The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Mountain Bike Shoes for Women

By Tara Reddinger-Adams ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday April 14, 2020
Having a stiff sole with shock absorbing sole and footbed  as found in the Five Ten Hellcat's  can make or break your ride  especially when you're riding rocks all day.
Having a stiff sole with shock absorbing sole and footbed, as found in the Five Ten Hellcat's, can make or break your ride, especially when you're riding rocks all day.

How We Test


Reading about mountain bike shoes online only provides part of the picture, wearing shoes day in and day out on after work laps, weekend warrior excursions, and all-day epics allows us to provide you with in-depth product testing. Here is how we measured each metric.

We found the shoe to absorb the trail fairly well  such as impacts from jumps.
We found the shoe to absorb the trail fairly well, such as impacts from jumps.

Stability and Control


A shoe's stability and control is our testers' top factors in determining how well a shoe performed. To begin, we measured the length of the opening for the cleat and considered how much fore and aft adjustment the shoe allowed. We know each rider has individual preferences when it comes to cleat placement, so we looked for shoes that offer maximum cleat adjustability. We also took into consideration the space around the cleat and how it affected our ability to clip and unclip from the pedal. Secondly, we looked at the power transfer of the shoe, considering how much we were able to push on, pull on, and control the pedals. We took into account factors including impact absorption, from both jumps, drops, and technical terrain. Lastly, we looked at the stability of the shoe, considering factors such as flex, if we could feel the cleat under our foot and how much the shoe encouraged or discouraged us from pushing and pulling on the pedals.

The Vibram soles gripped the rocks providing traction and the soles flex just enough to make hike-a-bikes comfortable.
The Vibram soles gripped the rocks providing traction and the soles flex just enough to make hike-a-bikes comfortable.

Comfort


If your mountain bike shoes are not comfortable, other factors can become meaningless. Your footwear should fit and feel like an extension of your body. Understanding that fit is highly personal, as everyone has a different sized foot, with many variables for length, width, and volume. With this in mind, we considered the shoe's length, width, and volume for our foot and the ability to adjust the shoe's fit for a foot that was wider, narrower, or with different volume. We also took into consideration factors such as pressure points or hot spots. Next, we contemplated if this would be a shoe we would want to wear all day. A sleek race fit shoe might be uncomfortable after two hours, so we focused on comfort for rides ranging from after-work laps to all-day epics. Shoes that proved uncomfortable on shorter rides made their way to the bottom of the pack, while those that felt great after two hours made it into our second phase of testing on longer and more technical rides.

Taking a break to enjoy the views at Oil Well Flats in Canon City  Colorado.
Taking a break to enjoy the views at Oil Well Flats in Canon City, Colorado.

Walkability


Being able to hike in your mountain bike shoes is important not only for steep rocky climbs that are unrideable but also for sessioning features on the trail. We walked up and over rocks, slabs, packed, wet and loose dirt, sand, and sometimes even snow to see how each shoe measured up. We critiqued the flex of each shoes sole, its comfort while walking, how much dirt the sole trapped, how easily it shed dirt and debris, and how much traction we had on a variety of trail surfaces.

Protection


Inevitably, you will have a rock fly up and hit your foot or you will strike your foot against a rock or other trail object at some time during your riding career. Taking real-life scenarios into consideration, we focused on how much protection each shoe provided the rider. We examined each shoe for reinforced areas in the toe box and ankle with the understanding that our shoes intended use ranged from cross country race to enduro, and that each discipline typically has different needs in terms of impact protection. We also considered how well the shoe kept dirt and debris out of the shoe and if laces could be tucked out of the way. Lastly, we examined how water resistant the shoe was, did small amounts of moisture seep through, or were our feet nice and dry.

Weight


This metric was the easiest; we placed the shoes on a small scale without cleats and recorded the weight of each pair in addition to the size of each pair.

Where We Tested


Our testing began in Minnesota and Wisconsin. During this initial phase, we analyzed the stability and control, comfort, walkability, and protection of each shoe, taking note of shoes that had issues early on, such as very soft soles or hot spots. Next, our testing took west to Colorado, where we chased dry trails in locations ranging from Canon City to Fruita. We then continued our testing on longer and more technical trails in Moab, Sedona, and Grand Junction. Riding a variety of terrain was essential to allow us to see how the shoes performed on longer rides and more technically demanding terrain. Our riding temps ranged from snow and 25 degrees to over 80 degrees in the desert, some days were wet, while others were hot and dry. We rode cross country, alpine, desert trails, and even did a little winter fat biking. Lastly, we hiked in our shoes in conditions ranging from wet, sloppy snow, and mud to bone dry Slickrock. We then analyzed our results to determine the best all-round women's clipless mountain bike shoe.