The Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women
Five Ten Freerider Pro - Women's
The Five Ten Freerider Pro is a balanced shoe that provides substantial foot protection and durability in addition to being lightweight. The hallmark of the shoe is its Stealthy Dotty outsole which features a continuous dot pattern of grippy rubber that provides a secure grip between foot and pedal. We found these shoes to have enough grip to feel confident on technical sections and drops, while still being able to make micro-adjustments to our foot position. The Freerider Pro is not bulky, and it envelopes the rider's foot, securing it inside the shoe. Our testers were impressed with how the fit and medium-flex EVA midsole work together to transfer power directly into the pedals, making pedal efficiency easy. The lightweight nature of the shoe also adds to this, weighing in at 612 grams for a US8 women's. Despite being lightweight, the Freerider pro does not skimp on foot protection and features strategically placed Poron foam to absorb impacts.
The Freerider Pro left our testers wanting very little, and despite its price tag, we feel its combination of grip, protection, comfort, and power transfer warrants spending a few more dollars on this quality shoe.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Pro
Best for Trail Use
Ride Concepts Hellion - Women's
Our testers are impressed with the Ride Concepts Hellion's rigidity and power transfer, grip, and comfort. Featuring a DST6.0 outsole the Hellion has some of the grippest rubber in our testing, inspiring confidence on the trail. Paired with DST6.0 outsole is a stiff midsole that allows us to easily put power into the pedals on technical climbs and fast cross-country laps alike. The Hellion also does a great job of absorbing trail impacts thanks to a strategically placed D30 layer in the footbed. Despite dropping, jumping, and rolling technical sections of trail, our feet were never fatigued.
We found there to be a short break-in period lasting four rides with the Hellions, after which they molded a bit more to our feet and were quite comfortable, even for all-day use. One of the drawbacks to the Hellion is its weight, and while it's not a heavy shoe, it does weigh a bit more than some others, and that difference is noticeable on long rides. The Hellion is built to compete with some of the top shoes on the market is worthy of being a Top Pick.
Read review: Ride Concepts Hellion
Best Bang For Your Buck
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 other models. However, this is a great shoe, especially for the price. We found this shoe to perform better than some higher-priced shoes, which is why it wins 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 find the edges of the hexagon shape allow us to make small adjustments to our foot position, and the corners would stop our feet from slipping off. There is a lot of protection on the toe and the heel via anti-abrasion material. Also, D30 protection is added footbed to help absorb shock.
Our only complaint with these shoes is their lack of breathability when compared to other top models. Keep in mind that these shoes run a bit small when you're considering sizing. 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.
The downside to all this protection is a leak of breathability and and a heavier weight than other models. If you're mostly hitting technical downhills, you're Feet will thank you for the protection, and you're less likely to notice the extra grams on your feet.
Read review: Five Ten Impact Pros
Why You Should Trust Us
Our women's clipless mountain bike shoe review team is lead by Tara Reddinger-Adams and Bo Outland. Tara is the owner of North Star Mountain Bike Guides, a coach and ambassador for VIDA MTB Series, and a former bike shop employee of 11 years. She's also spent time on the racecourse, racing cross country, downhill and enduro disciplines. Tara is a Professional Mountain Bike Instructor who helps people progress their riding skills in Minnesota and Colorado. She frequently guides multi-day mountain bike trips in prime riding territory, including the slick rock of Utah and the wild desert terrain of Arizona.
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 testers live in two very different parts of the country and had two very different experiences with product testing. Tara's testing took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant sticking to trails closer to home in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, where the trails tend to be more cross-country and flow trail-oriented, which isn't to say the area is devoid of technical terrain, as there are plenty of drops, jumps and rocks to keep one occupied and take shoes through their paces on.
Bo's testing took place during the summer months in the Sierras of Lake Tahoe. Here she had plenty of opportunities to try each pair of shoes with a variety of terrain ranging from flow trail, long climbs, technical downhills, and at the bike park.
Analysis and Test Results
Determining what shoe you use with your flat pedals can greatly affect your ride. Some shoes have a softer midsole and outsole and allow the rider to feel more of the pedal underfoot, while others are rigid and allow for maximum power transfer. When determining what type of shoe you want to purchase factors such as grip, rigidity and breathability can be just as important as fit and comfort. We've put nine of the most popular women's mountain bike flat pedal shoes through rigorous testing to help you determine what shoe best meets your needs. We examined everything from grip, comfort and protection, rigidity and power transfer, to breathability, durability, and value to help you make a decision.
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 that riders of all levels need at an approachable price point. The Livewire is not as sensitive and grippy as some other shoes we tested, but that is the trade-off for price. In general, more expensive shoes have a better balance of support and breathability, while less expensive shoes still offer more grip and protection than a street shoe. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Five Ten Freerider Pro which won our Editors' Choice award. Despite being one of the more expensive shoes we reviewed, it's grip and protection are well above what is found in lower-priced shoes. For the money, we feel that the Freerider Pro is a good value as it is a shoe that will grow with a rider, instead of a shoe a rider will outgrow.
Grip is one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a flat pedal mountain bike shoe. Flat pedal shoes have rubber soles designed to grip the pins of the pedal, creating a connection between the shoe and pedal. When a shoe's sole is too soft, the pins and pedal can be felt underfoot, sometimes painfully so. Conversely, a shoe can be so rigid that all sense of the pedal underfoot is lost, and individual rider preferences typically lay somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
Companies that have created their own mountain bike specific rubber, such as Five Ten and Ride Concepts, did very well in this category. Their grip was unbeatable, regardless of the trail conditions. Five Ten employs various forms of their classic Stealth rubber in varying grips to the outsole of the shoe, the result is a very tacky surface that sticks to our pedal. Ride Concepts has partnered with Rubber Kinetics to create the grippy rubber outsole used on their shoes and has a rating system to help you choose the best rubber for your riding style, with a softer and tackier rubber at one end of the scale focused on grip and comfort and a high grip rubber focused on traction and durability at the other end. However, companies such as Shimano are employing the expertise of tire manufacturers to create their own high grip outsoles. On the outsoles of Shimano's mountain bike shoes, you will find Michelin rubber, made by the company that has been making car and bike tires for decades.
Riding style can determine how much grip you want your pedal to have, as can terrain. In general, our testers prefer a grip that holds the pedal well on technical sections of trail while allowing for small foot adjustments on the pedal, without having to lift their foot off the pedal. While riding downhill in Lake Tahoe, we realized that Five Ten's Impact Pro was the preferred shoe for the terrain. With a deep, varied dot pattern, it allows your foot to not move unless intentionally lifted off the pedal. However, when it came to trail riding in general, we prefer the adjustability the outsole on the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Ride Concepts Livewire, and Ride Concepts Hellion. Each of these shoes allows the rider to shift their foot on the pedal without completely lifting it off the pedal.
For riders who prefer more freedom to move their foot on the pedal, we suggest the Shimano GR7 which balances grip and adjustability, allowing the rider to move their shoe freely on the pedal while still maintaining grip.
Comfort and Protection
Comfort is highly subjective as our feet vary greatly in terms of volume, length, width, arch size and more. Yet, there are some factors which in general can make a shoe uncomfortable for a majority of people. Seams, width, volume, footbeds, and tongues all affect a shoe's comfort and can make or break your ride. For example, a rider with a bigger foot may find a low volume shoe such as the Ride Concepts Livewire to simply not have enough space to fit their foot comfortably.
A shoe should also provide some amount of protection to the rider's foot from small rock strikes, slips of the pedal, and other similar occurrences, as these are bound to occur while riding. Shoes offer various forms of protection from reinforced uppers and high top designs to thick midsoles and impact protection zones. Traditionally, the more protective a shoe is, the more it weighs, as these protective areas all add additional materials to the shoe's construction. However, companies are finding new, lighter weight materials to use when designing a shoe helping to keep their weight low. A good example of this is the Five Ten Freerider Pro which is one of the lightest shoes we tested, despite having an EVA midsole that aids in absorbing impacts and Poron impact protection foam in the toe box and heel. Poron is a lightweight material that hardens on impact, helping to protect the riders food without adding bulk to the shoe. The Freerider Pro is comfortable, yet not bulky in it's fit with a mid-volume that wraps the rider's foot. The forefoot is mid-width which prevents unnecessary side to side movement in the shoe. However, for riders with a wide or bulky , the fit of the Freerider Pro may be too narrow and shallow.
Other shoes that blended comfort and protection well included the Shimano GR7 that features a gusseted ankle gaiter to keep debris out of the shoe and a reinforced forefoot. The GR7 has a slighter wider and larger volume fit, making it a good choice for riders with a wider foot or for riding in cold conditions that warrant heavyweight socks. The Ride Concepts Hellion is very similar in fit to the Freerider Pro and provides very good impact protection thanks to D30 inserts in the footbed in addition to a two-panel, anti peel upper.
Shoes such as the Bontrager Flatline feature lightweight design with a soft anatomical tongue that molds to the foot, but offer little in terms of protection. Our testers were able to easily compress the toe box with our thumb, something we were unable to do on other shoes.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
A shoe's rigidity can affect our ability to control the pedals, both positively and negatively. A shoe that is too rigid can make it challenging to feel the pedal underfoot and manipulate the pedal to control the bike. A rigid shoe can also prevent a good interface between the pedal and shoe and feel like it is bounding on the pedal. Adversely, a shoe that is very soft can allow the rider to feel too much pressure from the pedal underfoot making for a painful ride. Rigidity also comes into play during hike-a-bikes, where a bit of flex in the forefoot is preferred.
Rigidity also directly affects the rider's ability to transfer power into the pedals, as soft shoe will not transfer into the pedals as well as a more rigid shoe. Ideally, we want a shoe that combines rigidity and power transfer and lands right in the middle.
Our testers found the Five Ten Freerider Pro to provide the best balance. The midsole and outsole are flexible and comfortable enough to be able to hike your bike if needed, yet rigid enough to be able to push hard into the pedals for power transfer. The Ride Concepts Hellion is more rigid than the Freerider Pro and has better power transfer, yet still maintains the ability to sense the pedal underfoot to manipulate and control the bike. 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, so much so that we could not feel the pedal underfoot. This was particularly unnerving because the grip was not good. In contrast, the Five Ten Impact Pros were stiff, but we could still slightly feel the pedal underfoot.
If you ride in a warm climate or enjoy lots of long rides, breathability will be a more important factor to you as compared to someone who lives in a cooler climate or enjoys shorter rides.
We found that breathability is correlated with weight, as thicker and denser materials weigh more. We tested our shoes in the middle Tahoe summer, where temperatures ranged from 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and in Midwest spring where temperatures ranged from 40 degrees to over 90 degrees with high dew points. These conditions helped our testers to really focus on a shoes breathability, especially when we wore a different shoe on each foot. Regardless of how breathable a shoe is, we found none to be ideal in hot and humid conditions.
We found the Shimano GR7 with its mesh mid-foot breaths well and allows airflow into the shoe. Other shoes such as the Ride Concepts Hellion and Five Ten Freerider Pro had slightly less breathability.
The least breathable shoe we tested is the Five Ten Impact Pros, which is also the heaviest shoes by far. With numerous reinforced areas, these are an excellent option for someone who rides downhill, where breathability is less of a concern.
Most riders would prefer their shoes to stand up to more than a season of use and abuse. However, inexpensive materials and poor quality construction can affect a shoe's long term durability, and a shoe with lots of features that is not durable can be a waste of money. Features such as reinforced eyelets, lace retainers, and abrasion-resistant zones can all add to a shoe's long term durability, in addition to the type of rubber compound used in its outsole.
Shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Shimano GR7, and Ride Concepts Hellion all feature abrasion-resistant materials at the toe and heel, reinforced eyelets, and an elastic lace retainer to help keep your laces out of your chainring. In contrast, the Five Ten Freerider and the Ride Concepts Livewire do not have a lace retainer, meaning you need to take extra care to keep your laces out of the chain.
The rubber compounds used in a shoe's outsole will deteriorate over time, some more quickly than others. As the pedal pins push into the rubber small indentations are left behind which eventually affect the shoe's ability to grip the pedal. The Five Ten Freerider Pro features the Stealth Dotty pattern throughout the outsole and takes longer to wear.
Overall, none of the shoes tested had any failures, except for a shoelace getting caught in a chainring, which speaks to the general durability of the shoe's we tested. Many of them have no significant signs of wear, except for dirt.
A heavier shoe is harder to spin the pedals with and will cause the foot to fatigue more quickly than a lighter weight shoe. The best shoes balance weight, grip, protection, and rigidity. Shoes such as the Shimano GR7 and Five Ten Freerider Pro balance grip and protection, while maintaining a good grip over the pedals, demonstrating that you can have the best of both worlds, or at least mostly.
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. These shoes are heavy and not well suited for cross-country or trail riding due to their weight.
Now that you've educated yourself a bit more on the construction of flat pedal mountain bike shoes and the materials used, we encourage you to consider the factors most important to you for your preferred type of riding. Keep in mind that while many shoes can do most things, finding a true quiver-of-one shoe is difficult as the demands of different types of riding require different levels of protection, rigidity, and grip in your shoe. We encourage you to read our in-depth reviews of each shoe to help you find your next flat pedal shoe.
— Tara Reddinger-Adams and Bo Outland