how to choose the right mountain bike shoes

How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike Shoes for You

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There are almost as many options for mountain bike shoes as there are mountain bikes themselves. The sheer array of options and colors available can be overwhelming alone, but then add on the various designs, types, materials, and laces and it can seem utterly impossible to choose a mountain biking shoe. Having said all of that, don’t fear. This article is intended to bring to light the various types of mountain bike shoes and give a quick synopsis of what the differences are between them.

Before going into the shoes, let’s look at pedals. Within the realm of mountain biking pedals, we can sort all the different types into three large groups; clipless, flat, or flat with cleats. Each of these pedal types will provide a great ride. Simply put, the pedal is there to take the force your muscles exert and deliver it to the drivetrain, which will in turn turn the wheels and propel you forward. The best pedal for you will depend on the terrain you plan on tackling and your riding style. Here is a summary of the basic structure and some pros and cons to each of the pedal types:

Types of Mountain Bike Shoes

how to choose the right mountain bike shoe

Mountain bike shoes come in a variety of styles ranging from light and stiff cross-country shoes, to tough all-mountain shoes, to grippy downhill shoes

Flat – These will be similar to the pedals you had on your first bike when you were five or six years old. Usually made of an aluminum, the pedal body will be large and flat with raised grooves or metal points. The wide-faced platform will provide a solid base to hammer on. Easy on and off is great for riders who are beginning or looking to hike around with their bike. Using flat pedals will also allow you to use normal shoes on your rides. Regardless of what you are wearing (okay, maybe not your stiletto heals), your footwear will be ready to roll.

Clipless – The name may be a bit deceiving, but these pedals actually ‘lock’ your foot into the pedal. The pedal is designed to accommodate a small piece of metal or plastic fastened to your shoe, called a cleat. The cleat will lock into the pedal and allow you to both push and pull throughout the entire pedal stroke. You will also have a greater stability and control over your bike while using clipless pedals. There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using these pedals. Unlike their traditional flat pedal counterparts, you must ‘clip out’ or take your foot out of the pedal by twisting your heel out, thus disengaging the cleat from the pedal. The learning time is quick and easy, but at times, the quick jump off your bike in a moments notice is not possible. The shoes and accompanying cleats will not be the best hiking shoe, but according to needs, a shoe can be found to fit the desired fit and use.  

Flat Clipless – This pedal type brings the benefits of the other types together, to offer a multi-use option. This pedal has the clipless pedal mechanism on the inside, and is surrounded by a larger, flat pedal body, similar to the flat pedal option. You will get the benefits of clipless pedals in addition to an enlarged pedal platform that can be used with regular shoes, too. The overall weight will increase some with the additional material used to make up the pedal.  

Knowing the type of pedals that will best fit your style will then help you decide on the specific shoe. Each pedal type will have certain shoes that will work with it best. When you contemplate the shoe you want to buy, here are a few things to consider:

Thing to Consider When Choosing a Type of Mountain Bike Shoe

how to choose the right mountain bike

Types of mountain pedals range from clipless, to flat platform pedals, to a mixture of the two.

Cleat Compatibility – First things first; will your shoe mesh with the pedal? Clipless and flat clipless pedals will require a mountain biking specific shoe. Flat pedals can be used with any shoe, but there are many manufactures who produce a cycling specific shoe that has a flat, rigid bottom. These will look and feel like skate shoes that were stiffened up a bit. Most manufactures of mountain specific shoes will make their shoes compatible with the big manufacturers cleats. If you already have pedals selected, double check with your shoe manufacturer that the cleat will work with your shoe.

What is the intended use? If you are planning on dismounting often and carrying your bike over trees and rocks, a featherweight, XC shoe will not be your match. Think about the rides you love to do. If you are on your bike almost all the time and care a lot about stiffness and lightweight, look into the ultralight and minimalistic XC shoe. If this isn’t the case, think more about what you want your shoe to be able to do. Price will always increase as the weight goes down, but there are plenty of lower priced shoes that are more than fit for the riding you want to do. Generally, manufactures will state what their intended use for the shoe is. Once you identify the type of riding you will do and have a price range, look at some different manufactures and see what they are offering. A simple rule of thumb is this; rough trails and time off your bike will equate to a more burly shoe. More mellow terrain and little hiking time will call for a lighter weight and minimalistic shoe.

Sizing specifics – You will usually be able to get the same cycling shoe as the size shoe you would buy if you were buying some sneakers. Consider the width of your foot when you are picking a pair. Most of the time cycling shoes will be made with a standard to slightly wide size. Make sure to double check with the manufacture if you have wider than normal feet or have questions. If possible, try on your shoes before you buy them.

Specifics (waterproof, close up system, heat regulation or winter performance, etc.) – The specifics and unique differences between shoes are like fish in the sea. Everything from shoe material to how the shoe is cinched down is up for debate on what is best. Think about the climate you will ride in and what times of the year you intend to ride in. One part of the shoe to consider when you buy some shoes is the outsole. The outsole is outermost part of the shoe on the bottom. Deciding between carbon or some plastic compound will influence weight and stiffness. Carbon will be the lightest and the stiffest, but not as durable as plastics are. Along with the material, the grip and tread pattern will be a factor to consider. Closure systems range from velcro to little ratchet dials to even laces. You want your shoe to fit you snugly, so find a shoe that will tighten down onto your foot securely, while not restricting blood flow or inhibiting your comfort.

Weight – Functionality over light weight. Road shoes have tended to evolve towards a lighter and lighter and more minimalistic design. While mountain shoes are following, they have a more robust job to do than the road models. If you are looking for gains in every place you can and have a few extra dollars laying around, go for the upgraded model and save the few grams. If you are looking for a good pair to last you a few years, stick to the pair with a few extra grams that will last a whole lot more miles.

Hopefully this help choose the different options that are in front of you as you narrow down your decision on a pair of mountain bike shoes. After all that has been said, the two biggest factors in picking your shoe will be the use you have in mind for your shoes and how much you want to pay. Best of luck in finding your shoe! If you have more questions or ideas, let us know!

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