We researched over 40 pairs of women's mountain bike flat pedal shoes before buying the best 8 options to test side-by-side. Our test team raced in these shoes, wore them on weekend training laps, and laced them up for quick, after-work fixes. We caught air and charged rock gardens to compare grip, cranked on the flats to test rigidity, and took notes on each shoe's comfort and protectiveness. Armed with data after months of testing, we rated these shoes on their performance. Then we looked at their cost to find the right fit for every rider and every budget.
The Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women
Five Ten Freerider Pro - Women's
The Five Ten Freerider Pros are perfectly balanced shoes offering something for every type of rider. The soles feature Five Ten's signature mountain biking rubber, Stealth Phantom, with a continuous dot pattern on the bottom. We found these shoes to have just enough grip to get us through technical sections, but not too much that we were not able to get our foot back on the pedal if it slips. The Freerider Pros have a snug fit when we first tried them on, making us wonder if that would hinder circulation in our feet when climbing. Thankfully it did not at all; the snug fit helps us handle our bike and feel the pedal underfoot.
The Freerider Pros are one of the lightest shoes we tested, weighing only 625 grams, but Five Ten didn't skimp out on foot protection to achieve this weight. The toe and heel both feature Poron Foam, which is lightweight and hardens on impact. So no need to worry about your toe slamming against a tree or rock. The Freerider Pros have you covered!
These shoes are a little on the expensive side, and they aren't the most durable shoe in the lineup. However, we think if you are a less aggressive rider looking for a versatile shoe, these are the ones for you.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Pro
Ride Concepts Livewire - Women's
The Ride Concepts Livewire came very close to winning top honors, but after careful testing, we found they do not perform as well on technical terrain as the Five Ten Freeride Pro. However, this is a great shoe, especially for the price. We found this shoe to be much better than some others that are priced higher, and that is why it won our Best Buy award. The bottom has a continuous rounded hexagon pattern that allows the pegs on the pedal to lock in like velcro. We also found that due to the edges in the hexagon shape, we were able to make small adjustments to our feet, and the corners would stop our foot from slipping off. There is a lot of protection on the toe and the heel via anti-abrasion material. Also, protection is added underneath the sole using D30 technology specifically designed to help absorb shock. We think this is the perfect shoe for someone looking to get into more technical riding without breaking the bank.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Best for Downhill Mountain Biking
Five Ten Impact Pro - Women's
The Five Ten Impact Pros are great for downhill or enduro specific riding because they are durable and offer the most protection of the shoes we in our review. They are the heaviest contenders we tested (weighing 986 grams) but make up for it with their thick sole for resisting impact and Poron foam heel and toe. The sole is lined with varied small and large dots that are very deep and lock the pin of your pedal into place. We took several spills with these shoes on, and they protected our feet every time.
Read review: Five Ten Impact Pros
Why You Should Trust Us
Bo Outland is a lover of all extreme outdoor sports, but especially mountain biking. During college, she would take to the trails in the Santa Cruz mountains before and after school to blow off some steam from her studies. Since moving to South Lake Tahoe last December, she competes in local mountain bike races, such as the Xterra Triathlon in Incline and Northstar's Livewire Classic, where she podiumed in both races. She truly understands the importance of quality equipment to achieve peak performance.
Our testing took place in the Sierras of Lake Tahoe. Here we had plenty of opportunities to try each pair of shoes with a variety of riding styles — ranging from flowy trails, steep up-hills, hiking with our bike, technical down-hills, and bike parks. We judged each shoe based on how comfortable we felt, pushing it to the limit. With over 600 miles of biking and 70,000 feet of elevation, we have highlighted which shoes we think are the best.
Analysis and Test Results
Mountain biking is still primarily a male-dominated sport, and only recently biking companies have started to cater to the anatomical needs of women in the biking world. Women's feet tend to have a wider forefoot with a more narrow heel, while men have a wider foot altogether. We found that many companies try to appeal to women using the usual pink and purple colors, and it can be easy to get drawn in from this consumer marketing. We looked past the color and into what works and what does not, so you can make an informed purchase when you go to buy your new pair of women-specific mountain bike shoes.
The Ride Concepts Livewire hits the sweet spot in terms of balancing price and overall value, snagging our Best Buy Award. These shoes provide support and control experienced riders need for a nice price, but aren't as sensitive and grippy as the top-scoring Freerider Pros. In general, the high dollar models sport a better balance of support and breathability, while less expensive shoes still offer more grip and protection than the average tennie.
When starting on your first mountain biking journey, it is easy to believe your Nike Frees will do just fine. Until your foot slips, you hit your shin on the pedal or scrape your butt on the tire. There are high risks in mountain biking. Once you start truly getting into the sport, it is important to have a shoe that will keep you on the bike when trying risky maneuvers. We found that the type of rubber combined with tread is what makes the grip performance the best.
Companies that have created their own mountain biking specific rubber, like Five Ten and Ride Concepts, dominated this category. Their grip was unbeatable, whether it was raining or dusty. Five Ten employs various forms of their classic stealth rubber formula, which is very tacky and sticks to our pedal regardless of the dot pattern. Ride Concepts also uses its own custom rubber and has a rating system to help you navigate. The pair we tried, the Livewires, had a D6.0 mid-grip, which was enough to get us down anything, but we could have used just a bit more grip during the technical stuff.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, we realized that different types of riding called for varying levels of grip. Hence where the dot pattern comes into play. We love the classic continuous dot pattern Five Ten has to offer. And when we took these shoes downhill, we realized that Five Ten's Impact Pros is what we prefer. The dot pattern is varied, allowing your pedal peg to lay nice and neat. The dots are also deep, so your foot will not budge once it is on the pedal. While we liked this for down-hilling, this was not at all a good quality for our long climbing sessions. If we misplaced our foot (even a little), we had to stop completely and readjust. So when doing any climbing, we liked Five Ten's Freeride Pros or Ride Concepts' Livewire.
We noticed that companies that used Vibram rubber were not as grippy. However, we do understand that sometimes freedom of your foot is essential, especially when just starting. And when there is a lot of wiggle room for our foot to move we discovered a lighter shoe helped us feel the pedal and handle the bike better. If you are someone looking for an easy to maneuver shoe, we recommend the Bontrager Flatline, which was the lightest shoe we tested.
Comfort and Protection
An uncomfortable shoe can turn a fun sport into a miserable experience, and this is no different in mountain biking. We need our feet to be comfortable to send-it to our fullest potential. We found that the shape of the tongue and the way it presses against the top of our foot played a big part in our circulation. No one likes their toes going numb. A big tongue matched with a low volume shoe usually equals poor circulation, which we found to be true with Giro Riddance. Volume is how much space there is in the shoe for your foot. The Impact Pros have a high volume and a large tongue, so we still were able to have circulation in our feet.
The Ride Concepts Livewire had a large tongue and a small volume shoe, but the tongue is made soft enough so that it would not impair circulation. The Bontrager Flatline features an anatomical tongue which we loved as it was very soft and molded to our foot perfectly.
We think that the Five Ten Freerider Pros do the best job combining comfort with protection. They have a thin tongue that lays perfectly on your foot and enough underneath your foot to run out a fall if needed.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
Rigidity plays a big part in the way we rode. If a shoe is too rigid, we found it challenging to feel the pedal to manage the bike. Sometimes our heel would lift — not to mention hiking the bike became very uncomfortable. In the occurrence of a too flexible shoe, sometimes our feet would cramp when trying to move lots of power into our pedals. However, if you are downhill or enduro riding a specific bike, we found rigidity is essential to protect the pads of your feet. Overall, we want a shoe that is the best of both worlds and lands right in the middle.
The Five Ten Freerider Pros provide the most balance. They are somewhat flexible and comfy enough to be able to hike your bike if needed. The Bontrager Flatline features a zig-zag pattern on the toe and heel that offers additional traction when you hike your bike. However, the Stealth Phantom rubber and dotted pattern of the Freerider Pros did just as well when hiking. We also enjoyed the Ride Concepts Livewire because we could feel the pedal underneath our foot and could smoothly pedal hard and fast if needed.
The Giro Riddance is the most rigid shoe that we tried, in that we could not feel the pedal underfoot. This was particularly unnerving because the grip was not good, so we ended up taking a lot of spills as a result. In contrast, the Impact Pros were stiff, but we could still slightly feel the pedal underfoot, and we completely trusted the grip of the shoe.
We found that this metric was not as crucial as we initially believed, and found that breathability is correlated with weight. The thicker and denser the material, the sweatier the shoe became, especially during cross-country rides. Therefore, for longer trips or if you live in a warm climate, a lightweight shoe would be better for you. However, if you primarily do shorter rides or live in cooler weather, this metric may not be as relevant. Luckily we tested all of our shoes in the middle of Tahoe summer, with temperatures ranging from 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, so we got a pretty good idea of which shoe is the coolest… literally.
We found the lightest shoe, which was the Bontrager Flatline, to be the most breathable of the bunch. However, the Five Ten Freerider Pro was a close second and also the second lightest shoe. We enjoyed how much protection the Freerider Pro had to offer compared to the Flatline, so we think that may be a better option if you are looking to keep the temp on your feet down. However, if protection is not a big concern to you, the Flatline is a strong contender.
The least breathable of the line-up are the Five Ten Impact Pros, which are also the heaviest shoes by far. These are an excellent option for someone who rides explicitly downhill or enduro trails. Another hot pair is the Giro Riddance. On these, we found the use of water-resistant micro-fiber to be the culprit for poor breathability.
Durability is an interesting metric because we put so much wear and tear on our mountain biking shoes when we use them multiple times a week. We found the sole rubber that is mountain bike specific had the most scarring in the end.
The rubber that had the least amount of grip also had the least marks and gashes. So while they may have a longer life, they do not allow for a higher level of performance. For example, Five Ten Freerider Pros are our favorite and the most versatile mountain biking shoes. However, it showed the most scarring next to Five Ten Freerider Contact. The Bontrager Flatline and Giro Riddance hardly showed any wear, but in exchange, we had the most movement on our pedals. We found that Impact Pros did not have much scarring, but they were also the heaviest due to the thickness of their sole. So, durability is a small price to pay for great grip.
To increase the longevity of the laces, a lot of companies had elastic straps for us to put our shoelaces. Some did not have this feature, and we had our laces get caught on our bike or sticks and shrubs. The shoes that did not have a lace strap were the Five Ten Freerider, and Five Ten Contact. We think it is interesting that Five Ten decided to put it on all of their other models, but not these two. The Bontrager Flatline had an elastic strap, but their laces were extremely long. We thought that maybe this might have been a mistake; after some research, we have found that all of their laces are long.
Weight is not necessarily a bad metric in mountain biking because a heavier shoe can help maintain downward pressure and keep your foot on the pedal. We found this to be especially true when doing technical riding. However, we also found that rubber can make up for weight, especially with the Freerider Pros, which were one of the lightest shoes and still provided an exceptional amount of grip.
However, our Top Pick for downhill mountain biking weighed 986 grams, and we could feel the shoe latch on to that pedal in a way we didn't with the other shoes we tested. If you are a cross country rider, we recommend checking out the lightest shoes in our review, the Freerider Pro and Bontrager Flatline.
All in all, comfy feet equal peak performance, and we have done the leg work so you can play the online shopping game knowing you have all the information you need. We feel each of these metrics are important factors to consider when looking for your new pair of sticky rubber kicks.
We have done miles of biking, climbing, and hiking with our bike to bring you an accurate and comprehensive review, and we hope our review has helped you choose the right mountain bike flat pedal shoe for your needs.
— Bo Outland