Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women of 2021
Top 10 Products
Best Overall Women's Flat Pedal Shoe
Five Ten Freerider Pro - Women's
The Five Ten Freerider Pro is a balanced shoe that provides ample foot protection and durability in a lightweight package. The hallmark of the shoe is its Stealth Dotty outsole that features a continuous dot pattern of grippy rubber that provides a secure grip between foot and pedal. We found these shoes to have the perfect balance between having enough grip to feel confident on technical sections and drops and still being able to make micro-adjustments to our foot position on the pedal. The Freerider Pro has a streamlined fit and envelops the rider's foot, keeping it secure inside the shoe. Our testers were impressed with how the fit and medium-flex EVA midsole work together to transfer power directly and efficiently into the pedals. The shoe's weight also helps with this as it weighs in at just 616-grams for a pair of US 8 women's, making them feel light on the feet. When the trails get rowdy, foot protection is everything, and the Freerider Pro features strategically placed Poron foam to absorb impacts without adding bulk or unnecessary weight.
The Freerider Pro impressed our testers in nearly all metrics, and we think the combination of grip, protection, comfort, and power transfer warrants spending a few extra dollars for a quality shoe. We feel confident that these versatile and well-rounded shoes are an excellent option for virtually any type of rider.
Read review: Five Ten Freerider Pro - Women's
Best Bang For Your Buck
Ride Concepts Livewire - Women's
The Ride Concepts Livewire is a versatile and well-rounded contender that is offered at a reasonable price. After careful testing, we found they do not perform as well on technical terrain as some other models, but overall this is a great shoe, especially considering the price. The sole has a continuous rounded hexagonal pattern that allows the pins on the pedal to lock in like velcro. We also find the edges of the hexagon shape allow us to make small adjustments to our foot position, and the corners would stop our feet from slipping off. There is a lot of protection on the toe and the heel via anti-abrasion material. Also, D30 panels have been strategically placed in the footbed to help absorb shock.
Our primary complaint with these shoes is their lack of breathability when compared to other top models. Something to keep in mind: these shoes run a bit small when you're considering sizing. We think this is an outstanding shoe for someone looking to get a quality flat pedal shoe for any type of riding without breaking the bank.
Read review: Ride Concepts Livewire - Women's
Best for Trail Riding
Specialized 2FO Roost Flat - Unisex
The 2FO Roost Flat is a newer shoe offered by Specialized and is definitely a contender for one of the best shoes on the market. The SlipNot™ ST rubber outsole is as the name says, slip not. It grips the pedals as well as Five Ten's Stealth rubber and provides confidence in rough and technical terrain. Specialized did a wonderful job in their design and appreciated the well-balanced sole stiffness. On the bike, we can easily transfer power into our pedals, even on technical climbs that require big power moves. Off the bike, while hiking to scout rowdy sections of trail and at the bike park, the sole flexes comfortably at the forefoot, making walking both easy and comfortable. On the trail, the EVA foam midsole soaks up all but the rowdiest sections and helps prevent foot fatigue. The shoe has a relaxed, medium volume fit with textile and suede upper that become even more comfortable as they break-in.
The shoe is lined with XPEL mesh which is designed to increase both breathability and provide impact protection. While not the beefiest of shoes, we feel the 2FO Roost Flat provides enough protection for most trail riding situations except for heavy-hitting enduro racing and downhill. One gripe we have about the shoe is the length of the laces, which for our shoe size were exceptionally long and required double knotting plus the use of the elastic retention strap to keep them tidy. However, this is something that can be easily altered. Overall though, we were super impressed by this new model and feel it is an exceptional shoe at a competitive price point.
Read review: Specialized 2FO Roost Flat - Unisex
Best Power Transfer
Ride Concepts Hellion - Women's
Our testers were impressed with the rigidity, power transfer, and comfort of the Ride Concepts Hellion. Featuring a Rubber Kinetics DST6.0 High Grip outsole, the Hellion's rubber is very grippy, which inspired confidence but was frustrating at times. The rubber makes adjusting your foot position difficult, yet grips the pedals impressively well when weighted on the pedals. Paired with the DST6.0 outsole is a stiff midsole that provides excellent power transfer to the pedals on technical climbs and fast cross-country laps alike. The Hellion also does a great job of absorbing trail impacts thanks to the EVA midsole and strategically placed D30 layer in the footbed. After dropping, jumping, and rolling technical sections of the trail, we were impressed that our feet never felt fatigued.
We found a break-in period lasting four rides with the Hellion, after which they molded a bit more to our feet and were quite comfortable, even for all-day use. One of the drawbacks to the Hellion is its weight. While it's not a heavy shoe, it does weigh a bit more than some of the others, and you'll notice the difference on longer rides. That said, if you're looking for a grippy and stiff high-performance shoe for aggressive trail riding, the Hellion is a great option to consider.
Read review: Ride Concepts Hellion - Women's
Best for Downhill Mountain Biking
Five Ten Impact Pro - Women's
The Five Ten Impact Pro shoes are great for downhill or enduro-specific riding. The burly shoes are extremely durable and provide the best foot protection of any shoes in our review. Unsurprisingly, they are also the heaviest we tested (weighing 986 grams), a result of their robust, protective design. The thick soles help absorb impact along with Poron foam in the heel and toe. The outsole consists of tacky Stealth rubber with varied small and large dots that are very deep and lock the pin of your pedal into place. We took several spills with these shoes on, and they protected our feet every time.
The downside to all this protection is a lack of breathability and a heavier weight than other models. If you're mostly shuttling or riding lifts at the bike park, however, your feet will thank you for the protection, and you're less likely to notice the extra grams on your feet.
Read review: Five Ten Impact Pro - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our women's mountain bike flat pedal shoe review team is led by Tara Reddinger-Adams and Bo Outland. Tara is the owner of North Star Mountain Bike Guides, a coach and ambassador for the VIDA MTB Series, and a former bike shop employee of 11 years. She's also spent time on the racecourse, racing cross country, downhill, and enduro disciplines. Tara is a Professional Mountain Bike Instructor who helps people progress their riding skills in Arizona, Minnesota, and Colorado. She frequently guides multi-day mountain bike trips in prime riding territory, including the slick rock of Utah and the desert terrain of Arizona.
Bo Outland is a lover of all extreme outdoor sports, but especially mountain biking. During college, she would take to the trails in the Santa Cruz mountains before and after school to blow off some steam from her studies. Since moving to South Lake Tahoe, she has competed in local mountain bike races, such as the Xterra Triathlon in Incline and Northstar's Livewire Classic, where she podiumed in both races. She truly understands the importance of quality equipment to achieve peak performance.
Our testers live in two very different parts of the country and had two very different experiences with product testing. Tara's testing took place in Sedona, Arizona, and in Minnesota, two very different riding locations. Sedona trails are known for their chunk and technicality, while those in the Midwest are cross-country flow-oriented, which provided a great way to contrast a shoe's performance.
Bo's testing took place during the summer months in the Sierra of Lake Tahoe. Here she had plenty of opportunities to try each pair of shoes with a variety of terrain ranging from flow trail, long climbs, technical downhills, and at the bike park.
Analysis and Test Results
Determining what shoe to use with your flat pedals can greatly affect your ride. Some shoes have a softer midsole and outsole that allows the rider to feel more of the pedal underfoot, while others are more rigid or stiff for maximum power transfer. When determining what type of shoe you want to purchase, factors such as grip, rigidity, and breathability can be just as important as fit and comfort. We've put ten mountain bike flat pedal shoes through rigorous testing to help you determine what shoe best meets your needs. For this review, we tested both women's and unisex models, as many companies are stepping away from gender labels on their shoes. Some are new models from industry giants, while others are perennial favorites amongst riders. During our testing, we examined the factors that are important in a shoe, including grip, comfort and protection, rigidity and power transfer, breathability, durability, and value. We then compiled our results to help you make a decision based on your riding style and needs.
The Specialized 2FO Roost Flat balances price and performance and are some of the best-performing shoes we have tested. They feature an incredibly grippy sole that offers a great blend of flex and rigidity, allowing you to put power into the pedals and walk comfortably with a normal gait. While not the most protective shoe, they do offer adequate protection for most riding and breathe fairly well. Their lightweight makes them easy to spin the pedals with and helps with fatigue on long rides. Typically, a blend of such characteristics is reserved for higher price points, which makes the 2FO Roost Flat even more attractive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Five Ten Freerider Pro which is one of the more expensive shoes we reviewed. It does offer exceptional grip, a great blend of stiffness and flex, and offers more protection, but also comes with a higher price tag.
Grip is one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a flat pedal mountain bike shoe. The sole of a flat pedal shoe needs to bite into the pedal pins to allow the riders to maintain contact with the pedal. When a shoe's sole is too soft, the pins and pedal can be felt underfoot, sometimes painfully so. Conversely, if the rubber is too stiff or hard all sense of the pedal underfoot is lost. Individual rider preferences vary, depending mostly on riding style and terrain, although we tend to gravitate toward the middle ground between the two extremes.
Companies that have created their own mountain bike-specific rubber compounds, such as Five Ten and Specialized did exceptionally well in this metric. Each manufacturer's shoe had excellent grip regardless of the trail conditions. Five Ten employs various forms of their classic Stealth rubber in varying patterns on the outsole of the shoe, and the result is a very tacky surface that sticks to our pedal. Specialized has developed the SlipNot™ ST rubber sole for exceptional grip and connection between the rider's foot and pedal.
Recently, companies like Shimano are employing the expertise of tire manufacturers to create their own high grip outsoles. On the outsoles of Shimano's mountain bike shoes, you will find Michelin rubber, made by the company that has been making car and bike tires for decades. Likewise, brands like Bontrager and Giro use Vibram rubber on their soles.
Riding style can determine how much grip you want your pedal to have, as can terrain. In general, our testers prefer a grip that holds the pedal well on technical sections of the trail, but that also allows for small foot adjustments without having to lift their foot off the pedal. While riding downhill bikes in Lake Tahoe, we realized that Five Ten's Impact Pro was the preferred shoe for the terrain. With a deep, varied dot pattern, it allows your foot to not move unless intentionally lifted off the pedal. However, when it comes to general trail riding, we prefer the adjustability of the outsole on the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat, the Five Ten Freerider Pro, and the Ride Concepts Livewire. Each of these shoes allows the rider to shift their foot on the pedal without completely lifting it off the pedal.
For riders who prefer more freedom to move their foot on the pedal, we suggest the Shimano GR7, which balances grip and adjustability, allowing the rider to move their shoe freely on the pedal while still maintaining a solid grip.
Comfort and Protection
Comfort is highly subjective as our feet vary greatly in terms of volume, length, width, arch size, and more. Yet, some factors can generally make a shoe uncomfortable for a majority of people. Seams, width, volume, footbeds, and tongues all affect a shoe's comfort and can make or break your ride. For example, a rider with a bigger foot may find a lower-volume shoe such as the Ride Concepts Livewire to simply not have enough space to fit their foot comfortably.
Your mountain bike shoe needs to offer a layer of protection for your foot, especially from rocks that can bounce up against your foot on loose or technical descents. Each shoe tested offered some form of protection, from reinforced uppers to high-top designs, thick midsoles, and impact protection zones. However, those additional materials traditionally have meant much heavier shoes due to the additional materials used in the shoe's construction.
Companies are now finding new, lighter-weight materials to use for impact protection which help keep the weight low. A good example of this is the Five Ten Freerider Pro which is one of the lightest shoes we tested and has an EVA midsole that aids in absorbing impacts with a Poron foam toe box and heel for additional foot protection. Poron is a lightweight material that hardens on impact, helping to protect the rider's foot without adding bulk to the shoe. The Freerider Pro is comfortable, yet not bulky with a mid-volume fit that wraps the rider's foot. The forefoot is mid-width which prevents unnecessary side-to-side movement in the shoe. However, for riders with a wide or bulky foot, the fit of the Freerider Pro may be too narrow and shallow.
Other shoes that blended comfort and protection well included the Shimano GR7, which features a gusseted ankle gaiter to keep debris out of the shoe along with a reinforced forefoot. The GR7 has a slighter larger volume fit, making it a good choice for riders with a wider foot or for riding in cold conditions that warrant heavyweight socks. The Crankbrothers Stamp Boa has a reinforced TPU toebox for protection from rock strikes and a thick padded tongue that helps protect the top of the foot. The Ride Concepts Hellion is very similar in fit to the Freerider Pro and provides very good impact protection thanks to D30 inserts in the footbed in addition to a two-panel, anti-peel upper, but also weighs over 60 grams per pair more than similar shoes.
Shoes such as the Bontrager Flatline feature a lightweight design with a soft anatomical tongue that molds to the foot, but offer little in terms of foot protection. Our testers were able to easily compress the front of the toe box with our thumb, something we were unable to do on other shoes.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
A shoe's rigidity or sole stiffness can affect our ability to control the pedals, both positively and negatively. A shoe that is too stiff can make it hard to feel the pedal underfoot and manipulate the pedal to control the bike. A rigid shoe can also prevent a good interface between the pedal and shoe and feel like your foot is bouncing on the pedal. Conversely, a very soft shoe can allow the rider to feel too much from the pedal underfoot, making for a painful ride, a reduction in pedaling efficiency, and possible foot fatigue. A sole's stiffness also comes into play during hike-a-bikes, where a bit of flex in the forefoot is preferred and allows you to maintain a normal walking gait.
Power transfer to the pedals is also affected by how rigid or stiff a shoe is. If a shoe's sole is flexible, it is more difficult to transfer power into the pedals than compared to a rigid-soled shoe. Flat pedal riders tend to favor a shoe that falls somewhere in the middle in terms of stiffness, as compared to clipless pedal riders whose soles are often very rigid. Ideally, we prefer a shoe that combines power transfer with just enough flex to remain sensitive to the pedals and allow for a normal walking gait.
The Specialized 2FO Roost Flat is the most balanced shoe we tested. Specialized managed to combine the right amount of stiffness for power transfer while being supple and flexible enough to comfortably walk in. Even when making big power moves on rock steps or technical climbs, we never felt we were lacking an ability to transfer power into the pedals while wearing the Roost Flat
The Five Ten Freerider Pro also scored well in this metric and has a midsole and outsole that are flexible and comfortable enough for hike-a-bikes, yet rigid enough to be able to push hard into the pedals for power transfer. The Ride Concepts Hellion is more rigid than the Freerider Pro and has better power transfer but allows the riders to feel less of the pedal underfoot. We also enjoyed the Ride Concepts Livewire because we could feel the pedal underneath our foot and could smoothly pedal hard and fast when needed.
If you ride in a warm climate or enjoy long rides with lots of pedaling, breathability will be a more important factor to you as compared to someone who lives in a cooler climate or prefers shorter rides. We found that breathability is correlated with a shoe's weight, as thicker and denser materials weigh more. We tested our shoes in a variety of locations ranging from Lake Tahoe to Sedona, Arizona to Minnesota, and temperatures ranged from the upper 30's to the mid-90s with high dew points. These conditions helped our testers to really focus on a shoe's breathability, especially when we wore a different shoe on each foot. Regardless of how breathable a shoe is, we found none to be perfect in truly hot and humid conditions.
The Shimano GR7 has wide mesh panels at the mid-foot, which help the shoe breathe and allow airflow into the shoe. The Specialized 2FO Roost Flat has a series of perforated holes in front of the most forward lace and at the midfoot which allow in surprisingly ample airflow, especially on windy days. The Crankbrothers Stamp Boa has mesh side panels similar to those found on the GR7, but do not breathe quite as well.
The least breathable shoe we tested is the Five Ten Impact Pro, which is also the heaviest shoe by far. With numerous reinforced areas, these are an excellent option for someone who rides downhill, where breathability is less of a concern.
Mountain biking can be hard on your equipment, and durability is frequently a factor in purchase decisions. It is not uncommon for a shoe's upper to develop holes or for the pedal pins to wear away at the sole's rubber. Poor quality construction and inexpensive materials affect a shoe's long-term durability. Features such as reinforced eyelets, lace retainers, and abrasion-resistant zones can all add to a shoe's durability, in addition to the type of rubber compound used in its outsole.
Shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Shimano GR7, and Ride Concepts Hellion all feature abrasion-resistant materials at the toe and heel, reinforced eyelets, and elastic lace retainers to help keep your laces out of your chainring. The eyelets on the Crankbrothers Stamp Boa are hidden under the shoe's upper to protect them, and the toe box is reinforced with TPU. In contrast, the Five Ten Freerider does not have a lace retainer, meaning you need to take extra care to keep your laces out of the chain.
The rubber compounds used in a shoe's outsole will deteriorate over time, some more quickly than others. As the pedal pins push into the rubber small indentations are left behind which eventually affects the shoe's ability to grip the pedal. None of the shoes tested had any failures during our test window; however, some started to develop signs of wear on the sole more quickly than others, which leads us to question the long-term durability of the shoe. The Crankbrothers Stamp Boa started to develop small holes and cracks in the rubber where our pins dug in, something not seen on other shoes in the same or longer test period.
A heavier shoe is harder to spin the pedals with and will contribute to fatigue more quickly than a lighter-weight shoe. The best shoes balance weight, grip, protection, and rigidity. Shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Specialized 2FO Roost Flat, and Shimano GR7 balance power transfer and protection while maintaining a good grip over the pedals, demonstrating that you can have the best of both worlds, or at least mostly.
A shoe such as the Five Ten Impact Pro, which weigh 986-grams, definitely takes more energy to spin. However, its intended use is for more technical riding such as enduro and downhill, and in those applications, we could feel the shoe latch on to that pedal in a way we did not with the other shoes we tested. However, the weight of these shoes makes them ill-suited for cross-country or trail riding.
Hopefully, we have helped you learn more about flat pedal shoes and their characteristics, and why they are important to the shoe's overall performance. We encourage you to consider the factors most important to you for your preferred type of riding. Keep in mind that while many shoes can do most things, it's essential to consider your needs, terrain, and trail conditions in your decision-making process. Finding a shoe for every type of terrain and condition may be an impossible task, but you can likely find something that will fit the bill a majority of the time.
— Tara Reddinger-Adams, Bo Outland
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