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.
Here is our guide to finding the best mountain bike shoes to go for in 2021. Mountain bike shoes come in all shapes and sizes and an array of different designs. Mountain bike shoes are split into two types; shoes for flat pedals and shoes with cleats for clipless pedals. Flat pedal shoes have low-profile soles made from sticky rubber. Clipless shoes are stiffer and have recessed bolt holes for attaching pedal cleats.
With flat pedals shoes, rubber is important, but with all shoes the tread pattern and flexibiliy also plays a vital role in enhancing grip. Malleability matters, because when you’re riding rough tracks 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.
Best mountain bike shoes – flat
- Five Ten Freerider Pro – WINNER
- Specialized 2FO Roost
- Ride Concepts TNT
- Specialized 2FO 1.0
- Five Ten Trail Cross LT
- Unparallel Dust Up
Best mountain bike shoes – clipless
- Shimano ME5 SPD – WINNER
- Giro Terraduro
- Ride Concepts Transition
- Bontrager Rally
- Giro Ventura
- Giro Chamber II
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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
Still the best flat pedal shoe on the market for trail riding
Price: £119.95 / £150.00 | Weight: 780g | Sizes: 5 to 13.5
Pro: The grippiest sole available. Shock absorbing midsole.
Con: Pretty pricey. Can be too sticky for some riders.
The Freerider Pro has been our test winning flat pedal shoe for the last few years. It 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. 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 Roost
Finally a shoe with a sole grippy enough to rival Five Ten
Price: £110 / $120.00 | Weight: 828g | Sizes: UK 3.5-14 (EU 36-49)
Pro: Lightweight flat pedal shoe with super sticky rubber and decent shock absorption
Con: If anything they size up small. Durability unproven.
Specialized has persevered with its flat pedal shoe offering, and boy are we glad that it did. The original 2FO shoes were a decent first attempt, with a lightweight structure, excellent comfort and shock absorption as well as some cool features. But the sole never quite boasted the security of a Five Ten when meshed with a flat pedal. And they were no cheaper than their rivals.
Now Specialized has nailed the rubber blend, with a sole that stays fully planted in all-conditions. The new 2FO Roost shoes are also lightweight, competitively priced and more like a regular trainer to walk around in than a Five Ten.
Ride Concepts TNT
Good value, comfy, protective, hardwearing
Price: £144.99 / $160.00 | Weight: 1100g | Sizes: 4-10.5 (37-45)
Pro: Good price for a high tech shoe. Durability.
Con: Sole is a bit thick and a tad on the stiff side.
The TNT may have a DH tag but ignore that this is a great winter trail shoe – it has a ton of grip and protection, there’s no mesh, so it’s pretty water resistant and it’s really comfy. The icing on the cake? The rubber compound: of all the rivals to Five Ten’s Stealth rubber this is the best we’ve tested.
Specialized 2FO Flat 1.0
Build quality and foot support really boosts the 2FO package
Price: £100.00 / $120.00 | Weight: 630g | Sizes: 36-47
Pro: Excellent pedal feel. Ergonomic footbeds included.
Con: Not cheap. Narrow fitting.
Super-soft Slip Knot rubber dual-compound sole. It’s also lightweight and more flexible than most, 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. Rarely does a cheaper sibling out-perform its more expensive big brother, but that’s the case here – the 2FO Flat 1.0 is a definite step up from the 2FO Flat 2.0 and, best of all, you don’t have to pay any extra for the performance gains.
Five Ten TrailCross LT
Great choice if you’re looking for a good hike-a-bike outdoor shoe
Price: £109.95 / $140.00 | Weight: 790g | Sizes: 36-50
Feeling safe and totally connected to the machine equals maximum fun to me, so we can’t help but feel a shoe that prioritises hiking and speed of drying ahead of grip and control misses the mark a little. That said, if you’re looking for a good dual-purpose outdoor shoe, the Five Ten Trail Cross could be the perfect choice.
Unparallel Dust Up
Made from incredibly sticky 45-50 durometer rubber
Price: £115.00 / $149.95 | Weight: 897g | Sizes: 6-10.5
Overall the Dust Up is a great first effort, it’s an incredibly comfortable shoe to ride and walk in thanks to its soft upper and flexy sole, and the softest compound in MTB shoes is a triumph. The grip is very good but it could be better if Unparallel sorted out its sole design.
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.
Shimano ME5 SPD
Just that bit more comfortable with better fit than their rivals
Price: £129.99 / $160.00 | Weight: 774g | Sizes: 38-50
If you’re looking for a good old workhorse trail shoe, suitable for all the challenges you might face on an epic ride somewhere wild like the Lakes – rocks, hike-a-bikes, river crossings – then look no further than the Shimano ME5. With a BOA closure system supplemented by a Velcro strap, all of your power goes into turning the cranks, while the Torbal mid-sole enhances this direct pedalling connection while allowing torsional twist in technical sections.
Jack of all trades that’s also the master
Price: £149.99 / $179.99 | Weight: 890g | Sizes: 40 to 48
Pro: A proper trail rider’s clipless shoe. Very comfortable on and off the bike.
Con: Some will prefer Boa retention. Slightly narrow fitting.
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.
Ride Concepts Transition
More of a sense of protection this side of a steel toe-cap boot
Price: £154.95 / $160.00 | Weight: 1182g | Sizes: 39.5-47
For the style of shoe and the type of riding it’s intended for, this provides perfectly adequate stiffness for effective pedalling, without becoming uncomfortable on longer rides. To increase foot comfort on hard landings and during general riding, the insole features D3O inserts.
Bontrager Rally shoe
The nicest clip-in shoes to wear all day
Price: £139.99 / $149.99 | Weight: 886g | Sizes: 37 to 48
Pro: Shock absorbing qualities. Comfort is on another level.
Con: Needs to be paired with caged clipless pedals. Some cleats need spacers underneath to clear sole.
Light for a trail shoe. That means it takes less effort to spin the cranks. Less material usually means less durability, but so far that’s not the case with the Rallys, and they’re showing barely any signs of wear. Helping in that regard is the reinforced toe box and the GnarGuard abrasion-resistant coating on the heel and toe cap.
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.
Really comfortable shoes that work brilliantly for all-day XC epics
Price: £159.99 / $179.95 | Weight: 840g | Sizes: 39-48
Once we got used to the wider stance afforded by the cleat positioning, we found the Giro Ventana shoes to be a super comfortable shoe – the tongue has deeper padding than the Shimanos, and feel plusher as a result for general pedalling, but when we dialled the BOA up good and tight for maximum efficiency, there was a degree of pitching across the top of my foot that made harder efforts that bit more uncomfortable.
Giro Chamber II
Been around for a while but still a great option
Price: £129.99 | Weight: 1,020g | Sizes: 4-13
Although it’s one of the heavier shoes on the market – which is slightly noticeable when turning pedals over all day long – offsetting the chunkiness is the sheer fact that the Chamber II is as comfy as your favourite trainer. The wide-ranging cleat position feels natural and is ideal for riders swapping between clips and flats and wanting identical pedal position.
What to look for in the best mountain bike shoes
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.
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
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.