What Shoes To Wear Mountain Biking? (Complete Guide)

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You’ve got yourself a bike, helmet, and pads. You’re ready to go. However, there’s one more thing to consider before heading out onto the trails – what do mountain bikers wear on their feet?

So What Shoes to Wear Mountain Biking?

The type of shoes to wear mountain biking depends on the type of riding you do, your ability, and your own personal preference.

This might seem like a simple question, but there are a few important things to consider first. In this article, we guide you through all the different options available and what will suit you the best.

So What Do Mountain Bikers Wear On Their Feet?

There are two main categories of mountain bike shoes:

Flat Shoes

Flat MTB Shoes
Flat MTB Shoes

These are used on normal flat/platform shoes. The rider gets grip from the pedal pins and the rubber on the shoes. Mountain bike-specific flat shoes often have specially designed soft rubber to give you extra grip on the pedals. This sounds like a gimmick but does actually work very well.

Clipless Shoes

Clipless MTB Shoes
Clipless MTB shoes

These shoes have metal cleats attached under the shoes which attach to a corresponding pedal. The term clipless is actually quite confusing – as, in fact, you clip into these pedals.

There are different kinds of clipless shoes for different disciplines in mountain biking – cross country, trail and enduro, and downhill. Each one has different qualities to make it suitable for the terrain it will be tackling.

If you are a nervous beginner/novice it is almost certainly recommended to start with flat pedals to help you build confidence and learn the correct technique.

Do Different Disciplines In Mountain Biking Require Different Shoes?

Yes, there are different types of pedals for different disciplines in mountain biking. It really is worth having the right shoes for the type of riding you intend on doing.

What  Is Your Preferred Type Of Mountain Biking?

Cross country  

You can buy both Clipless and flat pedals for cross-country, however, most XC riders choose clipless pedals with clipless shoes. However, beginners often choose flat pedals. XC shoes are normally the most lightweight designs, as they do not have to be as durable compared to other shoes.

Trail and Enduro

Flat shoes are recommended for beginner trail/enduro riders. If you are more experienced it comes down to personal preference, some like the freedom of flat pedals, while others like to feel more securely connected to the bike with clipless pedals. Either way look for a shoe that is built well, while not too heavy.

Downhill

Many novice or intermediate DH riders opt for flat pedals as it allows them to hang a foot out inturns, or dab should things start to get wild. Whereas advanced DH riders and racers are often split, some like clipless pedals as stops their feet from rattling off the pedals, and helps them to pedal out of turns saving valuable time, and others like flat pedals because they feel it gives them to confidence push harder and ride corners faster.

DH shoes are the heaviest of all shoes. They have to be able to take the most punishment of all so are bulkier and heavier. These shoes can also have a higher cuff for added protection. This design isn’t used on cross country shoes and is less prevalent on enduro and trail shoes because it can feel restrictive when pedaling. Downhill has the least amount of pedaling so it is less of an issue.

What are the Pros and Cons of Flat Pedal Shoes?

Pros Of Flat Shoes

Less Likely to Crash

Because you are not clipped into the pedal you are able to move your foot with greater ease. If you feel as though you are about to come off the bike you can put your foot down without having to unclip. In split-second situations, this can make all the difference between staying upright and ending up in the mud!

This can be especially useful in the more extreme conditions – mud, steeps, even snow. Flat pedals also help make it’s easier to get on and off the bike if you are a nervous rider, which can help with confidence.

Cost

Flat pedals are far cheaper than the pedals for clipless shoes. The shoes and the cleats are also more expensive. If you want to set yourself up with flat pedals then you can buy a set very cheaply at any bike shop and use the shoes that you already have. It’s simple and cheap.

They are also commonplace anywhere. You can walk into any bike shop and they will have a good selection to choose from.

The same goes for the shoes – while there are specialty shoes, you can also simply use the shoes that you already own. This is useful if you want to just grab your bike and go for a quick ride – you don’t have to worry about what to wear on your feet.

Reduces the Risk of Injury

With flat pedals, you can move your foot around easily. If you are in an uncomfortable or unnatural position you will be able to easily adjust. Some research has suggested that this can help reduce the risk of knee and joint injuries.

Minimal Setup

Flat pedals are considerably more simple to set up. Once you have them on the bike you simply get on and ride away. There is no need to spend time setting up the cleats on the shoes, and setting the pedal tension.

Technique 

It’s always better to learn new skills and techniques on flat pedals because you won’t be tempted to cheat and pull up on the cleat forcing you to learn the correct technique, plus there is less chance of injury due to being able to step off the bike easily. 

Walking

Not all the benefits come from being on the bike. Flat pedals are also easier to walk in should you need to hike a section trail or have one pair of shoes for a bike-packing trip.

Adjusting Your Foot Position

If you are on the bike and you need to adjust your position quickly and easily then flat pedals are far better for this than clipless.

Lower Centre of Gravity

A lower center of gravity makes the bike feel more stable.

Cons Of Flat Shoes

Less control

Some riders find they have less control with flat pedals, as their feet can bounce off the pedals on rougher trails and they have to learn how to do things like bunny hop correctly, unlike clipless pedals where they can pull up on the cleat to bunny hop.

Pulling on the Pedals

With flat pedals, it’s not possible to pull the pedals up. This means that you can only generate power on the downstroke. This is particularly useful when climbing.

Less Power

Clipless pedals are designed to allow the rider to produce the maximum amount of power. The same cannot be said for flat pedals. This is especially useful for accelerating quickly and riding uphill.

Flat Pedals are Wider

Flat pedals are wider to give better grip/control, however, this makes the bike wider which makes it harder to maneuver through tight gaps.

Weight

Flat pedals can be heavier than clipless pedals.

It’s Harder to Keep Your Feet on

While it is sometimes advantageous to be able to take your feet off the pedals quickly and easily, it can be a problem in tricky conditions if your foot slips off the pedals when you don’t want it to. As well as causing you to fall off your bike, this can also lead to you banging your shins and ankles with the pedals.

Less advanced

While there is something to be said for the simplicity of flat pedals, more research goes into clipless pedals which means they have the latest technology and materials.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Clipless Shoes?

Pros Of Clipless Shoes

Improved Pedaling Efficiency

Clipless shoes can help to improve pedaling technique which can improve pedaling efficiency. They keep your feet in the correct position while riding, and allow you to use the upstroke, unlike flat pedals.

Your Feet Stay on The Pedals

As your shoes are locked into the bike you don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off at any point. This makes riding easier and also avoids banging up your shins.

You can Pull up

Being able to pull up on the pedals means that you can cycle uphill far more efficiently.

Comfort

Rigid clipless shoes distribute pressure evenly through your feet which is more comfortable for riding.

Better on Rough Terrain

If you are going over very rough or uneven terrain you are less likely to bounce off the pedals if you are clipped in.

Ride Faster

The extra power from riding clipless means you can ride faster and ride further in the same amount of time.

Cons Of Clipless Shoes

Can Cause Injury

If they are not set up correctly then clipless pedals can lead to knee and hip injuries.

Cost

With flat pedals, you can ride whatever shoes you already have, there is no need to buy specialist shoes. However, with clipless pedals, you have to buy the correct shoes as well as pay significantly more for the pedals.

The Learning Curve

Most people grew up riding bikes, so they can easily jump on a bike with flat pedals and know exactly what they are doing. Clipless pedals can take some adjustment and it can feel strange to be clipped into the bike.

Falling off

No matter how often you have ridden flat pedals, it is almost a certainty that at some point you will stop on your clipless pedals and not be able to unclip in time, leading to you falling off the bike.

Setup

There is significantly more effort needed to setup clipless pedals, getting all of the adjustments just right. This can be very time-consuming.

The Shoes

You have to wear the correct shoes for riding clipless. These are expensive and are also not very comfortable for walking around in. This also means that if you are going on a long bike trip or touring then you will need to take an extra pair of shoes with you.

Harder to Adjust Position

When you are clipped into your bike you can’t adjust your foot position easily.

More Parts Means More Breakages

With more parts to the pedals, there is a much greater chance of things breaking. This can be a minor inconvenience if it happens close to home or an absolute nightmare if it happens when you are far out on a trail.

The Top Three Most Popular Flat Pedal Shoes

Five Ten Freerider

Possibly the most well-known mountain bike shoe on the market. The Stealth Rubber soles make these shoes particularly sticky and good for staying on the bike. 

Crankbrothers Stamp Boa

Using the Boa tightening system, these shoes can be tightened up easily and adjusted in a moment. Crankbrothers have set this shoe up to be optimized for their Stamp pedals, although it will also work very well with other pedals.

Shimano SH-GR7

The grip on these is not quite on par with that of the Five Tens, but they have excellent protection and are extremely comfortable.

The Top Three Most Popular Clipless Shoes:

Shimano SH-ME5

Shimano has continued working to improve their shoe design meaning that the latest iteration of their popular clipless shoe has the best possible comfort, weight, and performance, although they are not quite as protective as other shoes.

Giro Berm

These do not have the same level of performance as some of the more expensive shoes, but for those on a budget, they offer fantastic value for money.

Giro Chamber II

These shoes are designed for enduro and downhill. They have the look of flat pedal shoes but the performance of clipless. They are designed to take a beating, which does mean that they are significantly heavier than some other shoes. This makes them more suitable for downhill rather than cross country.

Are Flat Shoes Good For Mountain Biking?

There are a number of flat shoes that have been designed specifically for mountain biking. These are optimized for riding and are a good choice for people who do not want to go for clipless shoes. Even if you do not want to buy mountain bike-specific shoes, you can still use your regular shoes for riding, although they are not ideal. You might find your feet slipping off the pedals more easily and you will not have the same protection that you’ll have with mountain bike-specific shoes.

What Shoes go With a Mountain Bike Flat Pedal?

Trainers are the best shoes for mountain biking if you are not buying mountain bike-specific shoes like the Five Tens. They are not ideal, but they are still fairly good. Skate shoes generally offer better grip.

Can you Wear Walking Shoes for Mountain Biking?

Walking shoes are not perfect for mountain biking but they are usable with flat pedals if you do not have any other option. Walking/hiking shoes are generally fairly robust, however, the tread pattern is usually very bulky and not as soft as mountain bike-specific shoes.

Can you use Road Shoes for Mountain Biking?

Can you use Road Shoes for Mountain Biking?
Can you use Road Shoes for Mountain Biking?

Road shoes are not a good choice for mountain biking, as they only take road cleats, meaning you would have to use a compatible road pedal. Road pedals for mountain biking are not ideal as they offer no float meaning you cant adjust your foot position, and they have a much stiffer release mechanism making them dangerous if you crash.

Are Skate Shoes Good for Mountain Biking?

skate vs mtb shoes
Skate VS MTB Shoes

Most skate shoes are good for mountain biking because they normally have soft rubber soles. However, they are not as good as mountain bike-specific shoes because the soles are too soft, and the rubber is not as grippy. Ideally, you want your foot to sit on the pedal, not curve over the pedal.

Final Thoughts

There are pros and cons to each style of mountain bike shoes. Shoes for flat pedals are easier for the more casual rider, or anyone wanting the freedom to dab the ground easily. Clipless shoes are for riders who prefer feeling connected to the bike and might be looking for a slightly improved pedaling efficiency. 

There is no right or wrong answer for what shoes to use, and everyone has their own individual preference. It’s worth trying both clipless and flat pedals to see which you prefer and once you have chosen, perhaps test a few different brands – as each brand performs slightly differently. 

Lastly, it’s probably worth getting your feel measured (even if you think you know your size), as the majority of people wear shoes that are too big for them because they feel comfortable. With mountain bike shoes it’s important to have well-fitting shoes as any movement will give you less control of the bike.

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