Indoor vs. Outdoor Cycling Shoes

Do you really need special shoes for indoor cycling?

Whether you are riding in the beautiful outdoors or frequenting your favorite indoor cycling class, specialized equipment is available to maximize your riding experience. 

What is an indoor and an outdoor cycling shoe?

  • Indoor cycling shoes are crafted to fulfill indoor cycling demands and connect to the specific pedals used.
  • In contrast, outdoor cycling shoes are designed to accommodate riders based on the environmental factors, and potential terrain riders might encounter.

Do you need special shoes for Spinning© or indoor cycling classes? 

If you are looking to push yourself harder, get better results, and decrease the chance of injuries, then the answer is yes! Shoes designed for a specific sport will have advantages, but it is a real game-changer for indoor cycling

indoor vs outdoor cycling shoes featured

Indoor Cycling Shoes Benefits vs. Outdoor 

There are a multitude of differences between indoor and outdoor cycling shoes. We will examine the differences and the superior benefits of using an indoor cycling shoe for an indoor cycling class.

Pedal Comfort

The pedals located on the vast majority of indoor bikes are generally made to accommodate riders using toes-cages or SPD spin shoes. Because of the flat pedal design, indoor cycling shoes are equipped with a hard, smooth bottom. The firmness of the indoor cycling shoe’s sole provides increased comfort compared to shoes that do not include a stiff sole. Outdoor cycling shoes usually have a semi-flexible sole that can make the flat pedal of an indoor cycling bike less comfortable as the pedal base will be felt across the arch of a softer soled shoe.

Better Riding Form

Indoor cycling shoes were made to encourage better riding form. Better riding forms allows for a significant reduction in injuries. Due to the indoor cycling shoe’s design that incorporates the understanding that the rider will be in the same position for an extended period of time, the snug fit and rigid sole allows for better positioning of the foot and ankle. Since the leg is a kinetic chain, this also increases knee health as well. 

Pedal Power

Indoor cycling shoes allow the rider to transfer their power directly into the 360-degree pedal stroke. Since indoor cycling shoes are designed to connect to the pedal, riders can pull the pedal in an upward motion at the back of the pedal stroke. The ability to be able to push and pull allows for more power and better results. I tell my riders that are not wearing clips to “push in the front and recover in the back,” as regular shoes do not allow for the upward pulling motion at the back of the pedal stroke. If looking to maximize your workout and engage more muscles during your pedal stroke, an indoor cycling shoe is necessary.

Tread

Since the pedal is flat on an indoor cycling bike, many outdoor shoes cannot be used for indoor classes. In my almost twenty years of being a certified SPINNING© Instructor, I have seen my share of students that attempt to use their outdoor cycling shoes for class. Unfortunately, often their shoe is not compatible with the bike pedal. Since outdoor shoes, mostly trail and mountain biking shoes, are created for the rider to get off their bike in different terrains they encounter while out on a ride, they include a more generous amount of tread. The tread is often located around the clip area, which hinders the shoe from clicking into the indoor cycle pedal system. 

Careful consideration has also been taken into making it, so indoor shoes are slip-resistant when off the bike. Indoor cycling shoes are specifically designed to decrease the chance of falling on smooth surfaces, often wood or tile. This gives indoor cycling shoes an advantage when using them in an indoor setting. 

Sole

The flexibility of the sole between an indoor cycling shoe and that found outdoors is one of the most significant differences. Indoor shoes are more rigid and provide less flexibility when compared to their outdoor counterparts. Due to the various materials that comprise the sole of an indoor cycling shoe, different price points are available, making them more accessible to riders. 

The sole of an indoor cycling shoe can include three different materials: plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber soles are the most expensive and provide the stiffest sole. Plastic soles are found to be the most affordable but also include the most flexibility. Fiberglass soles are located in the middle of these two options based on the sole’s price and flexibility. The sole’s stiffness is crucial for indoor cycling, so a dedicated indoor cycling shoe is a better option when riding an indoor cycling bike.  

Weight

Indoor cycling shoes are known to be a little heavier than outdoor road biking shoes. However, compared to mountain biking shoes that weigh approximately 850 grams, indoor cycling shoes weigh a little less than half coming in at about 400 grams. This is due to the type of materials that indoor cycling shoes are often constructed of, including the various sole materials that we discussed earlier. Indoor cycling shoes that include a carbon fiber sole will be the lightest of the indoor cycling options.

Breathability

Since indoor riders do not have to worry about environmental factors such as wind, rain, and mud, the design components are different for indoor shoes. Indoor cycling shoes offer great breathability as they are designed to keep the foot cool. It is not uncommon to find mesh panels located throughout the shoe design for proper venting. 

An outdoor cycling shoe is designed to withstand the changing elements that riders experience during a ride, and therefore their design is more concerned with keeping the rider’s foot dry than cool. Outdoor shoes provide some breathability but are lacking when compared to indoor options.

Can I ride my indoor trainer or exercise bike in a regular sports shoe?

Yes, you can ride your indoor trainer or exercise bike in a regular sports shoe, but the workout will be substantially different and not as effective as if you had a dedicated cycling shoe. When riders wear a basic sneaker, they will usually use a toe-cage to help secure their foot in place. Although the toe-cage does tighten to help try to secure the shoe, there is still a large amount of mobility in the shoe, being able to wiggle from side-to-side. If a rider tends to ride with their knees not driving forward, the extra movement that the toe-cages allow can exacerbate knee joint pain during class and post-ride.

What to Remember Before You Buy a Pair of Indoor Cycling Shoes

One of the most critical aspects to remember when getting ready to purchase a pair of indoor cycling shoes is first determining what type of pedal system you will be using. If you are buying shoes for your indoor cycling bike at home, you can select the pedal choice, but this is not an option in a gym environment, so researching what pedal system they use will be beneficial. SPD clips are the most common in a gym setting, but it is vital to make sure that they do not have a different type. 

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you need to select the shoes dedicated to the sport or activity you engage in for maximum performance. If you are looking for a shoe for indoor cycling specifically, it is essential to select one that fits properly and is compatible with the pedal system you will be using. Indoor cycling shoes are an excellent investment and will help take your workout to the next level.

Katie Pierson

Katie is the creator of MT Girl Fitness and has been a certified fitness professional for almost twenty years. She currently holds ten different fitness certifications, including Group Fitness, Spinning Elite, Rockstar Spinning, and Personal Training. Fitness is her passion, and she loves seeing her clients reach goals they never imagined.