Your shoe and pedal interface is incredibly important when you use flat pedals on your mountain bike. If you have a poor connection between your shoe's sole and the pedal, it can result in your foot slipping and bouncing on the pedal and less bike control. Therefore, it's important to understand how these two components work together and to learn about the different types of shoes and pedals before making a purchase.
As the name suggests, a flat pedal is a traditional platform pedal. These pedals typically have small pins that bite into the outsole of the shoe, helping to create a connection between the shoe and pedal. Flat pedal shoe's soles are often made of a soft, grippy rubber that helps the pins on the pedal bite into it. However, not all rubber is made equal, and there are large differences between manufacturers in how much the rubber grips the pedal and in how soft it is.
One advantage of a flat pedal setup is that it allows the rider more freedom to adjust their foot position on the pedal and to put a foot down. Many riders also say this helps boost their confidence when trying new or technical parts of trail because they don't have to worry about unclipping from their pedal. It is also easier to break away from the bike in a crash because you are not physically connected to the bike as you are with a clipless shoe.
From a technique point of view, flat pedal shoes help the rider learn proper technique to do maneuvers such as wheel lifts because your foot is not clipped into the pedal. Flat pedal shoes are also more comfortable when you have to get off the bike and do a little hiking and typically shed dirt, mud, and debris fairly well due to the lack of a cleat on the bottom.
Some people contend that flats are less efficient to pedal since you can not pull up through the top of the stroke as you can with clipless pedals. However, this is up for debate as some studies show that pulling up on the pedal may not be all it's been cracked up to be and that pedaling efficiency has more to do with your pedal stroke. But, we'll let you be the judge of this highly debated topic.
If you already have an idea of what type of shoe you're in the market for, we invite you to check out our full Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women review. If you're a bit undecided, we encourage you to read on and learn more about the different factors that can influence your purchase decision.
What Type of Rider Are You?
If you enjoy flowy trails, minimal features, and long, fast miles, a lightweight, stiff shoe with very good power transfer for pedaling efficiency is a good choice for you. Cross-country riders tend to favor lightweight, stiff shoes that are easier to spin and reduce fatigue over long distances. Pedaling efficiency and power transfer are generally considered important as well for cross-country riders, so a rigid shoe with excellent grip to maximize power transfer is an important factor. If this type of riding is your style and you're on a budget, we recommend the Ride Concepts Livewire. The Five Ten Freerider Pro is another great choice and is both light and comfortable, and has excellent power transfer, but costs more money.
Trail and All-Mountain Riding
If you prefer long climbs, big descents, and technical trails, you'll likely want a shoe that offers a great mix of protection, grip, and is relatively easy to spin and lightweight. Trail and all-mountain riders tend to favor technical features and don't shy away from a rock garden or drop and understand that the climb is the price you pay for a sweet descent. For the trail and all-mountain rider, we recommend the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat or the Five Ten Freerider Pro, both of which have a great blend of grip, protection, weight, and durability.
When your preferred way to get uphill is on a chairlift and you love speed, rock gardens, drops, jumps, and berms, you'll want a shoe that keeps your foot securely planted on the pedal and that is durable and protective. The Five Ten Impact Pro is the most protective shoe we tested and also has great grip to keep you connected to your pedal. However, it is also the heaviest shoe we tested because of its protection in the toe box, heel, and ankle.
What About Grip?
Grip is a crucial factor to consider when buying your next pair of flat pedal shoes. The type of rubber used in a shoe's outsole determines how much grip it has. Some manufacturers rate their rubber on a grip scale to help consumers choose the best shoe for their riding style.
Ride Concepts have collaborated with Rubber Kinetics to develop the Dynamic Surface Technology (DST) rubber used in their shoe's outsoles. This rubber is rated on scale of DST 4.0 - DST 8.0. DST 4.0 is their Max Grip compound which means it is also the softest rubber, in contrast to the DST 6.0 which is their High Grip rubber designed as an optimal blend of traction and durability. The DST 8.0 is reserved for their clipless shoes and is meant to optimize the ability to clip in and out of the pedal.
In comparison, Five Ten uses Stealth high-friction rubber in their shoe's outsoles which is available in four versions; Mi6, Ph, S1, and C4. Each rubber has an advantage as described by Five Ten and includes factors such as interlock, damping, and friction. While Specialized uses SlipNot™ ST rubber which is described as having "unsurpassed flat-pedal grip and connection when things get rowdy."
Companies including Giro and Bontranger use Vibram rubber, which is a popular rubber used for hiking boots and approach shoes. While this rubber has a lot of grip on rock and dirt, we found it to be slippery on our pedals, especially in wet terrain. Shimano shoes feature an outsole made from Michelin rubber, the same company that makes car and bike tires, which has been optimized for mountain bike shoes.
Knowing what your personal preferences are for how much grip you have between your shoe and pedal can help you make an informed buying decision and we encourage you to read about each company's rubber technology to learn more. For those who prefer something that provides great grip with the ability to make larger adjustments, we recommend the Ride Concepts Livewire and the Shimano GR7. If you're someone who likes a secure grip, yet wants to make micro-adjustments, we recommend the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat, Five Ten Freerider Pro, or Ride Concepts Hellion. Lastly, for riders who prefer their foot to be glued to the pedal, we recommend the ultra-grippy Five Ten Impact Pro.
What About Protection?
Knowing what type of riding you'll be doing can help determine how much protection you'll want in a flat pedal shoe. For riders who prefer flow and cross-country trails with minimal features, a lightweight shoe with minimal impact protection might fit the bill well. For those who ride more technical terrain with lots of rocks, logs, or high-speed descents more impact protection is desirable. Shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Ride Concepts Hellion, and Crankbrothers Stamp Boa offer a blend of protection extending from heel to toe and also feature impact-absorbing midsoles and footbeds, while still maintaining a relatively low weight.
For riders who spend most of their time at the bike park, additional protection may be desired, especially considering the higher speeds and higher risk for injury. The Five Ten Impact Pro provides additional protection in the ankle and an even thicker outsole and midsole to absorb trail impacts.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
You want your shoe to be rigid enough to allow you to apply pressure into the pedals and be efficient in your pedaling. You also do not want the sole to be so soft that you can (uncomfortably) feel the pedal through your sole. It is important to the right balance rigidity and flexibility in your shoe. A rigid shoe can be so stiff that it is painfully uncomfortable. In our testing shoes such as the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat and the Five Ten Freerider Pro have the best balance between power transfer and rigidity, without being uncomfortable.
Where you live, the types of conditions you ride in, and if you tend to get hot feet will help determine how much breathability you want in a shoe. Most shoes have perforations, mesh panels, or other similar designs to aid in ventilation. In general, shoes with more protection are less breathable than those with less protection. Our testing was in temps ranging from the upper 30's to the mid-90's, which allowed us to really see how well a shoe breathed, especially when things got hot. We found the Five Ten Freerider with its suede and mesh uppers and the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat to have the best breathability, followed by the Shimano GR7.
How frequently you ride, how you ride, and how well you take care of your gear will affect its durability. If you wear your soft-soled mountain bike shoes to the brewery or out for dinner after riding you will wear down the soles more quickly than if you reserve them strictly for riding. If you are prone to crashes or if your local trails are frequently wet, you may experience your shoes deteriorating more quickly. We recommend only wearing your mountain shoes when riding to help preserve their rubber outsole and taking out the footbeds to help them to dry out after they get wet.
Many of the shoes we tested are designed with long-term durability in mind, and while our testing only lasted months, we did our best to determine which we believe will hold up long term. The Five Ten Impact Pro was the heaviest and most protective shoe we reviewed and seems ultra durable. The Five Ten Freerider Pro and Ride Concepts Hellion also seem to be constructed with durability in mind, given their lack of wear after rigorous testing.
There are a lot of factors to consider before purchasing a pair of shoes, and doing some research and price comparison shopping can go a long way. So, before you hit the buy button or head out to the store, make a list of the factors that are important to you in a shoe. What type of grip do you want? How breathable do you want your shoes to be? Is protection important to you? If possible, we recommend trying on a few different shoes to see how they fit, this will help you narrow down your choice. Ultimately, we suggest purchasing the shoe that fits best and meets most, if not all, of your needs.