Cycling shoes are generally classified into two groups: shoes for flat pedals and shoes for clipless pedals. But whatever type of pedals you go for, it is always better to have dedicated cycling shoes.
The best mountain bike shoes are designed to be stiff to provide better transfer of energy from your legs to the pedals. Having stiff soles can translate to better efficiency while giving your foot more support during long rides.
Tips for Choosing The Best Mountain Biking Shoes
While it is perfectly acceptable to use flat pedal bikes for mountain biking, not many riders use this type of pedals due to the lesser traction between pedal and shoe. Clipless pedals use technology similar to skiing.
They provide better efficiency by giving bikers better foot-to-pedal connection. If you are new to cycling, investing in clipless pedals and mountain biking shoes to match could seem to be a bit much.
However, if you plan to regularly ride 10 miles or more, expect to continue riding and plan on exploring the possibility of going off road, then you need a clipless system to enhance pedaling power, safety and comfort.
Benefits of Clipless Pedals:
- Keeps your feet in place making it easy for you to pedal
- Wont snag on roots, sticks and debris the way straps can
- Easier to get into or off because the release simpler and uses natural motion
- More comfortable
- Lighter than regular pedals
- Look minimal and sleek
For a mountain bike shoe, choose something with a stiff sole for efficient pedaling. However, it should also be flexible enough for walking.
The shoes should also have rubber lugs for better traction when you’re walking on slippery slopes or rugged roads. A good mountain biking shoe should have recessed cleats for easier walking.
Best Features of Mountain Bike Shoes
When looking for mountain bike shoes, it’s important to look for certain features that will add value to your purchase. Buying the first ones you find is a big mistake, and you’re more likely to return them after your first ride.
To save you the hassle, here are the best features that you should keep an eye out for.
- Compatibility: Shoe and pedal should match each other. If you already have the pedal, most brands will usually list the type of mountain biking shoe suited for the pedal.
If you don’t have the pedal yet, you can look at the specification of the shoe to find out which types of pedals are best suited for it. When you’ve narrowed down the pedal and shoe compatibility, you will need to consider the features listed below.
- Fastening System: Most mountain biking shoes feature Velcro straps and or a buckle/ratchet system. Velcro straps are very easy to use, take off and on. The buckle/ratchet system is usually an added feature of the shoe that enables the wearer to adjust the fit of the shoe for a snugger fit.
Some shoes feature Velcro and a buckle/ratchet system while other shoes only feature the latter. There are also manufacturers that have a compartment in the tongue for your laces to keep them out of the way of chain.
- Stiffness: As stated above, stiffness is important because it provides efficiency to the rider. However, stiffer shoes are hard to walk in especially if you have to walk alongside your bike in unforgiving terrain.
To balance this out, try to look for a mountain biking shoe that has good stiffness for good power transfer but also has good flexibility in case you need to walk in them.
- Lug: When you’re in mountainous terrain you can’t really ride your bike all the time.
Mountain bikers need to choose the best MTB shoes with a lot of tread to give them traction since you don’t want to slip when you’re carrying your bike over a rocky section or a steep hill.
Most mountain biking shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals for better safety and efficiency. When it comes to the best mountain biking shoes, there are a lot of choices. But don’t despair because we’ve narrowed it down to the best to make your choices easier.
Best Mountain Bike Shoes Review
Louis Garneau Men’s L.A. 84 Lace-Up Cycling Shoes
Price: $55.99 – $94.99
Specific Features: Synthetic leather and cycling mesh upper, Lace-up, road sport cycling shoe, Synthetic leather & mesh outsole, Ergo Air® II reinforced nylon outsole, Classic lace-up closure, Compatible with DURA-ACE, SPD-SL, TIME, LOOK and SPEEDPLAY cleats
Best Use: Cycling, mountain biking
Description: Modern meets classic with Louis Garneau’s Men’s LA 84 Lace-up Cycling Shoes. When you see the lace-up design, you would think that this shoe is just your typical cycling shoe but think again because underneath the simplicity is a very well designed shoe built for performance.
Performance comes from Ergo Air® II reinforced nylon outsole that provides rigidity and ventilation. The shoes are thermoboned with seamless construction of the upper to prevent pressure points and cause pain.
For optimal heel support and efficient power transfer, LG’s HRS-80 helps keep the heel in place during a power stroke. The fastening system and laces are lightweight and easy to adjust.
Sweaty feet can be uncomfortable during a ride but don’t worry because LG’s the synthetic leather and synthetic mesh uppers are breathable to provide comfort and ventilation. To soothe your feet further, the shoe sports a Cool Stuff insole with improved arch support and ventilation.
The heels have reflectors on them for added visibility. The cleat position of the shoes is compatible with SPD-SL, SPD, TIME, LOOK and SPEEDPLAY cleats.
Sidi Dominator 5 Fit MTB shoes 2014
Specific Features: Caliper Buckle two-way ratchet for easy on-bike adjustment, Soft Instep Closure System, High Security Velcro won’t shift or slip, Breathable, supple and durable vented Technomicro microfiber upper with cooling mesh panels
Best Use: cross-country mountain biking
Description: The Sidi Dominator 5 Fit MTB is a high-end mountain biking shoes. It might be expensive but it has the pedigree and performance to offset the price. It is lightweight, stiff, comfortable and made from quality materials.
The Dominator has microfiber upper materials that does not stretch and has replaceable outsole lugs. Sidi has been known to make comfortable mountain biking shoes and the Dominator is no exception.
The synthetic materials do not stretch or get deformed especially if you wear them during wet conditions.
For better feet retention, this shoe has unique Velcro straps that are composed of a row of plastic teeth in the center that engage when you set the strap in place. The Dominator is very lightweight so it won’t weigh you down during a climb with carbon soles for better power transfer.
This is a very well constructed shoe that is built to last many miles cross country or on any mountain trail. The lugs on the outsole are replaceable while the outsole is stiff and hard making it tough enough to withstand abuse. Bottom line, the Dominator is well constructed, offers good performance and durability.
Northwave Enduro MID Black-Rojo Shoes 2017
Specific Features: Thermowelded layer construction with internal thermowelded reinforcements, Extra durable toe reinforcements, Integrated heel system provides efficient retention, SLW2 dial: the only one with step by step and full release pressing a single button
Best Use: Cross-country, mountain biking
Description: The Enduro MID is a collaboration of Northwave and French mountain biker Cedric Gracia. It is a SPD compatible shoe that was designed to be stiff and supportive but able to flex so that walking is not awkward.
The Enduro’s toe box is reinforced to keep your toes safe with the cuff high to help protect the ankles. Rather than use laces, this shoe has Speed Lace Winch 2 (SLW2) system where a dial can be turned to either release or increase the tension on the cable laces.
Aside from this, the Velcro closure on top gives the shoe a better fit. The shoe’s X-Fire sole is made by Michelin and has a fast-clipping design for impressive grip when pedaling or dismounting.
The shoe is constructed with Thermowelded Layer with thermoweld reinforcement for protection and minimized thickness and weight. Extra cushioning has been built into the heel for shock absorption.
Mavic Cosmic Ultimate Cycling Shoes
Price: $289.90 – $299.90
Specific Features: Upper Material: synthetic, carbon fiber, lining: synthetic, Closure: Ergo Dial, Ergo Strap SL, Footbed: Ergo Fit 3D, OrthoLite, Sole: Energy Full Carbon SLR (5.5mm)
Best Use: Cycling, racing
Description: Before you turn away due to the price and color of these shoes, the Mavic Cosmic Ultimate has all the things you need for a mountain biking shoe. It is lightweight at just 263 grams per shoe making it an ideal choice for races or mountain climbing.
It also has great hold so your feet feel secure as you’re pedaling during climbs or sprinting on the pavement. The Cosmic also has great lacing system via the Ergo Dial lacing which increases or decreases in 1mm increments.
This is a big improvement from the earlier hook and strap version of the older models. Shoe ventilation is also excellent given the thin bone mesh material of the upper which keeps the air moving through. The shoe itself is made of carbon making it really stiff.
Combined with the incredibly thin 5.5mm thick sole, the shoe provides excellent power transfer. Other cool features include Ergo 3D tongue which does not stick to your foot and Ergo Fit 3D+ Ortholite footbed for better arch support.
Price: $74.49 – $100.00
Specific Features: Lightweight fiberglass-reinforced nylon sole for balance of stiffness and compliance, Shimano Dynalast for more ergonomically Women’s specific last features a narrower heel cup, reduced volume, added support at the instep and a smaller toe box secure fit, Integrated air intake and exhaust system keeps feet dry and fresh, stretch resistant uppers
Best Use: touring, mountain biking
Description: Shimano’s RP3 is perfect for beginning cyclists. It is designed to provide comfort during recreational rides or during mountain biking. But don’t let this limit you because it features SPD and SPD-L compatibility for indoor rides too.
The reinforced sole is made of lightweight fiberglass to give connection to the pedals for increased power output. The shoe has an exhaust intake and output system for breathability and ventilation for better comfort during long rides or competition.
The RP3 uses the Dynalast system that is specifically designed for women to reduce tension to the forefoot, calf muscles and hamstring. This shoe has 3 straps with the upper strap featuring a ratcheting buckle.
Shimano purposely offset the closures for better comfort by reducing pressure on the foot. For the shoe’s cleats, buyers have the option to use two-bolt MTB cleats or three-bolt road cleats. The RP 3 has a nylon sole that rates a 6 on Shimano’s 12-point stiffness scale for added comfort and flexibility to the wearer.
It is a well priced entry shoe for Shimano that will entice new riders or those looking to transition to road shoes.
Giro Solara II
Price: $67.99 – $150.00
Specific Features: Upper: Welded and bonded upper,High-quality, breathable microfiber, Outsole:dupont Zytel nylon with standard 3-bolt mount
Best Use: Cycling, mountain biking
Description: Giro’s Solara offers good performance for the money. It features a padded heel cup with medium arch support to keep feet comfortable. It sports two Velcro straps and a micro-adjust ratchet buckle for easy tweaking. The toe box is also roomy so it can accommodate women with bigger toes.
The shoe’s breathability is also good especially on the meshed areas but you should still expect your socks to get a bit sweaty especially if you’re pedaling on a hot summer day. The Solara features a “D Ring” in the middle strap to help minimize the buildup of pressure points and numbness.
It weighs in at 296g with cleat attached (for size 39) and while it is not the most lightweight mountain biking shoe, it does a very good job of transferring power with no noticeable flex on the pedals and sprinting forces transmits quickly into the cranks.
Cleat positioning of the shoe is very simple thanks to the clear sole markings. The Solara is a good entry level shoe for those on a budget or new to cycling. It is marketed for recreational riders but it is also stiff enough for those looking for a shoe for speed training or racing.
Lake MX180 Bike Shoes
Price: $186.15 – $189.99
Specific Features: microfiber and mesh upper material, waterproof lining, BOA IP1 closure, Hypergrip Enduro with Ice Lock soles, 2-bolt cleat compatibility
Best Use: Mountain biking
Description: The Lake MX180 is especially made for people with miles and dirt on their mind. The shoe also sports a bigger toe box with tapered heels and midfoot.
This is a mid-range mountain biking and cycling shoe from Lake so it can be a good investment for people looking for a starter shoe that can be used later on the trail.
The shoe is designed with a microfiber upper and a longer cuff with waterproof lining and mesh panels for ventilation and breathability.
Air breezes into the shoe as you keep pedaling while the reinforced wear-prone region protects you toes. With the MX180, you don’t have to worry about pinched toes because it can accommodate many different shapes of feet.
The rubber soles of the shoe are made from Hypergrip Enduro to provide the wearer grippy soles especially if you need to push you bike along uneven terrain or slippery slopes. To prevent you from slipping, the Ice Lock anti-slip inserts do a good job of keeping you stable.
The MX180 sports a BOA micro-adjustable lacing system so that you can make adjustments in-bike to help you confidently navigate difficult and weather beaten trails.
Pearl Izumi Pro Leader III
Price: $199.91 – $326.08
Specific Features: 79% Rubber/20% Textile/1% Steel Ring, Zonal bi-directional closure wraps for custom secure fit, 1:1 integrated carbon power plate for feather light stiffness, 1:1 insole system for independent left and right arch and forefoot varus canting adjustability, 3-bolt road cleat
Best Use: long rides, mountain biking
Description: Pearl Izumi’s PRO Leader III can only be described as high tech. Peel back the layer of most cycling shoes and you will find a layer of cardboard used as a lasting board. But with the PRO Leader III, Pearl Izumi uses carbon fiber sole plate.
The designers found a way to secure the edges with a layer of polyurethane that gives the shoe a very polished and sophisticated appearance. The uppers are made from airy mesh made from polyurethane to create a web thermowelded top that gives the shoe a more space-age look.
The Boa IP1 cable reels offers incremental adjustments for better fit and on-the-bike tweaks. It also makes the shoe easy to slip on and off. The Pro Leader III is very comfortable especially on long rides helping riders to avoid pressure points and numbness. It was designed to “disappear on the wearer’s foot with every transfer of energy to your pedals”.
Arch support is also great thanks to the contoured carbon fiber plates with customizable insole filling. Overall the shoe is lightweight and comfortable but is stiff enough for serious competition.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive mountain biking shoes in the market to get the best performance. More expensive brands are usually lighter and have added adjustments to the fit which might not be important to you.
The most important thing to consider is your budget and the individual features of the shoe which can help you achieve a better ride without compromising comfort and fit.
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