Best Mountain Bike Shoes Reviewed for Performance
Riding a bike is exhilarating and great for your health, but mountain biking is another level of riding, and much more demanding. Studies have proven that cycling can boost your mental and cognitive abilities, and paired that with the outdoors has endless benefits mentally and physically. You just need to be properly prepared, and prep work is crucial before hitting the trails with your bike. Using a cycling machine in the gym simply cannot compare to riding a bicycle in the open, particularly a mountain bike through the trails.
When cycling, what you have on your feet is one of the most important things to put into consideration. Your feet do most of the work and need to be able to grip the pedals. Should you need to come off the bike and carry it, you need shoes that can handle the trail terrain. Consequently, if you have on shoes that are uncomfortable or unsupportive, the riding experience can and will be terrible. A mountain bike is an intricate bicycle that has numerous supportive feature that ease the ride, but you need to be geared up properly, regardless. For example, the foot pedals are constructed to provide adequate support and grip to and for riders foot motion. To get maximum efficiency and support from the pedals, the rider should have shoes that have adequate grip and traction, provide ample ankle support and have excellent cushioning for the constant pressure put on the feet.
- Five Ten Freerider
- Stealth® S1™ Outsole
- Mavic Crossride Elite
- Five Ten Hell Cat
- Stealth S1 outsole
Finding such a shoe is quite difficult and time-consuming, but there are great options out there. There are two types of cycling shoes-clipless and flat pedal shoes. Clipless shoes are attached to the pedal using a cleat and ratchet. The flat pedal shoes have adequate grip and flat outsoles. We’ve conducted the in-depth research regarding the best type of shoes for mountain biking, saving you time and effort so you can get the shoes you need and get out there. Every shoe on this list has been tested for endurance, overall performance on the trail and are ranked according to thousand of wear-tester feedback.
15 Best Mountain Bike Shoes
1. Five Ten Freerider Pro
You can’t any more grip than the one delivered by a carefully designed S1 rubber sole. The fully-dotted sole makes sure your feet stay on the pedals at all times, preventing sliding and slippage no matter how forceful the landings are. Furthermore, the highly resistant rubber-like material is guaranteed to last you a considerable amount of downhills. This outsole will help you blend into one with your mountain bike.
Breathable and quick-drying
The totally synthetic upper build counts with its traditional breathing features, ensuring your feet get the ventilation they need. Downhill can turn into a mess real quick, which is why these synthetic compounds are extremely easy to wash and clean. Furthermore, the quick-drying material makes liquids a much smaller obstacle when performing MTB. At the same time, the durable and abrasion-resistant material continues to provide upper foot protection.
The Freerider Pro has a very similar value to the Impact XVi. This individual product is exactly on the average value of the list, which means it’s a great deal considering we’re talking about the best equipment available. Although it’s not something new MTB riders may be willing to pay for, experienced riders will know you can only get this much quality for such price.
Very easy to clean
The upper build dries quickly
Excellent pedal grip
Lighter than its predecessor
Sticky outsole is uncomfortable for casual wear
Mavic Crossride Elite
The stiff plate of cross-country shoes has a very important purpose: to efficiently transfer the power from your feet to the pedals in order to achieve explosiveness. The Crossride Elite is no exception to this seeing that the energy grip trail outsole delivers a completely reliable grip on your pedal, both on the road and on the trail. The outsole is then contoured by a contagrip coating that enhances traction to its maximum regardless of where you take your bike.
If you haven’t stepped on an OrthoLite insole, you’ll probably feel like you’ve been using shoes wrong your whole life. The Ergo Fit OrthoLite insole is utterly comfortable and counts with the necessary features for elite-level XC performance. An integrated cushioning system helps relieve some of the stress that would normally affect the underfoot and heel. An additional benefit is the fact that these shoes are suited for wide feet as well.
Cost and Value
The Crossride Elite offers quite a deal for its value; considering you’re getting access to the performance level of professional athletes, we’ll dare to say it’s a good bang for your buck. Synthetic materials and nanotechnology optimize your performance and take it to the next level while sustaining a considerable amount of use without presenting any visual degradations. Aside from being extremely efficient, this shoe is also one of the best values on the list.
- Variety of colors to choose from
- Extremely comfortable and light
- Reliable trail grip
- Suitable for wide feet cyclers
- Hook and loop and laces combination
- Unscrewing the cleats is difficult
- Outsole is not durable enough
Giro Empire VR90
On the bottom of the Empire VR90 lies an Easton carbon fiber EC90 sole. It’s not only light but actually the lightest and stiffest of Easton’s carbon fiber soles. The Mont outsole by Vibram is then used to contour the carbon fiber, enhancing its sturdiness and improving the grip. Thanks to this, the carbon lasts much longer and you’re able to walk in these shoes.
SuperNatural Fit Kit Insoles
Normally, you don’t see any further equipment included with the purchase of a pair of cross-country shoes. But the Giro Empire VR90 is not like every other XC shoe out there; the included insole kit helps anybody fit into this pair. The completely adjustable insole can be set between three different arch levels: low, medium, and high arches. Personalization doesn’t really get any better than this.
Cost and Value
If you’re considering elite-level competition, then you can opt for nothing less than the best equipment out there. However, professional performance never comes cheap. The level of performance offered by the Empire VR90 goes undoubted, but its utterly hefty price tag may make multiple users reconsider their level of commitment. If you’re looking for the absolute best technology, this is your pair, but be ready to pay for it.
- Included SuperNatural Fit Kit insoles
- Carbon fiber sole
- Vibram Mont outsole
- Efficient and user-friendly lacing system
- Insole arch height customization
- Considerably costly
- Not suitable for wide feet
SIDI Dominator 7
Bulky and heavy technology is a thing of the past; SIDI knows this, which is why the Dominator 7 focuses on micro-technology. The microfibra is a material that, aside from being eco-friendly and water-repellent, delivers unique feats of resistance, stability, lightness, and transpirability. The Water-Tech treatment given during the manufacturing process protects your feet from any liquid. The low environmental impact and less toxic emissions into the ecosystem are beneficial to both the user and the environment.
Soft Instep Closure
A closure that resembles the anatomic shape of the foot is exactly what you need to achieve the most support and responsiveness. This design follows the anatomic curvature of the upper foot combined with an utterly comfortable thermo-formed EVA pad. This pad helps distribute pressure much more evenly around the instep zone to prevent points of acute stress in your feet. The closure system can be adjusted from both sides to lower, raise, or center the EVA pad.
Cost and Value
The Dominator series has never been the cheapest pair of mountain bike shoes out there, but it hasn’t been the most expensive one either. Reaching above the average value of the list, however, you should expect to pay a bit more. The SIDI Dominator 7 delivers a satisfactory level of optimal performance and has a level of functionality which is certainly worth every cent.
- Highly comfortable
- Effective soft instep closure
- Eco-friendly construction
- Adjustable EVA pad
- Easily gets dirty
- Slightly higher cost
The Shimano SH-AM9 knows no limit to sole stiffness, delivering just as much rigidness as you may need. However, the fiberglass reinforcement on the shank plate achieves much more than just making it stiffer. Aside from exponentially increasing the resistance and durability of the shank, it improves the transfer of energy from your feet to the pedals. This allows you to pedal faster and with much more power.
Outsole Pedal Channel
A pedal channel located in the outsole increases the stability of the shoe as a platform between the build and the pedal when they’re not clipped together. This provides you with the stability and customization you need to achieve the most optimal performance whether you’re using clips or riding flat. The ultra-grippy rubber sole counts with traction tread on the toe/heel for further control over the pedal.
Cost and Value
Whether you’re an entry-level rider or an avid and consistent cycler, the SH-AM9 has the right features for you. These shoes rank average on this list when it comes to cost, and provide an excellent cost-to-performance ratio. The quality and durability of this shoe is not something you have to worry about and it certainly won’t need any replacement soon.
- Reinforced shank
- Pedal chanel in outsole
- Excellent value
- Very comfortable
- Very lightweight
- Not easy to put on and off
- Run about 1 size small
6. Five Ten Impact VXi
The Impact VXi features yet the softest, most comfortable and stickiest rubber produced by Five Ten, the Stealth Mi6 rubber. This compound was designed while thinking of flat pedal MTB riders seeking the benefits of using platform pedals without sacrificing the enhanced grip of performance clips. The rubber sole is complemented further by a compression molded insole that tops off comfort and protection.
Lighter upper build
A completely new upper build design reduces the traditional weight of the upper build for the Impact series by 25%. The revamped upper build in the Impact VXi is not only the lightest of the series, but it’s also designed to dry quickly overnight. The quick-drying upper build is guaranteed to be de-moisturized by the time you need them again, also reducing the drying time after being washed or cleaned.
If there’s something sure about Five Ten cycling shoes is that their durability easily reaches a fair amount of years. The tension and stress from the rough MTB environment can easily get to any shoe and break it, but a combination of premium fabrics and materials guarantee that your money is well invested in this shoe. The Impact XVi sits just below the average value of this list.
Reinforced toe cap
Revamped upper weighs 25% less
Stealth Mi6 rubber
Compression molded insoles
The laces must be secured properly
7. Shimano XC51N
There’s hardly any other material for an XC racing shoe that is more comfortable than the polyurethane-coated synthetic leather of this shoe. Durability, protection, and comfort blend all together into just one material, making the ideal shoe for spring and autumn. Aside from its unique stability and additional performance features, this material also delivers protection against the elements, which can easily turn into your worst nightmare if unprepared.
Glass fiber reinforced nylon sole
In a cross-country race, you want to get as much advantage on your opponents as you can, and the pedaling power is a decisive factor at this point. The nylon sole is enhanced with infused glass fiber that is not only highly durable and stable but also unique at the moment of transferring energy to your pedals. A nearly inexistent outsole thickness brings your feet as close to the pedal as possible to optimize speed and power.
Shimano has a huge variety of MTB shoes, and costs vary between models as well. The XC51N, in particular, is by no means a cheap shoe – it delivers a combination of top-notch MTB technologies and a highly intuitive design functionality. Despite its value exceeding the average value of the list, we highly recommend this purchase in terms of performance and durability.
Glass fiber reinforcement
Enhanced over its predecessor
8. Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro 3.0
Pearl Izumi knows that staying on your bike is paramount when performing any sort of cycling sport, which is why their innovative closure system seeks absolute firmness and upper foot support. The buckle closure consists of a 25-degree inclined strap position that resembles the anatomic curving of feet. The ratchet and buckle are extremely easy to operate and allows you to adjust the support to the point you prefer it the most.
Molded rubber tips
The X-Project series is known for its incredibly low weight on each release, and the Pro 3.0 stays true to the tradition. Hollow thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) lugs connect you with your pedals perfectly while providing you the ability to deal with unstable surfaces and muddy or difficult environments. Co-molded rubber tips are placed on the hollow TPU lugs to provide even greater traction on the nearly weightless bottom piece.
Pearl Izumi isn’t particularly known for low values, but rather for their excellent level of commitment towards every single pair of shoes designed. While this particular pair, the third edition of the X-Project Pro, exceeds the average value of the list, it offers an astonishing level of performance and durability. Rest assured that this is not a pair of shoes you’ll need to throw away for the next 4 years (at least) if taken care of.
As light as its predecessors
Hollow TPU lugs
Excellent closure system
Suitable for off-road environments
Hard to break into
The outer sole is made with rigid, lightweight, fiberglass-reinforced polyamide that enhances the power transmission. It is also designed with the patented Shimano Dynalast technology that secures the foot into a more ergonomic position to provide an efficient and powerful upstroke.
The upper part of the shoe is designed with synthetic leather that is mixed with an Integrated air intake and exhaust mesh fabric that is meant to provide durability and breathability simultaneously.
Cost and Value
This shoe has both affordable and expensive options, but will generally cost you less than most other items on this list. It’s a great choice if you are looking for a breathable pair of shoes that you’ll be able to use for more than just mountain biking.
- Powerful upstroke
- Breathable mesh
- Hook and loop closure
- Few colors available
- Hard to break in
10. O’Neal Trigger II
The outer sole of this shoe is designed with a unique rubber compound that has been dubbed the honeycomb rubber. It has honeycomb-patterned tread marks that provide enhanced traction, grip, and stability.
The upper part of the shoe is designed with a combination of leather and breathable nylon mesh. This contributes to the overall breathability and durability of the shoe. Additionally, it is aligned with extra padding on the inside to provide the foot with extra protection from external debris.
Cost and Value
The shoe retails for approximately 100 to 240 USD. This huge range of price accommodates the size and color options selected with the most expensive option being aligned with the biggest shoe size.
Breathable Upper Mesh
Durable Leather and Nylon
Stable Outer sole
Inconsistent Lacing Technique
Giro Rumble VR
The outer sole is designed with Vibram rubber that provides enhanced traction and grip. It is also designed with a Molded SPD compatible shank that offers the right amount of rigidity while complementing the flexible rubber.
The midsole is made with a Molded EVA footbed with medium arch support that offers enhanced comfort. What is also incorporated in these shoes is Giro’s patented Precision Fit technology which provides a warmer and snugger fit.
Cost and Value
The Giro Rumble VR ranks average on this list and offers great value. It will perform well for mountain biking, but will also provide the needed grip and support you need when off your bike.
- Rubber outsole for superior traction
- Breathable mesh upper
- Made with leather fabric for increased durability
- Hidden lace pockets to eliminate snag
- Better pedal grip
- Hard to clean
- Has deep heel cups that can injure the ankle
12. Specialized 2FO
The upper part of the shoe is designed with a nylon Air Mesh that provides enhanced breathability. This fabric Is also designed to shed moisture that can accumulate in the shoe due to sweating.
The outer sole of the shoe is designed with a Slip-Not rubber compound that provides a good grip and improved traction. This rubber is of medium density and is quite flexible. In comparison to other shoes, this density compromises the durability but it is compensated for by a ridged midsole.
Cost and Value
The shoe retails for between 100 and 150 USD. The price range is quite minimal as compared to other shoes in this list. It is a more affordable option when considering flat pedal shoes.
Breathable Upper Mesh
Enhanced traction provided by Slip Not rubber
Extra padding for comfort.
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6
A 1:1 anatomic tri-closure system is not only highly efficient and supportive for the upper foot, but it also eliminates hot spots where heat concentrates more commonly. The intuitive closure resembles the anatomic shape of the foot, providing a much more accurate, comfortable, and supportive closure. Furthermore, the closure design was carefully made to avoid placing additional pressure on your forefoot, securing it and holding it in place with no stress.
3-Layer Upper Build
An advanced triple-layer seamless composite upper build enhances the breathability of the top segment of the shoe. Its anatomical design contours the upper half of your foot, optimizing the flow of air and making the fit considerably more comfortable. The anatomic contouring also contributes to eliminating the concentration of heat on the upper build. Lastly, the highly resistant and durable materials are guaranteed to endure the harsh mountain bike environment.
Cost and Value
Ranking quite high on this list when it comes to price, this model may appear costly to someone who’s getting started in MTB. However, Pearl Izumi shoes offer excellent value due to their high quality make and the fact that they are one of the leading shoe designers/manufacturers in the mountain bike industry.
- Anatomic tri-closure system
- Highly breathable and comfortable upper
- Carbon power plate
- SPD-SL compatible
- Very lightweight
- Not suitable for walking
- Some users have had sizing issues
14. Mavic Alpine XL
The upper mesh of the shoe is made with a combination of synthetic leather and nylon mesh that is meant to provide the right amount of breathability and durability simultaneously without compromising on foot protection from external debris.
This shoe was heavily designed to offer optimum protection and the toe box was not left out. It is made of rubber that protects the toes from external impact with rocks.
Cost and Value
This shoe retails at approximately 110 USD. It is considerably priced considering the features that it offers to the rider. It provides good value for money particularly when it comes to protection of the feet.
Flexible Rubber Sole
Unique lacing technique to offer snug fit.
Breathable upper mesh.
Five Ten Hell Cat
The outer sole is made with proprietary Stealth rubber that provides sticky grip with enhanced traction. Additionally, this sole is clipless to provide unique and enhanced stability on the foot pedal.
Water Repelling Upper
The upper of these shoes is made with DWR treated fabric that repels water, thereby providing protection from wet compounds. It is also designed with a Lace/Velcro Brand strap closure that is adjustable to provide a snug fit.
Cost and Value
This shoe ranks average on this list when it comes to price. It’s an excellent choice if you are looking for the level of quality and innovation Five Ten brings to the table when it comes to Mountain Bike Shoes.
- Adjustable strap for snug fit
- Excellent grip and traction
- Clipless and SPD compatible outsole
- Not breathable
- Reduced cushioning
When choosing shoes for mountain biking, the most important feature is foot protection. This is because the terrain that you will be riding your bike is made of numerous loose external debris that could easily hurt your foot. Additionally, one should ensure that your selected choice provides adequate traction, and grip on the pedal and on rough terrain, excellent cushioning, comfort and breathability in order to supplement the features that are meant to offer you protection.
All other features such as fashion sense and color should come secondary to these important features. The shoes on this list are both for beginner riders and veteran cyclist. The combination of features in most of these shoes are unique and efficient in delivering a powerful performance while riding.
Most of the shoes are quite expensive in comparison to normal sports shoes, but this is because of the combination of high-performance features that constantly deliver incredible results. If you want a shoe that will be a good investment for your money then any choice from this list will work. I would recommend that if you are a beginner rider you should choose a shoe that is easier to break in so that you do not end up with injuries that could dampen your experience.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Mountain Bike Shoes
Although the most optimal choice for most mountain bikers is clipped pedals, we know that some users stick to flat pedals. Because of this, we kept in consideration that in some cases you’ll need more than just the clip to obtain a firm grip on the pedal.
There’s a lot of ways in which the grip can affect your performance. The first one and most important, as you can guess, is pretty simple: not slipping. This inconvenient can not only be bad for your performance, but it’s also crossing the thin gap between impractical and hazardous.
Because of this, a mountain bike shoe can be directly judged by the quality of its grip on the pedal. This factor will mostly rely on the outsole, as it’s the part of the shoe that deals with the pedal. Thus, every single aspect of the outsole has an impact on the quality of the traction between the shoe and the pedal.
For instance, the outsole material is one of the key points when it comes to traction. In this case, a plastic outsole will not provide you any sort of acceptable grip. Some materials, such as fiberglass, may look very similar to plastic – except they’re far better. Generally, the sole on mountain bike shoes are made of either fiberglass variants or rubber.
Though, there’s more to it than the base material. Some models include lugs that drop from the outsole; these lugs provide a much better grip and increase the pedal control. However, the lugs usually make the shoe specific for a mountain bike or other cycling variants, as the odd platform is of little use outside the sport. Additionally, this doesn’t mean that flat outsoles are not a good choice for mountain biking.
Having a solid hold of both pedals is a critical point to achieve the maximum performance. But we’re not just referring to potential slippage between the outsole and the pedal (which indeed is an affecting factor too). A good positioning and hold of the pedals also translate into a much better pedaling-intensity. By having total control over the pedals, you have total control over your balance and your speed. Additionally, a better grip allows you to pedal faster if competing.
Flat outsoles may not have long lugs, but they should still feature a smart outsole design that eases the grip on the pedal. Usually, the rubber compounds that cover the outsole are stickier than an average rubber sole. If it’s not obvious, this means greater contact with the pedal. These designs are also meant to maintain stability while standing on the pedals rather than using the seat. By standing on the pedals, you apply more pressure on these sticky compounds, making it easier to stay on the pedals.
Athletes of every kind of disciplines often underestimate the impact that comfort can have on their performance. One of the biggest mistakes an athlete can make is performing in shoes that disturb or discomfort your feet. Some people just deal with it, not knowing that they would perform much better in adequate footwear. However, there are cases in which “dealing with it” comes at a huge price.
Mountain biking is one of those cases. This sport is arguably one of the most stressful for your feet; although they’re not in direct contact with the ground, tension and impact stress still gets to them. The lack of comfort combined with the amount of strain adds up to be one huge tax on your performance.
When cycling, there are only 3 parts of your body that are in contact with the bicycle: the glutes, hands, and feet. Most of the time, like most mountain cyclers will know, glutes aren’t on the seat because you stand up. This only leaves your hands and feet in charge of the bicycle, thus you want to make these two are properly equipped.
Comfortability is determined by multiple factors. The most important ones consist of breathability, cushioning, and fit.
Mountain cycling is very pedal-intensive; unquestionably more intense than regular cycling. In this sport, the uneven mountain surface and obstacles require a considerable amount of effort to surpass. Although the effort is performed by multiple muscle groups, it’s lastly transmitted by the feet. If your shoes are completely closed, this will cause large amounts of heat to accumulate within the footwear.
If you know a thing or two about closed shoes, you know how big of an obstacle heat accumulation is. For starters, it’s simply uncomfortable and annoying – it becomes a distraction. But, it additionally speeds up the muscular fatigue process and makes you sweat notably more. This opens your feet to humidity, bad odors, and eventually slippage within the inner build.
Cushioning and padding can be the difference between a smooth performance and a painful one. It may look like the shoe’s outsole is enough to protect your feet from the pedal impact, but it’s nowhere close. The only difference the outsole makes is that it’ll be the outsole’s plastic damaging your feet rather than the pedal. Cushioning, on the other hand, prevents your heels and arch from suffering every bump. It also protects your feet from being extremely sore the day posterior to performance.
Last, but not least, it’s important to have an adequate fit. This ultimately comes down to your own preference, as well as the anatomy of your feet. If you have wide feet, it’s of paramount importance that your shoes feature the right amount of space. Mountain cycling is already stressful enough on your feet, don’t make it harder on yourself by using tight shoes.
Weather Proof / Toughness
Weather can get to be the worst enemy of performance shoes, especially when these shoes are not prepared for different scenarios. Regardless of the quality of your shoe, if it’s not properly equipped for rainy environments, an average rain can make them as good as a pair of flip-flops.
This factor is especially important when dealing with flat pedals, where the sole grip is the only thing preventing you from slipping. Weather can pose many challenges; not just humidity. For example, rain can turn your path to mud rather than dirt. If your sole isn’t appropriately equipped with anti-slipping features to protect you from such scenarios, your performance will pay the price. Not to mention, of course, the hazard involved.
While it’s impossible to prevent every single scenario where the weather may interfere, it sure is possible to prevent some of them. For instance, outsoles that feature a spiky design make a massive difference when it comes to wet pedals. Flat outsoles should be adequately equipped as well, generally with special outsole designs that prevent slippage.
Keep in mind that if the weather is affecting the environment, the smartest thing to do is to get off your bicycle. However, if you’re competing or simply want to keep performing, it’s very important that your shoes are prepared for it.
Leakage protection is one of the best measures against unexpected weather conditions. By preventing water from going into the inner shoe, leakage protection can stop performance from being affected by rain. If water makes its way into the shoe, it will soak completely. This will affect both the fit and comfortability, also making the shoes considerably heavier. Additionally, this humidity often causes the development of athlete’s foot, bacteria, and bad odors in general.
Waterproof designs have one big downside; when you seal a shoe, nothing goes in. But, this also means nothing goes out. Waterproof seals may have a big impact on the breathability of the build if it doesn’t feature a breathing membrane. This membrane is a piece of technology that allows air to flow freely within the shoe without allowing water to leak in.
But, rain isn’t the only obstacle presented by the weather. Depending on your location, as well as the season, the climate may either very hot or very cold. On the first case, breathability is no longer related to comfort; it becomes a must, especially on very sunny days. Most mountain bike shoes feature a completely black design, as other colors may degrade with the rough sport (although it ultimately comes down to the quality of the material). For those of you who don’t know, the black color is great at absorbing heat.
On the opposite scenario, where the weather is extremely cold, you’ll want to look for mountain bike shoes that retain heat rather than avoiding it. It’s also important to complement these shoes with socks adequate for the climate. Cold weather can be really harsh on your feet if not prepared; especially on your toes. Sealed shoes, or mid-height boots, are unquestionably the most optimal choice for this kind of environment.
Lightweight builds have quickly become a standard in performance shoes of all types of sports. This is due to a simple reason; a lighter shoe requires less effort to move around.
You may be thinking that the weight of a shoe may not have that much of an impact on your performance. However, we can guarantee that it does. The weight of a shoe becomes more important as your performance lasts longer. Sure, you may not feel that much of a difference when you’re first putting them on. You may not even notice the weight difference between a lightweight shoe and a normal one when trying them.
The difference becomes more and more notable as you start to actually perform in them. Think of it as the shoes reducing a tiny bit of effort every time you complete a pedaling cycle. When looking at one single spinning cycle, the difference sure is hard to notice. But, after multiple hours of cycling and performing, all those tiny bits of reduced effort add up. In the long run, a lightweight shoe can considerably extend your muscular endurance.
Furthermore, a lightweight shoe is much easier to control. As they require less effort to move, they allow you to perform faster. This translates into faster pedaling, given that you are after speed.
There’s a constant race between manufacturers as to who makes the lightest shoes, continually removing more weight every time. When it comes to elite or professional performance, cyclers will go for the most optimal piece of equipment. In the world of professional-level competition, having shoes that are a few grams lighter than other competitors is considered an advantage. Thus, athletes look after the lightest shoes available.
Although the difference may be very small, it’s still an advantage in the eyes of world-class athletes, and they want to get as much of it as they can. If you’re not a competitive athlete, however, you might not mind about a few ounces more or a few ounces less. As long as the shoes are within the lightweight standards, you’ll enjoy the benefits of replacing heavy shoes.
It’s very important to keep in mind that a lightweight build doesn’t just consist of lightweight materials. The materials used for a lightweight shoe must be adequate for the sport they’re being used for. These fabrics must not fail to provide a solid structure for the shoe. The main issue with lightweight materials is that they’re thinner and less protective than bulky materials. Because of this, lightweight shoes tend to be less durable. This often means that they’re also more susceptible to external damage.
The perfect design lies within a healthy combination of both lightweight and quality performance materials. For instance, traditional rubber is no longer a part of professional performance shoes (in most cases). Instead, a vulcanized variation of synthetic rubber provides very similar qualities and effects at a much lesser weight.
Durability & Protection
Like we previously explained, mountain biking is a particularly rough sport. The uneven terrain and obstacles are much harder on our muscles, as well as on our equipment. Hence, not any kind of build is suitable for this activity. Think of it as regular running shoes and trail running shoes. Although you could get away with trail running in regular sneakers, it’s not the right thing to do in terms of optimal performance.
Moreover, a regular running sneaker isn’t properly designed to face the trail. This is the exact same case with mountain bike shoes. The best mountain bike shoes are carefully engineered to overcome performance on the mountains. Just like in our previous example, you can successfully get away with doing mountain bike with regular shoes. This is of course, at the cost of the performance quality (not to mention that average sneakers are very likely to break or degrade in such activities).
So, what is it that makes a mountain bike shoe more durable than an average sneaker for this sport? The first point is fairly simple: the materials. When thinking of a regular shoe, the first thing that comes to mind is a rubber sole and a suede or mesh upper build (or something similar). There’s no need to be an expert to know these materials aren’t adequate for mountain sports.
On the other hand, mountain bike shoes (or extreme mountain sports shoes for that matter) generally feature a strong leather, such as synthetic ones. Some shoes incorporate mesh-like fabrics to improve breathability. While these fabrics may seem very similar to mesh, they often aren’t. This is due to the simple reason that mesh is very easy to perforate, and it would ruin the build. In cases where nylon and a similar mesh is used, there’s generally an inner pad to reinforce it.
The outsole materials in a mountain bike shoe must count with special qualities for extreme mountain performance too. This involves special materials that are usually very different from the ones you find in an average sneaker (or even performance shoes related to other sports).
But, the use of these specific materials is not limited to the durability of the shoe. They’re also aimed at protection. Like we explained previously, your feet suffer just like your equipment degrades. Therefore, it’s important for a mountain bike shoe to provide sufficient protection from external elements.
Keep in mind that protective measures don’t only target direct hazards, like a branch breaking into the shoe. Some features, such as the collar seal, prevent debris, dust, and small elements from going into the shoe and potentially under your feet. Debris may not seem like a big threat, however, a very small object can become dangerous once you stand on the pedals and all you press all of your weight against this small object.
Stability & Cleats
Stability is arguably one of the most important aspects of a mountain bike shoe. No matter how good the other elements are, a pair of shoes that fail to provide a firm pedaling platform is no good.
Although some elements are more involved than other, stability is not something that’s determined by a single part of the shoe. The shoe, in general, most count with stable features; a midsole that acts as a solid base, an outsole that prevents slipping, and cleats. Although not all mountain shoes count with cleats, they do make a huge difference, hence we highly recommend them.
On mountain bike clipless shoes, the cleats generally consist of a dual-bolt space in the outsole. This space should be somewhat “carved” in the outsole, rather than standing out from it like road cycling ones. Road cycling shoes aim for an aerodynamic approach, speed being the most important factor. Mountain bike shoes, on the other hands, are a more about the pedal traction.
The cleats in mountain bike shoes are smaller than that of road cycling shoes. Most mountain bike shoes allow you to drag back the tread lugs on the outsole for non-performance use. Otherwise, simple activities like walking would be difficult in these shoes.
Mountain shoes must count with a very firm midsole, as it’s what delivers the stiffness you need to have a pedaling platform. This is why midsoles in mountain performance shoes are generally much stiffer than in other shoes. Thus, the soles are made out of very resistant and stable materials such as carbon and fiberglass.
Knowing Your Equipment
One of the most common doubts amongst mountain bike beginners is the kind of pedals they should use. The nomenclature of the different type of pedals can get to be tricky, for example, pedals that are called clipless yet still require clipping. The terminology and aspects of the different pedals can be confusing.
This dates back to the beginnings of mountain bike when old-school cyclers incorporated a clip on their pedals (there was just one kind of pedal back then, flat pedals). This way, their feet would become somewhat strapped to the pedals in order to obtain better grip and stability. However, clipping themselves to the pedal had one big downside; if the bike went down, they went down with it.
Around 1990, the first new type of pedal was designed. Rather than placing a clip on the pedal to insert the shoe, this new design consisted of a screwable cleat that would lock into the pedal. The cleat was inserted on the outsole of the shoe. Only the outsole would hold onto the pedal, rather than compromising the whole shoe. The cleat was easily released by turning the shoe, making it possible to quickly unlock it. This new designed was named the clipless pedal.
In conclusion, although they’re called clipless pedals, they still feature some sort of cleat securement. The term clipless refers to the very first clip pedals, which featured a full-length clip that would lock the foot.
Clipless pedals offer a better grip – but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best type of pedal. Clipless and flat pedals are just different from each other, one being better in certain situations than the other, and likewise. For instance, beginners to mountain bike are recommended to start off with flat pedals. This is because flat pedals are better when it comes to developing their motor skills and coordination.
Clipless pedals, on the other hand, may become an obstacle for beginners and cause improper form. These pedals could potentially affect the performance of people who aren’t used to the irregular surface of the mountains. Thus, switching to clipless pedals before having a good grasp of the mountain bike technique is not recommended. Additionally, flat pedals make it easier to separate yourself from the bicycle when needed.
When eventually making the transition to clipless pedals, we recommend that users practice the motion that releases the cleat. You should get used to the disengaging motion by practicing in regular environments, preferably before using on the mountain. If the athlete is not properly used to the releasing motion, they may fail to unlock the cleats in a dangerous situation.
Keep in mind that fear also becomes an obstacle in agitated situations; the more you think about it, the less time you’ll have to unclip your shoes. Always be ready to unclip, and don’t hesitate to do so as soon as a situation starts going out of control.
Types of Mountain Bike Shoes
It’s highly important to take into consideration the type of activity you’ll perform. Although mountain bike shoes may share a lot of features in general, specific qualities make them more suitable for certain practices, and less suitable for some others.
Before purchasing, you should be completely clear about the activity you’ll perform. Obtaining a cross-country shoe for downhill performance, for example, will have a big impact on your performance. Furthermore, a pair of cross-country shoe is not necessarily equipped with the adequate security features of a downhill shoe.
Although they’re not common, there are certain shoes that are suitable for almost any mountain activity. Keep in mind that they give you access to multiple activities, but won’t perform as good as a shoe specifically designed for that same sport.
Flat Pedal Shoes
Flat pedals are fairly basic; you don’t really need a specially engineered shoe to ride on them. This is the most accessible type of pedal, being suitable for pretty much any shoe that fits on top of the pedal. However, you might think twice about using a running sneaker on them rather than a mountain bike pair of shoes.
Amongst the different options suitable for flat pedals, there are certain qualities that make a shoe better for flat pedal performance. For instance, a shoe properly designed for flat pedals will feat a flat and rigid sole to enhance the grasp of the pedal. If the shoes don’t have a clip, which is the case of flat pedals, it’s of key importance that it features a sticky outsole material. Not too sticky – but stickier than the average sneaker (it ultimately comes down to the brand and type of rubber).
MTB shoes for flat pedals are considerably lighter than downhill ones. Although cushioning is something present in every shoe, it’s good to look for some more of it for flat pedals. By lacking a lock system that keeps the pedal and foot together, your feet are more likely to hit the pedal. Although this may not seem like a great deal, at first sight, each bump will gradually build up stress and tension on the heel.
Generally, MTB shoes don’t take in consideration feats such as arch support or insole cushioning. We recommend using customized insole inserts to improve your performance, especially if you suffer from any condition that makes ordinary shoes unsuitable for you.
One of the issues of flat pedal shoes is that some of them feature regular shoelaces. If possible, try to get your hands on strap closures or laces that are just long enough to tie them comfortably. It’s very important to keep an eye on the length of your laces; tuck them in once they’re tied. If they go into the chain, or around your pedal, you’re opening yourself to crashing.
Clipless Pedal Mountain Bike Shoes
Shoes for clipless pedals don’t really count with features for a specific practice; meaning they’re equally suitable for both downhill and cross-country, for example. This type of shoe is built around a clipless pedal design, with the features of the specific activity it’s meant for. Yet, there are some features that make a shoe much more adequate for clipless pedals aside just the cleats.
The sole on MTB clipless pedal shoes is considerably stiffer in comparison to flat pedal shoes. There’s no place for flexibility in a build of this kind, as having your shoe attached to the pedal doesn’t leave any room for flexing and moving around. The main characteristic of clipless pedal shoes, as you can guess, is the space on the outsole designed to lock onto the cleats.
While there’s no need for the upper build to be stiff, it’s of paramount importance the sole is made out of solid materials that don’t bend. If the shoe starts flexing or moving around while locked onto the pedal, the sole may tear apart from the upper build due to the opposing pressure. For this task, shoes usually materials such as hard fibers or similar, or the implementation of carbon on professional-level performance shoes.
The sole stiffness is highly functional – while it’s working on the pedals. Aside from that, there’s very little use for this type of shoe. There’s not much you can make out of a very rigid shoe with a gap for cleats, other than MTB of course.
As for the outsole, the design changes a lot amongst the different type of MTB shoes (cross-country, downhill). Although, they’re not usually too different from the outsole design on flat pedal shoes (with the exception of the cleat space, of course). The outsole design is more about the style of shoe based on the activity rather than on the kind of pedal. For instance, clipless downhill shoes and flat downhill shoes have a pretty similar outsole.
Regardless of the type of shoe and the pedal they’re meant for, one thing is for sure: most of them won’t work for other than MTB. The outsole’s design on MTB shoes usually features either spiky lugs, cleats, or very hard soles. In any of these cases, even the simplest of activities such as walking becoming notably uncomfortable and impractical.
This type of shoe was originally crafted for cross-country competitions, but seeing as there wasn’t such a wide variety of options for others sports in the past, some of them adopted the cross-country shoe. The build of the x-country shoes is considerably lighter in comparison to downhill ones – also less bulky. However, the frame is stiffer, serving as a very solid platform and delivering great pedaling power.
Usually, x-country shoes are not too protected against abrasion because of the thinner and lighter materials. This is in comparison to gravity shoes, though. Like previously explained, materials like carbon, fiberglass, and similar make them much more resistant than they ever used to be. This type of design is suitable for a variety of terrains and activity, performing well in trails.
Your type of bike is also a factor that affects the type of shoe you should get. For instance, a total-suspension bike gets along very well with cross-country MTB shoes, as they deliver great power.
Cross-country shoes are a favorite to lots of people due to the fact that they support different duties. If you’re a regular cycler that also happens to enjoy soft to medium mountain challenges, this may be your ideal build.
This is the heavy duty of mountain bike. Unquestionably the roughest (and dangerous) bicycle activity to perform in a mountain. Hence, downhill shoes (also known as gravity shoes) are much more protected than the average x-country build. Weight is expected to be greater in comparison to other shoes – but manufacturers will still make an effort in reducing as much of it as possible.
This type of shoe is heavier, thicker, more voluminous and generally much more durable. They’re like armor to your feet, offering the best protection you can possibly get. The sole is not nearly as stiff as the one on crossers, and much more comfortable to walk in. Although they’re still stiffer than a running sneaker, they do feat flexibility on specific areas. This allows you to walk around the mountain before getting to the drop spot.
The main disadvantage of this kind of build is the pedaling power and speed. The bulk and weight aren’t too efficient at fast pedal coordination. Although it’s something to expect – you’ll get all the speed you need from gravity while descending the mountain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do mountain bike shoes work?
A: Depending on the type of shoe, their specialty could go from locking the shoe into the pedal to maintaining a natural grip and pedal considerably faster. They also prevent slipping. Refer to the sections above for more information.
Q: How should mountain bike shoes fit?
A: Just like any other performance shoe should fit you; they should be your size. Not half a size up, not half a size down. They should fit in a comfortable, yet tight manner. You don’t want to strangle your toes, but neither to dance inside the shoe.
Q: Will the cleat get stuck in clipless MTB shoes?
A: This is a very rare thing to see. Unless the cleat comes with a very noticeable fabric defect, they should never get stuck. Aside from that, the unlocking process is always very simple.
Q: How do I clean mountain bike shoes?
A: Usually, brushing them is just about enough. If they’re too dirty or have a thick layer of dried mud, leave them sitting on warm water for 10-15 minutes before brushing.
Q: Should I get laces or a strap closure?
A: Short laces will be just fine, tucking them in for more protection. However, strap closures will always be much more efficient when it comes to MTB, as laces are dangerously close to the chain and pedals.
Q: What mountain bike shoes should I get?
A: Using the section above will help you understand the different types of MTB shoes and their uses. This will make choosing your shoes much easier.
Q: Are clipless shoes easy to release from the lock?
A: Yes. That process is fairly simple and barely requires any effort; the cleats are specially designed to be easily released by doing a certain motion such as rotating the shoe.
Q: Why should I wear mountain bike shoes?
A: Using mountain bike specific shoes will provide you great performance benefits (refer to our criteria section). Additionally, they play a vital role in safety and protection.
Q: What else can I use MTB shoes for?
A: Generally, MTB shoes have very little side outside the mountain. Yet, some shoes, like gravity shoes, tend to have a very casual look and a simply outsole that may be suitable for walking short distances.
Q: What are clipless mountain shoes?
A: Clipless shoes are those that replace the traditional full-length foot clip with a practical outsole cleat. This makes it easier to disengage the bicycle whenever it’s needed.
- Mountain Bike, Wiki Article, ,
- Anatomy of a Clipless MTB Shoe, MTB Shoe Article, May 30, 2014 ,
- Anatomy of a Cycling Shoe, Cycling Shoe Article, Jul 26, 2017 ,
- Mountain Bike Pedals, Sports Article, Feb 27, 2017 ,
- Bike Pedals: Choosing and Using, Expert Advice, ,
- Types of MTB Shoes, Trail & MTB Article, ,
- Do I Need a MTB Shoe?, MTB Blog Entry, Sep 13, 2013 ,