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
- 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
Whether riding clip pedals or platforms, 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 ten pairs 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.
What to look for in mountain bike shoes
Racier clipless shoes often use carbon soles for ultimate stiffness and power transfer. For trial riding, extreme rigidity can be overkill and uncomfortable and also promote heel lift that’s an impediment when hiking with the bike.
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.
The Holy Grail for flat pedal shoes is maximum mechanical grip or friction from the rubber compound on the outer sole. Stickier soles weld to platforms and stay put in all weathers for better control and security. Vibram and Stealth blends are popular, with each specific compound aiming to best balance softness, stickiness, damping properties and durability.
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.
Indentations or grooves in the sole help shoes interlace with traction studs on pedals to resist back and forth foot movement while riding. Deeper toe treads can also significantly improve climbing traction for hiking up off the bike, that’s occasionally vital on stiffer clip shoes.
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.
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.
The best mountain bike shoes for flat pedals
Flat pedal shoes need to be comfortable, durable and look good, but above all need to grip like stink.
Sole compounds and tread patterns are vital to keep feet planted and maintain rider control, but work in tandem with the inner shank’s flexibility and the upper’s stability as a complete package. The rougher the trails, the more shoes want to bounce and shuffle around traction studs, so a well-damped shoe improves stability and hold. A good balance of sole stiffness is also needed to offer protection, efficient power transfer and comfort. Stiffer or thicker soles transmit marginally less feel from the ground, but generally offer a more direct feel when pedalling. They also keep feet from clawing round the platforms (which can get tiring and uncomfortable) and better absorb repeated shocks on longer descents.
It’s ultimately the shoes that grip best that can be most relied on. Add to this aspect of performance, any shoe’s durability, comfort, off the bike ability, plus retail price considerations, and there’s a lot to consider.
Ride Concepts Hellion
Most of us at mbr ride exclusively on flat pedals and, since the shoe is half the story, we’re always looking for a shoe that offers a high grip level. The Hellion is not quite as grippy as the Five Ten Freerider Pro but it’s the closest we’ve tried.
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
A very, very good flat pedal offering from one of the original names in mountain biking. Bontrager have done what they set out to do with this shoe; there’s plenty of feel and power on offer and will be much prized by riders who find other flat shoes too stuck-down (Five Tens basically then). The thinner sole was also well liked by our testers and helped to keep overall bike ride height low as well as increased pedal feel and bike handling nimbleness. It also looks less outlandish and gawky than other flat shoes.
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 is a kind of halfway house between the thinner-soled Freerider range, and the heavier-duty Impact line. It has a stiffer mid sole than its slim outside profile suggests, but still offers great pedal feel and connection to the bike underneath, at least once bedded in. There’s good impact absorption against repeated hits to stop feet tiring on the longest and roughest descents too.
It almost goes without saying that Five Ten’s dotted Stealth rubber sole offers class-leading pedal grip. With a properly locked-on feel, this shoe has the best hold on test, offering maximum confidence against bouncing or twisting around, even in DH-level terrain on a short travel rig. The tread design also works well hiking back up slippy trails or mountains if you need it too.
This Pro version is around twenty-five quid more cash than the original Five Ten Freerider, but lighter and also significantly sturdier, and still retains excellent crank clearance with its slim profile at the ankle. The new reinforced toe box uses an impact-hardening foam insert that’s proven its worth repeatedly in impacts too, and the whole package feels secure and safe smashing through rocks.
With extra abrasion-resistant scuff guards and a stitched on sole, durability has been impressive over twelve months. After a few rides to conform to feet and pedals, the Freerider Pro continually wears out and stretches, rather than failing catastrophically. So while soles have peeled off and uppers fallen apart on some Five Tens recently, this Pro lives up to its name.
With outstanding grip, ease of cleaning, great foot support and sorted protection, this is currently the best flat pedal shoe on the market for trail riding.
Specialized 2FO 2.0 mountain bike shoes
The latest generation Specialized 2FO shoe is more flexible, much lighter and uses a stickier sole than previously. This 2.0 model is the pricier of two options and uses thicker, more durable materials rated for full on downhill and enduro use.
At first, the sculpted 2FO feels pretty stiff (more like a clip pedal shoe), but it beds in nicely with both the upper and sole loosening to conform to feet and pedals. Foot support against ankle roll and overall security is spot on with a textured-inside tongue that doesn’t slip an inch and a deep ankle cup that locks the heel firmly.
The outer sole uses a new, improved formula of ‘SlipNot’ rubber, which is more squidgy and stickier. The 2FO is well tuned to balance good pedal feel and grip with outstanding shock absorption. On rough, rocky ground the thicker midsole prevents feet clawing over the pedals and getting tired, and the materials used really dull down vibration and impacts hitting things hard.
There’s reinforcement against rubbing and dense foam imbedded in the sides and toebox, plus the outer resists splashing and sheds water to dry quickly. The interior shape and insole use Specialized’s Body Geometry principles and spread toes a little, support arches and angle the foot for pedalling, which might sound weird, but it’s all very comfortable and natural when riding.
This ‘foot out, flat out’ shoe nails it. The tightly-woven pattern of lugs mesh with flat pedal pins nicely, so there’s plenty pedal hold, but it’s the overall solidity, build quality and foot support that really stand out and make this a rock-solid option.
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||9/10|
|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.
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.