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.
Best flat pedal shoes
- Five Ten Freerider Pro – WINNER
- Five Ten Impact Pro
- Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL
- Specialized 2FO 2.0
- Ride Concepts Livewire
Best clipless pedal shoes
- Shimano ME7 SPD – WINNER
- Scott MTB Team Boa
- Bont Riot MTB
- Giro Terraduro
- Bontrager Rally
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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.
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.
Five Ten Freerider Pro, £110
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 is also slow-rebound, so you just feel more stable on the pedal, even in the wet.
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.
Ride Concepts Livewire, £99.95
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.
Five Ten Impact Pro, £124.99
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.
Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL, £109.95
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.
Specialized 2FO 2.0, £130
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.
The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals: winners
Best flat pedal mountain bike shoes for grip: Five Ten Freerider Pro.
Best flat pedal mountain bike shoes for feel: Specialized 2FO 2.0 offer excellent feedback and superb damping in a stiff package.
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals
Whether riding clipless 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.
Giro Terraduro, £149.99
The Giro Terraduro manages to tread the fine line between trail and race, comfort and power transfer, pedalling and walking. In other words it’s comfortable enough for an all-day ride, but efficient enough to wear for a cross-country race. It’s light enough for long-distance pedalling, but durable enough to cope with mud-plugging through winter. You can wear it off the bike without skating around like Bambi on ice, shoulder your bike and climb a mountain pass, and even walk into a pub without looking like a clown. It’s a shoe that does it all, and does it all well. Call it a Jack of all trades if you want, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a master of none.
Shimano ME7 SPD, £159.99
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.
Scott MTB Team Boa, £149.99
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.
Bont Riot MTB, £169.99
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.
Bontrager Rally, £139.99
On and off the bike, the Bontrager Rally shoe is equally as comfortable. In fact it’s one of the nicest clip-in shoes to walk around in that we’ve ever tested. Grip for hike-a-biking is acceptable but not exceptional. Providing you’re not planning on too many summit assaults, and you can stretch to the somewhat lofty asking price, the Rally shoe comes highly recommended.
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals: winners
Best clipless pedal mountain bike shoes XC and trail riding: Shimano ME7 SPD or Giro Terraduro.
Best clipless pedal mountain bike shoes for enduro and gravity riding: Bontrager Rally.
What to look for in the best 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 the best 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.