The question asked by anyone who exclusively rides clip-in pedals, is how do your feet stay on if they’re not mechanically attached to the bike? The answer doesn’t involve witchcraft or mind control, it’s merely a combination of a right platform pedal, and a grippy shoe united, crucially, by the correct technique.
Flat pedal shoes come in all shapes and sizes and an array of different rubber compounds. Top of the heap for the last two years has been the Five Ten Freerider Pro. It uses Five Ten’s excellent Stealth rubber, which is super-grippy and reasonably hard-wearing– you can often get a can often age 18-months out of a pair. So rubber is essential, but the tread pattern and flexibility also plays a vital role in enhancing grip. Malleability matters, because when you’re riding rough tracks, your feet will start to bounce off the pedals, and a flexible sole allows you to absorb the impacts.
The downside of a flexible shoe is that it’s less pedal efficient. So getting the balance is key to a great shoe, and the Freerider Pro has got this spot on from day one. But new contenders hit the market regularly, and since our last group test, a whole host of new challengers have popped up boasting soft compounds and unbeatable grip. Time to put those claims to the test.
Best Flat Pedal Shoes
Take a quick look at below given comparison table, for what are the best flat pedal shoes in 2020.
Best MTB Shoes for Flat Pedals
Read out the below given detailed reviews of the best mtb shoes for flat pedals in 2020.
- Weight: 780g
- Sizes: 39-46
The Freerider Pro has been our test-winning flat pedal shoe for the last few years. It splits the difference between the basic, thinner soled Freerider.
There’s plenty of flex in the sole to stop it from getting bounced off, and it’s also wider than most. The Stealth rubber is a cut above anything else and was the only one that measured close to 50a. This rubber is also slow-rebound, so you feel more stable on the pedal, even in the wet, which makes it best shoes for flat pedals road bike.
The upper is synthetic leather, but this isn’t as hard-wearing as some and starts to cut up and peel apart with use. We’ve also seen the mesh covering the padding on the heel tear up badly on several of our samples. This area also soaks up water like a sponge and takes an age to dry out, but on the flip-side, the deep pocket feels snug and offers excellent Achilles support.
Abrasion-resistant scuff guards are placed front and rear. There’s no lace lock, and the stock laces might be made of cheese for the length of time they last.
Switching between all the test shoes, we could only notice subtle differences, but bung on the Freeider Pros and it’s like a slap in the face.
The Freerider Pro isn’t the cheapest shoe, the lightest or the best off the bike, but it has excellent impact absorption and is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of grip.
For an extra $25 over the base model, the Pro’s additional features make it well worth the money, and if you ride flats, it should be top of your list. Much as we hate sounding like a broken record, the Freerider Pro is the best shoe.
- Weight: 869g
- Sizes: 41-48
Like the Bontrager Flatline, the sole on the Riddance is made using Vibram’s Megagrip rubber compound. Giro claims this all-new rubber combines best-in-class vibration damping with pedal-sticking power, but we measured it and got identical 70a rubber.
This is not particularly tacky, but the Riddance has a less grip overall than the Bonty due to the shoe being way stiffer and nearly 200g heavier. The stiff sole is suitable for pedaling, but when it’s choppy, your feet do bounce around a fair bit more on the pedal platform.
With its skate shoe styling, we thought the Riddance would at least have a wider sole, but it’s one of the slimmest shoes on the test, measuring under 10cm across the widest point of the sole. This makes the shoe tighter, and it’s particularly cramped at the front, causing pinching in the toe area, even with loose laces.
For an additional $20, Giro offers a mid version of the Riddance, but the base model still has plenty of padding around the ankle for added support. It has a synthetic mesh covering this padding, and, unlike the Freerider Pro, this has yet to show any signs of wear.
Unlike some shoes on a test, we never struggled to get into the Riddance, but once there, it’s just not that comfortable. The construction is solid and hardwearing, but the Riddance lacks any feel, which makes the Vibram rubber seem harder than it is. The build quality is top-notch, the price is right, and we think it looks great, but to score higher, Giro needs to either soften the rubber or the sole or maybe both.
- Weight: 814g
- Sizes: 38-46
Since we tested the Raid II precisely a year ago, only one thing has changed. But it’s one of the best ideas – the price. This shoe is now $50 cheaper yet still uses the same simple one-piece upper with an in-house sticky rubber sole.
We measured the rubber density at around 65a, which is pretty close to the Five Ten Freerider Pro, but the Raid II doesn’t feel as grippy, and that’s because there’s less flexibility in the shoe.
This means you can’t wrap your foot around the pedal platform as quickly, and we also found it comes unstuck when bombing rocky or rugged sections of trail. The extra stiffness does boost power transfer and efficiency, but when you factor in the unforgiving upper, overall, there is a lot less feel with the Raid II than other shoes in this test.
We remarked on the fit of the Raid II a year ago, and it still comes up quite narrow. It has the slimmest sole on test across the mid-point and also tapers down at the heel. Crank and frame rub are kept to a minimum, but it did feel like we were wearing a shoe half a size too small.
Despite the lower price, Raid II is excellent quality and gets good arch support, a foot-hugging heel cup, and heavy-duty toe and heel bumpers. The tread offers excellent off-the-bike traction, and when you combine that with the seamless construction and lack of mesh, it’s a great shoe for winter mud plugging.
At under $100, the Raid II is also great value and uses a rubber sole that is softer than most but to make the most of it. Ion needs to build a bit of extra space into the shoe body and pair back some of the stiffness.
- Weight: 880g
- Sizes: 38-47
Like most manufacturers, Leatt claims its new DBX 3.0 flat pedal shoe has a soft rubber sole that is also wear and tear-resistant. Leatt calls this super-sticky rubber RideGrip Compound, and although we can’t measure its rebound properties, we can measure the durometer, and at around 70a, it’s nothing special.
The compound is only half the story though, and companies can claw back some performance by building give into the sole. The Leatt is OK, but doesn’t feel as nicely sprung as the Specialized or Bontrager shoes. The sole is stiff and efficient, but it’s just a little bit wooden.
Leatt has gone to town on the features. The whole front toe area of the DBX 3.0 is reinforced and there’s also a substantial heel bumper. The inside ankle area is extended to protect against ring and crank wear, the eyelets are oval-shaped to keep the laces in line and they’re also reinforced. The upper is a water-resistant synthetic leather and the shoe gets a low-profile padded tongue, which is also water resistant.
This is a bulky shoe with lots of padding at the ankle but it’s not that comfortable and it also features a pretty narrow sole – it’s one of the narrowest at the pedal. This reduces the size of the contact patch, but also makes the shoe feel a little less planted. The waffle tread does interface with the pedal pins really well, but it just doesn’t feel as surefooted as the Specialized or Five Tens.
The Leatt DBX 3.0 has a unique aesthetic and is feature-rich, but the soft rubber sole isn’t that soft compared to our test winners. While we appreciate the wear rate, we’d definitely trade durability for grip every day of the week.
- Weight: 819g
- Sizes: 39-46
The Hellion uses Ride Concepts’s DST 6.0 High Grip rubber outsole, which is made using the mid-density from the company’s Rubber Kinetics range. We measured the durometer (softness) at around 71a, which is on a par with the Vibram Megagrip featured on the Bontrager and Giro shoes.
It doesn’t have the rebound characteristics of the Five Ten Stealth rubber, but you only really notice a loss of grip when charging hard in a technical section. One of the reasons the Hellion is a step above is that it’s a little wider, so there’s more shoe on the pedal for a given size.
Build quality is excellent – the shoe has anti-abrasion toe and heel protection, a two-panel synthetic upper with an anti-peel coating and a fully gusseted tongue to stop dirt and debris getting inside.
There’s also a D3O High Impact Zone insole, which means there are two patches of this self-hardening D30 material over the heel and ball of the foot area. Compared to the wafer-thin insoles you get in some flat shoes, this provides extra cushioning and really adds to the overall feeling of solidity.
We have a few criticisms – the padding in the heel cup also sits a little bit too low, which causes it to bunch up when you put the shoe on. We often had to take the boot off again when this happened, but on some test shoes, this area has deformed permanently.
Our sample shoe has also shrunk after repeated washing and now feels a half-size smaller. Not that it’s on the large side, so it may be worth going up a half-size to mitigate the issue with the heel.
- Weight: 848g
- Sizes: 40-48
The GR7 has been tweaked slightly since we last tested. It still gets the Michelin-made rubber outsole, but it seems to be roomier in the body, so it doesn’t feel as cramped or restrictive.
The sole is still dual compound – hard at the front and back, soft in the middle – but we measured it at around 70a at the center tread and about 90a at the toe and heel. The shoe has a nice amount of flex, but it is the least stable on the test, and we struggled to keep our feet grounded when riding steep, rough trails.
With a wide-body, there’s loads of room in the GR7. There’s the right amount of padding, and the mid-sole is way better quality and more supportive than previous versions. The only downside of the wide heel is that we noticed a bit more crank and stay rub riding in this shoe.
The lattice work on the tread has a nice amount of mechanical grip, with more open sections at the front and back for off-the-bike scrambling. The upper is well sealed and protected, so it works great in the wet. However, slippery conditions don’t do this shoe any favors, and it skates around when there’s mud on the center part of the sole.
There are some nice details on the GR7 – heavy-duty bumpers on the toe and heel offer great protection, the lace quality is excellent, and there’s even a handy lace lock on the front to keep them neat and tidy.
We liked the shape and fit of the new GR7, but the grip and stability are not there. The Michelin rubber is way too hard, and while Shimano would argue it wears better, we’d like to see a much softer option.
How We Test
To get an idea of how soft the rubber is on the flat shoes, we used a durometer to measure it. This gives us a ballpark figure for all the shoes before testing them in the field. We then rode them back-to-back on the same tracks comparing how secure and stable each shoe felt on the pedal. At this stage, we also gauged comfort and fit. We then weighed each shoe and measured the sole thickness using a pair of digital calipers. We also did a bit of flex testing on each shoe to check relative stiffness.
Things To Know
AKA the insole. This should be supportive and stable, and any extra features like D3O impact zones or Body Geometry ergonomic shaping are a bonus.
A shoe is like a Tyre – it has a contact patch, so the wider the shoe for a given size, the more grip and traction it creates, and the more stable it’ll feel on the pedal platform.
Laces Or Straps
Most flat shoes have laces because you’re not going to clip in, and you don’t pull up on the pedal as you do with an SPD because your foot comes off. Some flat shoes feature additional straps to add stability and act as a cover for the laces.
This is usually an elastic loop that you can tuck the laces into on the front of the shoe. It stops them from getting caught in the crank arms or the chainring.
These are usually reinforced rubber sections on the toe and heel to stop abrasion and protect your feet from rock strikes and damage.
In terms of grip, the softer, the better, but many manufacturers are paranoid about accelerated wear and priorities durability override security. But we’d rather have a shoe that offered the best grip and replace it more often than put up with one that reduced our confidence and diminished our ride experience.
Soft-compound rubber with slow rebound properties is essential to making a good flat pedal shoe. One of the things worth noting about rubber is it does soften as it wears, so the grip levels when a shoe is new can be different a few months down the line when it’s scrubbed in.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding the pattern on the sole. Some companies use a waffle, others just a Tyre inspired design and, on some, it’s just some smooth flat rubber. It is important to have a more open traction section on the toe and heel for extra grip when scrambling up and down steep terrain.
There are some riders and testers that believe a slightly harder rubber sole is good because it allows you to reposition your foot if you happened to place it awkwardly. We don’t think it’s worth compromising on gripping, and a sticky sole will help you stay on the pedal if you’re foot is not quite perfectly placed. However, if you want a shoe with ha.rder rubber and better wear characteristics, there’s no shortage of choice.
The longest-lasting shoe in this test has to be the Shimano GR7. Despite the sole being dual-compound, it has the hardest rubber; there’s just two lots of it. The fit and comfort are unbelievable, quality is up there too, and if you don’t mind your feet dancing around on the pedal, this is the shoe to get.
Several shoes are not as hard as the Shimano, but they’re pretty close when it comes to durability. The Bontrager Flatline is a top-quality, lightweight shoe that’s a little narrow – so it’s worth getting a try before you buy – but it’s up there on the hard-wearing scale.
The Leatt DBX 3.0, Ride Concepts Hellion, and Giro Riddance all occupy the middle ground – they’re not as hard as the two shoes mentioned previously, but they’re not as soft as our test winner. Why buy one over another? There are several factors – price, aesthetics, and fit. Of the three shoes, the Giro is the most comfortable, the Leatt is the cheapest, and the Ride Concepts looks the best, but that’s just our personal opinion.
The Ion Raid II has the second softest rubber on the test, but it’s not the runner-up, and that’s because it’s incredibly narrow, which makes it feel a little parched and less stable on the pedal. The one-piece upper is an excellent touch winter flat pedal shoes, and the shoe is cracking value too. But the Specialized 2FO Flat 2.0 beats it into second place. This shoe also feels a little parched, but that’s because it’s pretty tall, so your foot is a little bit further away from the pedal axle. It has a top-notch construction and comfortable insole, but you do pay a premium for this shoe.
All these flat shoes are good, but none can hold a candle to the Freerider Pro.
This shoe has the most grip and feels the most secure when riding hard in technical terrain or when getting your wheels off the ground. It’s not the cheapest, and the quality isn’t quite as good as some, but to wax lyrical a little more, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. That is a cliché, but if you’re going to ride flats on your trail bike, the Freerider Pro is the best shoe out there, and easily deserves top honors.