How to Choose Mountain Bike Shoes for Grip and Comfort

Choosing the right mountain bike shoes is a crucial decision for any rider, whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out. The right pair of shoes can significantly enhance your riding experience, offering improved grip, comfort, and power transfer, which are essential for tackling challenging terrains and long rides. 

In mountain biking, where every pedal stroke and point of contact matters, having the right footwear can make a substantial difference in your performance and enjoyment of the sport.

Recognizing the importance of expert advice in this area, we're thrilled to collaborate with Crank Brothers, renowned specialists in the world of cycling pedals and shoes. This collaboration brings together our deep understanding of mountain biking accessories at All Mountain Style with Crank Brothers' extensive knowledge of pedal and shoe dynamics. Together, we aim to guide you through the nuances of selecting the perfect mountain bike shoes, ensuring your next ride is more comfortable, efficient, and enjoyable than ever.

Let’s go then

Shoes are very important in mtb riding

Understanding Different Types of Mountain Bike Shoes:

Crankbrothers presents a range of mountain bike shoes catering to distinct preferences - one for flat pedal enthusiasts and another for those inclined towards clipless pedals.

Clipless Pedals and Shoes:

Delving into the clipless system, it involves connecting your shoe to the pedal through a cleat screwed into the sole. This system demands pressing your foot on the pedal to clip in and a foot rotation for clipping out. While beginners often commence with flat pedals, many transition to clipless, reaping benefits such as secure connections during descents, enhanced power transfer, and consistent foot placement. Clip-in pedals are commonly favored by XC and Enduro/DH racers. For more details on our Mallet match system, visit here.

Flat Shoes:

Flat shoes, on the other hand, cater to beginners and specific riding styles. A growing trend sees riders starting with and sticking to flat pedals, with some clip-in athletes opting for flats in winter or during pumptrack sessions. Choosing the right flat shoe is crucial for optimal feedback from the bike and terrain, ensuring a secure grip on the pedal. Flat pedals offer a sense of safety, allowing to quickly put down your foot during turns or wet rides and are ideal for learning and improving riding techniques. However, it's essential to note their trade-offs, such as lower riding efficiency compared to clip-in pedals and the potential risk of hitting their sharp pins when losing the pedal in rough terrains. Explore our stamp flat match system here for more insights.

Clipless Versus falt pedal shoe

When I used to ride Enduro, I preferred the flat system as it felt “safer” even knowing the drawbacks. Now that I’m full lycra ;-) riding gravel, it’s 100% clipless. 

By the way, is’t it confusing that clipless refers to the use of clips, instead of the lack of?. Do you also find it confusing?

Key Features to Consider:

Stiffness should be considered for both clipless and flat shoes. The choice of one option or the other may depend on the rider's riding style, disciplines, or experience. The stiffness of a shoe should be considered across the board because it is not only the sole that influences it but also the upper construction and materials chosen.

Clipless: high stiffness means better power transfer and less fatigue during long rides, while lower stiffness may result in a smoother pedal feel. Crankbrothers’ shoes are designed considering a proper balance between power transfer and pedal feel, as well as a good comfort during long rides.

Flat: a soft sole allows for better interaction with the pins of a pedal by determining more grip, but on long rides it can create more foot and muscle fatigue. A sole that is too stiff can negatively affect the interaction between shoe and pedal due to the increased rebound effect created between shoe and pedal (the sole being less deformable/adaptable to the pedal geometry). Crankbrothers’ flat shoes were created to have an optimal match with Crankbrothers pedals but are optimized for all pedals on the market. The stiffness of the sole is balanced to ensure perfect offroad comfort and avoid fatigue on long rides.

In general, clipless and flat shoes differ in that the more integral the clip to the pedal, the more control of the bike you can have.

Closure Systems:

Crankbrothers closure systems currently available are lace, speedlace and strap, and Boa and strap.

The lace is suitable for those who prefer a traditional closure and a more casual style. 

Speedlace + strap are more outdoor derived and the combination of the two systems allows for more stable foot retention over the long term. In these two cases the laces could interfere while pedaling, but Crankbrothers shoes include an elastic pocket to store the laces and make the product more secure. 

Boa + strap make the closure system very technical such that it allows for more precise closure adjustment and more security.

Closure systems by Crank Brothers

Again, very personal here. I like the more casual look of laces. In fact as a sneakerhead, they resemble the shoes we use day to day, but it’s difficult to beat the effectiveness of a boa system: precise and fast adjustment, even while riding. 

Breathability and Comfort:

Breathability and comfort are two key elements for a technical mountain bike shoe. They are important for long rides because they enhance the rider experience, especially in warmer seasons or geographic areas.

The connection between the user and the bike is of paramount importance, and since the contact between foot and pedal is one of the main contact points, optimal comfort ensures greater performance.

The Crankbrothers’ shoes are conceived considering the anatomic foot shape in order to create the perfect fit and a good amount of technical feeling on the pedals.

In general, they are very protective shoes with areas of breathability on lateral and medial side thanks to a technical breathable mesh, designed to ensure an optimal use during all seasons.

I must admit, I face a persistent challenge with keeping my feet warm during winter rides. Despite trying various solutions – including double-layered socks, merino wool socks, and even Gore-Tex socks – I've had no luck in warding off the cold. This winter, I plan to try a different approach. Given that I spend considerable time barefoot, it's possible that my feet have widened, leading to a tighter fit in my shoes, which could be restricting blood circulation. To address this, I'm considering switching to shoes with a more spacious toe box. Ask me in spring. 

Enhancing Performance and Safety:

Choosing the right cleat can help you feel safer and improve the power transfer. 

Crankbrothers clip-in system does not allow to adjust the tension of the spring but gives the possibility of choosing among 4 different types of cleats, with different release angles and float. We offer easy release cleats that make it easier to unclip and standard release cleats recommended for intermediate or advanced riders. 

Let’s explain better the terms:

Release: the degree of rotation required for the cleat to release from the pedal.

Float: the degree of free movement allowed by the cleat when clipped into the pedal. (*XC racers tend to prefer the efficiency and power transfer of 0° float cleats, while more gravity oriented riders, or those with any type of joint or knee problems tend to prefer the mobility of 6° float cleats).

Every MTB clip-in system will work only with the corresponding cleats: shimano pedals for example won’t work with Crankbrothers cleats and vice-versa. 

Crank Brothers cleat range

Ankle Support:

Perhaps we should talk about protection of the ankle, or rather the malleolus, which might bump into the crank in the case of an aggressive riding style. 

Real protection can be had with a true mid-top shoe, but this obviously detracts from the aesthetics, which will be less essential. At the moment in Crankbrothers we preferred to follow a very skate-oriented style that is well associated with our DNA and we went to improve other aspects of the shoe so as to improve the user experience towards the product.

Well-designed performance shoes represent the combination of several factors A design that can offer more support can be conceived at various levels in the shoe and may involve:

  • in-depth study of the foot shape, thus the internal volume of the shoe
  • the sole unit and insole consciously designed, using specific compound hardnesses
  • upper materials and construction to offer stability as well as comfort
  • effective closure system like the combination of Boa and strap

Shoe Tread:

Tread pattern is a key aspect of grip, but it must be designed according to the characteristics of the compound. In fact, the two go hand in hand, and several elements must be taken into account: pedal geometry, differentiated sole areas (on and off the bike), and the geometry of individual tread elements designed to function effectively under pin stress.

An incorrect combination of these elements can make a grade difference in shoe performance (both flat and clipless). Crankbrothers soles are designed to work best with two different compounds:

  • Flat, softer with low rebound and excellent abrasion resistance
  • Clipless, slightly stiffer, cleat zone designed to work with any clipless system (Match shoe shim), tread designed to allow optimal engagement and release.

The soles of Crankbrothers shoes are designed for different uses: more aggressive tread in the case of the Mallet E for which more walking fractions are provided, completely flat sole in the case of the Street Fabio whose use is purely urban.

Finding the Right Fit:

Crankbrothers shoes are unisex and the correct fit can be found by measuring the maximum length of the foot (sometimes the two feet have different measurements, so we recommend taking the longer one as a reference). By leaning the heel against the wall and calculating longest toe, which is not always the big toe) the correct size fit can be found. For those who are aware of having a wide foot or for those who prefer to have a more comfortable fit, it is recommended to choose half a size up.

A very important aspect is to use the shoes with technical bike socks because a thicker sock results in a different fit as well as a tighter fit of the shoe.

This is where I think I have a problem during winter. The use of thicker (or even double) socks, limits foot space, which compromises blood circulation, which … freezes my feet during winter. I’ll try that


Selecting the right mountain bike shoes is a game-changer, shaping your riding experience.

Crank Brothers, renowned experts in cycling pedals and shoes, offers a diverse range catering to both flat pedal enthusiasts and clipless system riders. Clipless pedals ensure a secure connection, optimal power transfer, and consistency during descents. Meanwhile, flat shoes provide a sense of safety, quick foot placement, and an excellent platform for learning and refining riding techniques.

The meticulous design of Crank Brothers shoes offer the optimal interface with your pedal ensuring the right amount of protection and breathability. Different closure systems are offered for the different preferences,

Enhancements in safety and performance include cleat selection, ankle support considerations, and thoughtful tread patterns. Crank Brothers' clip-in system offers a range of cleats for different preferences, allowing riders to tailor their experience.

An image is worth more than a thousand words, they say. Let’s see if a summary table does the same for you: 

Aspect Clipless Pedals and Shoes Flat Pedals and Shoes
Description A system where shoes connect to pedals via a cleat. Popular among XC and Enduro/DH racers. Shoes designed for beginners or specific styles, offering secure grip and easy foot placement.
Benefits Secure connection, enhanced power transfer, consistent foot placement. Safety, easier foot placement during turns or wet rides, ideal for learning and improving techniques.
Drawbacks May have a learning curve for beginners. Lower riding efficiency, potential risk from sharp pedal pins.
Stiffness High stiffness for better power transfer; balance between power transfer and pedal feel. Softer sole for better grip but can cause foot fatigue on long rides; balance between grip and comfort.
Closure Systems Options include lace, speedlace and strap, Boa and strap. Traditional lace, speedlace and strap, or technical Boa and strap for precise adjustment.
Breathability Designed for optimal comfort and technical feeling on pedals, with protective and breathable construction. Emphasizes comfort and optimal use in all seasons, with areas of breathability.
Performance & Safety Choice of cleats with different release angles and float, tailored to rider's preference. N/A
Ankle Support Consideration for protection and mid-top designs for aggressive riding styles. Skater-oriented style with emphasis on other aspects of the shoe to enhance user experience.
Tread Design Designed for optimal engagement and release with pedals; different compounds for specific uses. Aggressive tread for walking, flat sole for urban use; designed to function effectively under pedal stress.
Fit and Comfort Unisex sizing with recommendations for wide feet or comfortable fit; use with technical bike socks for proper fit. Same as Clipless.
Conclusion Ideal for experienced riders looking for secure connection and efficient power transfer. Suited for beginners or those preferring safety and easy foot placement, with a focus on grip and learning techniques.


I encourage you to invest in the right shoes for your (very) individual needs. As Crank Brothers say: 

Choosing the right mountain bike shoes is not just about style but is a crucial decision that can elevate your riding experience. Right shoes are more than just gear – they are a connection to your bike and the terrain. Crankbrothers' commitment to quality and performance ensures that your next ride will be not only comfortable but optimized for efficiency and enjoyment. Explore the range and gear up for a ride that's as thrilling as it is comfortable. 

About our Collaborator for this blog post: Crank Brothers

As passionate bikers and cyclists, we pride ourselves on our expertise in bike protection. However, when it comes to bike shoes, we acknowledge that it's not our specialty. This realization led us to form a partnership with Crank Brothers, an industry leader in this field. Now, you might be wondering, who exactly are Crank Brothers?

From humble beginnings in a Laguna Beach garage, we've grown into a globally recognized and leading brand of pedals, shoes, wheels, dropper posts, pumps, tools, and accessories.

Tested and proven by world-class athletes, we create products to improve every rider experience.

We engineer mountain bike components that deliver superior function through disruptive design and our design philosophy is simple: start with a clean slate, and finish with a product that makes each ride better than the last.


Carles Carrera

Co-Founder, Product&Marketing

Carles' passion for Enduro MTB ignited the creation of AMS. Nowadays, you're more likely to find him speeding along scenic gravel paths, enjoying the thrill of his gravel bike.