What are the best mountain bike shoes out there? That depends on what you’re looking for and the type of riding that you do. There are two main options when it comes to footwear – clipless shoes or flats (sometimes referred to as platform shoes). One of the liveliest debates in the sport of mountain biking is the flat versus clipless shoe debate. The reality is there is no right or wrong answer – it’s totally up to you based on your personal style of riding. We’ll get into that in another article.
So what should you look out for when buying a new pair of mountain bike shoes?
All bike shoes should cover a few things—comfort, stability, proper power transfer, protection, breathability, and style. Some people value comfort over maximum power transfer while others want to ensure that they cycle in style. We recommend that you figure out what you want most out of your riding shoes before you make a purchase.
To figure out which pair is right for you, start by comparing the best shoes on the market and find the one with features that align with your wants and needs. To help you in your search, we’ve done just that. We gathered some of the best mountain bike shoes on the market today, and highlighted their key features.
But before we let you take a look at our top picks, let us help you make a more informed and nuanced choice by providing you with key tips on choosing the best fitting shoe. This involves several things; from knowing the best time of day to go shopping, to knowing what a really good fit feels like.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, the following information will make your search for the best mountain bike shoes easier.
The Best Mountain Bike Shoes: Tips on Finding a Perfect Fit
One of the most important things to consider when choosing any kind of shoe is the fit. You shouldn’t purchase a shoe that is ill-fitting, too tight, too loose, or just plain uncomfortable. You will be using this shoe almost every time you use your mountain bike. Mountain biking is a demanding physical activity requiring skill, stamina and extended time in the saddle. How will you focus on doing your best in the sport if you’re wasting your time and energy enduring your aching feet?
A well-fitting shoe should do a couple of things:
- Fit snugly, but not uncomfortably tight. Do not expect your shoe to grow loose after a few days.
- Fit snugly in the heel particularly, but have even pressure on the instep.
- Have enough wiggle room for your toes. Your toes also shouldn’t be touching the tip of your shoes.
- Have the balls of your feet resting on the widest part of the shoe to ensure stability and the best power transfer.
- Provide enough room, not just lengthwise, but also in terms of width. Seek out a shoe brand that has width options that match your needs, if needed.
Other tips when shopping for a shoe:
- Shop at the end of the day. Your feet expand as the day goes on. Make sure you fit your cycling shoes towards the end of the day when they have stopped expanding.
- Always bring your cycling socks and orthotics to have the best feet with all your preferred accessories.
- Sit, stand, bend, and try out different positions when trying out your shoes. Walk around and stand on your toes. Make a pedaling motion. Don’t be afraid to look silly to test out the fit of your shoe in every possible position.
Top 5 Best Mountain Bike Shoes
Five Ten Men’s Freerider Bike Shoe
The Five Ten Men’s Freerider bike shoe is a shoe tailor-made for flat pedals. It features a durable, sticky Stealth S1 rubber outsole – they are grippy! It is designed in the style of BMX and skate shoes and comes in leather and synthetic materials while offering several different color variations.
The shoes are notably rigid, with a stiff and flat sole for optimal comfort and stability but very shock-absorbing making them very comfortable. The sole is also remarkably sticky, making the shoes a good choice for those going on more difficult and rugged trails without clipless pedals.
The shoes remain on the flat pedals without the need for straps or toe cages, helping the rider avoid slips and accidents. Since they are flat sole shoes, they can also be used for walking. These are not strictly mountain bike shoes and they’re thick sole makes them pretty versatile for biking, hiking, walking and short distance running.
Another nice benefit with these shoes is the removable insoles. This gives you leeway to replace the insole with an orthotic for a better, more personalized support system for your feet.
Perhaps one of two cons to consider is their long laces, which may run the risk of getting caught on the pedals or the drivetrain. This is a pretty easy problem to solve, though. Tuck your laces into your shoe or tie a double knot and ride away happy.
Another point of consideration is the minimal breathability. This shoe is not as breathable as some shoes out there because it tries to keep dust, dirt, and lose materials from entering the shoe. Small pebbles accumulating inside your shoe can be bothersome and quite distracting. The minimal entryways avoid this nuisance.
The leather upper is not waterproof either so they’re more suitable for drier conditions or for those don’t mind getting their feet a little wet. They are resistant to water and can be improved with a little water proof spraying. If you need an all-weather version, check out the Five Ten Freerider Elements.
Pearl Izumi Men’s X-Project 2.0 Cycling Shoe
This shoe features a synthetic sole, running shoe EVA foam heel which is capable of absorbing impact, full-length tapered carbon fiber plate for hiking ability and better power transfer when pedaling, and co-molded rubber tips for better traction.
While long hikes off of the bike are not it’s main strength, this is another shoe that allows for movement off the bike. It boasts hike-ability with its carbon fiber sole plate, which does more than just work on the ground. It also helps create a more powerful transfer of energy from rider to pedals.
The run-shoe EVA foam sits under the heel and helps reduce the impact received from hiking on rugged trails. This will help the wearer reduce discomfort when walking in the mountainous regions they choose to explore. On the note of comfort, the shoe features a full-length tapered carbon fiber plate, which helps the wearer stay comfortable even as they endure tough terrains and harsh weather – on or off the bike.
The shoe also boasts a “fully bonded synthetic material” which allows the footwear to forgo seams on the toe box. This removes pressure points on your feet. Meanwhile, mesh vents in strategically considered positions allow for breathability on warmer rides and keep your feet cooler even on hot, longer rides. This makes it a shoe that keeps comfort and breathability in mind—something that many shoes forgo for durability, stability, and power transfer abilities.
The X-Project uses a BOA dial lacing system combined with a velcro strap over the toe to secure the shoe and ensure that no loose laces get caught in the pedals or the drivetrain while cycling. This is a shoe that values your safety. And the BOA system cinches down quickly and comfortably so they are easy to get on and off.
Perhaps it can be seen as a con that the shoe only comes in two colors—shadow grey/black and sulfur springs/Citronelle, which appears as a kind of neon green color. Subtler cyclists will opt for the black. However, if it seems that the lack of diversity in colors is the biggest issue with this shoe, it’s indicative of one that is well made and practically complete in its features. If you are a rider that places more emphasis on pedaling efficiency and power transfer, the Pearl Izumi X-Project 2.0 is an excellent choice.
Sidi Dominator 7
The Sidi Dominator 7 is just as its name suggests; it’s a powerful shoe. A classic mountain bike shoe that has set the standard for many years. It uses microfibra microtech, to incorporate stability, resistance, and lightness. It is a comfortable shoe that is both durable and lightweight.
This shoe is equipped with a soft instep closure system which, paired with an EVA pad that is soft and thermo-formed, evenly distributes the pressure in the instep. This system is also adjustable, allowing you to align the pad to an instep that is either higher or lower.
A reinforced heel keeps your foot in an optimal cross-country oriented position. Power transfer is awesome. And, it keeps the shoe durable by protecting it from deformation and damage due to pressure. The Sidi Dominator is a durable shoe with outsold made of a hard rubber compound that resists wear, even in gnarly conditions.
The high-security velcro straps on this shoe ensure security and stability. And the ratcheting buckle is strong and works great. This combination ensures that your feet stay put and that micro-adjustments between your feet and pedals are crisp and responsive.
One of the unique things about this shoe is that it also boasts an eco-friendly production; made in conditions that have lower environmental impact, as well as fewer emissions of noxious substances into the air and the surrounding environment. The shoe is also made with water-based products, not solvents, thus becoming good for both environment and user.
The Sidi Dominator is a well-constructed cross-country shoe that can deliver solid performance on trail rides, also. The stiffness of the shoe does not make it a great off-bike hiker in slippery terrain but it can still capably handle a variety of different surfaces. But you’ll love the champion performance on long mountain bike adventures in the saddle.
This shoe comes in five colors: black, black/blue, black/red, black/yellow, and red.
Giro Rumble VR Cycling Shoes
With a Vibram rubber outsole, this shoe places itself on this list immediately. The versatility of the outsole and the low-profile design lets you combine the performance of a mountain bike shoe with the comfort of a good walking shoe. It has a dressy color scheme that disguises the shoe from appearing too much like ordinary athletic shoes. But make no mistake, this is a true cycling shoe with minimal compromise. The Vibram’s high-traction rubber and molded SPD-compatible shank helps the shoe grip on flat pedals, but it also has cleats for clipless pedals. It’s a fashionable, practical, and versatile performance shoe.
Among others, comfort is key feature of this shoe. The molded EVA footbed and midsole provides cushioning and support to your feet, while the inner shank aids in power transfer, allowing for a faster, smoother ride.
Aside from versatility, style, and comfort, this capable shoe boasts breathability and adjustability. Its microfiber upper portion helps the shoe breathe, while the adjustable laces make it easy to use. It even sports inner pockets for the laces to avoid accidents.
Perhaps a downside to these shoes is a comparably lesser degree of stiffness. This is because the shoe is more designed for comfort for the wearer in situations where riding and walking are needed. These shoes might not be the very best mountain bike specific shoes on this list, but they are an excellent road and commuter combo shoe. One can pair these shoes with a smart casual look and use as office shoes thanks to both style and comfort. But again, it is a competent cycling shoe that doesn’t compromise the flexibility needed for walking on hiking trails during longer rides. With industry-leading Vibram soles these have the stiffness and grip specifically designed for flat pedal riding in both dry and wet conditions.
On that note, one can also use these shoes for grinding through indoor spinning classes. Again, it all goes back to versatility. The capable stickiness of the Vibram sole and the addition of the cleats for clipless pedals makes this a great choice for spin stations that feature bikes with both types of pedals.
Shimano Women’s SH-WM51 Multi-Sport/Touring Shoe
Another cleated shoe that works with clipless pedals, this is the only women’s shoe on the list. The shoe is quite durable, with its stretch resistant synthetic leather and mesh. Durability is an important factor to consider when purchasing a mountain bike shoe, as we all know the sport can be grueling and demanding on you and your tools and accessories.
These are comfortable shoes, that excel on or off the bike, on or off-road. First, with the triple offset straps, the shoe is designed to prevent points of pressure. Second, the flexible insole can adjust and conform to different foot shapes, allowing you to feel comfortable despite having a foot shape that isn’t quite as conventional. Lastly, in terms of comfort, the double rubber tread makes walking a breeze.
The double rubber tread also ensures that traction on this shoe is up to par with the other shoes on this list. The rubber soles on this shoe makes it great for walking as well as for spinning and mountain bike usage. It’s a versatile shoe that goes on about any bike, as well as pavement for walking.
The shoe only seems to come in one color, so style is not its strongest suit. But the design itself is quite attractive and models a classic look when it comes to mountain bike shoes.
The Shimano Women’s SH-WM51 Multi-Sport/Touring Shoe deserves its name as a multi-sport shoe, as its combined traits make it wearable and useful in a variety of conditions, not just in mountain biking situations. It’s comfortable and durable, and it’s got traction to help with use off the bike.
1. Are clipless shoes better than flat pedal shoes?
The answer depends on you and your own personal preferences. Clipless and flat pedal shoes have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Clipless shoes provide more stability and a better ability for transferring power, but they can be cumbersome to put on and take off when you’re not yet used to the mechanism.
Many people have gotten into accidents due to an unfamiliarity with clipless shoes. On the other hand, flat pedal shoes have excellent grip and can appear more stylish than their clipless counterparts. These shoes might not have the very best kind of traction and grip on pedals, but that’s the price you pay for a shoe that can double as a part of your casual, day to day look.
2. Are sneakers or trainers good enough for mountain biking?
No, because they are not equipped with either the right amount of traction on the sole or the cleats that attach to clipless pedals. It is important to find a pair of shoes that is capable of sticking and staying on pedals because one slip up and cause a major accident.
3. Can cleats be felt while walking?
On some shoes, the cleats can be felt while walking. These are shoes that are not optimal for off the bike use. All the shoes on this list appear to be comfortable for walking.
4. Will the use of cleated shoes while walking damage the shoes?
Since the shoes are made to withstand tough conditions like rocky terrain, erratic weather, and lots of physical activity, mountain biking shoes aren’t easily damaged. However, the cleats themselves can potentially cause damage or, at the least, leave marks on wooden or vinyl floors. If you want to avoid this, walk slowly and do not slide your shoes across the floor.
5. How do I clean mountain bike shoes?
If you have just had a wet and muddy ride, rinse off the mud and dirt with cold water first. Prepare a stain remover solution and spray or immerse your shoes in them. Let them soak for 1 to 2 hours. Afterwards, brush off any stains with hot running water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot that it would burn your hands or damage your shoes.
Before you head out to dry your shoes, stuff them with balled up newspapers to soak up the remaining moisture, as well as to retain their shape. Do not leave your shoes out to dry in the sun.
The best mountain bike shoes should offer stability, comfort, good power transfer ability, breathability, and style. Some shoes more or less tick off all the boxes, while others prioritize certain traits over others.
This is fine, as people have their own preferences as to what feature they want to prioritize when buying shoes. It’s good to know which features are non-negotiable for you so that you can begin to choose the best fit for you.
Remember that choosing a good mountain bike shoe for you is not just about finding the best features, but also finding one that fits you well. Most shoes have features that help make the fit better and more comfortable, but again, it is up to you to know and decide what shape and size suit your foot, as we all have different feet.
Expect the best when shopping for mountain bike shoes. You will be using these during some of the toughest, most grueling hours of your life, traversing mountains and trails, enduring rain and mud. Take your time when shopping for your mountain bike shoes and make sure that you get the one that is the most comfortable and most suitable for all your needs.