The Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes
Best Overall Mountain Bike Flat Shoes
Shimano has been in the mountain bike shoe game for several years now and the GR-9 proves they're here to stay. The Michelin outsole provides the positive pedal grip you'd expect from the highest performance shoes. These shoes are part of the Gravity series, shoes that are made for aggressive enduro and downhill riders who demand the best. Beyond the tenaciously gripping Michelin soles, these shoes feature supportive and "just right" midsoles that ensure all of your hard-fought pedal power is delivered to the pedals no matter where the trails take you. Not just a downhill and enduro shoe, these shoes are capable of providing dependable performance in all types of riding, from gravel riding to hard-charging downhill riding. These shoes feature synthetic materials that encourage quick drying and breathability, speed lacing, armored protection, and yet they retain adequate walking performance when off the bike. With all of these high-performance features, these shoes edged out the competition to become our favorite all-around shoe this season. Although they were our favorite, there are a couple of things to keep in mind; they are on the high side of the price spectrum, and depending on where your rides take you, they may be a bit hot. With that said, we felt those are pretty minor considerations compared to all of these shoes' positive attributes.
Read review: Shimano GR-9
Best Bang for the Buck
Ride Concepts Livewire
Ride Concepts now has two pairs of shoes in our lineup with the Livewire remaining a favorite, especially with its affordable price. The Livewire is one of the offerings from their Session Series, Ride Concepts' line of shoes that's intended for everything from sessions in the park to long rides in the backcountry.
The Ride Concepts Livewire checks all the boxes for riders seeking a quality all-mountain shoe. An extra grippy sole on par with our Editors' Choice is the foundation of this shoe and it's paired with an EVA midsole that provides ample stiffness for effective power transfer on those long climbs. With a synthetic upper combined with a mesh toe, the Livewire should meet most any rider's needs no matter where your rides take you. The Livewire sports a welded construction rather than the more typical sewn construction of other shoes which has proven itself when it comes to durability. We'd expect a shoe of this caliber to be on the high price of the price spectrum, but the Livewire comes in at a great price, making it a best buy.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Best for Downhill
Ride Concepts Powerline
The Ride Concepts Powerline is a shoe that is designed for fast riding, hard-charging enduro, and downhill riders, but we were surprised it's not just a one hit wonder. Although a little heavier than other all-mountain options, These shoes proved themselves capable all day climbers that didn't let us down on long days in the saddle. Aside from the great pedal gripping performance, the DST rubber soles have been around for a couple of seasons now and have proven their durability. The uppers are a burly synthetic material that sheds moisture and abrasion, but also includes a mesh insert over the toes that helps keep you when you're not maximizing gravity. In the spirit of its downhill oriented nature, these shoes feature extra padding throughout, including a padded toe cap as well as padding in the asymmetrical ankle and tongue. A medium flexing sole keeps you comfortable on or off the bike, and the high quality orthotic D30 insole cradles your foot and provides an additional layer of padding underfoot. If you're looking for a powerhouse shoe that can pedal all day too, check out the Powerline.
Read review: Ride Concepts Powerline
Why You Should Trust Us
Our primary reviewer, outdoor veteran Jason Cronk, is an experienced and active multisport outdoor athlete. He has been actively riding for over 30 years, both road and mountain, and has even worked as a bike mechanic in several shops. He has also been climbing and skiing for over 25 years, with experience throughout Western North America, including Canada and Alaska, as well as the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, as well as the southern Alps of New Zealand. Jason is an experienced medevac flight RN/EMT with experience as a National Ski Patroller and educator. As this review was underway, he relocated from the Sierras up to the Teton Mountains. Even with the full-time air medical career, he racks up the days out in the mountains every year.
With so many manufacturers and shoe models out there, our editors and reviewers put in the hours to narrow down the field to the best choices for our gear tests and reviews. We do hours of research online and at trade shows. After our shoe choices are finalized, we purchase the chosen ones and get them out to our testers, who then start grinding out the miles, riding and hiking for months to see how each test pair performs. Each pair of mountain bike shoes is graded on carefully selected metrics, compared side by side, and graded as objectively as possible. After field-testing wraps up, we are then able to write up the unbiased and thorough reviews you've come to expect.
Analysis and Test Results
When it comes time to choose new mountain bike shoes, whether your first pair or your umpteenth pair, you can easily just go with what's currently popular, look good, or are on sale. While that may work sometimes, wouldn't it be better if you could read the findings of expert riders, making an educated decision on your next pair of shoes? We've put together a list of criteria to help in your decision-making process for that next pair of mountain bike kicks. We've evaluated several shoes for you based on several metrics: sole grip, comfort and arch support, rigidity and power transfer, weight, and durability. You'll have to decide which factors are most important to your riding, and keep in mind it may be more than one. For some riders, like our lead tester, you may determine that one pair of shoes isn't enough and you'll end up with a quiver of shoes. After riding our bikes; hardtail, enduro, and even gravel bikes for several months through a wide range of terrain and weather, we determined the most important metrics to measure the performance of all the shoes and graded them side-by-side. We evaluated for grip, comfort and arch support, rigidity, weight, breathability, and durability.
Between the performance and price, the Ride Concepts Livewire offers the most value in the pack. It's the least expensive of the higher performance shoes and scores decently. The other value standout is the Five Ten Freerider which is one of the most versatile options and is less expensive than most of the field.
When comparing mountain bike flat shoes, after you find the right fit, grip is the most important metric. Unlike clipless shoes and pedals, there is no hard connection between rider and the pedals, so you have to rely on rubber compounds and tread patterns. A good positive grip provides an effortless and fun ride, whereas a less positive grip can make for a frightening and shin-scraping bloody ride that we don't wish for anyone. Until recently, the majority of mountain bike shoe soles were made by either Five Ten or Vibram, but now there are other options out there with soles from tire company Michelin and proprietary rubber compounds from Ride Concepts.
An effective mountain bike flat shoe should find the perfect balance between pedal grip and the ability to fine tune foot position as well as releasing from the pedal pins when it's needed most. Shoes like the Five Ten Freerider Contact, Ride Concepts Livewire, Powerline, and Shimano GR-9 all seem to have found this sweet spot when it comes to pedal gripping performance. Beyond on the bike performance, these shoes all perform well off the bike as well, allowing a natural walk when it came time to push the bike or hanging out post ride. While some of our test shoes performed better in one area or another, we found that ultimately they all perform well with just some relatively minor differences.
Comfort and Arch Support
Comfort is a somewhat subjective metric. There are many variables in comfort, from basic shoe construction to how the shoe will be used. A rider's foot shape and overall volume also come into play. For example, a narrower fitting shoe like the Shimano GR-9 might be the most comfortable choice for a majority of riders but would be less comfortable for riders with wider feet. We looked at support, padding, cushioning for riding and walking, as well as shoe shape and volume. Less porous and higher density materials in the midsole have a better feel over the long haul. That extra layer of material in the midsole does wonders for providing additional protection between our feet and the abusive outside environment, whether it be pedal pressure or rocks and sticks while hiking the bike.
The Ride Concepts Powerline is made with a stiffened EVA midsole that provides added stiffness, support and shock absorption, ultimately increasing comfort, especially for longer rides. Shoes like the Five Ten Sleuth, without this added midsole support, performed well for shorter rides, but pedal pressure becomes increasingly noticeable with longer and more technical rides.
Arch support also becomes a factor when either riding or walking longer distances. The Shimano GR-9, Five Ten Freerider Pro, as well as the Ride Concepts Livewire and Powerline, all provided more arch support than the skate-style shoes like the Five Ten Sleuth. The Ride Concepts Livewire and Powerline have high-quality orthotic style insoles with added arch support that felt great for longer days in the saddle and on the trail. Keep in mind that if you like the overall comfort of a shoe, you can always add on your own favorite insoles. Extra midsole materials tend to make shoes less walk-friendly and less sensitive, so one rider's ideal may not be another's.
For riders with wider or bulkier feet, a higher volume shoe will be more comfortable by allowing the foot to maintain a more natural position. We found that most of our test shoes from Five Ten had a higher volume fit, especially in the forefoot, other than the Sleuth, which is relatively narrow. The Ride Concepts fit in both pairs is roomy in the toe box. A roomy toe box increases not only comfort but also overall efficiency through a more relaxed and natural foot position as well as more significant pedal contact.
Conversely, a rider with lower-volume feet, which tend to be narrower and thinner overall, may have difficulty in lacing up their shoes tight enough to feel secure. This can also result in an uncomfortable ride with poor circulation to the feet and toes. We found some of our test shoes had a lower-volume fit, like the Shimano GR-9. Even though we grade all of our test shoes as objectively as possible, keep in mind your foot shape and the type of riding you regularly do.
After miles of riding and with all of the factors above in mind, we found the Shimano GR-9, Freerider Contact, and both models from Ride Concepts to be among the most comfortable out there. These shoes all provided great out-of-the-box comfort that was maintained even after riding the longest and most technical rides we encountered. The comfort was consistent through all conditions, both on and off the bike. The skate style models, like the Afton Keegan and Giro Jacket, as well as the Pearl Izumi Alp-X Flow, generally felt good right out of the box, but with less support overall. If your typical rides don't take you too far from the road, this won't be a major factor for you, and the less substantial shoes may serve you just fine.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
A flat shoe's rigidity is an important part of how well the shoe performs. A shoe that is too stiff has a tendency to bounce off your pedal pins and would be a nightmare to walk in. On the other hand, a shoe that is too soft doesn't provide a solid enough platform to transfer power from you to the cranks, and you're likely to feel fatigued more quickly. The happy place in the middle is where shoe manufacturers strive to be when designing flat shoes.
We found that with some of the flats, like the Shimano GR-9 and Five Ten Freerider Pro, our ride times were similar and sometimes even faster than with clipless shoe and pedal combinations. This seems to be linked to the overall rigidity and power transfer as well as the shoe's grip. Other shoes, like the Five Ten Sleuth and Giro Jacket, slowed our times slightly which seemed to be directly related to less stiffness and overall transfer of power.
As is the case with sole grip, usually more is better, but for the more rigid shoes in our test, pedal and walk sensitivity was sacrificed for shoe stiffness. The added rigidity of the stiffer models, especially the Giro Riddance and the Five Ten Freerider Pro, decreases sensitivity on the pedals and the trail, feeling more like a hiking boot than a riding shoe. For riders who do more hike-a-bike terrain or wear shoes off the bike, this may be a factor.
Virtually every item a rider uses or carries is under scrutiny for weight penalty. This portion of our testing turned out to be less important than we initially thought. We knew all of our test shoes claimed weights were pretty accurate, but we chose to perform our independent weigh-in to relay the best information to you.
We found that from the lightest to the heaviest, the weight difference was only five ounces for a men's size 9. With such a minor difference, little significance is assigned to this category. However, if you're the gram counting type of rider that insists on having the lightest pair possible, give a good hard look at the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Flow.
A mountain bike shoe's breathability becomes more critical as the length of the ride increases or when the thermometer climbs. For a short ride, particularly in cooler temperatures, breathability is relatively unimportant, but as the ride length increases, it's more important for your shoe to breathe well. Less breathable uppers like those found on the Giro Riddance kept our feet warmer on cooler days, but with this decreased breathability, our feet felt the heat on warmer days.
Conversely, the Ride Concepts shoes performed better in warmer conditions with more open-weave materials in their construction. With those observations in mind, we rode in temperatures varying from 35F to 85F, and overall our feet were relatively comfortable no matter which shoe we picked. Keep in mind that with the use of a warmer wool sock on colder days and a thin cycling sock on warmer days, you can expand the comfort range of your shoes.
As is the case with the other criteria in our test, keep in mind your use and environment. If your rides take you into colder climates, the Shimano GR-9 in black or the Five Ten Freerider Pro will keep your feet warmer than the more ventilated options. For wetter conditions, the Shimano GR-9 or Giro Riddance, with their synthetic uppers, will help keep your feet drier.
The world's most high tech, feature-loaded and expensive shoe quickly loses its appeal if it falls apart shortly after purchase, especially if it leaves you stranded on the trail in the middle of nowhere in a storm. Most of our test shoes feature primarily synthetic materials, with the exception of the suede leather Five Ten Sleuth and the suede trim of the Five Ten Freerider. After using and abusing our test shoes for over two months, we didn't experience any catastrophic failures, and most shoes showed only minor wear.
For riders seeking the most durable option, a shoe like the Shimano GR-9, Five Ten Freerider Pro or Ride Concepts Livewire or Powerline should be considered. Their synthetic uppers and beefy sticky dot or lugged soles have shown almost no signs of wear. Each rider should decide how much emphasis they place on durability versus performance versus comfort and make their choice accordingly. Overall the higher performance shoes were also the shoes that showed the best durability after testing.
Other than purchasing the right bike with the right tire combination, shoe selection is the most important influencer on ride satisfaction and efficiency. Keep in mind the riding you intend on doing most often, where you ride and when you ride. Like most of our gear, not all shoes are created equal, and one model is unlikely to be the ideal choice in every situation for every rider. Our Mountain Bike Flat Shoe review is intended to help you negotiate through the shoe purchasing process by providing accurate information on the many options available.
— Jason Cronk