8 best mountain cycling shoes

Based on reviews from 51 experts and 1,116 users. Learn how our rankings work or see our guide to mountain cycling shoes. Updated Dec 2019.

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They say that the best footgear for cycling is one that feels like it disappears - shoes that riders forget about once they start pedaling. Hence, every cycling activity is best experienced in shoes made specifically for a particular type of biking endeavor.

This part focuses on everything mountain biking shoes. This type of cycling shoe is characterized by features for enhanced durability and performance on rough terrain. If you plan on riding through the rocky and lush trails of the mountains, you've come to the right place.

What is mountain biking

Mountain biking is a sport that involves riding special bikes in off-road settings. This activity is grouped into a number of disciplines: downhill (Gravity), freeride, all-mountain (Enduro), cross country, marathon, trail riding, four-cross, and bikepacking. Head onto the rear part of the page if you want to know more about each discipline.

Now, let's dive into everything MTB shoes.

Which mountain bike shoes should you buy

best mountain bike shoes

Best mountain cycling shoes - November 2019

Choosing the right pair of MTB shoes involves several factors. This includes figuring out which purpose of mountain cycling you are planning to do, the type of connection you want with your bike, the closure system, and the weather condition. All these elements contribute to your ideal riding experience. Read on to find out more.

Purpose

As mentioned before, there are several mountain biking activities one can participate in. And each venture might need a pair with a specific set of features to get the optimal experience. All-mountain bike shoes are engineered with versatility in mind and are performance-based. 

With this activity's all-encompassing nature, Enduro footwear features almost every component needed in an MTB shoe such as grip, impact protection, burly exterior, and excellent power transfer. An example of an all-mountain bike shoe is the Five Ten Freerider Pro

Gravity shoes include both downhill and freeride bike shoes. These models usually employ flat soles to allow the rider to plant their feet whenever crucial during their descend in steep trails. The best gravity footwear uses an unparalleled grip to stay connected to the pedal, while the toe area is equipped with impact protection. Check out the Shimano GR5 for your gravity cycling needs.

Cross country bike shoes call for footgear with superior stiff soles, low weight, comfortable fit, protection, and next-level durability. The Giro Empire VR90 has been tested by some XC riders, and they recommended it for the said activity. Characteristics such as a stiff sole and ultra-comfortable fit were some factors that made it a go-to XC shoe.For trail riding's casual yet rugged nature, protection and grip are the most essential. Consumers can freely select from any mountain bike shoe category since the ride is solely in the cyclist's discretion.

Cleat system

Mountain cycling shoes commonly make use of two sole designs: SPD and flat. SPD MTB shoes employ a 2-hole recessed cleat system. Also known as clipless MTB shoes, this type connects the rider's footwear to the pedal, allowing the individual to pedal more efficiently. Moreover, compared to road shoes, the MTB footgear's recessed cleat design makes walking relatively more comfortable than the former's protruding cleat.

A lot of mountain cyclists hesitate to use clipless MTB shoes because they fear that they won't be able to plant their feet in time and would end up with injuries. But more and more mountain riders report that clipless shoes are actually beneficial to the sport except for downhill and gravity-oriented cycling.

Flat MTB shoes, on the other hand, are trendy amongst offroad riders. These models feature a class-leading grip that helps them stay connected to the pedals and at the same time, provides the freedom to plant their feet every time it is needed.

Choosing between the two depends on the activity you will engage in and, ultimately, your riding preference.

Retention system

There are several options in choosing which closure system you want to keep your feet securely in place. The most common in MTB shoes is the BOA dial. It is known for its quick and easy adjustments while on the saddle. The downside to this fastening, although not very common, is the possibility of breaking while in the rough trails due to the involvement of thin wiring and small bolts.

Another option is the combination of a ratchet and Velcro straps. This alternative is reported to be more favored than the previous option due to its adjustability and more appropriate design for the rough nature of this sport. However, the cost is that it’s relatively heavier than the BOAs.

The next two are the most traditional ones: Velcro straps and lace-ups. MTB shoes with Velcro straps offer quick adjustments and lower weight, but mud could get stuck in the Velcro that could result in the closure's malfunctioning. 

Lastly, the tried-and-tested lace-up system. This fastening is also light and efficient, but setting the correct fit takes time at first. Most riders aren't bothered because, according to them, once they figured out the fit, they don't have to readjust the laces. 

All in all, choosing which system works for you takes trial and error. Explore each option and then decide which one works best for you.

Weather condition

In any given sport, the weather condition plays a vital role in choosing the correct gear and strategies for the most efficient performance. For mountain cycling shoes, protection against mud, dirt, water, and chilly temperature are some of the conditions riders have to adjust to depending on the season.

Most XC and trail shoes are designed for breathability, which works great for summer rides down the hill. However, if the same pair were to be worn during a winter ride, the wearer's toes would inevitably get chilly. It is reported that flat MTB shoes have fewer vents and feel warmer than other MTB shoes. Hence, these are recommended for colder days.

Companies also manufacture specialized winter designs for both flat and clipless MTB shoes. As to be expected, they are more expensive than regular MTB shoes, but they are a substantial investment if you plan to keep riding through winter. One of the highest-rated winter MTB footwear is the Mavic Crossmax SL Pro Thermo.

The lowdown on various mountain cycling disciplines

Downhill (DH) 

Downhill is generally described as riding a bike downhill. Courses are rough and extraordinarily steep and usually involve large jumps and drops. Due to the discipline's hazardous nature, full-body gear is required for riders. It is also called Gravity riding due to the riding style of this discipline.

All-mountain/Enduro

All-mountain biking essentially covers almost all types of mountain cycling. This activity goes downhill and uphill and could feature jumps and drops. The name of this discipline has been changed to the Enduro World Series. It has two race formats: Big Mountain Enduro and Gravity Enduro.

Big Mountain Enduro usually takes all day to finish and mostly incorporates downhill track with a number of climbing sections. Gravity Enduro, on the other hand, uses almost the same amount of downhill and uphill courses, with the latter not timed.

Cross country (XC)

Cross-country (XC) cycling is the only cycling sport included in the Olympics. It is characterized by the terrains on which the activity is held. The course uses a mix of rough forest paths, singletrack (narrow paths), and even paved roads that connect trails. 

Marathon

Also called Mountain Bike Touring, this activity involves bike touring on dirt roads for long distances. It could include stretches of hiking periods.

Trail riding

Trail riding is basically leisurely cycling in off-road paths.

Freeride

As the name implies, this mountain cycling discipline’s rule is basically ‘do anything.’ It involves a little bit of everything, from downhill to a more technical version of Cyclocross and huge jumps. One of the most popular freeriding genres is the Slopestyle where riders do BMX-style tricks mid-air.

Street

More popularly known as BMX, this cycling discipline is usually seen being performed on streets or skate parks. Technical skills involve tricks performed solely on the bike or over man-made objects such as ramps and pipes.

Mountain biking facts

  • Mountain bikes started out as a tool used by soldiers to cross the rough terrains in the US during the 1800s.
  • The recreational mountain bike was initially thought of and used for going downhill. In the 1970s, Americans invented biking down the hill as a recreational sport. During this time, riders would take their bikes up the mountain via cars or by pushing them.
  • The recreational and competitive use of the mountain bike was pioneered by Americans. 
  • Joe Breeze is often credited for introducing the first purpose-based mountain bike in 1978. Another man named Tom Ritchey then worked for a company called MountainBikes to mass-produce bike frames.
  • In 2017, cyclist Eric Barone broke the World Record for the fastest downhill record. Nicknamed “Red Baron,” the French cyclist broke his own World Record by riding down a snowy hill with a top speed of 223.3 Km/h or 138.75 mph.
  • The largest mountain biking race, in terms of the number of participants, is the Birkebeinerrittet in Norway. The competition is 53.4 miles long and has 10,000 to 15,000 cyclists annually.
  • The highest MTB race is called the “Yak Attack.” Held in Nepal, this event goes up as high as 5,416 meters above sea level. It is organized in 11 stages and covers a total of 400km.
  • Fat Tires for mountain biking were first introduced in the late 1930s. These tires were 2 inches wide and are known for improving traction and softening the ride. Today, this type of tire is slowly growing in popularity, and companies are now manufacturing 5-inch wide tires.
  • Just like mountain bike shoes, there are a lot of different mountain bike designs built for specific riding purposes. Each MTB discipline usually requires a particular type of mountain bike for optimum performance.
  • Mountain Biking officially entered the Olympics in 1996.

Frequently asked questions

Can you use mountain bike shoes for spinning?

Most spin bikes employ SPD-style pedals. This means that since MTB shoes use the same cleat system, wearing them is best recommended for indoor cycling. Another reason why mountain bike shoes are ideal for spinning is that their recessed cleats make standing and walking inside the studio comfortable.

But if indoor cycling is what you are planning to do most of the time, then it’s worth checking out a pair of dedicated indoor cycling shoes.

Can you put road cleats on mountain bike shoes?

Directly putting three-bolt road cleats on MTB shoes' 2-bolt system is impossible. Why? Because the cleat designs are not suitable for each other. However, MTB shoes can clip into road pedals and vice versa. How? Through adapters. Just attach the correct adapter on the respective footwear, and your MTB pair should slide right into your road pedals, and your road shoes should now be compatible with MTB pedals.

Which brands make wide MTB shoes?

Due to the cycling shoe's traditionally narrower construct, cyclists with wide feet often struggle to find the perfect size. Not all mountain bike brands offer wide versions in their lineup, so it's essential to know which ones do.

Top cycling companies such as Shimano and Sidi all have at least a couple of wide MTB shoes in offer. While Five Ten's skate-inspired models employ a relatively wider fit than traditional cycling footwear as they are designed after skate sneakers.

How to clean mountain bike shoes?

After a regular riding session, almost any type of cycling shoe would be dirty, wet, or muddy. MTB shoes are specifically more prone to these due to the mountains' rougher conditions. Keeping your pair clean after each ride is essential in prolonging its lifespan. Here are some of the ways you can clean your MTB footwear.

  • The first step is to remove the insoles to make drying time faster.
  • One of the methods in cleaning your pair is using a mixture of dishwashing soap and water. Make this mixture first, then take a brush and dip it into the concoction. Scrub the dirty areas of your footwear until clean. 
  • Another method is by simply using toothpaste and toothbrush to clean the affected areas. Once the shoe is clean, take a clean towel and wipe it.
  • The last method you can try is purchasing a shoe cleaning solution patterned after whatever material type your shoe is made from. Again, get a brush and apply the solution onto it and scrub your pair until clean.
  • Let your footgear air dry and store in a cool, dry place out of the sunlight’s reach.

MTB shoes vs. skate shoes

The majority of beginner MTB cyclists instinctively go for skate shoes as their first pair of mountain biking shoes. They choose skate kicks because of their grippier soles than regular shoes and the casual comfort of everyday kicks. They also think that MTB-specific models are a fraud and don't offer any significant benefits for the sport.

Let's stop there and break down the difference between the two shoes. Skate sneakers today are equipped with numerous technologies created mainly for grip and durability. They also feature toecap technologies and midsole impact protection for landing. However, they don’t employ enough upper armor, sole stiffness, and grip to work as an MTB shoe.

Mountain cycling shoes' main features are their rigid soles, super sticky outsoles, and ultra-protective upper design. The stiffness provides efficient power transfer, the grippy outsoles serve for pedal connection, and the impact protection guards the wearer’s foot against rocks and bumps. All of it is meant for optimized biking performance.

You can also try both shoes out to find out the difference for yourself.

8 best mountain cycling shoes

  1. Five Ten Freerider
  2. Giro Cylinder
  3. Five Ten Impact Pro
  4. Five Ten Freerider Pro
  5. Five Ten District Flats
  6. Giro Empire VR70 Knit
  7. Five Ten District Clips
  8. Fizik Terra X5
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