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Best Mountain Bike Shoes Reviewed for Performance

last updated Dec 06, 2018

Finding the best mountain bike 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.

Researched Sources
12
Researched Sources
Reviews Considered
1890
Reviews Considered
Hours Researching
14
Hours Researching
Products Evaluated
18
Products Evaluated
Last Updated:
By Ana Rockov:

The latest update to this article looks at the top 10 MTB shoes currently available on the market, giving you several different options to choose from, from those specifically made for pro athletes, to those more versatile styles that can be worn for walking as well. Furthemore, the update makes visual changes to the article, giving you a more updated look that's easier to read, and gives better access to the most important info.

Sorting Options
Outsole Comfort Protection Weight Durability By Default
Rank
PictureProduct
Name
Rating
Shops
1
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.2
Outsole
98%
Comfort
97%
Protection
94%
Weight
95%
Durability
97%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
2
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.6
Outsole
97%
Comfort
94%
Protection
96%
Weight
93%
Durability
98%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$119.54
3
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93.8
Outsole
89%
Comfort
96%
Protection
96%
Weight
96%
Durability
92%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$249.99
4
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93
Outsole
82%
Comfort
97%
Protection
92%
Weight
98%
Durability
96%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$225.00
5
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
91.2
Outsole
97%
Comfort
95%
Protection
89%
Weight
82%
Durability
93%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$150.00
6
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
90.6
Outsole
86%
Comfort
99%
Protection
91%
Weight
87%
Durability
90%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$224.96
7
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
89
Outsole
82%
Comfort
90%
Protection
93%
Weight
86%
Durability
94%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$150.00
8
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86
Outsole
83%
Comfort
90%
Protection
88%
Weight
79%
Durability
90%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$71.96
9
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
85.8
Outsole
89%
Comfort
90%
Protection
87%
Weight
78%
Durability
85%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$79.95
10
The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
85.4
Outsole
88%
Comfort
87%
Protection
88%
Weight
83%
Durability
81%
Price Comparison Last Updated (12.12.18)
$104.90
In Depth Review Top 10
  • Louis Garneau T-Flex 2LS
  • Shimano XC51N
  • SIDI Dominator 7
  • Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6
  • 10 Kestrel Lace
  • Giro Empire VR90
  • 10 Freerider Pro
  • Shimano R065
  • Giro Rumble VR
  • Mavic Alpine XL
Table of contents
  • Criteria Used for Evaluation
  • Other Factors to Consider
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Sources

Top 10 Mountain Bike Shoes

1. Louis Garneau T-Flex 2LS

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
96.2
Louis Garneau T-Flex 2LS
Outsole
98
Comfort
97
Protection
94
Weight
95
Durability
97
best offer for today
Pros:

100% Carbon Outsole

Dual Density Lugs

Flexible Toe Area

Boa L5 Closure System

SPD Cleats Compatible

Cons:

Lack in Breathability

Narrow Toe Box

These top of the line MTB shoes offer exceptional quality, however, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the price turned you away immediately. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the best of the best, then the T-Flex 2LS come pretty close. Made to provide you with traction and rigidity, but also featuring a flexible toe area to help you walk or run, these shoes are definitely a top contender when it comes to mountain bike shoes. The HRS-300 reinforced injected nylon heel cup will keep you securely in place, ensuring that the only movement happening is the one you need for more speed and tricks.

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Carbon T-Flex Outsole
The best thing about these shoes is the outsole which is made out of 100% carbon, and which provides the best power transfer possible. Extremely stiff, you can rest assured you will not be experiencing any power loss, but will still benefit from a flexible toe area that allows walking and running on more difficult parts of the trail. The dual density lugs will give you plenty of traction, even in muddy conditions.

Boa L5 Closure
The closure on these shoes is the best on this list with two micro adjustable gears that allow you to find the perfect level of tightness over the entire foot, without putting too much pressure on any particular section. It can even be tightened on the go, and is much safer than both laces or hook and loop straps found on most other items on this list.

Cost and Value
These shoes are the highest costing pair of mountain bike shoes on this list, coming in at an entire $100 more than the second most expensive pair. Nonetheless, they are extremely durable, SPD compatible, offer some warmth, so can be worn even during the colder months, and do exceptionally well at traction and power transfer which means that they are suitable even for professionals and those who need every bit of advantage in competitive biking.

2. Shimano XC51N

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
95.6
Shimano XC51N
Outsole
97
Comfort
94
Protection
96
Weight
93
Durability
98
best offer for today
$119.54
Pros:

Glass Fiber Reinforcement

Protective Synthetic Upper

Hook and Loop Closure

Dynalast Sole

Mud Shedding PU Outsole

Cons:

No Ventilation

Users who are entering the world of cross-country racing will require a pair of shoes that can keep up with them. The Shimano XC51N is a newly enhanced product that surpasses its predecessor, the Shimano XC50, in a wide variety of aspects. The quality of this build is amongst the most successful Shimano releases, counting with the right technology and design to impulse your XC racing potential as a beginner.

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Polyurethane-coated Synthetic Leather
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.

Cost and Value
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.

3. SIDI Dominator 7

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93.8
SIDI Dominator 7
Outsole
89
Comfort
96
Protection
96
Weight
96
Durability
92
best offer for today
$249.99
Pros:

EVA Cushioning

Effective Soft Instep Closure

Water-Repellent

Eco-Friendly Construction

Adjustable Padding

Cons:

Easily Gets Dirty

Slightly Higher Cost

The Dominator series stands up to its name, dominating almost any environment your bicycle can potentially encounter. In short words, the SIDI Dominator 7, in particular, is just powerful, allowing non-competition athletes to unlock their true potential. Customization is not an issue with this shoe and neither is a comfort, as it provides you the ability to adjust it to your very own riding preferences. Since having been released, the Dominator 7 has proven to be one of the most popular MTB shoes available.

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Microfibra Microtech
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.

4. Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
93
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6
Outsole
82
Comfort
97
Protection
92
Weight
98
Durability
96
best offer for today
$225.00
Pros:

Anatomic Tri-Closure System

Highly Breathable & Comfortable Upper

Carbon Power Plate

SPD-SL Compatible

Very Lightweight

Cons:

Not Suitable For Walking

Some Users Have Had Sizing Issues

High-performance mountain bike shoes don’t get any more comfortable than the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Elite v6. The continuation of this series has proven to be one of the most successful releases by Pearl Izumi. The Tri Fly Elite v6 covers every single aspect of performance while on the pedals, taking care of your comfort, breathability, support, and security. When wearing this shoe, all you have to worry about is pedaling and the rest will fall into place on its own.

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Intuitive Anatomic Closure
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.

5. 10 Kestrel Lace

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
91.2
5 10 Kestrel Lace
Outsole
97
Comfort
95
Protection
89
Weight
82
Durability
93
best offer for today
$150.00
Pros:

C4 Rubber Outsole

Traditional Lace Closure

Perforated for Breathability

Synthetic Upper

Nylon Shank

Cons:

Expensive

For those who need a shoe that's not too stiff, and not too flexible, and like a traditional lace closure, the Kestrel is a great choice from a company that's known for their top of the line MTB footwear. It combines the comfort of everyday shoes with the grippy outsole you'd want for flat pedals, as well as the benefits that come from a clipless style. The perfect option for all mountain riders, as well as those who prefer longer sessions, it's going to give you a good amount of versatility, with plenty of comfort benefits.

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Stealth Outsole
The C4 Stealth outsole is made with grippy rubber that's going to work with a variety of pedals, and will give you excellent traction in almost any conditions. It's an outsole that'll allow you to walk without feeling too awkward.

Nylon Shank
Thanks to a nylon shank located in the sole, the Kestrel Lace is going to give you great power transfer without weighing you down too much. It won't flex under pressure, which is a sign of a shoe great for long rides, and the pressure was evenly distributed under the midfoot, ensuring a good amount of comfort.

Cost and Value
More expensive than a number of models on this list, the Kestrel Lace may not be everyone's first choice, but is a great option for those looking for a number of features. It may not be best for racing, due to packing a bit more weight, but it's a definite contender for long rides and versatile use.

6. Giro Empire VR90

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
90.6
Giro Empire VR90
Outsole
86
Comfort
99
Protection
91
Weight
87
Durability
90
best offer for today
$224.96
Pros:

Included SuperNatural Fit Kit Insoles

Carbon Fiber Sole

Vibram Mont Outsole

Efficient & User-Friendly Lacing System

Insole Arch Height Customization

Cons:

Considerably Costly

Not Suitable For Wide Feet

It only takes one look at the Giro Empire VR90 to realize it’s no traditional cross-country shoe. Everything starts off with an advanced lacing system that is not affected by the mountain or the road. The Empire VR90 includes Giro’s lauded SuperNatural Fit Kit insoles to maximize fit customization and the smaller aspects of your performance. The outsole is made of an extremely resistant material and then further coated for maximum efficiency and protection.

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Carbon Fiber Sole
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.

7. 10 Freerider Pro

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
89
5 10 Freerider Pro
Outsole
82
Comfort
90
Protection
93
Weight
86
Durability
94
best offer for today
$150.00
Pros:

Traditional Lace Closure

Quick Drying Upper

Excellent Pedal Grip

Lightweight

Cons:

Not for Casual Wear

The legendary Freerider makes it back into the market with a totally revamped version, delivering the power, stability, and speed you’re seeking. Just when you thought you couldn’t go any lighter, the Freerider Pro brings with it an even lighter build without removing its signature toe cap protector. Fast and violent downhills continue to be no obstacle to this brands top-notch mountain bike engineering.

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S1 rubber sole
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.

Cost
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.

8. Shimano R065

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
86
Shimano R065
Outsole
83
Comfort
90
Protection
88
Weight
79
Durability
90
best offer for today
$71.96
Pros:

Lightweight Upper

Powerful Upstroke

Breathable Mesh

Hook and Loop Closure

Cons:

Hard To Break In

The Shimano R065 is an affordable sport shoe that is very versatile and can be used for running, mountain biking, gym training and almost anything else. This shoe provides adequate comfort, breathability, stability, power, propulsion and efficiency needed for pedaling. It provides room for a wider cleat adjustment that ensures that the user can get the right pedal fit when riding.

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Sole
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.

Breathable Upper
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.

9. Giro Rumble VR

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
85.8
Giro Rumble VR
Outsole
89
Comfort
90
Protection
87
Weight
78
Durability
85
best offer for today
$79.95
Pros:

Rubber Outsole For Superior Traction

Breathable Mesh Upper

Made With Leather Fabric For Increased Durability

Hidden Lace Pockets To Eliminate Snag

Better Pedal Grip

Cons:

Hard To Clean

Has Deep Heel Cups That Can Injure The Ankle

The Giro Rumble VR is designed to provide excellent and comfortable on and off bike performance. The upper part of the shoe is designed with a Flexible, yet strong microfiber fabric that is integrated with a nylon mesh to offer durability and breathability simultaneously. It is also designed with a simple yet efficient lace up technique that offers an enhanced and snug fit.

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Outer Sole
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.

Midsole
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.

10. Mavic Alpine XL

The rating is based on the average rating (1-100) from all the criteria in which we rated this product.
85.4
Mavic Alpine XL
Outsole
88
Comfort
87
Protection
88
Weight
83
Durability
81
best offer for today
$104.90
Pros:

Enhanced Protection

Flexible Rubber Sole

Unique Lacing Technique To Offer Snug Fit

Breathable Upper Mesh

Cons:

Reduced Stability

Reduced Durability

The Mavic Alpine XL is an all-seasoned cycling shoe that is quite versatile and can be used as a casual and sports shoe. The sole is quite flexible and enables the wearer to use it on rough terrains where they cannot cycle. The ankle area is designed with a Neoprene cuff that provides protection to the ankle from external debris.

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Upper Part
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.

Toe Box
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 an average price. 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.

Criteria Used for Evaluation

Outsole

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.

Comfort

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.

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).

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.

Weight

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

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). This is what ensures that your shoes don't fall apart after just a few rides, and that you can get your money's worth out of your investment.

Expert Interviews & Opinions

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Cycling Cleat Compatibility

Cycling shoes can come with either a two or three hole cleat system, so be sure when you purchase your next pair, you have compatible pedals. SPD cleats usually have 2 holes, while Look and SPD-SL cleats are three holed.

Mountain Bike Adventuring

Did you know? Mountain biking has become so popular with outdoor enthusiasts and riders alike, that there are now adventure trips you can sign up for across the globe. Usually these will take you to big name spots, like the Rocky Mountains, Alps, or Nepal and Patagonia. If you're in search of a holiday with some riding adventure, be sure to try one of these out!

Other Factors to Consider

Stability

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.

Ride

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.

Model

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.

Cross-Country

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.

Downhill

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: 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: 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.

Sources

  1. Wikipedia, Mountain Bike, Wiki Article,
  2. Total Womens' Cyling, Anatomy of a Clipless MTB Shoe, MTB Shoe Article, May 30, 2014
  3. MapMyRun, Anatomy of a Cycling Shoe, Cycling Shoe Article, Jul 26, 2017
  4. ThoughtCo., Mountain Bike Pedals, Sports Article, Feb 27, 2017
  5. REI, Bike Pedals: Choosing and Using, Expert Advice,
  6. Trails, Types of MTB Shoes, Trail & MTB Article,
  7. Jans, Do I Need a MTB Shoe?, MTB Blog Entry, Sep 13, 2013