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How to Choose Mountain Bike Flat Shoes for Women

How to Choose Mountain Bike Flat Shoes for Women
Tuesday May 10, 2022
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Your shoe and pedal interface is incredibly important when you use a flat pedal on your mountain bike. If you have a poor connection between your shoe’s sole and pedal it can result in your foot slipping and bouncing on the pedal and less bike control. Therefore, it’s important to understand how these two components work together and to learn about the different types of shoes and pedals before making a purchase.

As the name suggests, a flat pedal is a traditional platform pedal. These pedals typically have small pins that bite into the outsole of the shoe, helping to create a connection between the shoe and pedal. Flat pedal shoe soles are often made of a soft, grippy rubber that helps the pins on the pedal bite into the shoe's sole. However, not all rubber is made equal and there are large differences between manufacturers in how much the rubber grips the pedal and how soft it is. Another factor in flat pedal shoe design is the midsole. This is the part of the shoe above the outsole, commonly called the sole, and the footbed. The materials used in the midsole can affect how well the shoe stays connected to the pedal. Some materials are designed to dampen forces from the trail preventing the shoe from bouncing on the pedal in rough terrain.

Flat pedal shoes are designed to work with flat, or platform...
Flat pedal shoes are designed to work with flat, or platform, pedals. The soles interface with the pedal platform and pins to create a connection.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

So, why flat pedals and shoes? One advantage is that it allows you more freedom to adjust your foot position on the pedal and to put a foot down. Many riders will say they have more confidence on flat pedals because they can get a foot down quickly without having to unclip, this is especially when riders are first learning new skills or trying more difficult trail features. Flat pedals also allow you to separate yourself from the bike in case of a crash.

From a technical point of view, flat pedal shoes help you learn proper techniques for maneuvers such as wheel lifts because your foot is not clipped into the pedal. When the time comes to do some hiking with your bike flat pedals are generally more comfortable since there is no metal cleat on the bottom to interfere with your foot placement. They also lack a cleat opening, which can easily get caked with mud in wet conditions.

Some people contend that flats are less efficient to pedal since you can not pull up through the top of the stroke as you can with clipless pedals. However, this is up for debate as some studies show that pulling up on the pedal may not be all it’s been cracked up to be and that pedaling efficiency has more to do with your pedal stroke. We’ll let you be the judge of this highly debated topic.

If you already have an idea of what type of shoe you’re in the market for we invite you to check out our full Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes For Women review. If you’re a bit undecided we encourage you to read on and learn more about the different factors that can influence your purchase decision.

How to Choose Women's Mountain Bike Flat Pedal Shoes



There are lots of flat pedal shoes on the market for all different...
There are lots of flat pedal shoes on the market for all different styles of riding.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

What Type of Rider Are You?



Cross country riders will likely appreciate good power transfer...
Cross country riders will likely appreciate good power transfer, light weight, and demand less foot protection.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Cross-Country


If you enjoy flowy trails, minimal features, and long, fast miles a lightweight, stiff shoe with very good power transfer for pedaling efficiency is a good choice for you. Cross-country riders tend to favor lightweight stiff shoes that are easier to spin and reduce fatigue over long distances. Power transfer is also generally considered important for cross-country riders, so a shoe with a more rigid midsole and an outsole with excellent grip is preferred. If this type of riding is your style and you’re on a budget, we recommend the Ride Concepts Livewire. The Giro Latch is another great choice and is the lightest shoe in our test and has excellent power transfer, but has a higher price tag.

Trail and all-mountain riding require a well-balanced shoe.
Trail and all-mountain riding require a well-balanced shoe.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Trail and All-Mountain Riding


If you prefer trails with features, technical challenges, or big descents you’ll likely want a shoe that offers a balance of protection, grip, rigidity, and weight. Trail and all-mountain riders tend to favor more technical trails and don’t shy away from a rock garden or drop and understand that frequently the climb is the price you pay for a sweet descent. For the trail and all-mountain rider, we recommend the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat or the Five Ten Freerider Pro, both of which have a great blend of grip, protection, weight, and durability. If you’re someone who rides less technical trails that don’t require as much foot protection the Giro Latch is lightweight and has great grip and trail absorption thanks to a midsole constructed of Mute Foam, which is designed to prevent your feet from bouncing on the pedals and reduce vibrations into the foot.

Downhill and aggressive riding prioritize foot protection and...
Downhill and aggressive riding prioritize foot protection and durability.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Downhill Riding


When your preferred way to get uphill is on a chairlift and you love speed, rock gardens, drops, jumps, and berms, you’ll want a shoe that keeps your foot securely planted on the pedal and that is durable and protective. For lift access days the mid-top Ride Concepts Wildcat provides plenty of protection and grip and weighs less than many of the low-top models in our test.

Different manufacturers approach grip in different ways with various...
Different manufacturers approach grip in different ways with various rubber compounds and tread patterns.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

What About Grip?


Grip is a crucial factor to consider when buying your next pair of flat pedal shoes. The type of rubber used in a shoe’s outsole determines how much grip it has. Some manufacturers rate their rubber on a grip scale to help consumers choose the best shoe for their riding style.

Ride Concepts have collaborated with Rubber Kinetics to develop the Dynamic Surface Technology (DST) rubber used in their shoe’s outsoles. Thai rubber is optimized for the type of riding the shoe is designed for. For example, the MAX GRIP compound is their softest and most grippy rubber compound and is found on shoes for trail, big mountain, and bike park riding. Ride Concepts High Grip compound is designed for dirt jumping and slopestyle riding where riders need to be able to adjust their feet on pedals while still having traction.

In comparison, Adidas, makers of the popular Five Ten shoes, use one of four types of Stealth high-friction rubber in their shoe’s outsoles, C4, Marathon, Phantom, and S1 Dotty. Each rubber has unique characteristics and offers different levels of grip and traction. Other companies utilize their own proprietary rubber compounds to maximize their shoe's grip on the pedal. Specialize’s SlipNot™ ST rubber is described as having “unsurpassed flat-pedal grip and connection when things get rowdy.” While Giro worked with a team of engineers to design their Tack Rubber that has elastic properties to increase grip. Bontrager uses Vibram rubber, which is a popular choice for hiking and approach shoes. While this rubber has a lot of grip on rock and dirt, in our testing we have found it to be a harder compound that lacks grip on the pedals.

A grippy outsole combined with a well-damped midsole helps your feet...
A grippy outsole combined with a well-damped midsole helps your feet stay on the pedals when things get rough.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Another component of grip is the construction of the shoe’s midsole. This layer sits between the outsole, or sole, of the shoe and the footbed. From the side, it is the layer between the upper and the sole. Some midsoles are made of shock-absorbing foam, such as Giro’s Mute Foam or EVA (ethel vinyl acetate). Giros Mute Foam is designed to decrease vibrations from the trail by slowing down the rebound and preventing your shoe from bouncing on the pedal.

Knowing what your personal preferences are for how much grip you have between your shoe and pedal can help you make an informed buying decision. We encourage you to read about each company's rubber technology to learn more. If you are someone who likes to freely move their foot on the pedal while riding, we recommend the Five Ten Contact. For those who prefer something that provides great grip with the ability to make larger adjustments, we recommend the Ride Concepts Livewire and the Shimano GR7. If you’re someone who likes a secure grip, yet wants to make micro-adjustments, we recommend the Giro Latch, Specialized 2FO Roost Flat, or Five Ten Freerider Pro.

Sending it at the bike park? You may benefit from some added foot...
Sending it at the bike park? You may benefit from some added foot protection.
Credit: Bo Outland

What About Protection?


Knowing what type of riding you’ll be doing can help determine how much protection you’ll want in a flat pedal shoe. For riders who prefer flow and cross-country trails with minimal features, a lightweight shoe with minimal impact protection might fit the bill well. For those who ride more technical terrain with lots of rocks, logs, or high-speed descents more impact protection is desirable. Shoes such as the Five Ten Freerider Pro, Ride Concepts Wildcat, Ride Concepts Flume, and Crankbrothers Stamp Boa offer a blend of protection extending from heel to toe and also feature impact-absorbing midsoles and footbeds, while still maintaining a relatively low weight.

For riders who spend most of their time at the bike park, having additional protection for the ankle may be of benefit, especially considering the higher speeds and higher risk for injury. The Ride Concepts Wildcat has a mid-top design with a highly padded ankle for added protection and security.

A stiffer sole typically transfers more power to the pedals and is...
A stiffer sole typically transfers more power to the pedals and is more efficient when climbing.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Rigidity and Power Transfer


You want your shoe to be rigid enough to allow you to apply pressure to the pedals and be efficient in your pedaling. It is important to find the right balance of rigidity and flexibility in your shoe. A rigid shoe can be so stiff that it can be painful a soft shoe can send trail vibrations directly into your feet causing fatigue and pain. The Mute Foam midsole of the Giro Latch dampens vibrations and keeps your feet from bouncing on the pedals, while an HD Polyethylene Power Plate adds rigidity for power transfer. These two features work in combination and strike a great balance for rigidity.

Breathability


Where you live, the types of conditions you ride in, and if you tend to get hot feet will help determine how much breathability you want in a shoe. Shoes have perforations, mesh panels, and various upper fabrics all designed to help keep your feet cool. Shoes with more protection are generally less breathable than those with less protection since protection usually means reinforcing areas with coatings, rubbers, or other materials. Our testing was in temps ranging from the upper 30s to the mid-90s and allowed us to really see how well a shoe breathed, especially when things got hot. During our testing, the suede and mesh uppers of the Five Ten Freerider and the synthetic upper of the Bontrager Flatline were the most breathable, followed by the suede uppers of the Specialized 2FO Roost Flat.

Durability


How frequently you ride, how you ride, where you ride, and how well you take care of your gear greatly affect its durability. If you wear your soft-soled mountain bike shoes to the brewery or out for dinner after riding you will wear down the soles more quickly than if you reserve them strictly for riding. If you are prone to crashes or if your local trails are frequently wet, you may experience your shoes deteriorating more quickly. We recommend only wearing your mountain shoes when riding to help preserve their rubber outsole and taking out the footbeds to help them to dry out after they get wet.

Many of the shoes we tested are designed with long-term durability in mind, and while our testing only lasted six months, we did our best to determine which we believe will hold up long term. The Ride Concepts Flume stands out for its durable construction that includes reinforced areas to prevent abrasion and wear. The Ride Concepts Wildcat is another model with abrasion-resistant areas at the heel and toe for added durability and whose uppers look nearly new despite rigorous testing.

There are a lot of flat pedal shoes on the market. We hope this...
There are a lot of flat pedal shoes on the market. We hope this article helps you determine what you need.
Credit: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Conclusion


There are a lot of factors to consider before purchasing a pair of shoes, and doing some research and price comparison shopping can go a long way. So, before you hit the buy button or head out to the store, make a list of the factors that are important to you in a shoe. What type of grip do you want? How breathable do you want your shoes to be? Is protection important to you? If possible, we recommend trying on a few different shoes to see how they fit, this will help you narrow down your choice. Ultimately, we suggest purchasing the shoe that fits best and meets most of your needs.


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