You need to purchase a lot of gear when you start mountain biking, and you may be wondering if mountain bike shoes are worth it?
It is not as simple as a yes or no answer, so check out our deep dive into what benefits mountain bike shoes offer as well as some common alternatives.
Can You Mountain Bike With Normal Shoes?
The short answer is yes, you can, and riding in normal shoes will be just fine for a lot of the time. However, there are many disadvantages to not riding with mountain bike-specific shoes. The degree to which these will affect your riding will depend on the type of shoes you are using, your skill level, the terrain you are riding in, and how much you ride.
First of all, some shoes are better than others and resemble mountain bike shoes more. Check out our in-depth discussion about this later on in the article.
The second important factor is your skill level. The higher your skill level, the more riding in regular shoes will hold you back. Mountain biking is an expensive sport to get into. So if you’re a beginner buying all the other gear like a bike and helmet, it is fine to wait a bit longer to save up for some bike-specific shoes.
Finally, the terrain and how much you ride will play an important factor in how quickly you should get yourself a MTB specif set of shoes. Mountain biking is rough on shoes, and if you ride a lot, you will find that your shoes won’t last that long. MTB pedals tend to shred normal shoes as the pins and groves just rip up the soft rubber normal shoes are made of.
Also, riding on rough terrain can be difficult if you can’t get the grip you need on the pedals, so if you ride rough terrain, a set of mountain bike shoes will help you out a lot!
Why You Should Use Mountain Bike Shoes
Let’s dive a little deeper into what benefits mountain bike shoes have to offer and why you should consider saving up for a set. Mountain bike shoes have many benefits and can take your riding to the next level, as well as boost your confidence out on the trails.
Stiffness is one of the largest differences between regular and MTB shoes. You’ll find when you flex the sole of a MTB shoe, it will be somewhat stiff compared to regular shoes. Stiff shoes result in more power being transferred to the bike when pedaling, which is a big help on those big climbs!
It also makes riding around much more comfortable. The shoe keeps your foot aligned on the pedals and stops the twisting a flexing when descending.
Durability is another important factor to consider when weighing up if purchasing a set of mountain bike shoes is right for you. The unfortunate fact is that mountain bike pedals typically destroy regular shoes. Mostly it occurs from the pins and grooves that the pedals have. You need these to keep your feet on the pedals, but the soft rubber on regular shoes just gets eaten up.
Therefore, normal shoes are alright for a short period, but if you want them to last, I would suggest getting yourself a set of MTB shoes as soon as possible.
One workaround I used when I first started was to use an old pair of shoes that I wasn’t worried about getting destroyed. I pretty much used them until they fell apart and then bought a set of mountain bike shoes.
Support and Grip
Mountain biking puts your foot in some weird positions and uses muscles that you wouldn’t usually use. The shoes are designed with stiff soles and uppers to keep your foot level on the pedals.
Mountain bike shoes are also made from a specific rubber compound designed to get maximum grip on the pedals. The rubber on the sole is very sticky, and since they’re intended for mountain biking, the pins on the pedals don’t chew up the shoe like regular shoes.
MTB specific shoes also have a sturdier, thicker upper to them, which gives your feet protection from rocks that get flicked up as well as anything you may clip with them out on the trails.
No one likes talking about it, but the extra protection comes in very handy when you do have a spill off the bike. If your foot does get tied up in the bike or something like that, you will be thankful for that extra protection. Having said that though, it doesn’t happen that often and so you can still wear normal shoes.
The last thing on why you should consider getting a pair of specific mountain bike shoes is it gives you the option of getting a set of clipless mountain bike shoes. It will mean purchasing another set of pedals, so there is a bit more of a cost to this option.
If you’re just starting out, clipless pedals are not necessary, and you are best starting off with a set of flat mountain bike shoes. You only need to upgrade to clipless when you’re confident and ready for the change.
Check out our article here when you’re considering making the switch.
Best Normal Shoes For MTB Riding
Suppose you have decided that jumping straight in and purchasing a set of mountain bike specific shoes is not the right decision yet. In that case, some shoes will be much better than other shoes.
The short answer is that skate shoes will usually be the best alternative if you have a spare set lying around. I go more in-depth on this later on in the article when discussing whether vans are good mountain bike shoes.
Here I have outlined some features to look for when deciding which shoes to use.
Flat Grippy Sole
Some features to look for are that you want a shoe with a flat sole that can connect nicely with the pedal giving you maximum grip. If you have any with a grippy feeling sole, that will also work better on the bike.
Hard Rubber Sole
Harder rubber soles like those found on skate shoes will last much better mountain biking than softer rubber shoes such as running shoes. Softer rubber typically gets chewed up by the grip on the pedals.
The stiffer the shoes, the better. It will help with both power transfer to the bike and stability of your foot when descending.
Here are just a few things that you should look for in shoes for biking. It is also worth considering how much you need the shoes as there is a good chance they will get covered in dust and mud and may never return to the same color again. But that is, after all, part of the fun of mountain biking.
Are Vans Shoes Good For Mountain Biking?
It is common to look at a pair of FiveTen mountain bike shoes and see that they look exactly like a skate shoe. However, there are some subtle differences between the two that make skate shoes like Vans not as good.
Why Vans are Good
In short, Vans are just alright as a mountain bike shoe. They are good because they have a nice flat sole, are easy to find and are affordable.
Why Vans are not Good
They are not good because of how flexible the soles are, which reduces power transfer through to the pedals. It also means less torsional support when descending, which makes your foot less stable.
Mountain bike specific shoes such as the FiveTens are made of a special rubber compound designed to stick the pedals and give you plenty of grip. Vans are not made with this in mind and so won’t stick to the pedals as well. It becomes extremely obvious in the wet as, for some reason, as soon as they get wet, they become unbelievably slippery. It can be so bad that you struggle to even keep your feet on the pedals.
Another point that may not seem as important but one that you will miss when you need it is the ankle protection from the cranks. These days, many MTB shoes have a raised edge around the ankle, which protects it if it comes in contact with the crank.
Do Vans Have A Specific MTB Shoe?
The answer is sort of, but not really. They have a BMX shoe that is better than their other shoes but still not as good as a MTB specific shoe. The reason is that BMX riders don’t care as much for pedaling efficiency or grip on the pedals in harsh conditions. Therefore they are still fairly flexible and not as grippy as you would want when descending.
You can use Vans shoes for mountain biking, but they come with a few drawbacks that may make you reconsider if that works within your budget. You are certainly better to start biking with Vans than to not bike at all. Just be aware of the downsides, like the slippery pedals and flexible soles, and you shouldn’t have too many issues.
So wrapping this all up, are mountain bike shoes worth it? Yes, they are. They increase power transfer through the pedals, improve the amount of grip on the pedals, offer more protection, and last longer than regular shoes.
However, for a beginner on a tighter budget, it is possible to get away without them providing you have a suitable pair of shoes lying around. Your experience on the bike won’t be as good as with the correct shoes, but it will get you started, and that’s the main thing. It’s all about time on the bike!
If you’re still a little bit confused about mountain bike shoes, I’ll point you to a few more helpful articles: