A good mountain bike shoe is essential for a serious mountain biker. For one, they are typically a lot more comfortable than your average Vans. Not only that, but they can also help you pedal more efficiently and subsequently reach further heights than that you've ever had before.
However, it can be overwhelming to choose the right pair of mountain bike shoes since different innovations and technologies are available to different riding styles. From pedal types to the best sole construction material, we're here to help you break everything down so that you can make the best decision for yourself.
Flat Pedal System And Clipless Pedals: What Are They And Which Is Better?
Everyone learns to ride their bike with a flat pedal, the classic pedal type made of aluminum with a large platform and a series of pins to hold your feet properly. Because of how easy it is to learn and disengage, these pedals are typically the go-to choice for beginners.
After a while, many mountain bikers switch to clipless or clip-in pedals, especially if they're planning to take on some challenging terrains. You clip your shoe into the pedals, which significantly up your pedaling efficiency and power. Besides that, you can also set your seat height with a high level of accuracy since your feet are stuck to the same spot.
At the end of the day, you should pick your pedals and mountain bike shoes based on your riding style. That said, the general rule is to not make the jump from a flat pedal to clipless pedals too quickly since that prevents you from honing your cycling skills. It might also be dangerous if you couldn't jump off your bike quickly after an accident.
Pros And Cons Of Flat Shoes
Although you can use a road cycling shoe or sneakers with flat pedals, it's much better to wear a flat pedal shoe.
Flat shoes are a versatile option for casual mountain bikers who like to ride and walk during their excursions. With a sticky rubber outsole, it provides a better grip on your pedals. Besides that, these shoes also typically have a firm midsole and often include some impact-absorbing material to protect your heel and toes.
Wearing the best flat shoes inspires beginners' and experts' confidence since you're not clipped into the flat pedal. If you're involved in an accident, you can jump off quickly without worrying about going down with your bike. Besides that, these shoes offer no assistance, meaning you can perfect your fundamental riding techniques.
On the flip side, your feet inevitably bounce off the pedals on bumps, which makes it much harder to pedal through challenging terrains and uphills. Besides that, your shoe could be prematurely damaged by the flat pedal pins. Not to mention how painful it is when you hit your shins on the pedals.
Pros And Cons Of Clipless Shoes
A clipless cycling shoe is made to clip onto the pedals so that you can make full use of your pedaling. There are a few cleat systems that you can fit to the pedal, like two-bolt or three-bolt cleats. However, it's important to remember that the cleat comes with the pedals instead of the shoe-you'd have to fit the cleat to the shoe yourself.
Since your feet are clipped to the pedals, all you need is a firm upstroke or two to keep your pace on challenging terrain. Not only that, but you'd also reduce the risk of injury since your feet move with the pedals.
The downside of using clipless shoes is that you won't be able to roam freely off-bike with the cleat pattern on your soles. Because of this, you'd have to bring an extra pair of shoes, adding extra bulk and weight to your backpack.
How To Find The Perfect Mountain Bike Shoe For You?
The sole is arguably the most critical part of MTB shoes. Most of these shoes are typically made of nylon or carbon fiber, depending on your riding style or what you need.
Nylon soles are typically found in entry-level or urban shoes because they're more cost-effective. Because of their flexibility, they are ideal for both walking and cycling. A carbon outsole, however, helps you pedal faster and longer by prioritizing power transfer and efficiency. The stiff sole allows you to conquer difficult-to-ride terrains like steep hills and rocky trails.
When you're on the trail, you'd want your bike comfort to be as high as possible. Heat causes your feet to expand and blood to pool as you ride, which is why having comfortable shoes is extremely important. Not only does it reduce the risk of injury, but you'd also be able to go further.
Most mountain bike shoes are made of durable and breathable synthetic materials. A knitted upper allows a lot of airflow through your shoe, making it suitable for warmer and more humid climates. If you're planning to ride in colder temperatures, you should choose a well-insulated shoe to protect your feet from low temperatures, debris, and water.
- Lace: A classic closure system, lace offers a balance of upper foot comfort, adjustability, and lightness. However, they're hard to adjust when you're riding, which might mean more stops during your excursions.
- Velcro Straps: They offer a lot of on-the-go adjustability, which is a valuable thing in mountain biking. However, it's not uncommon for the velcro to lose its grip after a year or so.
- Rotary Dials: Rotary dials are one of the most popular closure systems since they offer many on-the-fly adjustments while offering a quick-release option. The downside is that they tend not to play too well with overshoes, making them somewhat unsuitable for cycling in colder temperatures. The Boa S3 Snap Dial is one of the most popular rotary dials on the market.
- Soft Instep Closure System: Made by SIDI, the soft instep closure system consists of a strap surrounded by soft and durable rubber that prevents the straps from digging into the instep of your foot. That being said, they tend to get worn after about a year, although you can change them yourself.
- Toe cap: Like toe protection on work boots, toe caps protect your toes from tough tree roots, giant boulders, and any other obstacles that might damage your toes.
- Waterproofing: Not every pair of mountain bike shoes come with waterproofing. But if you're planning to cycle a lot in rainy areas, having a shoe made of waterproof materials would work wonders on the trail as they prevent your feet from getting wet and soaked.
- Reflective Features: When you're riding under low-light conditions, you'd want to make sure that you can be seen. Bright and reflective footwear can alert other mountain bikers of your position and reduce the chance of creating an accident.
Fit And Structure
A pair of mountain bike shoes can check all the requirements of your list but would still mean nothing if you don't have the right fit. Without the perfect fit, you won't reap all the benefits of using a good shoe. Worse, you might even be hindered by shoes that are just a little too tight.
When selecting your shoe, you need to make sure that they fit in length, forefoot width and provide a snug hold at the heel. You can use a size chart to choose the best cycling shoe, but it's still much better to go to a shop and try them on.
That's because cycling shoes come in varying widths and shapes even though they're from the same brand. Some would have a narrower heel for slippage prevention, while others provide a wider toe box for splayed toes. If your feet' shape and size are more unusual, you can also opt for shoes with adjustable soles that you can customize to fit the contour of your feet.
Another thing you should do when buying mountain bike shoes is to wear cycling-specific socks when trying on the shoe. Cycling socks are usually thinner than regular socks, which could affect the fit when you're riding on the trails.
How To Take Care Of Mountain Bike Shoes?
Although cleaning your shoes might not be your priority after a tiring excursion, it's essential to keep your mountain bike shoes clean and well-maintained to expand their lifespan.
You can wipe your mountain bike shoe down with a damp cloth if there isn't too much dirt on them. If your shoes are caked with mud, you'd have to do a more thorough clean.
First, you should loosen up and remove all the loose parts like the insoles, straps, and buckles. Then, you can dunk them in a bucket of water mixed with mild dishwashing soap. After that, you should scrub them gently but thoroughly with a soft brush while paying attention to the buckles and cleats. When you're done, simply rinse them in cool water.
To keep the shape of the shoes, you should also stuff them with some newspaper and leave them out to air dry. Try not to put your mountain bike shoes in the dryer or leave them to dry near a heat source. Besides that, cleats get worn out easily, so you should clean them properly and check every couple of rides to ensure they're okay.