Flat Pedal Shoes Buyer’s Guide: MTB Kit Essentials
Time was, there genuinely were no shoe brands making flat pedal footwear that came anywhere near the performance of Five Ten’s offerings. Sure, there were cheaper shoes than Five Tens, but they had sketchy, slippy soles that were no better than just getting a pair of Vans or Rick Owens Shoes Converse from TK Maxx or eBay. These days there are numerous decent shoes for the flat pedal enthusiast. With flat pedals similarly getting better and better in the past ten years, pretty much any of the shoes featured in the following pages are grippy enough.
But, like Orwell’s pigs, all shoes are grippy, but some shoes are more grippy than others. Is everything about grip? Well, some would argue yes it is. And it’s a fair argument. The whole reason most riders finally moved away from clipless pedals was because they weren’t sketchy, slippy skate shoes anymore. It’s vital that the shoe grips the pedal really, really, really well. If it doesn’t grip, there’s no point.
For this test we’ve focused on three key aspects of flat pedal shoes: grip, feel and durability. We’ve added a side salad of are-they-easy-to-live-with (quick drying, easy cleaning and so on), and fit. Let’s get cooking.
Here’s our favourite flat pedal shoes
Adidas Five Ten Freerider Pro – WINNER
Stiffer and more positive feeling than you might expect. And yet, it still offers excellent pedal feel and adhesion. For the vast majority of mountain bikers, the Freerider Pro is the way to go due to its shock-absorbing midsole and overall better durability.
As well as helping to keep the aesthetics, the fancier material also helps maintain the overall fit since they don’t develop creases or go baggy. Despite not having much in the way of special heel cups or one-way ‘cat tongue’ fabric lining, the Freerider Pros do a great job of resisting heel lift.Brooks Sneakers The top of the shoe is reassuringly close-fitting, which does a decent job of preventing debris getting inside the shoe itself.
The traction on the pedals from the sticky rubber Stealth sole is still the best out there. And talking of shock-absorbing, there is something extra special about the slow rebound nature of Stealth rubber that really helps you stay onboard over rough stuff as well as alleviating fatigue on longer rides.
Overall: Yes, we are boring and recommending these as still the best
Read our full review of the Adidas Five Ten Freerider Pro
Giro Latch – RECOMMENDED
The Grip Rubber/Gamma Tread sole offers plenty of grip. Zero incidents of slipping a pedal during the test.
The Mute Foam insole really does a good job of removing trail chatter and vibration through your feet, adding grip and taking the sting out of big and repeated impacts. Coupled with the ‘stiff-but-not-too-stiff’ sole, this has the added bonus of reducing any fatigue.
A slight gripe would be that the lace loop isn’t the best, but the laces aren’t overly long and don’t get in the way even if we don’t use it.
Other than that, we don’t have anything to complain about. They’re comfortable, perform really well, dry quickly and come in understated colours. The grip they offer is great and the Mute foam seems to be more than just a marketing hook. If you’re looking for some new flats then you should definitely try on a set of Giro Latch.
Overall: The best choice for those who find Five Tens just a bit too sticky
Specialized 2FO Roost Canvas
The rubber is comparable to the new style Freerider Pro in terms of general grip on the pedals. The tread pattern is notably more effective than some rival soles and you may find yourself having to lift and manoeuvre your feet significantly more than usual. They really grab the pedals and stay put.
The construction of the footbed is probably one of its biggest selling points. They actually feel like shoes! Walking in them is comfortable due to an actual moulded footbed, and traction when walking on wet trails is excellent for a mountain bike shoe.
Size wise, these come up small. As with newer Five Tens and Sorel Sneakers seemingly most cycling brand shoes, it pays to go up a Euro size. Having got the correct size and battered them through all weathers, I can confidently state that these are a great choice. An excellent balance of a breathable, yet warm, shoe that dries out quickly.
Overall: An extremely comfortable shoe that performs on the pedals and on the pavement
Flatlines don’t offer as much all-out grip as other brands, and certain riders will actually be better served by them. The sole is from Vibram and isn’t mega sticky. Whether deliberate in design or not, the Flatlines are a really tactile shoe for riders who like to skip along feature-filled forest tracks. They feel light and responsive.
Riders who ride smoother trails with plenty of pumping and hustling to them should check out the Bontrager Flatline shoes. They have a unique combination of excellent pedal feel and overall nimbleness that will be much loved by riders who are forever repositioning their feet throughout a run.
What the sole lacks in gluey durometer rubber, they make up for in thinness. There is noticeably less material between your foot and the pedal. This is great for both overall feel and handling. There’s very little pedal roll potential, there’s plenty of pedal pick-up and play, and despite being lightweight they aren’t harsh or flimsy feeling.
They have a techno EVA midsole like other premium shoe brands and the uppers strike a really nice balance of just-so thin/thickness and padding. They are also really easy to live with. They dry out rapidly, they are easy to keep clean, and they’re proving to be durable.
Overall: Very light and tactile; great for those who prioritise feel over outright traction
Endura MT500 Burner Flat
These come up a bit on the small size and I’d recommend going up a Euro foot size from your usual. They’re definitely at the stiff and supportive end of the spectrum, but the toe box and the hi-tech insole both combine to offer a nice roomy-enough feel at the forefoot.
The StickyFOOT rubber used where the shoe meets the pedal offers very good traction. The shock-absorbing midsole works really well for, er… absorbing shocks, funnily enough. They’re very grippy and planted, but just a tad on the stiff side to offer maximum pedal feel.
With regard to living with them, they appear to be well made but as they’re a new shoe they haven’t been tested as long as the others in this test. They do a decent job of keeping splashy weather at bay (although doesn’t everyone just wear waterproof socks nowadays if it’s wet out?), and they dry out impressively quickly after wet rides, ready to go again.
Overall: Super grippy sole and stiffer sole than most, make these the racer’s choice
Ride Concepts Womens Vice
Instantly comfortable, fitting snugly at the ankle but giving space for toes. As well as the D30 and EVA sole protection, the toe box is reinforced, making them sturdier than their street style suggests. Importantly, the sole is just-so sticky; attached to the bike enough to give confidence, but with scope to adjust foot placement on the fly if needed.
They’re also at a Goldilocks spot for stiffness – there’s enough flex to feel the pedal as you’re moving the bike around, but they’re stiff enough to pedal in without tiring your feet out. A good shoe option for all but the coldest of rides. They’re protective, just the right amount of sticky and stiff.
The excellent grip means you don’t have to think about where you’re putting your feet, and there’s enough flex to feel where you are on the pedals. Whether you’re riding a new trail blind or sessioning a tricky section or jump, the shoes are confidence inspiring and let you get on with thinking about what the rest of your body is doing.
Overall: Not just here because of their price tag, these are nice all-rounders
Adidas Five Ten Gore-Tex Trailcross
Are they really waterproof? An over-the-ankle neoprene gaiter combined with a Gore-Tex lining does a good job of keeping rain, puddles and spray away. Water can get over the top, obviously, however, a long waterproof trouser should close that gap down. On a multi-day winter expedition, I’d consider wearing these with a waterproof sock for full-on, comprehensive coverage. Living with them, and getting in and out, is a cinch as there is a simple and familiar lace up, with the addition of a big Velcro tab on the ankle gaiter.
The ride is excellent, with a midsole that is more clingy than an octopus with separation anxiety. The toe and heel have a contrasting crossways tread to prevent you slipping and crashing when not actually on the bike. It is great to see sturdy rubber walls all the way around the toe area and down both sides.
The overall stiffness of the bottom of the shoe has been judged about right. They are pretty much in the mid-range of stiffness; not as feely as supple skate-shoe designs but also not as wooden as premium racier shoes.
Overall: Well worth it if you’re a frequent flyer to the higher hills of Great Britain
Ride Concepts TNT
These may be designed for downhillers, the fact of the matter is that the TNT is far better treated as a winter shoe for flattie fans. Although Ride Concepts makes no explicit claims about weatherproofing, nor insulation, the TNT boots do a great job of keeping the wet out and the warmth in.
The sole is made of Ride Concepts’ softest DST 4.0 MAX GRIP rubber compound. Both my on-trail testing and durometer hardness tester tool confirmed that this rubber compound is nigh-on indistinguishable from the Stealth rubber used on the Five Ten Freerider Pro.
The soft initial touch of the rubber combined with its soaky slow rebound really helps keep your feet in place over chattery ground. Which is just as well because the relatively thick sole (there’s a nice bit of cushy EVA midsole in there too) and general sturdiness of the boot does initially feel somewhat wooden and restrictive. However, this eases up after a few rides, and you learn to adapt and appreciate the other positives on offer.
Overall: Great choice for cold or wet weather, as well as a sturdy gravity boot
Which pair you put on your plate may depend on the particular kitchen you cook in – flat out rocky trails, wriggling woodland slither or moorland miles all place different demands on your shoes. You may well find you need more than one pair to cover all your riding needs. In this test we can happily recommend all of the shoes tested as decent performers that you won’t regret buying. Having said that, is there any brand here that has bettered Five Ten? Does any shoe here offer a compelling argument to choose it instead of The Household Brand? Being ‘as good as’ is not really a very good selling point. People are always going to stay with the devil they know – or that fits their particular feet.
We’d still put a pair of Five Ten Freerider Pro into our shopping basket. But that would only be after doing a hunt around to see if there were any good sales on the Giro Latch or the Specialized Roost 2FO Canvas. All perform well on a variety of trails and offer excellent grip.
If you are one of those riders who aren’t interested in all-out adhesion and give priority to feel, then things are different. Here we’d give the nod to the Bontrager Flatline or Ride Concepts Women’s Vice. On which note, the Vice are a good chunk cheaper than many of the shoes here, so you might want to put them in your shopping basket on that basis alone (though their performance makes them a worthy contender too).
For winter or just plain wet AF weather duties, there are two options. Actually there are three. The first being: get some decent waterproof socks and wear the same flat pedal shoes you wear anyway. If you want a specific, extra pair of flat pedal shoes for winter/wet conditions, then it’s either the Adidas Five Ten Gore-Tex Trailcross or the Ride Concepts TNT. The former really need carefully pairing with suitably tailored (i.e. overlapping) riding trousers, or they just fill up with water running down your legs anyway. They are also expensive. We have a real soft spot for the TNTs here. They require a less carefully constructed wardrobe ensemble, they’re warmer, and they just feel that little bit more suitably rufty-tufty for the rough-and-tumble of filthy conditions mountain biking. Yes, they need pairing with waterproof socks if it’s really wet out there, but you already own a pair of those, don’t you?