The best mountain bike shoes to go for in 2020
Here’s our pick of the best mountain bike shoes. Whether you ride flat pedals or clipless, you need a good shoe to deliver power through the pedals.
What is a mountain bike shoe?
Mountain bike shoes are spit into two types; shoes for flat pedals and shoes with cleats for clipless pedals. Flat pedal shoes have low-profile soles made form sticky rubber. Clipless shoes are stiffer and have recessed bolt holes for attaching pedal cleats.
Best mountain bike shoes in 2020
Here our are current favourite best mountain bike shoes. See the links to full reviews down the page.
- Five Ten Freerider Pro, £110.00 – Flat
- Ride Concepts Hellion, £119.99 – Flat
- Five Ten Impact Pro, £124.99 – Flat
- Bontrager Flatline, £119.99 – Flat
- Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL, £109.85 – Flat
- Five Ten Freerider EPS High, £115.00 – Flat
- Specialized 2FO 2.0, £130.00 – Flat
- Five Ten Freeride Elements, £85.00 – Flat
- Ride Concepts Livewire, £99.95 – Flat
- Shimano ME7 SPD, £159.99 – Clipless
- Mavic XA Matryx Clip, £160.00 0 Clipless
- Specialized S Works 6XC, £310.00 – Clipless
- Scott MTB Team Boa, £149.99 – Clipless
- Ion Rascal, £109.95 – Clipless
- Bont Riot MTB, £169.99 – Clipless
- Giro Chamber II Gwin, £129.99 – Clipless
- Shimano XC7 SPD, £169.99 – Clipless
The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals
The best flat pedal shoes stick to your bike like bubble gum to carpet and manage to deliver comfort and security, help loosen up your riding and let you dab a foot if things get a little wild.
The question asked by anyone who exclusively rides clip-in pedals, is how do your feet stay on if they’re not mechanically attached to the bike? The answer doesn’t involve witchcraft or mind control, it’s simply a combination of a good platform pedal (see last month’s issue) and a grippy shoe united, crucially, by the right technique (check out mbr.co.uk for loads of advice about how to ride with flats).
Flat pedal shoes come in all shapes and sizes and an array of different rubber compounds. Top of the heap for the last two years has been the Five Ten Freerider Pro. It uses Five Ten’s excellent Stealth rubber, which is super grippy and reasonably hard wearing – you can often get a year to 18-months out of a pair of Freerider Pro shoes before the soles fall apart. So rubber is important, but the tread pattern and flexibiliy also plays a vital role in enhancing grip. Malleability matters, because when you’re riding rough tracks, your feet will start to bounce off the pedals, and a more flexible sole allows you to absorb some of these impacts. The downside of a flexible shoe is that it’s less pedal efficient, which matters when climbing or sprinting. So as you can see, getting the balance is key to a great shoe, and the Freerider Pro has got this spot on from day one. But new contenders hit the market on a regular basis, and since our last group test, a whole host of new challengers have popped up boasting soft compounds and unbeatable grip. Time to put those claims to the test.
Ride Concepts Livewire
The Livewire has lasted better than most flat pedal shoes I’ve tried, the sole still looks remarkably free of pock marks even after six month’s of riding. That makes a lot of sense, given the slightly less grip on offer and harder wearing rubber. The synthetic upper is looking good too, and the moulded toe and the heel box remain gouge free.
Ride Concepts Hellion
The Hellion uses Ride Concepts’ DST 6.0 High Grip rubber outsole, which is made using the mid-density from the company’s Rubber Kinetics range. We measured the durometer (softness) at around 71a, which on a par with the Vibram Megagrip featured on the Bontrager and Giro shoes. It doesn’t have the rebound characteristics of the Five Ten Stealth rubber, but you only really notice a loss of grip when charging hard in a technical section.
One of the reasons the Hellion is a step above is it’s a little bit wider, so there’s more shoe on the pedal for a given size.
Build quality is excellent – the shoe has anti-abrasion toe and heel protection, a two-panel synthetic upper with an anti-peel coating and a fully gusseted tongue to stop dirt and debris getting inside. There’s also a D3O High Impact Zone insole, which means there are two patches of this self-hardening D30 material over the heel and ball of the foot area. Compared to the wafer-thin insoles you get in some flat shoes, this provides extra cushioning and really adds to the overall feeling of solidity.
We have a few criticisms – the padding in the heel cup also sits a little bit too low, which causes it to bunch up when you put the shoe on. We often had to take the shoe off again when this happened, but on some test shoes this area has deformed permanently. After repeated washing our sample shoe has also shrunk quite a bit, and now feels a half size smaller. Not that it’s on the large size, so it may be worth going up a half size, which would mitigate the issue with the heel. We also noticed the upper has started to split slightly on the toe area and the laces and have started to wear precariously thin.
Five Ten Impact Pro mountain bike shoes
One of the latest models from Five Ten promises better strength, increased durability, faster drying-out times and lighter overall weight. The Impact name goes back the very first MTB shoe from Five Ten but this new Impact is a very different and more sophisticated beast. Multi-panel upper that better resists soggying-up, various different materials in the midsole (for nice damping qualities) and reinforced toe box and bumper. What’s not changed much is the levels of grip. These are very, very grippy shoes indeed. Slightly thicker sole than Five Ten Freerider make them more for bombing gravity-fed riders than the subtleties of trail riders.
Bontrager Flatline mountain bike shoes
The outer sole on the Flatline is made by Vibram using the company’s ‘Megagrip’ rubber. That may sound super tacky, but it’s one of the hardest here featuring a 70a density over the ball of the foot and on the toe and heel. That said, it doesn’t ride quite as hard as the Shimano simply because there’s quite a lot of damping in the flexible sole. This is also relatively low-profile, which enhances stability and keeps the shoe centred on the pedal.
With mechanical ridges formed into the toe and heel edges, traction is okay off the bike, but there are better shoes here if you have to do a lot of scrambling. The synthetic upper is water resistant and the shoe features a handy lace-lock to keep them tidy.
There are two things we really liked about this shoe – it’s super lightweight, so feels efficient when pedalling, and it’s dead easy to pull on. There’s none of the crumpled heel or stiff upper we experienced on some other shoes. Unfortunately, the shoe is a little narrow and tight, especially across the toe area, so to stop them pinching we had to run the laces a little looser than we’d like. We’d definitely try a half size bigger if you have a high instep.
Inside the Flatlines are a pair of orthotic insoles. These are comfortable and supportive, but we’ve noticed the material has started to break down slightly as we removed the insoles for cleaning.
The Flatline is comparable in price to our test winners, and it has a neat simple aesthetic. Unfortunately, the worst thing is the Vibram rubber – it’s just too hard, which is a shame because Bontrager has nailed the feel and flex. If the company could somehow meld a softer rubber with the sole’s resilience it’d have a test winner.
Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL mountain bike shoes
Adidas also offer a taller cuffed Adidas Terrex Trail Cross Protect version, if you feel the need for ankle support or protection. The latest Terrex shoes are very different from the first appearance a few years ago. There’s still the sticky Stealth rubber sole but the uppers are now more abrasion proof and the shoes in general don’t hold on to moisture quite as much as before. The greatest aspect of the Terrex is that of comfort. Comfort on the bike when smashing rock gardens and comfort off the bike when hiking or taking a break. Less rigid in the uper than Five Ten equivalent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for all riders.
Five Ten Freerider EPS High mountain bike shoes
Flat pedal riders are often poorly served by shoes comapred to their clip-in cousins, but these EPS Freeriders are different. The EPS shoes have insulated uppers and heat-reflective insoles and even if we have our doubts as to the genuine efficacy of these features there’s no doubting that the sealed-in upper and tongue really does keep the cold and wet out remarkably well. On the bike they perform just as regular Freeriders, which is excellent, but they keep you warm and dry in wet weathers. The uppers can lose their shine and begin to flake at the edges but their weather-keeping properties seem to remain true. An excellent one-off winter flat shoe.
Five Ten Freerider Pro mountain bike shoes
The Freerider Pro has been our test winning flat pedal shoe for the last few years. It splits the difference between the basic, thinner-soled Freerider, and the heavier-duty Impact, but is stiffer than its slim profile suggests. To stop it getting bounced off, there’s plenty of flex in the sole and it’s also wider than most. The Stealth rubber is a cut above anything else here and was the only one that measured close to 50a. This rubber is also slow-rebound, so you just feel more stable on the pedal, even in the wet.
The upper is synthetic leather but this isn’t as hard wearing as some and starts to cut up and peel apart with use. We’ve also seen the mesh covering the padding on the heel tear up really badly on several of our samples. This area also soaks up water like a sponge and takes an age to dry out, but on the flip-side, the deep pocket feels snug and offers good achilles support.
Abrasion-resistant scuff guards are placed front and rear. There’s no lace lock and the stock laces might as well be made of cheese for the length of time they last.
Switching between all the test shoes and we only noticed subtle differences, but bung on the Freeider Pros and it’s like a slap in the face – they’re so much more stable and surefooted on the pedal.The Freerider Pro isn’t the cheapest shoe, the lightest or the best off the bike, but it has excellent impact absorption and is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of grip. For an extra £25 over the base model, the Pro’s extra features make it well worth the money, and if you ride flats it should be top of your list. Much as we hate sounding like a broken record, the Freerider Pro is the best shoe here and nothing else comes close in terms of ride feel and grip.
Specialized 2FO 2.0 mountain bike shoes
At £l35 the 2FO Flat 2.0 isn’t a cheap shoe, but it does get a super-soft Slip Knot rubber dual-compound sole, which we measured at around 60a at the pedal interface (70a at the heel and toe). It’s also lightweight and more flexible than most here, which meant we could really bend our feet over the pedals when climbing or railing hard into a turn. The Air mesh upper adds a degree of comfort most others shoes lack too, and also dries incredibly quickly.
To reduce wear and up the protection levels, there’s a sizeable bumper on the toe and the tongue is also heavily padded. To keep the laces out of the chainring or from winding round the crankarm, the shoe gets a lace lock, but one did snap on our sample.
Like most Specialized shoes, the 2FO Flat 2.0 gets a Body Geometry last and ergonomically-shaped footbeds with a high arch support. They’re super supportive, but a downside of the BG tech is it does mean the shoe is pretty tall in the heel. This extra meat improves cushioning, but the shoes feels less stable and a bit perched on the pedal as result. Specialized could offset this by making the sole wider, because it is one of the narrowest here.
One of the best things about the 2FO Flat 2.0 sole is the engineered lug pattern – the knobs in the centre are lower-profile, so integrate well with pedal pins, but those at the toe and heel are deeper to aid traction for those inevitable push-ups.
In terms of pedal traction, the 2FO Flat 2.0 comes closest to matching Five Ten’s Stealth performance – there’s definitely more feel than most of the shoes here – but we still recommend the Freerider Pro simply because it’s lower profile and crucially £l5 cheaper.
Five Ten Freerider Elements mountain bike shoes
Yes, yet another version of the Freerider. The Elements suffix indicates that this Freerider is more guarded against the er, elements. Water, mainly. There are no mesh panels on this Freerider and the upper has been given a DWR coating. Whilst not offering the same levels of weather proofing as the Five Ten Pro and EPS models, it doesn’t have quite the same price tag either. The added bonus of these £5-more Freeriders is that the slightly thicker and less tretchy upper results in a more secure on-pedal feel and actually improves bike handling nimbleness and response input.
|Five Ten Freerider Pro||£110.00||780g||5 to 13.5||N/A||10/10|
|Five Ten Impact Pro||£124.99||996g||5 to 13.5||Black/Camo, Black/Gold, Night Navy||9/10|
|Bontrager Flatline||£119.99||760g||5 to 13.5||Black, Viper Red||8/10|
|Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL||£109.85||940g||5 to 13.5||Black||9/10|
|Five Ten Freerider EPS High||£115.00||N/A||EU33 to 49.5||Midnight, Core Black, Auburn||9/10|
|Specialized 2FO 2.0||£130.00||754g||5 to 13||Black, Neon Yellow||9/10|
|Five Ten Freeride Elements||£85.00||N/A||5 to 12||N/A||9/10|
The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals: winners
Is the original sticky flat pedal brand still the best? We reckon so, and Five Ten still leads the charge for riders hunting for maximum flat pedal grip.
Best flat pedal mountain bike shoes for grip: either Five Ten Freerider Pro or the Five Ten Freerider Elements if you want some splash protection.
Best flat pedal mountain bike shoes for feel: the Bontrager Flatline and Specialized 2FO 2.0 offering excellent feedback and superb damping in a stiff package.
Whether riding clip pedals or flat pedals, mountain bike shoes need to be comfortable, durable and look good. The best shoes go beyond these basics though and increase rider control and confidence for maximum enjoyment on the trails.
Top performance criteria for clip pedal shoes include foot stability and stiffness, and also how easily the sole allows mechanical engagement of cleats in and out of pedal ratchet systems. For flat pedal shoes, sole compound and pure grip is vital, but shoes need to work as a harmonious whole too with both upper and mid sole balanced for best damping and comfort. All bike shoes need to tune stiffness and security against all-day comfort, be tough enough to survive knocks and scrapes and protect pinkies from typically wet or cold UK conditions too.
The rougher the trail, the more shoes bounce and shuffle, so potential to accidentally unclip or lose flat pedal position increases if fit and design aren’t totally dialled in. Sole stiffness and any impact zones can also offer protection from knocks, deliver efficient power transfer and boost safety. Stiffer or thicker soles transmit marginally less feel from the ground, but generally offer a more direct, energetic feel when pedalling. They also keep feet from clawing round platforms (which can cause fatigue) and better absorb repeated shocks on longer descents.
We’ve got all of the best shoes tested here, so whatever your preferred style there’s a shoe for everyone, and we’ve deliberately mixed up long-term proven favourites with brand new products for a broader overview.
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals
Mavic XA Matryx Clip
Mavic’s XA Matryx strikes a near perfect balance of stiffness and comfort and has class-leading off-the-bike grip for hiking about wet trails. Just about the only complaint then is the steep £160 asking price, and you’ll need to try for size too as Mavic’s shoes come up around half a size smaller than most brands.
Specialized S Works 6XC
This is the zenith of Specialized’s cross country clipless shoes. It must be one of the most high tech shoes out there and the list of features that is crammed into this shoe is quite amazing really. The front of the shoe is made from softer material, and with minimal amount of seams, for ultimate comfort. The rear of the shoe is all about holding things in place under pedal power. Thge BOA strap system is excellent. The super think yet super stiff sole is an impressive piece of carbon know how. They are a bit too stiff for much off-bike use but if you clip-in and hammer until the ride/race is over, you’ll love these.
Scott MTB Team Boa
The Scott MTB Team BOA shoe has a tunable fit that should work for a wide variety of foot shapes. Pedalling stiffness is perfectly adequate for racing although the nylon reinforced sole and thicker materials make it heavier than most competitors.
Comfy and efficient, you don’t need more from a pair of clip-in shoes. The ION Rascal should be high on the wishlist for riders wanting a clip-in shoe suitable for everything from trail riding to DH. Make the velcro a little longer and it would be perfect 10.
Bont Riot MTB
The Bont Riot MTB are worthy of serious consideration for your next pair of clipless shoes, and not just for racing. The ability to custom mould the shoe to your foot shape is a godsend for riders for whom ‘off the shelf’ shoes represent painful issues whilst riding. When you combine that comfort with the level of performance the Riot is blessed with then you have a serious contender for the best clipless shoe on the market today.
Giro Chamber II Gwin
The original Giro Chamber was without doubt one of the standout shoes for trail, enduro and DH riders wanting the performance of a clip-in shoe without sacrificing the casual look of a skate style flat pedal shoe.
The first thing you notice about the Chamber II is Giro has set about streamlining the whole look of the upper. It’s a touch less skate shoe like than the original, with far less panels and stitching. Whilst these panels gave the original it’s distinctive casual look, stitching creates weak points and also gives water more of a chance to get through to your foot. The front half of the Chamber II is now almost completely seamless, lending it not only better durability but also a sleeker look. A look that you’ll either love or hate, dependent on how you felt about the original.
The rear half looks like it’s still made of several pieces, but even here panelling has been kept to a minimum. It still retains the lace and Velcro strap combination but here the lacing has a more enclosed feel. Lacking the gap the original Chamber had at the lower lace point that used to hoover up mud and trail debris is another improvement. The toe also features a bonded protective rubber rand and the Vibram sole also follows suit by being glued/bonded to the upper, doing away with the extra stitching found on the original shoe. The tongue has been bulked up with more padding and the Chamber II loses the inner sleeve to hold it in place, relying on two strips of elastic. A feature found on all of Giro’s other ‘casual’ styled shoes.
All of these changes has not only given the Chamber II a less clumpy look but has also had an impact on the fit. It’s a very small impact but the Chamber II is a touch narrower, especially across the toe box. I have a pretty medium width foot and it is still incredibly comfortable, if anything it holds my foot better. But if you have properly wide feet you’ll need to try it on first. Also regarding fit, the Velcro strap almost feels too short, leaving a big gap with Velcro exposed. But again, whilst this isn’t perfect, I would rather this than have an overly long strap that can get snagged in the undergrowth.
Looking at the sole unit, Giro has radically altered the design and layout of the outsole to address the issues with the existing shoe.
First up it’s a much more open heaxagonal tread pattern repeated over the whole sole, much better for shedding mud providing grip. But much more radical is the repositioned cleat recess, allowing for a cleat position that replicates the foot position on a flat pedal.
This aids bike control and gives more of a connected feel. You can still run cleats in a standard position if you so wish, but for more extreme riding this new position is pretty damn perfect. The ends of the cleat recess are also much more ramped to help guide you to a quick engagement. The most noticeable benefit of all this redesign is an almost complete lack of fouling with pedals, making the Chamber II a better performing shoe.
From a comfort and pedalling efficiency standpoint, the Chamber II retains an excellent balance between sole stiffness and off-bike walking comfort. If anything Giro has upped the overall stiffness making it a better option for riders who like to get the miles in. Fortunately it still remains comfortable enough to spend the day in without feeling the need to rip them off after a few metres of walking.
Shimano ME7 SPD
We rated the old Shimano M200, as one of the best enduro race-style shoes available at the time, but the ME7 has taken the best bits of those and improved on them. It’s grippy, comfortable and so far it has proved tough and durable. If you’re looking for a shoe suited to enduro or fast trail riding, this is currently one of the best.
Shimano XC7 SPD
The XC7 is a bit more versatile than an out and out XC racer. The flex-tuned sole add forgiveness to the toe and heel. And, combined with the fit, make it a shoe comfortable enough to forget you are wearing.
|Shimano ME7 SPD||£159.99||880g||38 to 48||N/A||10/10|
|Specialized S Works 6XC||£310.00||558g||39 to 49||Black, White/Black||9/10|
|Scott MTB Team Boa||£149.99||850g||41 to 48||Matt Grey/Neon Red, Matt Black/Gloss Black||9/10|
|ION Rascal||£109.95||938g||37 to 47||Black, Stream Blue||9/10|
|Bont Riot MTB||£169.99||N/A||40 to 50||Black, Black/Blue, Black/Grey, Black/Green||9/10|
|Giro Chamber II||£129.99||1,020g||4 to 13||Blue, Dark Shadow, Black/White||9/10|
|Shimano XC7 SPD||£169.99||N/A||39 to 48||N/A||9/10|
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals: winners
Best clipless pedal mountain bike shoes XC and trail riding: Shimano ME7 SPD.
Best clipless pedal mountain bike shoes for enduro and gravity riding: the Giro Chamber II Gwin.
What to look for in mountain bike shoes
Racier clipless shoes often use carbon soles for ultimate stiffness and power transfer. For trail riding, extreme rigidity can be overkill and uncomfortable and also promote heel lift that’s an impediment when hiking with the bike.
Aka the insole. This should be supportive and stable, and any extra features like D3O impact zones or Body Geometry ergonomic shaping are a bonus.
Cleat opening and position
In general, a broader, more rounded off cleat opening allows easier, more intuitive engagement. The sole compound and cleat box position also effects entry and exit, with the optimum design being secure on the trail, yet easy to disengage if suddenly needed.
Reinforced toe-boxes and ankle zones protect from impacts and bumps from stray rocks and debris. The best uppers also protect against water splash and cold weather. Any shoes also need to absorb repeated pummelling from rough terrain underneath and hard impacts transmitted through the bike.
Whether traditional laces, Velcro wraps or Boa-style tensioning systems, shoes need to stay firm without digging in or creating pressure points. A wriggly fit reduces control steering with feet, and can introduce rubbing. Look for easy to use designs for cold hands, solid laces that won’t rot, and thick tongues for stabilisation and comfort.
Shoes need to rotate with the cranks on every stroke, so lighter shoes are more efficient pedalling. The caveat here is that the most lightweight shoes might not be solid enough to transmit rider power effectively into the drivetrain.
In terms of grip, the softer the better, but many manufacturers are paranoid about accelerated wear and prioritise durability over ride security. But we’d rather have a shoe that offered the best grip and replace it more often, than put up with one that reduced our confidence and diminished our ride experience. Soft-compound rubber with slow rebound properties are essential to making a good flat pedal shoe.
One of the things worth noting about rubber is it does soften as it wears, so the grip levels when a shoe is new can be different a few months down the line when it’s scrubbed in.
Stiffness and flexibility
A major chunk of shoe stiffness comes from the shank or midsole – the foundation that connects the outer sole with the interior footbed. A less flexible sole can improve comfort on longer rides, but reduces trail transmissions to sensitive nerve endings in toes and feet that feedback information about grip and terrain.
Waterproofness and warmth
There’s a balance to strike between ventilation and protection from the elements. In the UK, a more water resistant upper rules, both for fending off splashes and rain, and also drying fast when shoes get soaked. Look out for holes or mesh panels on toes as obvious areas for moisture penetration. Once water gets in, shoes need to drain easily too or feet can ‘swim’ inside.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding the pattern on the sole. Some companies use a waffle, others just a tyre-inspired design and, on some, it’s just smooth flat rubber. It is important to have a more open traction section on the toe and heel for extra grip when scrambling up and down steep terrain.
It’s no good a sole compound lasting years if the rubber is too stiff and slippery to want to use in the first place. The best products should stretch and erode uppers and soles in a uniform way, so maximum lifespan and performance are well balanced.
Laces or straps
Most flat shoes just have laces because you’re not having to clip in, and you don’t really pull up on the pedal like you do with an SPD because your foot just comes off. However, some flat shoes feature additional straps to add stability and act as a cover for the laces.
These are usually reinforced rubber sections on the toe and heel to stop abrasion and protect your feet from rock strikes and damage.
This is usually an elastic loop that you can tuck the laces into on the front of the shoe. It stops them getting caught in the crank arms or the chainring.
A shoe is like a tyre – it has a contact patch, so the wider the shoe for a given size, the more grip and traction it creates and the more stable it’ll feel on the pedal platform.
How to pick mountain bike shoes
Choosing clipless spd-style shoes or flat-pedal, there are some important ‘must-haves’. A decent amount of stiffness to make sure your energy goes into the shoe and the trail is key. You should also look for heel and toe protection to defend your feet from rocks and crashes.
Then there’s the retention system, how the shoe is fastened to your foot: it should be reliable and easy to use and crucially, not deliver any painful pressure points to your foot.