So you need some new mountain biking shoes and you’re not sure what to get? Keep reading to find out about the different types, uses, features and materials that are in modern mountain bike shoes.
What types of MTB shoes are there?
There is still much debate about which is best (see our "Flats vs Clips" article), it really comes down to how you like to ride. The rest of this article is going to be focused mostly on flat pedals.
- Flats: Flat shoes are exactly what they sound like. They have a mostly flat sole that is made of rubber. When you stand on your pedal the metal pins grip on the rubber and that is what holds you onto the pedals. They all have a plate or shaft in between the sole and innersole that helps transmit power into the pedal as well as support the foot on the pedal. There are a lot of different types of flat shoes for different uses (more on that later).
- Clipless: Clipless shoes ironically do have clips. They have a cleat that is attached to the bottom of the shoe that is held in place by a mechanism on the pedal.
Different designs in mountain bike shoes are better for certain mountain bike disciplines. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from throwing a pair of flat pedals on your XC bike and wearing some chunky DH shoes, it’s just not what they were designed to be the best at. Don't let your shoes hold you back, as long as your pedal interfaces are correct (flats on flats, clips on clips) you can ride!
These shoes are clipless the majority of the time. Normally as lightweight as possible with super-stiff soles for maximum transfer of power. A lot are coming with BOA closures to make adjusting them super quick and easy!
These shoes are also normally clipless with stiff soles, however there’s no reason you couldn’t use flat shoes.
Enduro riding really divides the cycling community. A lot of riders prefer clipless shoes for better power transfer and foot security whilst riding through bumpy terrain at high speeds. The other half of the riders prefer flats as you can easily and quickly remove a foot for those times where two-wheel drifting seems like a good idea! Enduro shoes normally have a bit more padding and ankle protection than trail and XC shoes.
Very similar school of thought to enduro shoes however the padding and impact absorbing materials really get beefed up. Some shoes will even come high enough to protect your ankles.
Normally using a softer sole that allows the rider to almost wrap their toes around the pedal whilst throwing tricks, DJ shoes are normally quite minimalistic and casual looking.
Whilst mountain bike shoe manufacturers are mostly worried about function over form a lot are now putting a lot of effort into making their shoes look like normal everyday shoes so you can get more function out of them. Just remember that flat mountain bike shoes are designed with stiff soles with soft rubber so they aren’t going to be the most comfortable shoes to walk around in and you will wear them down quicker by doing so.
Elements of an MTB shoe design
- Construction: The general recipe for a flat mountain bike shoe is a rubber sole, stiff plate or shank, footbed, innersole, outer sole and then the closure system. Each of those parts can differ and will affect how the shoe performs.
- Rubber: The way the softness of rubber is measured is on the Durometer Shore A scale. Essentially the higher number (70a for example) the harder the rubber is. The softer the rubber is generally means it is less durable than harder rubber. For clipless shoes that interact with the pedal a harder rubber is normally used as most of the contact is through the clip. For flat mountain bike shoes, we use a softer rubber that grips better on the pins of our pedals. The shape of the rubber also affects the grip, most enduro and trail pedals have patterns on the bottom of the rubber that is designed to interact with the pedal pins to provide maximum grip.
- Innersole: Inner soles can vary a lot. Ride Concepts have a cool D30 feature in their innersoles that provides impact absorption, helping to take away chatter on the trails. Most are shaped to provide arch support for the foot to help with fatigue and allow you to ride for longer.
- Outer sole: There are a few main materials used for the outer. Most shoes will use leather, mesh or other synthetic materials. Shoes with lots of synthetic mesh are normally extremely breathable so are great if you’re doing a lot of pedaling or have feet that run warm. They do however have less waterproofness when compared to fully synthetic shoes.
- Closure method: The standard lace-up shoe is still a great option and common at lower and mid-price points. Some shoes are coming out with quick to tie up BOA lacing systems or speedlace systems. BOA systems are seen more on the high end clipless shoes and less on flats. Powerstraps are normally a velcro strap that is tightened over the top of the foot close to the shin. This helps keep your shoe tight and allows maximum power to be delivered into the pedals. Powerstraps are generally found on burlier enduro and DH based shoes.
- Ankle protection: DH and some enduro shoes have the shoe come up higher to protect your ankles in the event of a crash.
- Gaskets: More and more shoes are coming with ankle gaskets to help keep water and debris out of the shoe.
- BOA: As mentioned before BOA is a type of speed lace system. All you have to do is tighten a dial and the lace system will tighten up. To release it you just pull the dial up to let the tension off.
- Power Straps: A velcro strap that goes across the top of your foot near the shin that helps keep the shoe snug. You can see 3 examples of power straps on the above shoes.
- Ratchet closure: Another type of power strap or closure system using a simple ratcheting system.
- Outershoes: A waterproof cover that goes over the top of your shoes to help keep you dry (normally only for clipless)
- Lace covers: A simple piece of material that helps keep water from seeping through the tongue and laces.
- Tread patterns: Different tread patterns interact with pedal pins differently. Deeper grooves will help the pedal pins lock in but also make it harder to adjust your foot position once it’s on the pedal.
- Anti-microbial: Some shoes come with an anti-microbial coating to help keep them from smelling.
- Vents: Mesh vents help release heat and keep your feet from getting super sweaty. They aren’t as waterproof though.
- Shock absorbing: D30 shock-absorbing (like in some knee pads) can be found in Ride Concepts soles. Great for gravity based riders going through rough terrain.
- Lace keeper: A simple stretchy piece of material that you can tuck your laces under to stop them bouncing around and getting caught in your chainring. You can see it on the shoe on the right above here.
- Toe protection: Reinforced toe areas help offer protection for your toes if you like to get too close to rocks and other obstacles.