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Are you searching for the best mountain bike flat pedal shoes? After researching the best models on the market, we purchased 10 pairs to put through our rigorous testing process. We rode these shoes as much as humanly possible in a variety of terrain from the dusty Sierra Nevada Mountains to the autumn mud of the Pacific Northwest. We carefully evaluated and scored each pair of shoes on a set of critical performance metrics such as grip, fit and comfort, rigidity and power transfer, and breathability. We hope our detailed comparative analysis helps you find the best mountain bike flat pedal shoes for your riding style and budget.
Five Ten is recognized as the leader in the flat pedal shoe market, and they have developed a bit of a cult following over the years. The versatile Freerider Pro has become somewhat of a benchmark and is one of the shoes by which all others are judged. When it comes to riding flat pedals, grip is key, and Five Ten's Stealth rubber is widely recognized as the best in the business. With their Stealth Rubber and full-dot outsole, the Freerider Pros have the best pedal grip of all the models we tested, the next closest thing to clipping in. The stiff midsole provides excellent transfer of power to the pedals and helps keep foot fatigue to a minimum, while a little flex through the toe allows for relatively normal off-the-bike walking. We found the medium volume fit to be comfortable, and it should suit a huge range of foot shapes. The shoes offer just enough foot protection without feeling overly bulky and heavy on the feet. The tough synthetic uppers also impressed us with their durability and abrasion resistance.
While we loved the tenacious grip of the Stealth rubber on the Freerider Pro, it may be a little too much for riders who like to adjust their feet regularly. Also, while the synthetic uppers are impressively durable, we found them to offer just average breathability as the mercury rose. That said, we feel this is an outstanding, versatile flat pedal shoe that can work for just about any application.
Rubber Type: Rubber Kinetics DST 6.0 High Grip | Sole Pattern: Full Dot
Fantastic pedal grip
Less rigidity and power transfer the competition
A little hot and clammy
A little heavy
The Ride Concepts Livewire is a fantastic shoe that blends excellent grip, high levels of comfort, and plenty of protection at a reasonable price. This shoe checks all the boxes for riders seeking a quality all-mountain shoe. The foundation of the shoe is the grippy Rubber Kinetics outsole that clings to the pedals with authority. The Livewire has a well-balanced sole stiffness that provides good power transfer, pedal feel, and walkability. They have a comfortable medium-volume fit that should work for the majority of riders. Ride Concepts also incorporated molded toe and heel protection, along with D30 impact-absorbing inserts in the insole to take the edge trail feedback and impacts. There is a lot to like about this versatile and affordable model, and we are excited to see what the future brings for this relatively young brand.
While we feel the Livewire is adequately stiff underfoot, it's not the stiffest shoe out there. Those looking for the absolute best pedaling efficiency and power transfer might be better off looking elsewhere. The Livewire is also a little heavy at 458-grams per shoe (size 11), which may be a deterrent for weight-conscious riders. Beyond that, we found little not to like about this well-rounded and reasonably priced shoe.
Rubber Type: SlipNot ST | Sole Pattern: Full Hexagon Dot
Not the stiffest
Somewhat vague fit in the forefoot
Specialized recently introduced a new flat pedal shoe in their line, known as the 2FO Roost. The first things we noticed were this shoe's casual looks and minimal branding. The next things we noticed were how lightweight they felt and how well they performed out on the trail. The sole is comprised of Specialized's new SlipNot SuperTacky rubber with a full hexagonal dot tread pattern. Pedal grip is right up there with the best in the business, and these shoes feel locked-in and inspire confidence in any terrain. The soles aren't ultra-stiff, but they have a very balanced feel that provides good power transfer, pedal feel, shock absorption, and off-the-bike walkability. Our test pair was true to size, with a crowd-pleasing medium volume fit. The leather and suede uppers are supple and conform nicely to the feet with an XPEL Airmesh lining that makes them more breathable than you might expect. A little reinforcement at the toe and heel help to ward off rock strikes and add a little foot protection.
While we were generally enamored by the new 2FO Roost, we do have a few minor concerns. We feel the soles are stiff enough for most riders, although those seeking the absolute stiffest soles and efficient power transfer may be left a little wanting. These shoes are also very comfortable, although we found them to be a bit roomy in the toe box and the laces don't extend down far enough to effectively tighten them over the forefoot. Beyond that, we feel these are impressively lightweight and versatile shoes that will work well for most styles of riding and grabbing post-ride refreshments.
Rubber Type: DST 4.0 Max Grip | Sole Pattern: Full Hexagon Dot
Excellent pedal grip
Balanced sole stiffness
A bit heavy
The Ride Concepts Powerline is a burly shoe that is designed for fast riding, hard-charging, enduro and downhill riders, but it's not just a one-hit-wonder. Although a little heavier than other options, these shoes proved themselves to be capable all-day climbers that didn't let us down on long days in the saddle. Aside from their great pedal gripping performance, the DST rubber soles have been around for a couple of seasons now and have proven their grip and durability. The uppers are a burly synthetic material that sheds moisture and abrasion, with a fully welded construction. In the spirit of its downhill-oriented nature, these shoes feature extra padding throughout, including a reinforced 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 D30 insole cradles your foot and provides an additional layer of padding and shock absorption underfoot.
While they didn't feel egregiously heavy on the feet, the Powerline is among the heaviest shoes in the test. If you're riding lifts or shuttling, this extra weight won't be an issue and is the result of their robust and protective feel. If you're an all-mountain or trail rider who spends a significant amount of time climbing, that weight may be quite noticeable. The mesh panel above the toe box also allows for some breathability, but due to the burly, padded nature of these shoes, they can be a bit warm on the feet. That said, we feel these are the best shoes we tested for gravity pursuits or super aggressive trail riders.
The Five Ten Freerider Pro Mid VCS are essentially a Freerider Pro with a unique ankle gasket/cuff that adds some weather/debris resistance and protection. Yes, these shoes are a little funky-looking, but there is no denying the fact that they deliver outstanding performance on the trail. The knit ankle cuff does a wonderful job of keeping dirt and debris from entering the shoes while riding and a D30 patch on the medial ankle adds some ankle protection. The toe box also features some extra reinforcement for protection from rock strikes. Of course, these shoes also feature Five Ten's Stealth S1 rubber soles that provide outstanding pedal grip, a vibration dampening EVA midsole, and excellent power transfer. The closure consists of three Velcro straps that are easy to adjust and work well in wet conditions. While they aren't completely waterproof, we feel these shoes provide additional weather resistance that should be a benefit to riders in moderately sloppy conditions.
Not everyone is going to benefit from the extended cuff design, and these certainly fall into the niche category. Riders who ride in moderately wet conditions and those who are really pushing the limits will be the ones benefiting most from the ankle gasket. There is no doubt that the extended ankle cuff detracts from breathability and ventilation, and riders in hot and/or humid climates may find these shoes to be a bit warm. There's also the polarizing looks of the Freerider Pro Mid VCS. Style is a personal preference, of course, and these shoes definitely stand out from the crowd.
Rubber Type: Stealth Phantom | Sole Pattern: 3/4 dot
Excellent grip on bike paired with amazing hiking abilities
Slightly higher stack height
The Five Ten TrailCross LT is a unique flat pedal shoe that blends the best qualities of a mountain bike and hiking shoe. If your idea of a fun mountain bike ride is more about exploring remote zones as opposed to full-on singletrack shredding, this might be a great option. The TrailCross LT beautifully combines solid on-bike performance with excellent hiking/walking abilities. It should be emphasized that while these shoes focus on blending riding and hiking, they are still Five Ten's and utilize the top-notch Stealth Phantom rubber. These tacky shoes offer excellent pedal grip and respectable levels of sole stiffness and power transfer. Thanks to the light and airy mesh upper, they deliver unrivaled airflow and dry out quite quickly when things get damp. If your rides feature high-consequence stream crossings or extended hike-a-bikes, these shoes are an excellent choice.
The TrailCross LT isn't perfect. If you are looking for a shoe to simply shred singletrack, we feel there are better options. While the TrailCross is solid on the trail, the fact that it was designed as a crossover shoe detracts slightly from its on-bike performance. A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none as they say. The soft, mesh upper material that lends itself to fantastic airflow isn't as supportive as beefier materials. Additionally, the sole that allows such good walkability doesn't provide the best transfer of power to the pedals. That said, if you're searching for a shoe that works as well on the bike as it does scrambling up the mountain, the Trailcross is a very compelling option to consider.
Our lead flat pedal shoe reviewer, Pat Donahue, is a mountain bike fiend. He's been riding mountain bikes for nearly 20 years and his experience runs from the gravity-fed enduro realm to massive trail riding epics, even fat biking. He is happiest while riding burly, chunky trails and aggressive terrain with consequences. Pat contributes to a number of OutdoorGearLab review categories including hardtail mountain bikes, full-face helmets, and mountain bike tires. Off the bike, he is the owner of a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe, CA. In recent years, Pat has been in dad mode and can be found out on his local trails at the most bizarre of hours.
The mountain bike flat pedal shoe market is rapidly expanding. More and more manufacturers are throwing their proverbial hats in the ring and trying to capitalize on the growing flat pedal industry trend. We put in dozens of hours scouring the deepest corners of the internet to hone in on the most compelling options available. After we nailed down the selection, we slapped down the plastic and purchased ten pairs to test side-by-side. We weighed, analyzed, and scrutinized the design aspects of each shoe prior to riding them. Then, we rode as much as humanly possible on every type of trail and in every imaginable weather condition. After that, we took a look at our field notes and scored each pair of shoes on performance metrics such as grip, power transfer, and fit/comfort.
Analysis and Test Results
There are an overwhelming number flat pedal shoes available. The internet is loaded with dozens of models with fancy names for their rubber compound all touting the merits of their own product. To help filter through the jargon and marketing hype, we've compiled a list of essential performance metrics to help differentiate between the models in this review. After rigorously testing each pair of shoes, we rated them on the predetermined metrics of sole grip, fit and comfort, rigidity and power transfer, breathability, durability, and weight. You'll have to decide which factors are most important to your riding, and keep in mind it may be more than one.
We don't let the price of a product play a role in our assessment of performance, but we do appreciate a good value. Price and performance often go hand in hand, and our top-rated models, like the Five Ten Freerider Pro and the Ride Concepts Powerline also happen to be among the most expensive. Boasting a high price to performance ratio, we feel the Ride Concepts Livewire offers the best value in the pack. It's one of the least expensive shoes we tested, and it performs nearly as well as shoes that cost significantly more.
Grip is the most important metric in this review. Unlike clipless shoes/pedals, flat pedals have no mechanical connection between the rider and the pedals. Instead, you have to rely on the sole's rubber compound and tread pattern, as well as the pins on the pedal. A grippy sole helps to keep your feet in place while pedaling over rough terrain or descending through chunky terrain. A higher level of grip means the rider has a greater sense of control over the bike. Less tacky soles can result in excessive foot movement, slipped pedals, and less control. Of course, the pedals you use may also be a factor, as their grip can vary as well. Until recently, the majority of mountain bike shoe soles were made by either Five Ten or Vibram, but now there are other options from tire brands like Michelin and Goodyear, and proprietary rubber compounds from Ride Concepts and Specialized.
Five Ten's Stealth rubber has long set the grip standard for flat pedal shoe soles, and the Five Ten Freerider Pro and its Stealth S1 soles continue that tradition. The tacky rubber pairs with the full-dot tread pattern to deliver a locked-in and confidence-inspiring grip. The Five Ten Freerider Pro MID VCS also uses the same exact rubber and full-dot tread pattern. As a result, the extended cuff version is every bit as grippy as the standard Freerider Pro One might think that the rubber compounds found on all of our test shoes are "pretty much the same". This is not the case, the Stealth rubber is truly in a class of its own; although it finally has some competition from new challengers.
Specialized has seemingly cracked the grip code with the 2FO Roost shoe and its SlipNot ST rubber compound. This grippy rubber works along with the full hexagonal dot tread to cling to the pedals while climbing and no matter how rough it gets on the descents. Few shoes come close to the grip of Five Ten rubber, but the 2FO Roost is right up there.
Ride Concepts has partnered with a company called Rubber Kinetics to create the proprietary compounds used on their shoes. Along with the Specialized shoes mentioned above, they are one of the brands that rival the grip of Five Ten. The Powerline uses the DST 4.0 Max Grip compound which is among the grippiest we tested. The Livewire uses the DST 6.0 High Grip rubber that was hard to differentiate from the best of the rest.
The FiveTen TrailCross LT has a Stealth Phantom rubber sole. It is very, very similar to the Stealth S1 compound found on the Freerider Pro. The TrailCross delivers a very impressive hold on the pedal despite its slightly smaller footprint and slightly higher stack height.
Fit and Comfort
Comfort is a somewhat subjective metric. There are many variables in comfort, including a shoe's construction, materials, and intended use. Obviously, the rider's foot shape and overall volume also play an enormous role. For example, a narrower-fitting shoe like the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch might be the most comfortable choice for some riders but could 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. Other factors like the footbed and protective features were also taken into account.
The Ride Concepts shoes also thoroughly impressed us with their high levels of comfort. Both the Powerline and Livewire are generously padded, with a plush feeling lining and a gusseted, elasticized tongue that wraps around the foot. The orthotic-style footbed creates a nice cradle for the heel and arch, with D30 impact-absorbing inserts under the ball of the foot and heel. Additional toe and heel protection provide peace of mind when things get rowdy.
Specialized also created a comfortable shoe with the 2FO Roost. The shoe has a medium volume fit with supple leather and suede uppers that conform nicely to the feet. The Body Geometry footbed is very comfortable and supportive, and the XPEL Airmesh lining helps keep the feet dry and happy inside.
Both the Five Ten Freerider Pro and the Freerider Pro Mid VCS should work well for a wide range of riders. These shoes are snug enough through the heel cup and arch without being too narrow or restrictive. As you move forward, both shoes widen significantly at the toe box. The toe box is roomy and spacious without feeling clumsy or too loose.
Riders with narrower feet could appreciate the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch, which has a look and feel of a high-end clipless trail riding shoe. The X-Alp has a snug, low-medium volume fit that locks the feet securely in place for a very performance-oriented feel. Likewise, the Five Ten TrailCross LT runs a bit long in length, although it is somewhat narrower through the toe box. The CrankBrothers Stamp BOA are sleek and good-looking shoes that could be very comfortable for low-volume to low-mid volume feet. They have a plush feel without being too pillowy or bulky.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
The sole rigidity on a mountain bike flat shoe is an important part of how well it performs. A shoe that is too stiff can potentially bounce off your pedal pins and isn't so pleasant to walk in. On the other hand, a sole that is too flexible can absorb some of the power you are trying to transfer to the pedals. Additionally, a flexy sole can cause foot or lower leg discomfort and fatigue while pedaling or on extended rough descents. Stiffer isn't always better, and we find ourselves gravitating towards shoes with balanced sole stiffness that provides good power transfer, a nice pedal feel, and works well when off the bike too.
The Specialized 2FO Roost and both of the Ride Concepts models seem to have nailed the happy middle ground of sole stiffness. All three models are stiff enough from the ball of the foot back that power transfer feels direct and efficient, yet not so stiff that pedal sensitivity is sacrificed. They also have adequate flex through the toe to allow for good off-the-bike walking performance.
The Five Ten Freerider Pro and Freerider Pro Mid VSC both offer all of the rigidity you need. These shoes are both among the stiffest in our review but still retain an okay walking motion. When smashing down a super-gnarly rock section, the sole remains composed and doesn't want to bounce off the pedal or fold around it. In addition, the Stealth S1 rubber compound seems to work along with the EVA midsole to provide a small amount of damping. When putting the power down, energy is transferred directly into the cranks and these shoes felt quite efficient. Yes, there are shoes that perform better when hiking or pushing the bike. That said, these are cycling shoes and the high levels of rigidity deliver excellent performance on the bike. We can live with an okay walking experience.
The Northwave Clan was also a sneakily stiff and shreddy shoe. This shoe trends more towards gravity-fed endeavors such as downhill riding, shuttling, and enduro-racing. The sole is very rigid and feels fantastic on rough landings or burly lines. When smashing the pedals on a sprint, they felt extremely supportive and efficient. Despite the wonderful levels of rigidity, we wouldn't recommend these shoes for riders who value maximum pedal efficiency due to their heavier weight.
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 Northwave Clan kept our feet warmer on cooler days, but with this decreased breathability, our feet felt the heat on warmer days. As is the case with the other criteria in our test, keep in mind your use and environment as they will be a determining factor regarding the importance of breathability. If you live in regions where temperatures approach triple digits in the summer months, breathability will be critical. If you ride and live in cooler climates or primarily ride in the early morning or at night, it might not be so important.
The Five Ten TrailCross LT are supremely breathable shoes. The uppers are constructed almost entirely of a highly breathable mesh material that promotes exceptional airflow. Additionally, the thin tongue and thin laces allow plenty of air to enter through the top of the shoe. The downside of this ventilation is these shoes don't ward off the elements, but they do dry out very quickly.
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch is constructed from a recycled Cordura material that we found to breathe better than most. The fabric is tightly woven, but it is relatively thin and allowed warm air and trapped moisture to escape on hot rides. Not surprisingly, the beefiest and most protective shoes were slightly less breathable. Heavier, synthetic leather uppers and padded linings simply don't allow as much air to flow as lighter and thinner materials.
The world's most high-tech, feature-loaded, and expensive shoe quickly loses its appeal if it falls apart shortly after purchase. This is especially the case if it leaves you stranded on the trail in the middle of nowhere. Most of our test shoes feature primarily synthetic materials in their construction with rubber and foam comprising the outsoles and midsoles. 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, shoes like the Ride Concepts Livewire, or Powerline should be considered. Their synthetic uppers and beefy 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.
Our favorite mountain bike flat shoes, the Five Ten Freerider Pro feature a durable, synthetic, upper construction. We have no concerns that this shoe will fall apart. It should, however, be noted that the more supple Stealth S1 rubber sole may be prone to wearing out slightly more quickly than a harder rubber compound. That said, we feel the additional grip is absolutely worth a slightly shorter lifespan.
The Five Ten Freerider Pro Mid VCS shares many attributes with the above-mentioned Freerider Pro. That said, it has a few key differences that affect its durability. The velcro closure system is an excellent touch. Velcro is extremely simple and adds a bit of a bombproof element compared to laces that may fray or rip or a complex BOA system that could fail. The extended cuff worries us a little in terms of durability. It isn’t especially tight or narrow, but you do need to snake your foot through there to get the shoes on and off. This knit cuff seems like it could also be susceptible to damage if it snags on sharp trailside obstacles.
Weight is an interesting metric. Some riders scrutinize every gram on their body and bicycle. Other riders couldn't care less about weight and just want a sturdy and durable product. When it comes to shoes, weight can be important. If your idea of fun is a 30-mile trail ride, weight may be an important consideration in your purchase decision. If your idea of fun is shuttling and ripping laps at a bike park, you probably don't mind a few extra grams on your feet.
The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch was the lightest shoe in our review. It hit the scales at 365-grams per shoe in a Euro size 43. Not only are these shoes lightweight, but they are also quite stiff, making them a sensible option for trail riders who like to go the distance. Despite their casual appearance, the Specialized 2FO Roost is the next lightest at 367-grams per shoe in a Euro size 43.5.
At the other end of the weight spectrum, the beefier models trade a little extra heft for more robust constructions and protective features. The Five Ten Freerider Pro Mid VCS weighs 470-grams per shoe in size 11. The Ride Concepts Powerline weighs 467-grams per shoe in a size 11. Riders who value foot protection will probably happily cart around a few extra grams, and honestly, the Powerline didn't exactly feel heavy on the feet. The Northwave Clan turned out to be the heaviest shoe we tested at 487-grams per shoe in a size 11. Again, this shoe had a very burly and protective feel that adds a little weight but also peace of mind when charging a rowdy downhill.
Navigating the world of mountain bike flat shoes can be overwhelming. When researching shoes you will be hit with quirky names of rubber compounds and the names of fancy design features. While a new pair of shoes may not be as flashy as the coolest new bike, they are critical as shoes are one of the primary points of contact between rider and bike. Our best piece of advice is to simplify your search by carefully and honestly assessing your riding style and the trails you ride most often. Nailing down these two critical pieces of information should help narrow the field considerably.
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