Mountain bike shoes for tours, trails and downhill
Choosing the perfect mountain bike shoes is really easy. To find the perfect shoe, all you have to consider is your shoe size, the design, area of use, and pedal system, the weather and the season. Easy, right? But seriously. When it comes to MTB shoes, there are actually so many different models and designs that you can quickly get lost in this shoe jungle. To stop you from getting confused, let’s suss out all the factors that are important when choosing the perfect bike shoes, one by one.
The pedals: flat pedals or clip-in pedals
Depending on the pedal type, mountain bikers need shoes with relatively flat and grippy rubber outsoles which the pins of the flat pedals can “bite into” properly.
With clip-in pedal systems, like for example the popular SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) from Shimano, the MTB shoes are firmly attached to the pedals for optimal grip. They are connected with what is known as cleats or pedal plates, which are screwed onto the soles of the mountain bike shoes. For a perfect power transfer, mountain bikers clip their shoes into the pedals and can detach from the connection again with a gentle sideways twist.
Some shoes can even be used to ride on both clip-in and flat pedals. Occasionally, hybrid pedals are used, too, which have pins on one side of the pedal and are fitted with a clip system on the other. Usually, though, mountain bikers specialise in a particular area such as downhill, racing or freeride, and choose the pedal-shoe system accordingly.
The area of use: dirt, racing, downhill or touring
Of course, there are no fixed rules about who, where, when and on which routes which shoes should be used. Nevertheless, certain preferences for particular kinds of shoes and pedals can be more easily discerned in some disciplines than in others. Most mountain bikers head out with flat pedals for dirt jumping and in bike parks. This is because for some jumps it’s important to be able to take your feet off the pedals and then “catch” the bike with your shoes. For controlled jumps from the bike, mountain bikers can react much better and faster with flat pedals than with fixed pedals.
For mountain bike racing and touring, on the other hand, many cyclists rely on the efficient power transfer of the clip-in pedal. For downhill, enduro and on trails, mountain bikers like riding with both systems. While some value the better bike control and perfect grip of mountain bike shoes with cleats, others swear by comfortable cycling sneakers with their versatile flexibility.
The weather conditions: between heat, rain and icy cold
Most cycling shoes are perfect for medium temperatures and dry road conditions. This means that from spring through autumn, they’re fantastic for riding on most days of the year. It gets harder in particularly wet weather conditions, especially during winter in ice and snow. Normal MTB shoes are not insulated and, especially with clip-in pedals, an uncomfortable cold bridge forms. In rain and mud, waterproof mountain bike shoes are at least pretty good at keeping the foot dry.
Waterproof and breathable cycling overshoes are more effective. They not only ensure that the feet stay dry, but they also keep the entire cycling shoe itself from getting wet. Because they’re open at the sole, you can clip into the pedal with no problem.
In very low temperatures, mountain bikers can to an extent make do with warm socks and cycling overshoes. There are, however, also special winter shoes for mountain bikers that have special insulated soles. Depending on the model, these can even be comfortably worn to ride in temperatures of -20°C.
Mountain bike shoes are constructed completely differently according to the pedal system, recommended area of use and weather conditions. Not only does the design range from urban styling to futuristic high-tech looks, the construction and composition of the sole, outer material and lacing are tailored to the different areas and systems.
The sole: soft and grippy or stiff and dynamic
Flat-pedal shoes from Five Ten, adidas or Giro are equipped with soles made from special rubber compounds that provide the best grip on the short pins. The sole construction is really flat, reminiscent of skate shoes or sneakers. This means that mountain bikers can take advantage of the large area of the flat pedals and adjust the placement of their foot really easily while riding without losing contact with the pedal. Flat pedal shoes are comfortably cut and guarantee good cushioning. In comparison to skate shoes, however, for mountain biking the rubber compounds from Vibram or Five Ten are significantly more durable.
MTB shoes for clip-in pedals have a completely different sole design. The rigid nylon soles are made for mounting the pedal plates and guarantee the best-possible power transfer.
Depending on whether mountain bikers tend to be riding long tours or are fighting for every last second in a competition, the soles can be a little softer or harder. Softer soles usually mean they’re more comfortable, while harder soles usually transfer power better. Modern mountain bike shoes are fitted with treaded soles which are also suitable for short passages on foot, offering good grip even on slippery forest floors. Here, the cleats are mounted so they don’t protrude beyond the sole. This means that they won’t annoy you while you’re walking and they enable a comfortable gait. The stiff nylon soles are, however, unsuitable for longer hikes.
The composition of the shoe: different materials and collar heights
Mountain bike shoes can be made from a variety of materials. From synthetic leather, smooth leather or suede to synthetic fibres or mesh fabrics, manufacturers of high-quality mountain bike shoes such as Shimano, Mavic and Vaude use every possible material.
Depending on the design, the companies place particular importance on good fit, stability and good ventilation. Mountain bike shoes are often equipped with mesh inserts for ventilation, while all-round and touring shoes tend to put more emphasis on good weather protection. MTB shoes are reinforced around the toe area and at the heel to protect the shoes from damage and to give the foot the stability required.
Most all-round and racing shoes feature a low-cut collar for more mobility and ventilation. Insulated winter shoes, on the other hand, are cut higher and reach higher than the ankle. Downhill shoes are also sometimes cut ankle high, because this provides extra stability for the feet, and better protection from injuries if there’s a crash.
The lacing: classic or fast lacing system
While flat pedal shoes often provide the right level of stability and comfort with normal lacing, and sometimes with an additional hook-and-loop fastener, clip-in pedal shoes come with a diverse range of creative closure systems. Laces, fast lacing systems with a twist closure, hook-and-loop fasteners, zip fasteners and ratchet closures are combined in different ways to find the perfect combination of comfort and performance.
Ratchet, hook-and-loop, and twist closures are quick and easy to use. Ratchet and twist closures can be readjusted individually while travelling without having to take the foot off the pedal. This makes putting on and taking off the mountain bike shoe particularly quick and easy.
Along with a secure, firm fit, these closure systems guarantee the best possible performance when mountain biking with clip-in pedals. With fast lacing systems, mountain bikers fortunately no longer have to worry about loose laces getting wrapped around their pedal axle.
So, when buying MTB shoes, there can be a few things to consider. When all’s said and done, though, the choice of MTB shoe depends on what exactly you want to use it for and your own judgement.