Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes
Best Overall Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes
Five Ten Freerider Pro
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 heralded 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 around the foot 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 limited 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.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Pro
Best Bang for the Buck
Ride Concepts Livewire
Ride Concepts now has two pairs of shoes in our lineup with the Livewire remaining a favorite, especially with its affordable price. The Livewire is one of the offerings from their Session Series, Ride Concepts' line of shoes that's intended for everything from sessions in the park to long rides in the backcountry. This shoe checks all the boxes for riders seeking a quality all-mountain shoe. An extra grippy sole is the foundation, and it's paired with an EVA midsole that provides ample stiffness for effective power transfer on those long climbs. With a synthetic upper combined with a mesh toe, the Livewire should meet most any rider's needs no matter where your rides take you. The Livewire sports a welded construction rather than the more typical sewn construction of other shoes, which has proven itself when it comes to durability. We'd expect a shoe of this caliber to be on the high price of the price spectrum, but the Livewire comes is competitively priced, and we feel they are a great value.
While we feel the Livewire is adequately stiff underfoot, it's not the stiffest shoe out there. Those looking for the best pedaling efficiency and power transfer might be better off looking elsewhere. Beyond that, we found little not to like in this affordable and versatile shoe.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire
Another Excellent Flat Pedal Shoe
Shimano has been in the mountain bike shoe game for years now and the GR-9 proves they are here to stay. These shoes are part of Shimano's Gravity series, shoes designed for aggressive enduro and downhill riding. The Michelin outsole provides the positive pedal grip you'd expect from the highest performance shoes. Beyond the tenaciously gripping Michelin soles, these shoes feature supportive and "just right" midsoles that ensure all of your hard-fought pedal power is delivered to the pedals no matter where the trails take you. Not just a downhill and enduro shoe, the GR-9 is capable of providing dependable performance in all types of riding, from gravel riding to hard-charging descents. These shoes feature synthetic materials that encourage quick drying and breathability, speed lacing, armored protection, and yet they retain adequate walking performance when off the bike. With all of these high-performance features, these shoes quickly became one of our favorites.
While they are one of our highest rated shoes, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. They are on the higher end of the price spectrum for the models in this review. We also found the breathability to be below average, and they may not be the best choice for riding in hot climates. With that said, we felt those are pretty minor considerations compared to all of these shoes' positive attributes.
Read review: Shimano GR-9
Best for Downhill Riders
Ride Concepts Powerline
The Ride Concepts Powerline is a 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 all-mountain 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, but also includes a mesh insert over the toes that helps keep you cool when you're not maximizing gravity. In the spirit of its downhill-oriented nature, these shoes feature extra padding throughout, including a padded 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 are 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. That said, we feel these are the best shoes we tested for pure downhill riding.
Read review: Ride Concepts Powerline
Why You Should Trust Us
Our primary reviewer, outdoor veteran Jason Cronk, is an experienced and active multisport outdoor athlete. He has been riding bikes for over 30 years, both road and mountain, and has worked as a bike mechanic in several shops. He's been climbing and skiing for over 25 years, with experience throughout Western North America, including Canada and Alaska, as well as the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, and the southern Alps of New Zealand. Jason is an experienced medevac flight RN/EMT with experience as a National Ski Patroller and educator. As this review was underway, he relocated from the Sierra up to the Teton Mountains. Even with a full-time air medical career, he racks up the days out in the mountains every year.
With so many manufacturers and shoe models out there, our editors and reviewers put in the hours to narrow down the field to the best choices for our gear tests and reviews. After our shoe choices are finalized, we purchase the models we test and start grinding out the miles, riding for months to see how each test pair performs. Each pair of shoes is compared side by side and objectively graded on carefully selected metrics. After field-testing wraps up, we are able to write up the unbiased and thorough reviews you've come to expect.
Analysis and Test Results
When it comes time to choose new mountain bike shoes, whether your first pair or your umpteenth pair, you can easily just go with what's currently popular, look good, or are on sale. While that may work, wouldn't it be better if you could read the findings of expert riders, making an educated decision on your next pair of shoes? We've put together a list of criteria to help in your decision-making process for that next pair of mountain bike kicks. We've evaluated several shoes for you based on several metrics: sole grip, comfort and arch support, rigidity and power transfer, weight, and durability. 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. Boasting a high price to performance ratio, we feel the Ride Concepts Livewire offers the most value in the pack. It's one of the least expensive shoes we tested, and it performs nearly as well as shoes that cost more. Another standout is the Five Ten Freerider, which is one of the most versatile options and is less expensive than most of the field.
When comparing mountain bike flat pedal shoes, after you find the right fit, we feel that grip is the most important metric. Unlike clipless shoes and 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 and over rough terrain and provides a greater sense of control over the bike. Less grippy soles can result in excessive foot movement, slipped pedals, and less control. 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.
An effective flat pedal shoe should strike a good balance between pedal grip and the ability to fine-tune foot position, as well as releasing from the pedal pins when it's needed most. Shoes like the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Ride Concepts Livewire, Powerline, and Shimano GR-9 all seem to have found this sweet spot when it comes to pedal gripping performance. Beyond on the bike performance, these shoes all perform well off the bike as well, allowing a natural walk when it came time to push the bike or hanging out post-ride. While some of our test shoes performed better in one area or another, we found that ultimately they all perform well with just some relatively minor differences.
Comfort and Arch Support
Comfort is a somewhat subjective metric. There are many variables in comfort, including a shoe's construction, materials, and intended use. A rider's foot shape and overall volume also come into play. For example, a narrower fitting shoe like the Shimano GR-9 might be the most comfortable choice for a majority of 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. Less porous and higher density materials in the midsole have a better feel over the long haul. That extra layer of material in the midsole does wonders for providing additional support and cushioning between our feet and the abusive outside environment.
The Ride Concepts Powerline is made with an EVA midsole that provides added stiffness, support, and shock absorption which ultimately increases comfort, especially for longer rides. Shoes without this added midsole support performed well for shorter rides, but pedal pressure becomes increasingly noticeable with longer and more technical rides.
Arch support also becomes a factor when either riding or walking longer distances. The Shimano GR-9, Five Ten Freerider Pro, as well as the Ride Concepts Livewire and Powerline, all provided more support than the less stiff, skate-style shoes. The Ride Concepts Livewire and Powerline have high-quality orthotic style insoles with added arch support that felt great for long days in the saddle and on the trail. Keep in mind that if you like the overall comfort of a shoe, you can always add on your own favorite insoles. Extra midsole materials tend to make shoes less walk-friendly and less sensitive, so one rider's ideal may not be another's.
For riders with wider or bulkier feet, a higher volume shoe will be more comfortable by allowing the foot to maintain a more natural position. We found that most of our test shoes from Five Ten had a higher volume fit, especially in the forefoot. The Ride Concepts fit in both pairs is roomy in the toe box. A roomy toe box increases not only comfort but also overall efficiency through a more relaxed and natural foot position as well as more significant pedal contact.
Conversely, a rider with lower-volume feet, which tend to be narrower and thinner overall, may have difficulty in lacing up their shoes tight enough to feel secure. This can also result in an uncomfortable ride with poor circulation to the feet and toes. We found some of our test shoes had a lower-volume fit, like the Shimano GR-9. Even though we grade all of our test shoes as objectively as possible, keep in mind your foot shape and the type of riding you regularly do.
After miles of riding with all of the factors above in mind, we found the Shimano GR-9, Freerider Contact, and both models from Ride Concepts to be among the most comfortable out there. These shoes all provided great out-of-the-box comfort that was maintained even after riding the longest and most technical rides we encountered. The comfort was consistent through all conditions, both on and off the bike. The skate-style models, like the Afton Keegan and Five Ten Freerider, generally felt good right out of the box, but with less support overall. If your typical rides don't take you too far from the road, this won't be a major factor for you, and the less substantial shoes may serve you just fine.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
A flat shoe's sole rigidity is an important part of how well a shoe performs. A shoe that is too stiff has a tendency to bounce off your pedal pins and would be a nightmare to walk in. On the other hand, a shoe that is too soft doesn't provide a solid enough platform to transfer power from you to the cranks, and you're likely to feel foot fatigue more quickly. The happy place in the middle is where shoe manufacturers strive to be when designing flat shoes.
We found that with some of the shoes, like the Shimano GR-9 and Five Ten Freerider Pro, our ride times were similar and sometimes even faster than with clipless shoe and pedal combinations. This seems to be linked to the overall rigidity and power transfer as well as the shoe's grip. Other shoes slowed our times slightly which seemed to be directly related to less stiffness and overall transfer of power.
As is the case with sole grip, usually more is better, but for the more rigid shoes in our test, pedal and walk sensitivity was sacrificed for shoe stiffness. The added rigidity of the stiffer models, especially the Giro Riddance and the Five Ten Freerider Pro, decreases sensitivity on the pedals and the trail, feeling more like a hiking boot than a riding shoe. For riders who do more hike-a-bike terrain or wear shoes off the bike, this may be a factor.
Virtually every item a rider uses or carries is under weight scrutiny. This portion of our testing turned out to be less important than we initially thought. We knew all of our test shoes claimed weights were pretty accurate, but we chose to weigh them ourselves for consistency.
We found that from the lightest to the heaviest, the weight difference was only three ounces for a men's size 9. With such a minor difference, little significance is assigned to this category. However, if you're the gram counting type of rider that insists on having the lightest pair possible, you'll want to check out the Ride Concepts Livewire or the Shimano GR9. On the other end of the spectrum, the beefy Giro Riddance and Ride Concepts Powerline were the heaviest shoes we tested.
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 Giro Riddance kept our feet warmer on cooler days, but with this decreased breathability, our feet felt the heat on warmer days.
Conversely, the Ride Concepts shoes performed better in warmer conditions with more open-weave materials in their construction. With those observations in mind, we rode in temperatures varying from 35F to 85F, and overall our feet were relatively comfortable no matter which shoe we picked. Keep in mind that with the use of a warmer wool sock on colder days and a thin cycling sock on warmer days, you can expand the comfort range of your shoes.
As is the case with the other criteria in our test, keep in mind your use and environment. If your rides take you into colder climates, the Shimano GR-9 in black or the Five Ten Freerider Pro will keep your feet warmer than the more ventilated options. For wetter conditions, the Shimano GR-9 or Giro Riddance, with their synthetic uppers, will help keep your feet drier.
The world's most high-tech, feature-loaded, and expensive shoe quickly loses its appeal if it falls apart shortly after purchase, especially if it leaves you stranded on the trail in the middle of nowhere in a storm. 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, a shoe like the Shimano GR-9, Five Ten Freerider Pro, Ride Concepts Livewire, or Powerline should be considered. Their synthetic uppers and beefy sticky dot or lugged 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.
Other than purchasing the right bike with the right tire combination, shoe selection is the most important influencer on ride satisfaction and efficiency. Keep in mind the riding you intend on doing most often, where you ride and when you ride. Like most of our gear, not all shoes are created equal, and one model is unlikely to be the ideal choice in every situation for every rider. Our Mountain Bike Flat Shoe review is intended to help you negotiate through the shoe purchasing process by providing accurate information on the many options available.
— Jason Cronk