If you love to ride your mountain bike, then you know that the best way to enhance your experience is to get the best gear to go with your bicycle. However, while most people will immediately think of things like helmets, gloves, or apparel, we want to talk to you about one of the more crucial pieces of equipment you can have: a bike shoe.
Unlike regular shoes, these models are designed to give you extra power while also reducing your energy output so that you can focus more on moving forward and maneuvering the trail than keeping your feet in check. Also, if you want the ultimate experience, you need to clip your shoes to your pedals so that you won’t accidentally slip off or lose your balance as you ride.
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Now that we’ve seen some shoes in action let’s look at the most important features that you should be paying attention to when making your final decision. Overall, however, the comfort of the shoe should be most important, so don’t worry about getting a high-tech model if it feels too tight or too stiff for you.
Although we’ve only seen clipless shoes thus far, the fact is that you can find flat mountain bike shoes as well. Let’s take a look at the benefits and downsides of each.
If you are a casual bike rider and don’t worry too much about getting the best performance each time you ride, then a flat bike shoe will be perfect for you. These are a bit stiffer than normal shoes so as to give you better stability and push strength on the bike, but you can also walk around and go hiking in them. Overall, these shoes are ideal for anyone who likes to do both at the same time and doesn’t do any type of competing.
The way that these shoes work is that they clip onto your bike pedal so you don’t accidentally slide off. The name is a bit confusing that way, but the point is to ensure you maintain contact all the time, so you use less energy keeping your foot on the pedal and have more power going forward.
This feature is especially important on mountain bike shoes because you are riding on rough and potentially muddy terrain, meaning that your feet can slip a lot more easily. Some clipless shoes have a full set of lugs (traction bumps) to allow you to walk or hike as well, but others are designed for biking only, so don’t plan on walking too long in those shoes.
Finally, many high-end models will work for other kinds of bikes as well, such as touring or road bikes, enabling you to get the most bang for your buck, assuming that you have different bikes for those purposes.
When talking about the material for your mountain bike shoe, it’s broken down into three major parts. First, is the upper sole which covers your foot and holds the closure (more on that later). Second, you have the outsole or the bottom of the shoe, and finally, you have the shank, which is an insert that adds stiffness to the model to give you better durability and stability while riding.
For the most part, this section of the shoe can be made of synthetic materials, leather, or a thick mesh. In some cases, you may get a combination of all three. With the upper sole, you will want to look at three different factors: how high the sides and back are, whether or not it breathes, and water resistance.
Because you are riding on rough terrain, you want to make sure that the shoe stays firmly on your foot. If the sides are too low, then you could potentially pop out as you ride or it can rub against your ankles, causing blisters or rashes.
As for breathability, after a long ride, your feet will be burning, so it’s important that your upper sole allows them to cool off well enough that you don’t have that sensation for hours afterward. Finally, if you like to ride in wet weather, it’s imperative that you get shoes that are water resistant or waterproof unless you like wearing soggy socks.
When looking at the bottom sole, the first thing you will notice is whether or not it is clipless. Then, you have to pay attention to the material, which is usually hard, thick rubber. Finally, make sure that it comes with enough lugs for your purposes, meaning that if you want a walking shoe as well, it has to have them all across the bottom, not just around the sides.
This part of the shoe you won’t really be able to inspect firsthand as it is embedded into the shoe, but you can look at the type of material it is and see how it feels for you. Conventional shank materials are fiberglass or carbon fiber, but some can be made of other, cheaper materials as well.
Since this provides extra stiffness, it’s crucial that you still maintain comfort while riding. Some riders complain that the shoe is too stiff, which means that you should either look for a model with a different shank material or one without a shank at all.
Keeping your shoes on your feet while you ride is essential to ensure that you have a smooth experience. Most mountain bike shoes will use hook and loop (Velcro) systems to ensure that they are not affected by water or dirt, as well as to prevent any accidental tripping if your laces get caught in the gears.
When it comes to laces, you can either choose a hybrid model that uses both laces and Velcro, standard models that you tie yourself, or a BOA system. The BOA system is designed to tighten the laces more sufficiently than regular tying, which can come undone as you ride. You twist the knobs to tighten and to release, and they can be exceptionally great at holding your shoes on your feet. Just be sure not to twist it too much.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best mountain bike shoes in 2018, as well as go over everything you need to know about your new set of kicks.
Kicking off our list (yes, pun intended) is the X-Project Shoe from Pearl Izumi. With these reviews, we’ll start off from the top of the shoe and work our way down so as to keep in mind the same pieces for comparison.
The closure on this particular model is a micro-adjustable BOA system which allows you to tighten and loosen by turning one of three knobs.
These knobs are located on the front of the shoe for easy access. The upper sole is made of a thin second skin like substance that is both breathable and conforms to your foot. There is seamless construction in the toe area to keep the front of your foot protected and shielded. When you tighten the BOA system, it pulls from both sides to give you a better feeling overall.
Finally, there is a carbon fiber shank in the middle of the shoe and a thick rubber outsole. The bottom has lugs running across the whole thing, making this shoe ideal for both biking and walking. This is a clipless model, as are all of the shoes we will look at today.
Next, we have another all-around bike shoe, but this time from Giro Terraduro. The closure system on this particular model is Velcro, coming with three straps to keep your foot secure and the shoe on your feet.
The upper sole is made of a microfiber lining and Vibram rubber so that you get breathability and durability all in one. The toe box is reinforced as are the sidewalls to give you a bit more stiffness and rigidity throughout.
As for the outsole, it is made with thicker Vibram rubber to both maintain its shape and reduce overall vibration as you ride. The clipless design is compatible with all two-hole mountain bike pedals, and there are lugs all throughout the bottom, making this shoe ideal for riding or walking.
As far as pedals go, Shimano makes some of the best in the world. So, it makes sense that this company would try its hand at bike shoes to fit its pedals, and the results are spectacular.
In this case, the SH-XC61 is designed for both racers and casual riders alike, making it a great all-around shoe.
The closure system for this model is a combination of a ratcheting strap on the top and two Velcro straps on the bottom. The ratcheting strap is designed to lock your foot into place using a system that is actually much better than laces or a BOA unit.
The upper sole of this shoe is synthetic leather, and it comes with a carbon-reinforced shank and thick rubber outsole. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t have sufficient lugs to make it an ideal walking shoe, but it will work great on almost any bike pedal.
Next, we have another model from Five Ten, although this one is a bit of an upgrade from the Hellcat model. In this case, you get better materials and closure system, meaning that this one is meant more for riding than anything else.
If you want versatility, this one won’t be your best option, but as far as mountain bike shoes, it’s excellent.
The closure system on this shoe is a BOA tightener, meaning that you can tighten and loosen with a knob conveniently located on the side of the shoe. The upper sole has a thick synthetic mesh, adding breathability and comfort to the shoes.
As for the outsole, it uses a carbon-infused shank for stiffness and a non-slip heel cup to keep your feet steady as you ride. Like all of these shoes, it is clipless, but it is more compatible with more pedals to allow for all kinds of riding, not just mountain biking.
If you want a bike shoe that is somewhat old school and gives you the feeling of having regular tennis shoes rather than some high-tech material, then the SHMT34B from Shimano might be a good option for you.
The closure system is standard laces, meaning that you do have to tie them yourself, but you have more versatility and comfort than with other models.
The upper sole is a mixture of leather and mesh material to give it rugged stability and breathability while you ride. It also has a heel pull loop to help you get the shoes on, which is a nice touch. Because this shoe is made from Shimano, it is compatible with all of their pedals, as well as most ones from other companies, too.
Finally, the shank on this model is fiberglass-reinforced to give it extra stiffness and durability while you ride.
The closure system for these shoes is Velcro, and they come with a breathable mesh upper sole for comfort and convenience. There is also a sock liner inside that can be removed and cleaned to keep your shoes from getting too ripe. The outsole is standard rubber, and it is compatible with all SPD cleats and pedals, just in case you ride on other ones besides the ones that come with the shoes.
The closure system for this shoe is Velcro, and it has a ventilated mesh upper sole to give you extra breathability while you ride. It is a synthetic leather model that works with all SPD cleats, making it ideal for virtually any bike, not just mountain bicycles.
These shoes have a fiberglass-reinforced shank and climbing spikes on the outsole for added versatility and durability. The clipless design makes these shoes ideal for any kind of riding overall.
The closure system is standard laces, but it comes with a twist. These are speed laces, meaning that you can tighten and loosen them much faster than normal. This is like a BOA system but without the knob. The upper sole uses ventilated mesh to give you added breathability, and it comes with a wider toe box, so your toes don’t get pinched.
Finally, this model comes with a fiberglass-reinforced shank and a hard rubber sole. It also has an EVA foam insert to provide extra comfort while you ride. It is compatible with all two-hole mountain bike pedals.
Our final stop is a certified women’s shoe made by Diamondback. Technically speaking, most bike shoes are unisex, but this particular model is a bit slimmer and shorter to accommodate women better.
That also means that most men won’t be able to fit into this shoe unless you have somewhat dainty feet.
The closure system of this model is a hybrid of lace and Velcro, with the strap on top to keep your laces from coming undone. The upper sole is a synthetic mesh material that gives you breathability and helps keep your feet warm and dry while you ride.
This model comes with a fiberglass-reinforced shank and a hard rubber outsole to provide stiffness and durability. The clipless design is also compatible with SPD and platform pedals. Overall, this is a great riding shoe, even if you do other forms besides mountain biking.
As far as shoe brands go, Five Ten is one of the more well known and most comfortable, especially when it comes to regular tennis shoes.
In this case, however, we are looking at the Hellcat, which tries to combine regular shoes with mountain bike ones. The results are decent, although a bit on the stiff side.
The closure system for the Hellcat is a hybrid, meaning that it uses both laces and Velcro to keep your feet contained. The Velcro covers the top of the laces so that they don’t come undone while you ride. The upper sole is a mixture of leather and synthetic material, and it is water resistant.
A mid flex shank helps provide stiffness, and a thick rubber sole with lugs means that you can walk around or ride with these shoes and have equal comfort with both. The rubber is also designed to reduce vibrations in your feet as you ride.
After comparing these shoes to each other, we have to say that our favorite models are the Shimano SH-SC61 and SHMT34B. Because they are made by Shimano, they are perfectly designed to clip into your pedals for optimum performance.
Best of all, they work well for both competitive and casual riding, making them ideal for most situations. However, if you want something that works for both walking and biking, then we highly recommend the Shimano Men’s Recreational Bike Shoe.
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