Your feet are one of the few contact points that your body has with you bike while you ride, and arguably the most important. They are the extremity that brings all the power your legs generate down to the crank, which propels you forward through rough trails and dirty roads. Because of this, they need to be taken care of so they can perform their role at the best of their abilities, and this is why anyone who is serious about mountain biking will be in need of the best mtb shoes he or she can buy. 

Having the best mountain bike shoes on your feet means that they will adhere perfectly to the pedals and be perfectly positioned to transfer the maximum amount of power to the wheels. A pair of top rated mountain bike shoes can make a significant difference in your riding efficiency, even if you are simply commuting to work and not competing, so it’s worth taking the time to select the best option for you. Read this article to find useful tips and tricks and to know what to look for, so you can give your everyday riding a significant boost.

How To Choose MTB Shoes – Buying Guide

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Fastening System

There are four different fastening systems that you can find for MTB shoes, these are Velcro, ratchets, laces and dial. If you don’t want to spend too much money, Velcro is likely to be the system you end up with, since it is easy and quick to fasten and most of all it is lightweight. The flipside is that it is sometimes hard to achieve a nice and snug fit and also the straps might prove difficult to adjust on the fly. Going up a notch we find ratchets. These give the rider more precision in adjusting the tightness and are easier to operate quickly, but they are not as easy to loosen, often requiring two hands to do so. Ratchets can even be found in combination with Velcro straps. Laces are even better when it comes to customizing the fit but present the same issue as ratchet when it comes to loosening them or readjusting the knots. The best option on the market, but also the most expensive, are dials, and especially BOA dials. These are very secure and easy to adjust, and can be tweaked in small and precise increments. Because of their quality and price, dials will only be found on professional grade shoes and used mostly by competing athletes-

Grip

There are two main categories in which mtb shoes fall in regarding grip, flat sole or clipless, depending on the kind of pedal you are using (more on that later). Flat soles are recommended for beginners since they will probably be using flat pedals, the simplest kind, for whom a rubber sole that provides good friction is enough to make the foot stick and transfer force. These pedals have some small pins sticking out of them to catch on the rubber sole of the shoe and prevent the foot from slipping. Some people even get away with simple tennis shoes, but specific bike flat shoes will still be better than just any random shoes because of their stiffer sole that improves power transfer and often textured outsole that catches easier on the pedals. Clipless shoes use cleats to hang on to the pedals, which have specific spring-loaded mechanisms to clip the foot in place. The cleats fit into a custom-made opening on the sole, so you have to be careful that the shoes you buy are compatible with the cleats your pedals use. In this case, the outsole will not always be made of rubber since it is not friction that is used to keep the feet on the pedals. Clipless shoes provide a greater amount of grip than flat soled shoes, and are the way to go if you are looking to get the most power out of every pedal stroke.

Power Transfer

All mtb shoes stand out from regular, everyday shoes because they have a stiffer sole. This greatly helps with transferring the power that the rider can generate with his or her legs through the pedals, to the cranks and to the wheels. Having a good transmission of power means that your riding will become much more efficient, allowing you to cycle longer and quicker with the same amount of effort. Lower end shoes, or the ones designed to be a hybrid between bike shoes and hiking boots, will still have a sole that is slightly bendable so that the user can also walk with them through the woods. These are an excellent option if versatility is what you are after, and you don’t need the ultimate performance. The more serious riders, however, will be in need of high-quality clipless shoes. The sole on the higher-end shoes is often reinforced and almost rigid, so to ensure that no ounce of power is lost in the transfer. Cleat position on the outsole is also adjustable, so you can select the angle at which the feet press on the pedal to best match your style of riding.

Riding Comfort

The comfort you experience while riding your bike will mostly depend on the fit of your shoes and the closing system they use. Having a pair of comfortable shoes is a must if you are planning any kind of long-distance trip, but even for shorter rides a shoe that fits well will let you control your bike with better precision and less worries. Luckily, many shoes, including the more advanced and rigid models, incorporate some sort of insole to cushion your foot and sustain it while it pushes on the pedals. Many of these also support the foot arch, adapting to its shape and putting it into the best position for it to operate with maximum efficiency.

Waterproof

When mountain biking, encountering water and humidity is something that is impossible to avoid. Manufacturers know this and luckily all kinds of mtb shoes feature some kind of weather protection. This is achieved through various combinations of water-resistant materials or treatments, that work well to construct a protective bubble around your feet and keep moisture out of it, allowing them to perform at their best. Shoes are usually not entirely waterproof since they strive to keep the feet ventilated and the inside of the shoe breathable. There exist also shoes that are completely waterproof, but these seriously lack breathability, so we recommend considering them only if the conditions you plan to ride in are really extreme.

Durability

It goes without saying, but mtb shoes have to withstand a lot of wear and tear, since they live permanently in close contact with spiky gearboxes, sharp rocks, twigs or muddy ground. The have to be strong not just to survive a beating, but also because their strength is crucial for the power your legs generate to reach the wheels and propel you forward, as we have explained a little earlier. Unfortunately, since shoes also need to be light and manageable, they cannot be built like bricks so if you cycle often you should be ready to switch to a new pair every couple of years. That being said, if you do not use them too intensely, a pair of good mtb shoes will last you more than enough to get several hundred kilometers under your wheels.

Fit

A good fit is crucial for the rider to feel comfortable while on the pedals and to perform at his or her best. When you try on your mtb shoes, and there is really no other way to evaluate how well they fit, look for a sensation of tightness that doesn’t feel stifling, and that you think you can sustain without issue for prolonged periods of time. If your shoes feature laces, ratchets or dials, you can very precisely adjust the tightness of your shoes, making them become like a second, tougher layer of skin. Try to get hold of a friend’s shoe to test it out before making your decision, since it is the best way to understand how they work with your feet and pedaling style.

Material

There are a lot of different materials that you can find are used to make mtb shoes. Every combination strives to deliver durability, water resistance and breathability, so your foot can operate at its best. On the simplest shoes, the flat models, you’ll mostly find leather or some synthetic variant for the upper, while rubber will be the material of choice for the sole. As you go higher in the spectrum and reach more specialized and expensive gear, you’ll see numerous other materials enter the mix. Uppers will become increasingly synthetic while the soles will use nylon, fiberglass or even carbon fiber to achieve the level of stiffness you need to best transfer power from your legs to the pedals. 

Type Of Pedal

There are two main types of pedals you will find on mountain bikes, flat or clipless. Flat pedals are the one you see on every entry level or city bike, and are just a flat surface that usually has some spikes to stick better to the shoe of the rider. Clipless pedal are the ones you can actually clip into, even if the name might sound confusing. They are basically a locking mechanism connected to the cranks, that in turn latches on to the shoe thanks to cleats that fit into the shoe’s sole. Some combinations of the two also exist, featuring a flat side and a side with a locking mechanism, so you can switch between the two. Clipping pedals can still be found, but are now confined to very specific riding situations. They feature a front buckle that locks the foot in place, providing maximum power with every stroke. Because of this, they are used in velodrome races, but it means that someone has to strap you in and out of the pedals every time you want to ride, and hold you up when they have to switch between your feet. 

Weight

Weight is usually less of an issue for mountain bike shoes, since rides tend to last less than the ones road bikers like to do. That being said, a lightweight pair of shoes comes with undeniable benefits such as reducing the overall weight of the bike and therefore the effort that is needed to get it rolling. Cutting back on weight, however, can sometimes mean giving up those nice soft layers of cushioning that some shoes provide, so it can be worth putting in a bit more effort if comfort is high on your list of priorities. 

Retention System

The shoe retention system is what keeps your foot in place while you pedal, so it is very dependent on the closing system and fit of your shoes. Laces are the method that has stood the test of time, and the one that you will find on most shoes unless you get into the very expensive models. Their only inconvenient is that they cannot be adjusted while you pedal and also that they tend to get stuck in the cranks as they turn. While the latter problem can be addressed with a Velcro strap that holds the laces in place, the former is here to stay, unless you change system and opt for dials. These let you precisely fit your shoes, so they adapt perfectly to the shape of your foot and feel just like a glove, letting you get the most power out of every stroke.

FAQs

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Q: Are Mountain Bike Shoes Worth It?

A: 

Yes, absolutely. If you are serious about your biking and want to take it to the next level, then you need a good pair of mtb shoes with their stiff sole to apply more power to your pedals. Even if you are just a casual cyclist you will enjoy the added power that comes from having a pair on your feet.

Q: What Shoes Go With A Mountain Bike Flat Pedal?

A: 

For a flat mountain bike pedal you need shoes with a flat rubber sole. This will provide the maximum amount of contact between your foot and the pedal and, therefore, the best feel and power transmission. You might even get away with a normal tennis shoe, but we recommend you use one of the flat shoes you've seen in our mtb shoes reviews.

Q: Can You Wear Clipless Shoes On Flat Pedals?

A: 

You can try, but it's far from ideal. The soles of clipless pedals are not flat and don't usually feature enough rubber to get a secure hold on the pedal. You might manage to get away with it if you are in a moment of need and just have to get going, but if you have the chance to choose you will be much better off with a dedicated flat soled mtb shoe.

Q: What Shoes Do Mountain Bikers Wear?

A: 

Beginner mountain bikers usually start out with flat shoes, since they are the most versatile and require less commitment to the sport. As your skill level increases, however, it is likely that you will naturally transition to clipless shoes and pedals since these provide greater power.

Q: Is Clipless Better For Mountain Biking?

A: 

The kind of shoe you choose for mountain biking depends on the riding you want to do. For those that want to be able to jump around with their bike and then just dismount and go for a walk, flat shoes are needed. For the more serious riders that need the ultimate power transfer and don't care about versatility, then clipless in the way to go.

Globo Surf Overview

More than any bike computer or handle grip, a good pair of mtb shoes can be a huge upgrade to your riding. In this article we have shown you what are the options available on the market, for every pocket and for every riding style. By following our tips and applying our tricks, we are confident that you’ll find a pair of shoes that fits you and your riding like a glove, so you can take a bold step towards improving your overall riding experience on your future adventures.

Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!