As the name suggests, a flat pedal is a traditional platform pedal. Flat pedal mountain bike shoes typically have a grippy rubber sole that the pedal pins bite into, helping to create a connection between the shoe and pedal. The benefits of a flat pedal setup is that it allows the rider more freedom to adjust their foot position and to put a foot down and during a crash, it's easier to throw the bike away from you when you're not attached. Flat pedal shoes encourage the rider to learn proper technique to do maneuvers such as wheel lifts, because your foot is not clipped into the pedal. Many riders also say they are more comfortable hiking in flat pedal shoes, which typically shed dirt, mud, and other trail debris fairly well due to the lack of a cleat on the bottom.
Some contend that flats are less efficient to pedal since you can not pull up through the top of the stroke, like you can with clipless pedals. However, this is up for debate as studies and tests are showing that pulling up on the pedal may not be all it's 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, then a lightweight, rigid shoe with excellent power transfer for pedaling efficiency would be 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. We recommend the Ride Concepts Livewire if you're on a budget but still want the grip, or if you are willing to spend a little more for something light and comfortable with excellent power transfer we recommend the Five Ten Freerider Pro.
Trail and All-Mountain Riding
If you tend to favor 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 descent. For the trail and all-mountain rider, we recommend the Five Ten Freerider Pro or the Ride Concepts Hellion, 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 need 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?
Rubber 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 shoes' outsoles. This rubber is rated on a 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.
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. We encourage you to read about each company's rubber technology to learn more. If you are someone who likes to move their foot around on the pedal while riding, we recommend the Bontrager Flatline. 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 like a secure grip, yet want to make micro-adjustments on the pedal, we recommend the Five Ten Freerider Pro or Ride Concepts Hellion. Lastly, riders who prefer to feel like their feet are glued to their pedals should consider 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 want in a shoe. For riders who prefer flow and cross-country trails with minimal features, a lightweight shoe with minimal impact protection might fit the bill. 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 and Ride Concept Hellion offer a great 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 balance rigidity and flexibility in your shoe, a rigid shoe can also be so stiff that it is uncomfortable. We found shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro and Ride Concepts Hellion to offer a great balance between power transfer and rigidity, without being uncomfortable.
Where you live and the types of conditions you ride in will help determine how much breathability you want in a shoe. Shoes have perforations, mesh panels, or a combination of the two to aid in ventilation. And in general, shoes with more protection are less breathable than those with less protection. Much of our testing was in hot weather, which really tests a shoe's breathability.
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 will be more prone to your shoes deteriorating more quickly. We recommend only wearing your mountain shoes when riding to help preserve their rubber outsoles 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 six 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 construction on 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.