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The best MTB flat pedal shoes in 2020

Best MTB flat pedal shoes
(Image credit: Shimano)

So why is it important that you choose the best MTB flat pedal shoes and what are the advantages of riding flat pedals? To explain further, there are three main contact points on a mountain bike; your hands, bum and feet. All of which have a critical effect on your riding experience in terms of comfort and control and riding flat pedals can be a great way to hone the correct technique, boost rider confidence and form a new level of trail feedback communication to the rider. Oh, and dropping a foot in your favourite turn is a pretty good feeling too! Having the right shoe can make or break this wonderful connection so buying the best option available is vital. Tester Jim Bland exclusively rides flat pedals and knows exactly what to look for in a riding shoe to keep your feet glued to the pedals whilst maximising feel and comfort on the trail. 

If you want to know what to look for in when choosing flat pedal shoes, jump to the info:

How to buy the best MTB flat pedal shoes

Five Ten Freerider Pro

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Five Ten Freerider Pro

Flat pedal shoe kings. Five Ten still rule

Sizes: EU-39 to EU48 | Weight: 784g

Confidence boosting levels of grip in all situations
Fantastic pedal-feel and exceptional damping in rough terrain
Continue to improve once bedded in
No neoprene roost/splash cuff on the ankle

The Freerider pro from Five Ten is the equivalent to your favourite band’s greatest hits album. Five Ten has taken all of its best features and piled them into one shoe, this gives the Freerider Pro the most outright grip, the best damping properties and the best support to pedal-feel balance out of any other shoe on test making it the best flat pedal mountain bike shoe available. 

At the heart of the Freerider Pro is Five Ten’s proven S1 rubber sole, using the brand’s signature dot pattern which travels along the entirety of the sole. On the trail it translates to a maximum hold feel on the pedals resulting in the confidence to constantly attack without the thought of your foot ever bouncing off or losing grip, regardless of the trail. The damping characteristics of the S1 sole mean it does a great job of soaking up the impacts and high-frequency buzz that travels through your feet. Even on long alpine tracks this offers protection from any foot cramps or discomfort. Where the Freerider Pro differs to the standard model Freerider is that the Pro version sees the use of a shank in the midsole, this is designed to offer more support for pedalling and greater protection on longer runs without compromising on pedal-feel, which it totally nails.

Attached to the sole is a sleek looking and simple, but effective, synthetic upper which is weather-resistant, quick-drying and sees the addition of a hardened toe box that offers protection from flying rock strikes and trailside boulders. With a snug, but not restricting fit, the Freerider Pro shows zero signs of heel lift on or off the bike. The only thing they lack is an extended gaiter to keep rocks and puddle spray out so expect to tip your shoes out more regularly, but as a plus you’ll sweat less in summer. It’s also worth mentioning the upper can take a few rides to bed in and soften up, but after a ton of hammer both in the UK and abroad, they’re still only showing slight signs of wear.

Specialized 2FO 2

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Specialized 2FO 2.0

2FO feature a class-leading fit with fantastic levels of grip and damping

Sizes: – EU36 to EU39 | Weight: 690g

Class-leading fit
Excellent build quality
One of the grippiest available
Missing the neoprene ankle cuff featured on other Specialized shoes

As the name states, the 2FO 2.0 is Specialized’s second incarnation of this shoe. It seems like Specialized has listened to what riders have to say, and the improvements made from version one have changed the 2FO from an okay shoe to one of the best options currently available.

The latest generation is constructed using a unique upper from Specialized which is thermobonded to provide a lightweight, snag-free and extremely durable design with a smooth finish that is aesthetically pleasing too. This sleek-looking upper is constructed using a mix of captured foam and air mesh vents which does an excellent job of keeping puddle water out, especially for a non-winter specific shoe. It also dries out super-fast if you do get drenched. Cinched together with traditional laces, there’s also elastic to neatly tuck the laces away from any moving parts.

The 2FO is sporting Specialized’s Body Geometry tech for a snug and supportive fit around and under your foot. On the bike this is genuinely noticeable and high-power stamps on the pedals feel more effective when compared to any other shoe on test. 

The base of the shoe is taken care of using Specialized’s latest generation, SlipNot rubber compound which is really well-damped and offers barrel loads of grip. The hexagon-shaped buttons grab onto pedal pins and both the front and back of the sole sees a larger, more widely spaced tread to aid traction off the bike. The 2FO is the most expensive shoe here but the quality of the fit and performance on offer outweighs the few extra quid at the till. 

Ride Concept Hellion

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride Concept Hellion

Ride Concept offer serious competition to established brands, especially if you swap insoles

Sizes: EU39 to EU47 | Weight: 848g

Looks amazing
Performs great in most trail situations
Potentially let down by D30 insole

Fresh to the market, the California-based brand Ride Concepts launched a series of shoes to cater for the mass mountain bike market, the Hellion model we have here is essentially the all-rounder which is aimed at trail and enduro riders. Boasting a range of quality features, the Hellion has proved to be one of the best options available. 

It’s a good looking shoe, constructed using a two-piece synthetic upper with an anti-peel coating, it’s designed to take a whole ton of abuse while soaking up minimal water and keeping drying times fast. This shoe was used for a few months while visiting Queenstown, New Zealand where they faced countless bike park laps and a serious amount of trail riding and showed next to no signs of wear, so it’s obviously built to last. The high-quality laces used are a nice finishing touch too, and while it’s a small difference it’s noticeable one as they don’t lose tension or become baggy over time. 

The Ride Concept flat pedal shoe range features three levels of sole compound and the Hellion gets the mid-level 6.0 DST rubber. This is stated to be the ‘high grip’ option on Ride Concept’s rubber kinematic scale, it sits in-between the clipless exclusive ‘8.0 DST mid grip’ sole and the ‘4.0 DST max grip’ which is stated to be one of the grippiest on the market – something we’re eager to try out. In practice the ‘high grip’ sole lives up to its name securely holding pedal pins in pretty much every situation, however, the Five Ten Freerider Pro still has the edge in rough, high-frequency impact terrain. 

Interestingly this lack of grip in specific situations isn’t down to the sole itself but the insoles. The Hellions feature sections of D30 impact-absorbing material that’s more commonly used in rider body armour as it instantly hardens upon any type of impact. While this may be good for protecting your knees in a crash, we can’t help but feel it’s letting the Ride Concept family down on the pedals. Upon impact, it feels like the insole is hardening and changing the way your foot wraps over the pedal. This is more noticeable in high-frequency situations, ultimately causing your feet to shift on the pedal. The effect of the D30 insole was confirmed when swapping for a non D30 variant in the same shoe.  It’s worth stressing this is only apparent in certain situations but it is enough to separate the Hellion from the test winner, so real grip fans should consider switching insoles too. 

Shimano GR9

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Shimano GR9

Shimano’s flagship flat-pedal shoe is light and offers heaps of pedal-feel

Sizes: EU36 to EU48 | Weight: 761g

Low profile sole offers superb pedal-feel
Lace flap and retention system are great features
Still not as grippy as the best
Ventilation may be too cool for UK riding

The GR9 is Shimano’s new top-of-the-range, gravity-focused, flat-pedal kick and with the addition of an exclusive sole from Michelin, there’s a big leap forward in pedal traction when compared to older Shimano models. 

The first thing you notice when riding the GR9 is how the ultra-thin sole exaggerates that ‘in-the-bike’ feeling when riding down the trail. With the shoe being on the floppy side of the spectrum it concaves nicely over the pedal too and together this offers high amounts of tyre-feel and trail feedback from the pedals. This isn’t all positive though as on longer descents fatigue is more apparent due to the thin sole reducing impact protection and support. Surprisingly, the midsole stiffness felt good when pedalling so even though the soft upper doesn’t offer that ‘locked in’ feeling there was no point where it felt too floppy under power, something that wasn’t uncommon on the shoe’s previous incarnation. The GR9 is light too, this is noticeable from the first pedal stroke where you’re greeted with a sporty, easy to rotate feeling.

Switching from the older Vibram sole to a totally new design from Michelin means there’s a big increase in pedal grip over the previous Shimano models, but it’s still not as sticky or as well damped as some of the other shoes on test. The latest sole design also features a more aggressive tread pattern on the toe and heel to boost off the bike grip. 

The upper retains Shimano’s signature lace cover which helps keep puddle splashes out as well as protecting the really convenient quick-lace system. This toggle-style design offers good overall tension and makes getting them on and off a cinch compared to traditional laces. Unlike older Shimano shoes which had a tendency to soak up water like a sponge, the GR9 sucks up next to no water when things get soggy, another great improvement for Shimano. 

Giant Shuttle

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Giant Shuttle

The Shuttle offers a good balance of performance and comfort

Sizes: EU40 to EU48 **Weight:** 882g

Versatile
Smart casual looks will suit some
Doesn’t compete with the grippiest on test
Not optimal for aggressive riding

Brand new to Giant’s expanding accessory range is the Shuttle flat-pedal shoe, with its ‘smart casual’ look, it’s designed to be worn both on and off the bike. It’s well priced, super comfy right out the box and flexible enough for walking around in, but still okay for pedalling and doesn’t feel soft under power. While the grip on the pedals is good they still aren’t sticky enough to compete with the current benchmark shoes if you’re looking to use them exclusively for rowdy riding.

The TPU enhanced upper features a precise and neat fit with laser-cut venting, so airflow is great and drying time is rapid. However, there isn’t much protection against the elements or puddle splashes which means cold wet feet will be experienced more often compared with the other shoes in this roundup. Injection moulded toe caps are in place to protect from any impacts and while fortunately, this wasn’t a feature used during testing it looks like one of the most solid systems around. 

At the business end, taking care of the pedal pins is Giant’s own GRIPR dual-compound rubber sole. Featuring a deeper and harder compound tread at the front and back of the sole helps with hike-a-bike missions while the pedal area sees a softer, shallower, rubber section which does a good job of keeping your feet firmly on the pedals. Grip levels are decent for more relaxed riding but for aggressive work, both the Freerider Pro and Specialized 2FO offer an extra level of confidence-boosting grip, especially in rough terrain.  

Giro Riddance

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Giro Riddance

The Giro Riddance looks good but falls short when it comes to fit and performance

Sizes: EU35 to EU50 | Weight: 858g

Looks cool 
Quality is high
Below average levels of grip
Fit will be too wide for most feet

With simple skate shoe style lines, the Riddance looks the part and boosts ‘bro points’ but even with the latest Vibram tech it fails to compete with the best shoes on test. 

Constructed with the stickiest rubber blend Vibram has ever created, things sounded promising on paper. But right out the gate it was obvious the latest attempt still wasn’t good enough and within the first few pedal strokes our feet were bouncing on the pedal. Something no other shoe did when repeating runs on the local test track. While the shoe is supportive on the pedal the lack of outright traction doesn’t instil confidence on the trail, leaving you constantly backing off or adapting your riding to not bounce and blow off the pedal. The rubber used on the sole is simply too hard and has pingy rather than damped characteristics. 

The Riddance fit is larger than normal too so unless you have super-wide feet the toe box is going to be over-generous. Even with the laces cinched tight our feet would float around making for a vague feeling that lacked pedal-position precision, so definitely try before you buy. On the plus side, there are three different colourway options as well as a mid-height boot version with a wrap-over strap for additional security.

From a brand that generally has such a dialled product line – including the Chamber II clipless shoe which we love – we know Giro has the potential to make a truly great shoe, but currently, the Riddance simply doesn’t compare to the best shoes on the market. 

FiveTen Freerider EPS High

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Five Ten Freerider EPS High

A true game changer for flat pedal users in the winter months

Sizes: EU39 to EU48 | Weight: 1109g

Genuinely game changing in winter
Well thought out features
High top may not be to everyone’s taste (Low top is available)
Sole is a little flexy

For a long time, winter-specific riding boots have only been available for clipless pedal users, this was until Five Ten released a fully winterised version of its ever -famous Freerider flat-pedal shoe. The Freerider EPS sports a ton of cold and wet weather-tackling features which combine to make the EPS a must-have for the colder months.

The winterisation is certainly very thorough with a list of features including a heat-reflective footboard beneath the insole, a fully gusseted tongue and a stitch-less one-piece front panel. On top of this, the synthetic leather upper is Primaloft insulated for maximum warmth in sub-zero temperatures. The extra height adds warmth as well as splash protection but there’s a low-top version if you find it restrictive. This package genuinely transforms comfort in the winter months, doing a truly exceptional job of keeping the heat in and the water out. As expected with all the winter modifications it does make the EPS the heaviest shoe on test but we’ll happily accept it to have warm feet in the bleak winter.

As it’s a Five Ten, it’s not surprising that a Stealth rubber blend sole takes care of pedal traction. The sole is essentially exactly the same as the standard and trusty Freerider shoe, making for excellent grip and damping qualities. The only thing we would like to see is the addition of the midsole shank that is featured on the Freerider Pro, as the extra support is very welcome on longer downhills and would boost the EPS High to a perfect 5/5 rating. Even without that, the combination of warmth and grip means we can’t recommend this shoe enough for people who continue to battle through the grim season.

How to buy the best MTB flat pedal shoes

1. Fit

As with most things mountain-bike related, fit is very important. For flat-pedal riders, 'feel' is vital and allows you to maximise the advantages of not riding clipped in. If the fit is too tight it can cause the circulation to your feet to be cut off, this results in numbness leaving you with little idea as to where your feet are positioned on the pedal. On the flip side, if the shoe is too loose-fitting this can make correct foot placement seem impossible, especially on rough terrain. While we have done our best to decipher how each shoe fits, we still recommend physically trying them on, as, at the end of the day everyone’s feet are different and size/cut differs from manufacturer to manufacturer.  

2. Weight

The lighter the shoes the less energy it takes to rotate them round with every pedal stroke. While lighter shoes are more efficient there comes a point where protection, stiffness and support become compromised. The importance of this varies with different styles of riding though. Trail riders who spend a chunk of their time climbing will value a lighter weight shoe over a totally gravity-focused shredder who prioritises damping and protection.  

3. Retention

Every shoe here besides the Shimano GR9 uses a traditional lace-up design. While more complex fasteners may seem smart it’s hard to beat the simplicity, adjustability and reliability of a solid set of laces. 

4. Protection

Most flat-pedal users tend to be more gravity-focused where speeds are high and impacts are frequent and potentially harsh. Hardened toe boxes and heel cups are essential for protection against rock strikes and trail detritus. The sole also needs to be able to absorb the feedback and hard impacts associated with ripping down the toughest trails.

5. Damping

Damping is essentially a property of a material or moving component that restrains or stops movement in a controlled manner, often measured in curves. For example, most mountain bike suspension forks have damping adjustment, adding more damping such as rebound damping slows down the spring oscillation and offers greater control. No rebound damping would mean your forks behave like a pogo stick but having rebound damping will change the way the fork reacts. While the soles of flat pedal shoes don’t have adjustable dials, the rubber used needs to be carefully chosen and tuned to soak up heavy impacts and vibrations from the trail. A sole with good damping properties will reduce fatigue on longer rides and translate heavy hits from rough trails into a dull and calm feeling through your feet.