The best mountain bike shoes in 2018
Whether you ride flat pedals or clipless, you need a good shoe to deliver power through the pedals. Here’s our pick of the best mountain bike shoes for sale today.
Reviews of flat pedal shoes first, then clipless shoes and then some general cycling shoe buying advice to finish. Read on…
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.
The Raid’s levels of pedal traction are decent but less than the grippiest shoes here. This ‘grippy enough, but not fixed in place’ character might suit some, but we’d prefer maximum hold for the hardest tracks. A bit like a hiking boot, the stiff Raid needs breaking in at first, but is comfortable afterwards and a decent, durable option at a good price if you prefer a more supportive shoe.
Five Ten Impact Pro
This new Five Ten Impact Pro incorporates Five Ten’s latest improvements for weight saving, improved drying times and maximum toughness.Excellent at fending off water, drying fast and offering top protection, the Impact Pro is a bombproof performer best suited to big mountain riders or pure downhillers. The thicker sole may not appeal best to those who love a tactile, feel-every-contour, sensation through the pedals though.
Supple, roomy inside and comfortable without any hot spots or rubbing. This Bontrager shoe might be a top end price, but it delivers superb pedal feel, excellent grip and good wear life, making it a welcome new addition to the flat pedal shoe market.
Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL
Adidas has nailed it with the Terrex. Fifteen pounds more than previously means the price is less competitive now, but the quality, comfort levels (on and off the bike) and pedal feel are still top drawer. It’s proven durable too, so just about the only criticism is the thinner upper allows the foot to twist marginally from side-to-side independently of the sole more easily than some stiffer shoes if you like a locked-down feel.
Five Ten Freerider EPS High
In an ideal world I’d like to see a slightly thicker Stealth S1-soled model sitting somewhere between the Freerider Elements and Sam Hill Impact in terms of support and stiffness, but since this doesn’t exist, the EPS gets our vote as the best winter flat pedal trail shoe you can actually buy.
Five Ten Freerider Pro
If you ride flat pedals and want a shoe that grips we’d always recommend Five Ten, the difference now is the company has finally built a trail shoe that will go the distance.
Specialized 2FO 2.0
Specialized’s latest 2.0 model really clamps the foot comfortably and the sturdy sole absorbs shocks on rough trails and gets the power down while cranking. It’s hard wearing too, with excellent support and protection and stays relatively warm and dry in wet UK conditions.
Five Ten Freerider Elements
We’ve tested both the normal and Element shoes over the last year and we actually prefer the Elements Freerider, even when riding in the dry. This is because the synthetic upper adds quite a bit of stiffness and stability to the shoe, and it feels much more solid on the pedals as a result.
O’Neal Trigger II mountain bike shoes
O’Neal’s Trigger flat pedal shoe has been given a revamp. The half-cab cut with extra ankle protection and Vans-style’ waffle sole tread pattern are the same but overall weight is reduced and the shoe profile is slimmer and more refined.
Mountain bike shoes for flat pedals: conclusion
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. Its Five Ten Freerider Pro is arguably the best trail riding shoe the brand has ever made and the best option for riders balancing grip with weight saving and it delivers better wear life than the thinner original Freeriders.
Adidas have access to the Stealth rubber formula now too and also have a cracking pair of shoes using the high friction soles. The Adidas Terrex Trail Cross SL version deserves a special mention, all wrapped in a package that doesn’t ever feel bulky or heavy. The Terrex shoes don’t quite have the extreme pedal bite of the Five Tens in the muckiest conditions though.
The Bontrager Flatline and Specialized 2FO 2.0 are superb shoes here too, with the Flatline offering excellent pedal feel and feedback, and the 2FO superb damping and security in a stiff package that pedals efficiently and offers excellent protection.
The best mountain bike shoes for clipless pedals
Specialized S Works 6XC
The S-Works XC6 fulfils the wishlist for a cross country race shoe – stiff, light and comfortable. This level of performance should also make it pop up on the radar for any rider looking for an efficient shoe for ‘normal’ longer distance trail riding. However, as with most shoes at the highest performance end, the XC6 isn’t for everyone. The stiffness makes it uncomfortable for longer periods of walking or running.
Specialized Sport MTB
As an entry level shoe the Sport MTB is fortunate enough to benefit from some of the features of its more expensive brethren. This latest model also has the best styling to date and has the look of a much more expensive model. Specialized’s Body Geometry concept provides a comfortable and stable platform to ensure happy pedalling. The only real issue stems from the Velcro straps, which can take a few attempts to apportion the right level of retention. Also, if you have a low volume foot, the excess length of the straps can catch on undergrowth.
Giro Empire VR90 MTB
Combining old-school looks with new-school tech, the Giro Empire VR90 is a very desirable shoe. There’s no doubting Giro has worked hard to create a shoe for which performance, comfort and efficiency cannot be faulted. The problem lies within the retention system. The laces, whilst providing a very secure closure will limit the Empire’s appeal for some riders due to the added faffage.
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.
Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II
The X-Alp Launch ll manages to pack all the right ingredients of a great trail shoe into a very lightweight and comfortable package. The level of heel lift does spoil it somewhat but as long as you aren’t trying to run long distances it is something you can live with.
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.
Giro Terraduro Mid
It’s a good shoe, comfortable on and off the bike, efficient on the pedals and it’s definitely tough, but the niggles with the awkward lace flap and the subsequent difficulties in getting that perfect fit, stop it from matching our current favourite shoe in this sector, the Shimano ME7.
Fizik M3B Uomo MTB
It’s plain to see that the Fizik M3B Uomo has been created for one purpose only, to go fast. If you need the stiffest, most efficient pedalling platform to be used on short rides only, then look no further. This is the shoe for you. It’s just a pity that to extend the use of the M3B, most riders will need to invest in a better set of insoles.
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.
Specialized 2FO Cliplite
The upper is quite stiff and combines with the double BOA retention system to hold it rock solid to your foot. That stiffness also extends to the composite plate that runs through the centre of the sole, giving it efficiency when clipped in. Specialized has tuned the level of stiffness to keep it comfortable for off bike use. The heel and toe flex more than a race shoe so walking is natural and comfortable.
Giro Chamber II
Despite all these improvements the Chamber II is still a chunky shoe, it’s dropped a few grams from the original but still weighs a shade more than it’s rivals at 508 grams per shoe. It’s also gone up in price to £129.99. However, like the original, the Chamber II is now well on its way to becoming my go to shoe.
Shimano AM5 mountain bike shoes
Shimano’s AM5 trail shoe shares it’s DNA with the top-end AM9, but instead of a big flap, it uses a single strap to secure the laces and provide stability when pulling hard on the pedals. With just a couple of perforations around the toe, the AM5 still has good water resistance, and with its chunky sole and bumpers on the toe and heel, it’s protective and easily shrugs off minor rock strikes.
Scott Shr-alp RS mountain bike shoes
We like the high inside cuff, which prevented knocks to the anklebone when things got rough, and the tough heel cup and toe protection reinforced the Shr-alp’s mountain credentials. While the tread isn’t very deep, or aggressive, the compound is pretty sticky, and it’s combined with a mid-stiffness sole offering just enough flex to tackle rocky hikes without too many slips and curses. The Scott Shr-alp RS is pretty expensive, but it’s lightweight, tough and a really capable shoe for long days on the hills.
Shimano ME7 SPD mountain bike shoes
If you’re looking for a shoe suited to enduro or fast trail riding, the Shimano ME7 SPD shoe is currently one of the best.
Bontrager Cambion mountain bike shoes
Sharing features with the range topping XXX shoe, the Bontrager Cambion has an incredibly stiff sole for maximum power transfer. This stiffness is fortunately not at the expense of comfort.
Shimano XC7 SPD mountain bike shoes
The Shimano XC7 manages to balance cross country stiffness with all-day comfort. The styling might be a little racy for some but there’s no denying it is a great looker with its glossy finish.
Find the best mountain bike shoes for you
So there you have it. Tested and reviewed by mbr’s team of expert testers we’ve recommended the best shoes for your riding style: XC shoes, grippy downhill flats or something in between, hopefully there’s a shoe for you.
You use your feet far more than you realise when riding on your bike. Whether it’s putting down the power, carving up the turns or pushing your bike up to the top, your feet will always be engaged in some way.
A shoe that isn’t fit for purpose could leave you miserable on a ride, we think it’s far better to get a mountain bike specific shoe that you know will work. They’re durable and practical so the investment will pay off in the long run.
What to look for in mountain bike shoes
To get a pair of good-looking trail shoes that offer the right blend of comfort and efficiency for general off-road use, you’ll need to spend around £100.
If you’re looking for a clipless shoe, (where you clip into the pedal via a cleat and ratchet system) you won’t get a carbon sole very cheaply but it’s pretty tough to notice the difference between the shoes tested here and ones that cost twice as much.
In fact, we’ve found nylon-soled shoes are more versatile for regular trail riding, as they offer a bit more give, and they’re more comfortable when you’re off the bike.
If you’re looking for a flat pedal shoe you can also expect to pay around £80. For this you get a tacky sole and a well-built shoe with some decent toe and heel protection. FiveTen has long produced the best sole on the market, but there are some new players producing great shoes than could shake things up.
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.