The best flat pedal mountain bike shoes - Dirt

Mountain Biking Magazine

Share

Apparel

The best flat pedal mountain bike shoes

We explore the design and details of our favourite shoes

With flat pedals a key component on many mountainbikes, we take a look at the shoes that work with them. What designs work best? What do we look for?

Words: Sean White, James Smurthwaite  Images: Dirt/Shimano/Various

Recently we caused a bit of a stir with our feature titled ‘Flat pedals – an endangered species?’ Maybe we should’ve asked the question with an emphasis on DH racing, as it seems that the flat pedal is very much a default choice with many Dirt readers, and plenty were quick to voice their opinion. It’s a topic for much debate, and like wheelsize, can get heated. A quick poll in the Dirt office shows that there is a 60/40 split in favour of flats. Interestingly, the clipped in riders seem to stray to the freedom of a flat pedal on occasions though.

So, with flat pedal and shoe designs on another level compared to ten years ago, you’re certainly not going light on the tech if you shy away from clipping in. We’ve touched on our favourite flat pedals in the 2017 Dirt 100 and we’ll have more to come on this topic very soon. Here we look at flat pedal shoes designs and what details and materials make up the best on the market. Eight years ago we were mostly riding in Etnies, Vans and Nike 6.0s, all good options back then but Shimano’s AM40 and FiveTen’s Impact were starting to make an appearance. In a constantly competitive market we’re now getting better designs each year, with more options but arguably we’ve still to find a perfect flat pedal shoe for mountainbiking in all seasons.

If we ask a bunch of flat pedal riders about their footwear and what they like and dislike about the design, the comments are usually based around these areas: grip, durability, drying times and price.

THE SOLE:

MATERIAL/COMPOUND:

Let’s start with the most important aspect of the design. First up, you’re not clipping into a flat pedal so a soft and sticky sole compound is needed to grip the traction pins on the flat pedals. FiveTen set the benchmark in this area many years ago with their Stealth Mi6 dotty rubber sole. With FiveTen having history in the rock climbing world they knew their rubber compounds. A game changer for many flat pedal riders, this was the new standard to judge other shoes against and still stands today, both in wet and dry conditions. With brands using the Vibram soles, along with options now from Michelin (on the newly launched Shimano shoes) we are seeing good blends of both grip and durability – after all, sticky rubber is of little use if you’re measuring the shoe’s lifespan in weeks rather than years.

TREAD PATTERN:

Naturally, flat pedal shoes don’t have an aggressive tread pattern as you want plenty of contact area with the pedal, so inverted sipes are the preferred design, channelling water away but offering very little off the bike grip when pushing up steep banks. A touch of flex in the toe area helps here but don’t expect an easy push up if it’s greasy. Advanced tread patterns are starting to appear, with FiveTen’s Contact sole having treadless area allowing for more sensitivity when it comes to small foot adjustments on the pedal, but very sketchy moments when you’re off the bike in the filth. It’s a question of priorities here.

STIFFNESS:

With an emphasis on performance, the midsole will be stiffened, just not as much as on an SPD shoe in most cases. An ideal stiffness/flex ratio preference will vary between riders though. It’s a fine line to balance between adding efficiency, giving support yet possibly removing feel. Foot roll need to be minimal too – Ion have done plenty of development work on this when designing their new Raid Amp shoe. You want your footwear to be comfortable when off the bike if they’re for anything other than racing in. if they’re too stiff then you’ll get some heel lift when walking, especially on firmer ground.

DIMENSIONS:

You need plenty of sole beneath you for a good contact patch. Not so much though that you can’t tweak your feet without contacting the crank or having the shoe hang over the outboard side of the pedal. Most of our preferred shoes have the width dimensions spot on. When it comes to ‘stack height’ we see shoes that are a touch too lofty, lifting you away from the pedal platform and compromising feel and centre of gravity. We’ve progressed from high profile pedals – we now need shoe brands to keep with this way of thinking, without compromising other aspects of the design.

SHOCK ABSORPTION:

With many brands now using an advanced foot bed we are seeing added protection from impacts, both when pedalling and when landing from a spill. Giro use EVA cushioning in the midsole, and a Poron XRD heel pad that also aids comfort on impact. O.W.N go one step further with the sole of the inner shoe using D30 impact resistant foam – density tested and specially selected – to absorb shocks coming through the pedal. Ion use a two-component insole (2C insole) to support the arch in the midfoot area and adds some extra damping to the heel section. A well designed mid sole can offer additional support too and are details which all add up and push shoe design further towards perfection.

THE UPPER:

Most of us love the ‘skate shoe’ look of the current breed of flat pedal footwear – it’s in our roots, part of our culture and almost a reaction against the tight, shiny and awkward styles of SPD ‘clipped’ shoes that have developed from the XC race world.

MATERIALS:

Here we look for a soft yet supportive upper that can be easily adjusted for a close fit. We need quick drying, low bulk materials that shrug off water and don’t take weeks to dry. The upper need to go the distance, stay attached to the sole and deal with some year round abuse. That’s a tough combination of requirements and many brand miss the mark. Early FiveTen boots were very robust but held water, got heavy and drying times were lengthy. First generation Shimano shoes were comfortable, but the padding that helped with this soaked up moisture and this weighed you down.

Modern synthetics have shortened drying times, helped keep bulk and weight low, yet remain robust over time. It’s what you’re paying for to a certain extent along with the sole compound. Specialized’s 2FO (Foot Out, Flat Out…) footwear uses a tough synthetic upper which is thermobonded to the sole and has well placed venting panels. Although a long way from waterproof, these shoes breathe well, yet allow water out instead of hanging on to it. They remain light when wet and drying times are quicker than average. Ion’s new flat pedal shoes have a ground up approach to design with plenty of up to date thinking too.

PROTECTION:

Most shoes are a ‘low top’ design and for warmer, drier weather this is usually the best option. With this type of shoe being aimed at the gravity/enduro/DH market, protection is important though and a good shoe design will have a reinforced toe box area and scuff guards in impact zones or high wear areas. A ‘high top’ option (Fiveten do this well) will give you added ankle support and protection as well as much needed insulation in cooler or wetter conditions. Shimano go half way, with raised inner ankle protection on some of their shoes. A padded tongue can add a touch more comfort and can keep debris out if it is gusseted.

WEATHERPROOFING: 

If you’re a year round rider and out in all weathers, then an option that keeps you on out on the hill regardless of the conditions is an invaluable addition to your kitbag. Shimano have always been popular here in the UK, as their designs with a flap over the laces and minimal ventilation keeps the worst of the muck out. FiveTen’s EPS shoes have been a hit with us last winter – the Primaloft insulation and sealed leather panels have kept us warm even when wet. Not a design for the summer, but great between October and March.

O.W.N (Only What’s Necessary) have a unique approach to weather protection – they not only have researched and tested upper fabrics extensively (using Kevlar as the main fabric) but have gone for a inner liner sock/bootie. Two options, a winter and a summer weight, keep you at optimum comfort levels all year round.

FASTENING:

Laces dominate here – easy to adjust, cheap to replace and keep that casual look to the shoe. This low tech way of fastening can sometimes suffer in extreme mud but it’s rare. Shimano’s new shoes use a ‘speed lace’ with a locking retainer beneath a cover which is a modern take on this. Buckle, ratchets and dials tend to be (although there are exceptions) the preserve of SPD trail and race shoes.

SIZING:

You don’t want a sloppy fit but you may be riding, pushing up or hanging out in them for most of the day. Try before you buy as you may find a brand that fits your foot shape best. Specialized use their ‘Body Geometry’ fit system on the 2FO models, with plenty of R+D going into the shape of the upper, the sizing and the insole. O.W.N once again don’t do things by half and have investigated the whole approach to sizing for a shoe working with a flat pedal. The key to the shape of their shoes is to create ‘volume where you need it,’ and to eliminate excess material that can lead to the clubfoot look. Other brands have a ‘last’ (the upper shape) which has developed over time and a fit that you may well find favour with – stick with ’em…

DETAILS:

WEIGHT: Lightweight is good – we’re talking rotating weight here – and the lightest models will weigh in at around 350g – 450g for each shoe. It’s no good stripping weight from the design if it brings compromises to either durability or support though.

PRICE: Expect to pay from £90 a pair upwards for a good pair of flat shoes. O.W.N’s shoe is up there at the top of the list mainly down to the two liners included, the Kevlar upper and the fact that this is a specialist brand focussing on this product alone, with a load of tech involved.

A second Opinion – Steve Jones (Dirt’s editor)

There are many good features about a great flat shoe. One is that you can get off your bike and hang around talking shit without feeling like a dork, secondly you too can feel part of the Sam Hill set and thirdly it annoys the shit out of European brands when you turn up at a press camp and ask for pedals.

For me the greatest attribute of a flat pedal shoe is that it doesn’t trap me to the bike especially when I’m riding under prevailing UK weather conditions and terrain. Usually wet, mostly natural trails that include off cambers with rock and root aplenty.

It’s true that I no longer have my foot off the pedals as much as in the past, thanks to improved geometry and sizing together with better suspension, however on technical tracks it’s seldom to ride down without having the foot off to counter balance several times. Flats simply enable the rider to lean the foot without having to be either in or out. It is often the subtle shimmy that nails and rails the corner.

There are several things I look for in a flat pedal shoe. The first is a pedal to go with it and at the moment I’m always searching for either the Nukeproof Horizons, Bontragers, Chromag Scarabs, DMR Vaults or Superstars. You’d be surprised how often a good pedal goes walk about.

The construction and shape is key, what stands the Five Ten apart more than anything is the width of the shoe around the mid part of the foot, its wider than normal and allows for a good load spread. The material and grip of the sole is clearly central to a flat pedal shoe too and again Five Ten have done a tremendous job, however they are quite prone to high wear rate in this area. The white and green Shimano’s were great grippers with early Vibram soles, sadly this went missing on later versions.

Over the winter I’ve been using a pair of wellies given to me by my good friend Rob Cooklsey of Bad Ass Bikes in Bristol. It’s been interesting that the fatigue through my feet has been noticeably less due to the density of the sole which cushions the feet during hits. Many riders have commented of the attributes of the Flat Tyre Defender system in cushioning hits – well same principle, only you don’t get wet feet either.

Weather is a factor in any shoe regardless of type and its here that the Five Ten with Primaloft have been superb, warm feet in the wet doesn’t get much better. More than this, for shoes without such material water dispersal is key and it here that the Specialized 2FO have been superb in winter conditions getting rid of water which the Five Ten’s seem reluctant to do.

Reliability and hard wearing are key as well. In this respect the Specialized shoes have also won the day as the construction of these shoes is second to none. Finally of course a good pair of socks, ones that have good parity with the material of the insole so that there’s no sliding around.

So far I’ve not ever ridden in the perfect flat pedal shoe but some recent ones have come pretty close.

The best flat pedal shoes

(In no particular order)

FiveTen Freerider EPS

The benchmark for flat pedal shoes, especially where grip is concerned, the Five Ten Freerider is the most commonly seen flat pedal shoe on the World Cup circuit. With many years of mountainbike shoes designs behind them, we’ve found some FiveTen styles to be a winner and others that have been a touch compromised. Their Freerider range has had a makeover recently and we’ve been won over by this EPS model.

FiveTen have stuck with their classic Freerider style and not messed with the Stealth S1 rubber multi-dot sole design. It works in wet or dry conditions – essential for a shoe like the EPS. At a shade under 1KG for an average pair of these low tops, the weight isn’t low but it is realistic for the extra protection and comfort on offer.


Read the full review here


Price: £105 (Low top)

fiveten.com

O.W.N FR-01

Only What’s Necessary (OWN) have brought a flat pedal shoe to the market that is all about function over form. There are several defining components to the shoe that make it stand out from the rest: Kevlar upper, tailored shape, solid PU heel section and namely its removable inner-shoe.

Vibram rubber keeps the shoe grippy with a unique tread pattern for maximum effectiveness. Interestingly, they have also cut in an ‘aggressive’ heel and toe pattern for off-the-bike moments. Hiking mountains, digging tracks, not falling over in the car park due to slick sole. It makes sense.


Read more here


Price: €220

onlywhatsnecessary.com

Specialized 2fo

Specialized’s 2FO (Foot out, Flat out) range of trail and gravity footwear is a few seasons old now and the tweaks they have made along the way have resulted in a great shoes design. We’ve been testing prototypes of this shoes for 10 months and its proven just how important fit and cushioning are over pure grip.

These 2FO shoes are built to last and have held up well to being used and abused week in, week out (unlike many shoes which have started falling apart after a few months). They offer excellent pedal grip and suit our often wet trail conditions. One of our favourite flat pedal shoes is only going to get better with time.


Read more here


PRICE: £90.00

specialized.com

Giro Jacket

Comfort, fit, stiffness, durability and how it copes with wet weather are major considerations for flat pedal shoes – it also helps if they look great too, pretty much like the Giro Jacket. The Giro Jacket shoes tick a lot of boxes when it comes to a well made shoe that is up to the task.

The outsole is from Vibram, the same brand that Shimano choose on their AM41 shoes, but in a different tread pattern. This tread is closely spaced around the pedal contact area and wider spacing for traction at the heel and toe areas. The compound Giro have chosen is Vibram’s Idrogrip, ideal for flat pedal grip but also specifically designed for traction on wet rock, when off and pushing. The stack height of the sole is low, giving you a more direct connection with the pedal, unlike a few shoes we have recently tried.

The Jacket is a top quality shoe, with no compromises to fit, comfort, pedal feel or grip. Giro’s outstanding build quality will give you many seasons’ use. They won’t let you down.


Read the full review here


Price: £89.99

Giro.com

Shimano AM9


Totally relaunched at the Fort William World Cup this year, Shimano finally turned their attention towards some decent flat pedal shoes. The shoe itself has been slimmed down and lined with a far less absorbent material so it doesn’t take on board so much water.

The flat pedal uses a rubber compound developed with Michelin. Shimano admit it may not be the most grippy out there but they reckon that if it’s combined with their pedals there should be enough grip there, this of course means it should be more durable than the competition at least. We’ve not had the longest time on these shoes but early signs point to a confident performer.


Read more here


Price: N/A (due later this year)

shimano.com

Share

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.

production