Flaws But Not Dealbreakers
The main issueechoed in a number of Amazon customer reviewsis that the Multi Air Flex seems to fit smaller than expected. This could be a design issue, or it could be the result of Garneaus US-to-European size conversions being off. Going by the size chart, I chose a pair in size 39, though for some other shoes I tested, I ended up going with a size 40. The Garneau size-39 shoes did indeed fit shorter than most of the other shoes in size 40, though they werent so small that I thought I should exchange them. That said, if you order online, you should probably order a size larger than the chart indicates. Also, although walking around in the Garneau shoes felt less awkward than in some of the other shoes I tried, I could feel some pressure from the rails underfoot, so dont plan to walk long distances in them.
Walking And Hiking Comfort
We touched on this in the stiffness and outsole sections above, but walkability is a very important feature for some riders. Ambitious backcountry trips or bikepacking adventures can often involve lengthy climbs, which means you need your bike shoes to play two rolesone as a capable and efficient biker, and the other as a grippy and decently comfortable hiker. The best hiking shoe often is not that great for bikingmoderate flexibility is good for walking but bad for power transferso we look for hybrid designs that are adept at both. The Five Ten Freerider is a very comfortable shoe off the bike , and leading clipless designs include Shimano’s SH-ME5 and SH-ME7 and Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Summit.
I See The Boa Button On Some Pearl Izumi Shoes What Is It
The BOA strap system is found on many higher-end cycling shoes, especially in the road and gravel categories. It allows you to do a very quick tighten of your shoe without having to mess with any laces. It also allows for a few quick release when you want to remove the shoe.
Which each click the shoe becomes a little tighter, so you are able to get just the right tension on your foot. We see this system on many of our favorite bike shoes. We have personally used the system for years and love it. You are going to find it on the X-Alp, Attack, and Pro-Road PI models, among others.
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Our Pick: Louis Garneau Multi Air Flex
The Louis Garneau Multi Air Flex met all our criteria better than the other shoes we tested. With lots of ventilating mesh, these shoes topped our test for breathability, an important attribute for indoor cycling, where you dont have wind resistance to keep your feet cool. The rail-like lugs run nearly the entire length of the soles and are more level than those of some MTB shoes, which slant somewhat steeply from the toe down to the heel. The three Velcro straps cinch over a nicely plush tongue and hug the foot cozily, while the padded heel collar locks the rear of the foot in place, with no up-and-down slippage while youre pedaling. As the name suggests, these Garneau shoes did feel more flexible than other shoes I tested, but not so much that they didnt provide a solid pedal stroke. In fact, in my estimation, their flexing just made them feel more comfortable. And Im not alone in recommending the Louis Garneau Multi Air Flex for indoor cycling: Shoppers on and the Dicks Sporting Goods site rave about these shoes comfort and style.
The Multi Air Flex comes in a womens version with four color options and in a mens version with three color options. Larger- or wider-footed women and smaller- or narrower-footed men, respectively, may be able to choose shoes across the genders.
Comfort And Arch Support
We noticed that out of the box comfort was high with this shoe right away. The Alp-X Flow has a street shoe feel with plenty of flexibility throughout the upper and the sole flexes easily for a natural walking gait. The shoes have a less beefy feel than several other models of mountain bike flat shoes in our test lineup, with thinner upper materials, and less padding and reinforced areas. The softer uppers easily take on the shape of your foot with the traditional lacing, which also has a welcomed lace keeper loop. This shoe also features less arch support than several other flat shoes and has more of a skate shoe feel even with the removable insole. Like most flat shoes, these sport an EVA midsole for added support. On the bike comfort is good for shorter and less intensive riding but the lighter overall construction becomes more noticeable when you’re out for longer or more technical riding. For an everyday cruiser shoe, especially for less aggressive conditions, the Alp-X Flows is worth a look.
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Who This Is For
Indoor cyclingoften referred to as Spinning, the trademarked brand of the company that popularized the exerciseis having a moment, if the proliferation of boutique cycling studios across the country is any indication. For footwear, many indoor cyclists use their own sneakers, strapped into toe cages affixed to the bike pedals. Those who go to such boutique studios as SoulCycle, Flywheel, or CycleBar can rent or borrow proprietary shoes with plastic cleats screwed onto the soles that click into the pedals. But for anyone who rides indoors regularly, investing in your own pair of dedicated cycling shoes can offer benefits in spades. For the sneaker wearer, switching to shoes with cleats that attach to the pedals yields a much better workout because your pedal stroke, both down and up, becomes significantly more efficient. And for the studio cyclist in the second scenario, having your own footwear eliminates the ick factor of shoving your feet into shoeshowever disinfectant-sprayed they may bewhere many, many other sweaty feet have gone before.
Further, having your own shoes with your own cleats aligned in the right spot under the ball of your foot is much better for your body mechanicsit reduces the risk of injury to your hips and knees, which can happen with overuse if your alignment is off.
Pearl Izumi Cycling Shoes
I started my cycling journey on a very tight budget, so my first pair of road cycling shoes were a discounted and discontinued model of Pearl Izumi Mountain Bike shoes. And to this day, they are still my go-to shoe for gravel, CX, bad weather riding, and bikepacking. So I was excited to see how Pearl Izumi has revamped some of their classic cycling shoes to be both technologically and stylishly on-trend for this year.
Pearl Izumi makes some of our favorite cycling gear, from bike shorts to jerseys, so we trust their quality. Lets take a look at Pearl Izumis cycling-specific shoes, including the best from their roster of high-end road shoes, mid-range road shoes, mountain bike shoes, and gravel shoes.
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Mountain Bike Shoe Categories
Cross-Country Shoes intended for cross-country riding put a high priority on covering ground as easily as possible. These designs often are lightweight, stiff underfoot, and offer a snug fit for maximizing connection to the pedal. Additionally, they almost exclusively are made with a clipless design . Compromises include less foot protection than the trail and downhill categories, and the stiff constructions arent very comfortable for walking. But for piling on miles as efficiently as possible, a XC shoe is a great choice. Leading models in this category include the Sidi Dominator, Giro Empire VR90, and Specializeds race-ready S-Works Recon.
TrailFor a versatile shoe thats comfortable on climbs but offers good protection for descents, choose a trail-ready model. Options in this popular category are more flexible and have better traction than a XC build, but still are reasonably stiff for good pedal power. In addition, you get more protection all around the foot compared with a XC shoe, including marginally better shock absorption underfoot. Design-wise, you have your choice between clipless and flat pedals. Far and away, the most popular flat pedal all-mountain choice is Five Tens Freerider line, while top clipless options include the Shimano SH-ME5 and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Summit.
Rigidity And Power Transfer
Along with the lighter overall construction, the shoe’s rigidity and overall energy transfer to the pedals is also on the lighter side. That’s not to say the shoe feels like a standard running shoe, but that when compared to other flat pedal shoes, the shoes have noticeably more flex and give. For easier riding we didn’t really notice the flexible feel as much, but for harder efforts like short and steep sections of trail we definitely felt the shoes bending and flexing. On a side note, our lead tester found the added flexibility of the Alp-X Flow allowed for enough grip to safely ride some blue-rated trails on his cyclocross/gravel bike! If your riding takes you into more demanding environments, you may want to take a look at some of the beefier shoes in our lineup.
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Best Flat Pedal Mountain Bike Shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 11.6 oz.What we like: Proven design with very sticky rubber.What we dont: Not the most durable and less efficient than a clipless shoe.
Combining legendary grip and a comfortable interior, Five Tens Freerider is a long-time favorite. The shoes main calling card is its sticky Stealth S1 rubber and dotty tread pattern, which provide a reliable and secure connection to your pedals for everything from long uphill grinds to popping off jumps and navigating technical features. In addition, the shoes midsole strikes a nice balance of stiffness to avoid hotspots while retaining enough flexibility and traction on rock for the occasional hike-a-bike . Finally, the reinforced toe box and thick upper material offer decent protection and give the shoe its signature look.
Like all platform shoes, one of the downsides of the Five Ten Freerider is that you lose some efficiency and power by not being connected to the pedals. Additionally, the Freeriders soft rubber has a reputation for breaking down fairly quickly, and high-mileage users will find they need to replace their shoes annually . But the shorter lifespan is a fair tradeoff for the fantastic grip the shoe offers, and theres simply nothing else on the market that can match the Freeriders all-around abilities for the price. And for a lighter and more protective variation of the shoe, check out the Freerider Pro below.
Winter Mountain Bike Shoes
Feet and toes are ruthlessly exposed to the elements while riding and very liable to numb out in the colder months, but this is where a winter-specific shoe can be a big help. Look for shoes with a waterproof liner to keep your feet dry and warm , a sealed cleat bed to keep water out while splashing through puddles , and a glove-friendly or simple closure system. Five Ten’s Trailcross GTX, with a high neoprene cuff and Gore-Tex liner, does a great job of incorporating all these features into a streamlined and relatively lightweight package. While such a shoe is not recommended for year-round use, it can be a solid investment for dedicated cyclists. And take note: if your winter months are especially brutal, it can be a good idea to size up a half to full size to make room for thick socks.
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The Best Shoes For Indoor Cycling
Louis Garneau replaced our pick, the mens and womens Multi Air Flex, with the mens and womens Multi Air Flex II.
Pearl Izumi replaced our runner-up pick, the mens and womens All-Road v4s, with the mens and womens All-Road v5s.
After a dozen hours of research, we learned that indoor cycling shoes arent really a thing yetand that surprised us, since having your own shoes with cleats aligned for your body mechanics can go a long way toward reducing hip and knee injury. So we took a dozen indoor cycling classes and conducted multiple interviews with experts and laypeople alike, and we concluded that the Louis Garneau Multi Air Flex cycling shoes are the best shoes for most people to use in spin classes. Theyre breathable and comfortable, and theyre both efficient on the bike and safe to walk in.
This well-vented Garneau pair fits snugly yet comfortably, transfers power to the pedal well, and is safe to walk in.
These shoes are the same as the womens model, in mens sizes.
Secure and sturdy, these Pearl Izumi shoes fit snugly for powerful pedaling but may be too tight for wider feet.
May be out of stock
*At the time of publishing, the price was $63.
These shoes are the same design as the womens model, in mens sizes.
May be out of stock
*At the time of publishing, the price was $82.
Our Analysis And Test Results
Pearl Izumi gave the longstanding X-ALP Launch a facelift in 2020. The redesigned version we tested isn’t a huge departure from the old model, but a few key updates and a style makeover put it on par with the best trail riding shoes we’ve tested. Now featuring an easy-to-use Boa closure system, a reinforced toe box, and a durable upper in a walkable package, the X-Alp Launch is one of the most versatile models we tested, and it doesn’t look out of place at the coffee shop.
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Why You Should Trust Us
This isnt my first foray into writing about cycling for Wirecutter: Ive reviewed the Peloton indoor cycle as well as folding bicycles for commuters. Im also a New York Citybased certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor . However, as Im not a certified indoor-cycling instructor, for this guide I polled a Facebook group of people who are, asking those instructors to describe the types of shoes they saw participants use and to share the brands and models of shoes they recommended.
I also interviewed:
- Jennifer Sage, president and founder of the Indoor Cycling Association and a coach, personal trainer, and mountain biker based in Vail, Colorado, who has been an indoor-cycling instructor since 1996
- Josh Taylor, global senior advisor and master instructor for Spinning, the original indoor-cycling company, and a former pro bike racer
In addition, I read a slew of articles on cycling shoes, and indoor-cycling shoes in particular, from the websites of Cycling Weekly, REI, Spinning, ClassPass, and Calories Burned HQ.
Pearl Izumi Gravel Cycling Shoes
Last but far from least is the gravel category in Pearl Izumi. Gravel biking has become really popular as of late, and cyclists are finding that slightly modified gear is ideal. A gravel shoe gives you
Mountain and gravel shoes often have recessed cleats, which many riders prefer.
the best of both worlds, and if you can only pick one pair, this would be the category to choose from. Gravel shoes are lightweight and stiff like road shoes, but still have a bit of grip to navigate tricky hike-a-bike sections. They may offer less foot protection than mountain bike shoes but still have plenty of breathability for those sweaty hill climbs. Naturally, they are created to work with SPD/2 bolt cleat systems.
When gravel riding, it is pretty easy to find yourself on a singletrack trail or Jeep road, and in those cases you are much better off with a nimble shoe that more resembles a mountain bike shoe than you are with a road cycling shoe that is hard to quickly unclip from.
Pearl Izumi offers two specifically gravel shoes alongside a variety of all-road and flat shoes. However, one specific shoe stands out above the others, the X-Alp Gravel Shoe.
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Do I Need Mountain Bike Shoes
The simple truth is that for casual riding with flat pedals, you dont necessarily need to purchase biking-specific shoes. Many people start out with a pair of cross trainers, skate shoes, or running footwear, and those will do the trick for a while. But as you progress, the benefits of one of the options above become clear. Mountain bike shoes offer far better power transfer, foot protection , andmost importantly for flat pedal usegrip. And if youll be jumping on a bike with clipless pedals, then youll need a compatible shoe right off the bat.
Foot And Toe Protection
Mountain biking is a rough sport, and moving quickly over technical trails demands a lot from your footwear. Nearly all shoes include a toe cap to take the sting out of a rock strike, but there are notable differences between shoe categories . Cross-country riding prioritizes weight and power transfer over all-out protection, so theyre usually the thinnest along the sides and top of the foot. Trail shoes have more cushioning for taking falls, and downhill/freeride designs are the burliest.
An additional consideration is protection underfoot. Shoes with thin mid and outsoles may not provide enough in the way shock absorption, which can become painful over lengthy sections of rocky and rooty trail. Again, trail and downhill shoes provide the highest levels of comfort in these cases. A design like the Five Ten Hellcat Pro does an impressive job keeping your feet isolated and safe.
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Pedal Compatibility: Clipless Vs Flat
Clipless ShoesOne of the first steps in narrowing down your mountain bike shoe search is determining pedal compatibility. Starting with clipless designs, these shoes allow you to connect or clip directly into the pedal with a metal cleat . The big upside of being connected is its easier to put the power down and pedal efficiently. This makes clipless a popular choice for longer rides and XC use. It also can be comforting to not have to worry about foot slippage while hitting jumps or riding through semi-technical terrain. That said, it takes some time to get comfortable with being clipped in and build up the muscle memory to kick the heel out to disconnect. And even once its second nature, you still wont be able to get your foot off the pedal as quickly as with a flat pedal option. As such, clipless shoes arent as popular among beginner ridersunless theyre coming from a road riding backgroundand fewer folks use them at the bike park or on very rough downhill trails.