Condensed answer: Road cleats use a three-bolt mounting system whereas MTB cleats rely on a two-bolt one. MTB shoes reflect that difference. To install road cleats on MTB shoes, one will need an MTB to road cleats adapter. Those are very rare and difficult to find.
Differences Between Road and MTB Cleats
Road and MTB cleats have the same function but share many design differences, namely:
- Size and Attachment Points
Road cleats are larger than MTB cleats. This is one of the reasons why they require the use of three rather than two bolts to attach them to a set of cycling shoes.
Conversely, MTB cleats are smaller and thus require only two bolts for attaching to cycling shoes.
Road bike cleats stick out of the sole when installed on a road shoe. In different, MTB shoes have a recessive sole and thus MTB cleats are hidden.
This is another reason why it’s not possible to install road cleats directly on MTB shoes – the cleats are not only non-compatible with the mounting system, but they’re also too large for the embedment spot found on the sole of MTB shoes.
It’s also worth mentioning that the soles of MTB shoes have large treads that can also interfere with road cleats even if the mounting systems of MTB and road shoes were identical.
The purpose of the recessed design and the treads is to allow MTB riders to get off the bike and push it while walking comfortably on off-road surfaces (hence the need for the aggressive tread on the soles). Since this is a frequent occurrence on MTB terrain, the function is a necessity.
Conversely, road cyclists don’t get off the bike as frequently during a ride. For that reason, road shoes don’t have to be super comfortable for walking and the designers can instead focus on making them as efficient as possible. Hence why road shoes have flat soles with protruding cleats.
MTB to Road Cleats Adapters
The only way to make road cleats compatible with MTB shoes is to use an adapter that converts SPD (MTB) cleats to SPD-SL (road) cleats.
Such adapters are extremely rare because there’s little demand for them.
Most people are looking to do the opposite – to install MTB cleats on road shoes.
Consequently, one can find a great variety of SPD-SL to SPD cleat adapters. The reverse adapters, however, are not available widely.
Combining MTB shoes with road pedals is simply not a practical thing to do. As already mentioned, the main advantage of MTB shoes is that they have recessive cleats. If you install road cleats on them, the cleats will no longer be recessive. Thus, the shoes will be hard to walk in.
Or in other words, you will be getting the worse of both words – the shoes won’t be as efficient as standard road models, but you also won’t be able to comfortably walk around.
What To Do Instead?
Truth be told, the most logical approach is to abandon the idea of using road cleats with MTB shoes and follow one of the following paths:
- Go full MTB
If you’re trying to combine road cleats with MTB shoes, it means that that you have road pedals and MTB shoes.
Thus, you can simply buy SPD (MTB) pedals and use them with your existing shoes. SPD pedals are fairly affordable. Plus, the combination will give you the benefits of MTB shoes (the ability to walk without discomfort).
- Go full Road Mode
The other option is to purchase road shoes and use them with your existing pedals. Road shoes aren’t super cheap, especially if you go for high-end models, but they will make your pedaling efforts more efficient and eliminate the need to deal with annoying converters.
FAQ: Can I use MTB cleats with Road Shoes?
You can use MTB cleats with road shoes. To do that, you have to install SPD-SL to SPD adapters on your road shoes. As already explained, those are commonly available at many stores.
SPD-SL to SPD adapters are often criticized because they further increase the distance between the shoes and the pedals.
By using adapters, one is also introducing another part to the chain that can possibly wear out and cause problems. Also, some people don’t like the aesthetics of adapters on road shoes. And as we all know, looks in cycling are almost as important as pedaling.
That said, combining SPD cleats with road shoes has an advantage too. As you can see in the image above, the adapters have two side walls surrounding the cleat. Those walls act as a protector for the cleat by isolating it from the ground. As a result, it’s easier to walk, and the chance of damaging the cleats is much smaller.