Road cycling is all about power transfer and efficiency, so shoes made for road riders and racers are extremely stiff, sleek and lightweight. The cleat systems used on these shoes are often large to create a wide pedaling platform, which increases power transfer and helps prevent foot fatigue at high performance levels. Road shoes are optimally designed for a wide variety of racing, touring and fitness exercises; however, they are difficult to walk in, require precise cleat placement and shoe fit, and are less beginner-friendly than other shoe types.
Mountain bike shoes are incredibly varied in design and function. Most mountain shoes are based on one of several cleat systems designed to shed dirt and withstand harsh impacts. These cleat designs are generally recessed into the shoe, providing a stable walking platform for those who would rather not be splay-footed off the bike. Mountain shoes themselves also provide a wide range of options for cyclists, from super-stiff, mud-cleated racing shoes, to sneaker-like designs for the commuter.
Triathletes have special needs in cycling shoes. They must be able to put on their shoes quickly with little or no adjustment yet require advanced performance similar to a road racing shoe. The result is a stiff sole and lightweight upper closed by one or two strips of Velcro. While these shoes are excellent for the triathlete, they are not as practical for long-riding cyclists, who need precise control over shoe fit and often make small adjustments on the fly.
Touring shoes are often considered to be in the road category, but they offer many hybrid features designed for the long-riding, sight-seeing cyclist. Most provide moderately stiff soles for effective power transfer in hilly areas, yet remain pliable enough for comfortable walking at rest stop and aid stations. Recessed cleat designs and mountain-compatible cleat mounts round out the touring shoe's walking abilities.