Are Trail Running Shoes Good for Mountain Biking?


You’re about to pedal your way into the world of mountain biking, but you’re worried you might not have the necessary gear to get you started. Do you need a special pair of shoes or can you use your trail running shoes?

If you’re a beginner, it is acceptable to use trail running shoes for mountain biking with platform pedals. They will provide the support and protection you need for low-impact riding while giving you traction to navigate treacherous terrain.

However, while it may seem savvy to use the same pair of shoes for multiple activities, mountain biking (or MTB) shoes have been designed and made for a reason and will undoubtedly make a difference the more you get into the sport.

Pros And Cons Of Trail Running Shoes For Mountain Biking

So, the good news is that you don’t have to go out and buy yourself yet another pair of shoes if you’re new to mountain biking. But, like anything, sometimes it pays to specialize and get gear specific to your activity.

Let’s look at some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Comfort – Trail running shoes are lightweight and usually pretty comfortable.
  • Ease of use – Some shoes are specialized for clipless pedals–if you are just using your trail running shoes you’ll easily be able to hop off your bike mid-ride and walk off to a viewpoint for a photo without having to change out of your specialized cycling shoes.
  • Convenience – One shoe that does it all means that you won’t clutter your house with tons of footwear
  • Saving Money – Mountain biking shoes can range from $50 to $150+–it’s nice to be able to forego yet another gear purchase.

Cons:

  • Support – Trail running shoes are great for support around your ankle, but they are made flexible underfoot to allow for the bending and movement of your foot. This suits a runner, but not a cyclist. Trail running shoes won’t provide the proper support at the base of the foot, which needs to be solid and relatively inflexible to spread your weight as you come crashing down on your pedals (or the ground) while riding on rough terrain.
  • Water Resistance – Trail running shoes often don’t make any attempt to prevent your feet from getting wet. Even “waterproof” trail running shoes are low cut, so one step in a river will give you a soggy shoe for the rest of your run. If you’re mountain biking you can get away with heavier more waterproof shoes if you need them.
  • Tread – The treading on a trail running shoe is grippy and perfect for dirt and rocks, but not in a way that perfeclt suits mountain biking. The trail running shoe has a rather large, deep impression (instead of being a flat surface). The ridges on these shoes don’t sit too well on a flat pedal, and the shoes can more easily slip, resulting in an excruciating bite to the shins from your pedals.
  • Damage – Flat pedals are designed to really grip your shoes and can shred the lugs of your trail running shoe.

Which Type Of Mountain Biking Works With Trail Running Shoes?

Mountain biking is actually a pretty broad term–as many go mountain biking when there aren’t any mountains to speak of.

If you’re mountain biking with platform pedals in conditions where your feet will be on the ground and on the pedals interchangeably, any type of running shoes can work in a pinch.

Trail running shoes have the added benefit of having more traction. Sometimes you’ll be using your feet to kick the ground to stabilize yourself on rough trails and using shoes with traction can make a big difference there.

However, if you’re mountain biking in muddy or cold and wet conditions, you may want more substantive mountain biking shoes that will protect your feet from water and cold.

Furthermore, if you’re doing a long ride and you need to be as efficient as possible, then clipless pedals with specialized mountain biking shoes are a better option.

TL;DR: Trail running shoes work for mountain biking during short rides in dry or mostly dry conditions with platform pedals when you will be using your feet to balance on the ground.

Which Other Shoes Are Suitable For Mountain Biking?

Aside from the dedicated MTB shoes, are there any other shoes you could use for mountain biking? It turns out that some people have found a happy medium without buying a specific MTB shoe.

If you skate, then your skate shoes might be a comfortable fit for your mountain bike. Many people stand by Vans as their startup MTB shoe, but these are generally for short-distance riding or use in bike parks, where you’ll be dismounting a lot.

Skate shoes have a grippy tread which maximizes surface connection on the pedal. The downside is that they probably don’t provide enough protection for your feet–this is totally fine for some trails, but for others, you want something that has material strong enough to withstand stabbing branches and flying stones.

Some people even use their tennis shoes for mountain biking, which also have plenty of grip. However, tennis shoes may also be too flexible and won’t provide good enough support for mountain biking.

The bottom line: don’t go out and buy these alternatives if you don’t already have them! If you’re a beginner, use what you’ve got and save up for better shoes in the future. Anything with a small, grippy tread that provides decent protection to your foot will do. Standard sneakers are a good starting point but by no means the perfect shoe for mountain biking.

What Exactly Is A Mountain Bike Shoe?

Let’s talk about a dedicated MTB shoe. What should you look for if you want to invest in some specific footwear for the sport?

It would be best to look for a shoe with a grippy tread, but not ridged like a trail running shoe, so that it sits flat on the pedal and has as much contact with the pedal surface as possible. You’ll want a shoe that keeps your feet stable, with solid support around the ankles to help when you need to put your feet down in the tricky sections.

Water-resistance is a bonus, as you’ll often get covered in mud and water on the trail, and there’s not much that’s worse than getting cold feet during a ride. Mountain biking shoes also generally feature a lace-less system to avoid laces getting clogged up with mud or, worse, caught in the drivetrain resulting in a sticky situation.

For many people, the Adidas Five Tens are the go-to MTB shoe on flat pedals. They’re grippy, strong, and comfortable enough to transition from the bike to everyday life easily. You won’t need to cycle around with a change of shoes in your backpack. They are also excellent shoes for riding technical trails and sending jumps. However, if you’re into long-distance or cross-country riding, then you might consider changing not only your shoes but your pedals too.

Furthermore, there are different mountain bike shoes that are specialized for clipless pedals.

Clipless Vs. Platform Pedals

There are two basic styles of pedals: flat/platform pedals and clipless pedals.

Flat pedals are the standard pedal that comes with your first bike. They are wide and flat to let most shoes sit comfortably on their surface. You can upgrade your flat pedals though, and the better types are wider still and provide more traction for your shoes. They often come with pins to wedge your shoes into place. This is the most common pedal for downhill mountain bikers and recreational cyclists.

The clipless pedal has a weird name; a specially designed shoe has a plastic or metal piece on its base called a cleat, which clips into a reciprocal “clipless” pedal. The benefit of this system is that you won’t have your feet slipping off the pedals over rough ground, and it allows for more efficient use of energy in your legs as you’ll be able to ‘pull’ and push on the pedals as you go.

An example of a clipless pedal and its corresponding shoe

Clipless pedals require pairing compatible pedals and shoes, so do your research and make sure you buy the right set. It’s pretty obvious if you’re inspecting in-person, and the shop attendants in your local bike store should be able to help if you’re stuck.

It isn’t recommended that beginner mountain bikers use clipless pedals, as the thought of being mechanically locked onto your bike is quite daunting and will take some getting used to. Instead, take the time to gain confidence on your new bike, find your balance over technical ground, and then look into clipless pedals.

By the way, they’re only called clipless because they were brought out to replace a previous version of pedals called toe-clip pedals!

Conclusion

Hopefully, by now you know which mountain biking shoes are right for you. If you are a newbie, use your regular trail running shoes if those are all you’ve got, and don’t buy MTB shoes yet. Rather go out in normal shoes and get a feel for the trails and your bike at first.

You can always purchase MTB-specific shoes once you’re hooked! If you’re a daredevil looking to go big on the jumps, look at the MTB shoes with platform pedals to get the right amount of grip and easy detachment when you need it. Finally, if you’re a long-distance cyclist, give clipless pedals a look; they offer more efficiency and don’t take long to get used to. Just remember to learn to use them on soft ground!

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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