When you choose a new flat pedal mountain bike shoe you want to think about factors such as how much protection you need, how grippy you like the connection between your sole and shoe to be, what your budget is, what type of riding you do, and how breathable you need your shoes to be. We tested 13 of the newest and top-rated flat pedal mountain bike shoes to help you find the best shoe for you.
During our testing we evaluated each shoe in our six metrics, weighing them, comparing materials and construction, flexing the soles, and more. We looked for similarities and differences between shoes and on more than one occasion wore a different shoe on each foot which helps us to determine differences in power transfer, grip, and breathability. During our testing, we examined six different metrics: grip, comfort and protection, rigidity and power transfer, breathability, durability, and weight. Read on to learn more about how we scored each metric.
Your shoe’s connection to the pedal is an important factor when deciding what type of flat pedal shoe to purchase. Flat pedal shoes use a rubber on the outsole. Many companies work with in-house engineers or other companies to develop the rubber for their shoe’s outsole. They then determine what pattern their rubber will have to maximize the connection between the shoe's outsole and the pins and body of the pedal. Ideally, the pins of the pedal will bite into this rubber creating grip. Some rubber compounds are softer than others allowing the pedal pins to more easily connect with the outsole rubber. Each company has a different rubber compound with different levels of softness and grip.
We took into consideration personal preferences for how much grip a shoe has, if the grip changes in wet conditions, while climbing or descending, and how it works with various pedals. Overall, shoes with the best balance of these factors earned the highest score in this metric.
Comfort and Protection
Comfort is somewhat subjective as everyone’s foot has a different shape and volume and everyone has personal preferences regarding comfort. We did our best to take into consideration the features that companies tout as increasing comfort, such as molded footbeds, the width of the toebox, heel cups, lining, and upper materials, and more. We examined the shoe’s sizing, as there is a relative sizing standard with some deviation between brands. We reviewed each company's sizing chart and read reviews to determine the best size to order based on our personal mountain bike shoe size. In most cases, we found the sizing to be the same as we would expect, but have noted in our reviews when we needed to size up or down for an ideal fit.
After sizing we looked at the shoe's internal volume and width to determine if it would fit a variety of foot shapes and sizes. We have noted that some newer shoes have a much lower volume than models from a few years ago.
Next, we considered the shoe’s footbed and if there are any pressure points, hot spots, or circulation issues with the shoe. Lastly, we examined how comfortable the shoes are on extended rides and while hiking.
The midsole of the shoe plays an important role in helping dissipate forces from the trail before they reach your feet. The midsole can also help increase the connection between your pedal and shoe. We gauged how well each shoe absorbed trail forces and impacts, especially on fast, chunky descents and landings from drops. Companies add impact zones to the footbeds, toes, and heels to help protect the rider's foot. Some even include reinforcement along the medial collar (ankle) for stability and protection and gusseted tongues or gaiters to keep dirt and debris out of the shoe.
Shoes that scored high in both comfort and protection earned the highest marks. We have noted where a shoe offers more protection and what applications it may be best suited for.
Rigidity and Power Transfer
Rigidity is how much flex the shoe has underfoot and correlates to a shoe's power transfer. Shoes that are more rigid generally allow the rider to transfer power into the pedals better, however, there is a delicate balance between being too rigid and too soft. The type of terrain you ride can also influence how rigid you want your shoes to be. Our testing included downhill, cross country, and trail riding in three different states, meaning the shoe that scored highest for the bike park may not have scored as well on the cross country trail. We tried to gauge how well we could transfer power from our foot into the pedal and ultimately the crankset. In many cases that effort has a direct correlation to the shoe’s weight. At times, we also wore two different shoes on our feet for side-by-side analysis of power transfer.
We flexed each shoe underhand to see how rigid the outsole and midsole are and where the flex point is. Some shoes flex easily underhand while others are stiffer. Some flex closer to the toes, while others flex closer to the ball of the foot. We also hiked in each shoe to gauge its rigidity. Lastly, we wore each shoe on a variety of trails to see how the shoe's rigidity affected our ability to stand up on the pedals and apply pressure to them. Shoes that have the best blend of power transfer and rigidity or stiffness scored highest in this metric. In our analysis of each shoe, we’ll talk more about its power transfer and rigidity.
Our testing occurred in a variety of temperatures and conditions. In Minnesota, temps ranged from the low 50s to the mid-90s with dew points in the 60s. In Lake Tahoe summer temperatures are frequently in the 80s, meaning our testers spent a fair amount of time riding in hot conditions which really test a shoe’s breathability. In the dry desert of Arizona, we rode in temps ranging from the 30s to the 80s at elevations ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 feet with lots of sun. These different temperatures and levels of humidity allowed us to determine how well each shoe breathes.
All shoes have some type of ventilation, be it the upper itself, perforations, mesh panels, or a combination of materials. In general, shoes with more protection are a bit less breathable, because of the additional materials needed to reinforce or protect different areas of the shoe. Lighter-weight shoes are typically more breathable than their heavier counterparts. While testing we quickly noted if our feet felt hot or sweaty, and even felt how damp our socks were after a ride to determine breathability. Shoes with the best breathability scored highest in this metric.
It’s hard to discern a shoe’s long-term durability over the course of nine months of combined testing, but we tried hard to replicate long-term use by riding a lot. We can’t control the weather, and in some areas trails close for rain, so we tried our best to replicate riding in a variety of weather conditions as our local areas permitted. We also tried to ride a variety of terrain, knowing that rocks, sand, and water may cause the shoe to wear differently than a smooth, dirt trail would. We also guided and coached in our shoes and did quite a few hike-a-bikes to get to the fun lines to see how they held up. We examined the soles after our test period checking for scarring, holes, cuts, and tears, and looked at seams and stitching, uppers for delamination, torn threads, holes, and more to provide you with a general idea of how durable we think they will be in the long term.
Weight affects foot fatigue, your ability to spin the pedals, and is the easiest metric to score. Each pair was placed on a scale and weighed. Shoes weighing the least scored highest while the heaviest shoes scored lowest.
We examined a shoe’s overall performance in relation to other shoes in our testing to determine its value. Sometimes a lower-priced shoe performed nearly as well as or better than a more expensive model and sometimes more expensive shoes simply stood out from the crowd due to their performance and features. Value is somewhat subjective, as it can be worth spending more upfront on a product that has long-term performance and durability and tried to provide you with the best options for your hard-earned dollar.