Pedal Comfortably Uphill: A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Women’s Mountain Bike Shoes

December 14, 2021
womens mountain bike shoes

The world of mountain biking is a fun and challenging one. Whether you are just getting into it or have been riding for years, there are always new things to learn. As a rider, one of the most important pieces of equipment in your arsenal is your shoes. If you’re new, you may find it challenging to pick the right biking shoes or, at the very least, learn the difference among many kinds of biking shoes. 

If you want to know how to pick the right women’s mountain bike shoes for you or for someone you know, then this article will outline what you should look out for when buying mountain bike shoes, including the terms you want to be familiar with in the long run and tips on how to maintain them.

What are Mountain Bike Shoes for Women?

You can think of mountain bike (MTB) shoes as similar to football or baseball cleats. They are designed for wide feet with a rugged sole capable of gripping the dirt, mud, and rocks on your biking path. The soles also tend to be thicker than normal athletic sneakers, so they will protect your feet from getting caught between pedals or pedal cages if you fall off while cycling uphill.

There are shoes made for biking and other outdoor activities, but several shoes are solely made for biking. However, no particular type of shoe stands out from the rest. It all depends on your preference and your specific goal when using them.

Mountain Bike Shoe vs. Road Bike Shoe

MTB shoes tend to be bulkier than road bikes because they are designed for more stability during downhill rides. They have treads and sometimes have options for you to put in spikes for cyclocross bike racing or other activities that require going through rough terrain. The downside is that they can slow you down by adding weight and friction (in the form of moving parts) when cycling uphill, making it harder to pedal against gravity. That said, MTB shoes provide good support with their stiff soles and high durability in wet or muddy conditions.

Road biking shoes tend to be lighter but less stable during downhill rides. Thanks to their slim profile, they can transfer power faster through clipless pedals while providing adequate support on flat surfaces like pavement. There’s also a market for hybrid cycling shoe designs that attempt to combine features from both road bike and MTB shoes to create the best of both worlds.

Mountain Bike Shoe vs. Athletic Sneakers

Athletic sneakers are lightweight and fairly comfortable, which is why they make great cross-trainers for cycling on flat surfaces like pavement or long stretches on a treadmill at your local gym. However, their thin soles often don’t provide enough support or stability during downhill rides, which can result in injuries to your ankles and knees.

Mountain bikers who spin down steep trails will often wear sneaker-like shoes because they’re lightweight enough for uphill cycling but provide the necessary lateral grip needed by cyclists on uneven surfaces. They are also popular among cross country riders who go super fast on a single track.

Road cyclists tend to wear cycling shoes with stiffer soles for more power transfer during uphill biking, so they are often referred to as “racing” or “speed” shoes. These cycling shoes also provide good ankle support by locking your foot onto the pedal while delivering comfort and stability on flat surfaces like pavement.

Athletic sneakers that provide support when biking are good alternatives if you are not using a clipless pedal. They are one of the best options as women’s mountain bike shoes for flat pedals.

Why Cyclists Want Their Feet Attached to the Pedal

From an outsider’s point of view, keeping your feet on the pedal seems like a simple task. The idea of having your feet stick to the pedals seems terrifying or unnecessary. So, why do some riders prefer shoes that can be attached to pedals?

The main reason is that riding a bicycle, especially for a long period, is easier when your feet are securely attached to the pedals. This added comfort was supported when a french inventor named Clement Ader invented the primitive version of toe clips in 1868. Toe clips allowed a biker’s front foot to attach to the pedals easily with just a sliding motion. Today, toe clips and variations of this invention still exist. 

But how are these related to a mountain bike shoe? As evolution goes, new inventions provide the same comfort in a less bulky appearance. Clipless pedals are examples of the evolution of toe clips. They don’t provide straps for security, and they need to be paired with biking shoes with features specifically made for them. The next few paragraphs will explain the terms you need to know before you consider buying women’s clipless mountain bike shoes.

Knowing a few features and terms for road and mountain bike shoes is useful for making a wise purchase. Don’t worry, the list is not that long, and most are easy to remember.


Treads are the lugs or bumps on a tire that provide additional traction. They can be small and individualized, large and connected in a criss-cross pattern (like those found on hiking boots), or anything in between! Tread patterns also vary depending upon their use. Some treads work better for mud than they do rocks, so pay attention to what your path looks like before settling on one type of shoe with certain tread types.


A cleat is a piece of metal, plastic, or composite material that can be attached to the bottom of your shoe. The cleats are responsible for keeping you fastened to pedals when riding. They usually have two parts: one part attaches to one side of each foot, and the other part (usually referred to as “cleat covers”) can be attached to the bottom of your shoe for comfort and support.

Some cleats are designed with “float” or lateral play that allows you to move slightly from side to side within the pedals so as not to stress one leg over another during regular cycling motion. Other types have a fixed position, where there is no movement between the foot and pedal.

Clipless Pedals

Clipless pedals provide more power when biking uphill because they clip into your shoe, which allows you to use all 360 degrees of rotation with every pedal stroke instead of only half (180) if you’re wearing regular athletic sneakers. This means you can get more power from your legs by pushing downward during uphill climbs instead of just forward/backward, which is why clipless pedals are popular with road cyclists. 

Still, the downside is that they don’t offer much stability when riding downhill because there’s no way to lift your feet if you lose traction on a steep decline. When paired with mountain bike or road shoes, you can technically call clipless pedals clip-in since mountain bike shoes clip in and lock on the pedals.


Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) are pedals that require a specific type of shoe with the right cleats to be attached. The sleek design is made for road cyclists, but it also works well on mountain bikes when you want more grip and stability while cycling uphill. The SPD-SL are similar to SPDs, but the last two letters stand for Super Light. The key difference between SPD and SPD-SL is that one has floating cleats while the other doesn’t. Otherwise, they are very similar in style and purpose for cyclists.


Float is a small degree of lateral play between your cleat and pedal that allows you to move slightly from side to side within the pedals. This reduces stress on one leg or another, which can be particularly helpful if you have knee problems, such as runner’s knee (or IT band syndrome).

Power Transfer

Pedal smoothly when riding uphill by choosing shoes with power transfer or cleat engagement. Power transfer is the amount of energy you generate in pedaling that goes into forwarding motion instead of being lost through moving parts, friction, and other obstacles along the way. The more your feet are securely attached to pedals when mountain biking (or road biking), the more energy you can make.

MTB shoes provide the best power transfer because they secure attachment to the pedals (and your feet) during cycling.

Carbon Sole

Carbon fiber soles are lightweight, stiff, and expensive. They are usually found on high-end shoes designed for racing cyclists because they provide power transfer when cycling uphill while keeping weight low to the ground (which is important during downhill rides). In addition, carbon soles will last longer if you take care of them by not wearing down your cleats too much on the rubber soles of your athletic sneakers.

Adjustable Shoe Dial

Adjustable shoe dials are located on the front or back of each cycling shoe. Whether you want more comfort, stability, or power transfer during uphill biking, they allow you to tighten or loosen your foot within its snug fit. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to adjustable shoes because everyone has different preferences for their riding styles, so go experiment with different dial settings to see what works best for you. They do tend to be on the pricier side, but if you want ultimate comfort, you may need to invest in getting the best women’s mountain bike shoes for your feet.

How to Keep Women’s Clipless MTB  Shoes Clean and Fresh

A neat trick to keep the inside of your shoes clean and fresh is to keep a pack of dryer sheets when you go biking. It would be best to stuff a few sheets inside your shoes after using them and putting them aside. This method will guarantee even cheap mountain bike shoes will smell expensive even after a few wears.


Road, MTB, and athletic shoes are all made to serve different types of comfort. The best way to know which suits you is to try it on and test it for a spin. Of course, you do need to consider what kind of bicycle you have when picking the kind of shoe that fits it. If you are on the lookout for a specific type of bike that fits the kind of biking style you want to try along with your new shoes, here is a mountain bike buying guide that could help you.

For more biking accessories such as clothes like the women’s mountain bike jersey, or more articles about biking shoes themselves, be sure to browse through our blogs.

Cycle Buddy

Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsumquia Neque porro quisquamest qui dolorem ipsumquia
About Us
Contact Us
Terms Of Service
Affiliate Disclosure
Privacy Policy

Subscribe to our newsletter

Newsletter Form (#3)
menu-circlearrow-up-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram