The best clipless mountain bike shoes will be different for each rider, depending primarily on fit, riding style, and of course budget. Whether you’re a cross-country racer looking for the lightest and stiffest shoes available, or an enduro shredder seeking protection and style, finding the right clipless mountain bike shoe requires some research.
If you’re new to riding with clipless mountain bike shoes, know that the benefits far outweigh any pitfalls. (But there is a learning curve.) When you are clipped in power transfer is efficient during the entire pedal stroke, allowing you to consistently apply force without wasting energy.
The best clipless mountain bike shoes (and the accompanying clipless pedals) also provide increased stability, providing more overall control over the bike. And since clipless mountain bike shoes essentially make you one with the bike, the rider has enhanced maneuverability. Clipless mountain bike shoes and pedals also help keep your feet spinning a consistent pedaling track, maintaining knee angle and fit. You also don’t have to fumble around and lose energy and time with foot slippage and/or mangled shins.
What to look for
Finding the right clipless mountain bike shoes means wading through a sea of cross-country race, enduro, and downhill-style options in order to find the right fit, style, and sole stiffness. Start by looking for a shoe that meshes with your general ambitions. Though a stiffer and lighter cross-country race shoe will offer better-pedaling efficiency, they can be uncomfortable on all day rides and typically don’t provide significant protection from rock strikes.
Conversely, an enduro-style shoe may look good and provide lots of toe and forefoot protection. But if your goal is max XC race efficiency, it’s likely the sole will not be stiff enough to meet your needs. And if you’re just looking to head out on an extended bikepacking trip, comfort and walking traction are likely the most important factors, as you’ll want clipless mountain bike shoes with deep tread and a flexible sole for hike-a-bike sections.
With all that in mind, here are five of Mtbr’s favorite clipless mountain bike shoes that cover the full range of riding styles. Just remember that the right answer will likely be different for most cyclists, though quality construction and durability are essential no matter which clipless mountain bike shoes you choose.
The Shimano ME7 combines low weight and pedaling efficiency in a shoe with good durability, grip, and protection. Reinforced armor provides excellent defense against rock strikes, plus impressive durability. And the stretch neoprene ankle collar offers additional protection from trail debris. The speed lacing system adapts to a wide range of foot shapes with a secure fit and super low-profile. Reverse mount buckle securely hold the foot in place, while the Michelin dual-density rubber outsole offers superior traction and is very durable.
- Bombproof construction
- Great fit
- Comfortable when walking
- Flexible sole
- Some won’t like look
Pearl Izumi X-ALP Launch
Style and substance are seamlessly blended in the Pearl Izumi X-ALP Launch SPD-compatible clipless mountain bike shoes. A ¾ length composite shank adds stiffness where you need it beneath your cleat, while at the same time allowing your toes to flex for enhanced comfort when off the bike. Other top line features include a bonded seamless upper, reinforced toe cap for added protection, and a traditional lace closure for a precise fit and all-day comfort. The EVA midsole provides excellent shock absorption for hard landings, and open, chevron shaped lugs with Vibram Megagrip compound in toe and heel areas provide long lasting traction in a variety of conditions.
- Comfortable fit
- Great looks
- Half sizes from 39.5 to 46.5
- Solid toe and heel protection
- Reasonably priced at $160
- Lace-up slower than Boa closures
Specialized S-Works 6 XC
These full throttle XC racers weigh just 270 grams per shoe and are very stiff. The Specialized S-Works 6 XC borrows traits from the road version of the S-Works 6, delivering a comfortable fit and maximum power transfer. No wonder they are a favorite among World Cup and cyclocross racers. Just know that some may find the fit narrow in the toe box.
- Low weight
- Stiff carbon sole
- Pliable rubber lugs for running and walking
- Expensive at $400
- Narrow fit in toe box
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
More info: www.specialized.com
Giro Empire VR90
The Giro Empire VR90 has set the bar for lace-up high-performance off-road shoes. Highlights include a lightweight one-piece upper, Easton EC90 full carbon outsole, and molded Vibram rubber tread for grip. A breathable Evofiber synthetic upper enhances fit and will not stretch out with wear or weather. We also love the adjustable SuperNatural Fit footbed that allows the rider to fine-tune fit and arch support, maximizing pedaling efficiency. The Giro Empire VR90 also comes in a host of fun colors.
- Various color options to fit different styles and kits
- Lace-up closure gives delivers great fit
- Low weight
- Time to take off compared to Boa-equipped shoes
- Expensive at $300
The Shimano XC5 is a versatile lace-up mountain bike shoe designed for cross-country, cyclocross, gravel, or even urban commuting. A durable synthetic leather upper delivers breathability and abrasion resistance, while the lightweight carbon sole are plenty stiff for optimal power transfer. Michelin high-traction rubber tread maintains traction and sheds mud. The lace-up closure provides a reliable, customizable fit that’s reinforced with a mini power-strap for added security and additional comfort-enhancing support.
- Reasonable price at $150
- Walkable and runnable
- Commuter friendly
- Very comfortable
- Lace-up style is not for everyone
- Not available in half sizes
Rating: 4 out of 5
More info: bike.shimano.com
Agree with our choices? Disagree? Let us know your favorite clipless mountain bike shoes in the comments section below.