a compelling level of performance a an entry-level figure. We want you to fall in love with your pedal system. That’s the only way to ensure your desire to keep riding.

8. Road Pedals Aren’t the Best Option for a Mountain Bike

We’ve touched on this elsewhere, but we want to clearly state it here. If you can, we hope you’ll avoid a pedal system based on road cleats if you ride a mountain bike.

Clipless pedal systems for road bikes require shoes and cleats that hinder the normal human walking stride. That becomes important when you have to hop off your mountain bike to carry it across a busy stream. Road shoes and slippery rocks are a risky pair.

Of course, if you already own a road bike and don’t plan extreme rides on your new mountain bike, using road cleats on can make sense. We understand the idea of saving a little money on extra mountain cleats, shoes and pedals.

9. Mountain Pedals Are Very Realistic on a Road Bike

Let’s flip the previous tip’s scenario. If you already own a fully outfitted mountain bike, it’s reasonable to use your pedalling system on a road bike.

Doing so will save you money on new pedals cleats and shoes. It will also help you transition to road rides without the risk and fear that can initially accompany using a clipless road system.

Road bike Shoes

Additionally, some recreational cyclists place mountain systems on their road machines.

They are more concerned with comfort and easier release than lightness and speed. In fact, multiple brands produce road shoes that use Shimano’s two-bolt, SPD system instead of a conventional, three-bolt system.

If that type of road shoe intrigues you, we encourage you to learn about them. They’re high-quality, reliable pieces.

Road Or MTB Pedals – Which Should You Choose?

How to Give Your Bicycle Cleats Longevity

Please note that, no matter the cleats you choose, they are susceptible to wear and tear.

As a result, they will eventually break.

We can help you get the longest lifespan out of your cleat setup.

First, keep them clean. Dirt, grime, and dampness are the enemies of cycling gear. Rather than lose your cleats and pedals to breakage early, spray them with water.

Alternatively, you can wipe them with a damp cloth.

Afterward, dry your geat.

Annually, you should have your pedal system serviced by your go-to bike shop.

Make this service part of your periodic tune-up.

All of this advice is doubly true for mountain bike cleats and their adjacent systems.

Related Questions

Why Do Bike Cleats Wear Out?

Like everything on your mountain bike or road cycle, bike cleats wear out due to usage and time. As you ride, your shoes, cleats and pedals interact.

They rub against each other. This friction causes wear, and wear leads to breakage. Also, time causes rust and brittleness. Those lead to broken cleats, pedals and shoes.

Do not worry about that.

Everything ends. Replace them when it’s time, and get back on your bike!

Which Cleats Should You Choose if You Have Multiple Bike Types?

This question’s answer depends on your situation. It can hinge on which style of the bike came first or which kind you ride the most.

If you are an intense road rider, you will ideally choose to invest in both types of cleats. You’ll go hard on your road bike with the perfect road pedal setup, and you’ll have the flexibility of mountain cleats when you hop on your mountain bike. Ultimately, this question requires a personal, thoughtful answer.

See Also:
Do You Need Special Shoes for Peloton?
Why are Cycling Shoes So Expensive?
Why Are Road Bike Tires So Thin?
6 Best Toe Clip Pedals for Road Bikes