The Best Mountain Bike Shoes

Cross country mountain bike shoes can be jacks of all trades. They are race inspired, but can be equally at home tackling Enduro events, gravel grinds, or even tamer recovery days in the saddle. The best shoe is the one that fits you and your riding style. The individual reviews will give you a good guide and insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each individual shoe. The technology of footwear has advanced a lot in recent years, with carbon soles and high quality BOA dials now ubiquitous on nearly all high end shoes. However, the unique lace up design is making a comeback due to the designs comfort and infinite adjustability. No matter what shoe you use, the most important thing is to enjoy the ride.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Pearl Izumi Men’s X-Project 2.0 MTB
95
Best in Class
2015
Stiffness / Power Tr... 8
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 10
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 10
Stiffness-to-weight 9

Comfortable & functional off-bike use

Excellent dial closure system

Stiff carbon midsole

Barely heavier than most top-of-the-line racing shoes

High-volume fit may be too roomy for most feet

Poor breathability and drainage in toe area

MSRP
$240.00
BEST DEAL
Pearl Izumi X-Project P.R.O.
94
Best in Class
2017
Stiffness/Power 8
Fit/Comfort 10
Closure System 8
Durability 9
Breathability 9

Responsive

Quality BOA system

Comes with inserts to customize fit

Lacks closure option over toe box

Tongue makes putting shoe on awkward

MSRP
$350.00
BEST DEAL
Louis Garneau Copper T-flex
94
Stiffness/Power 8
Fit/Comfort 9
Closure System 8
Durability 9
Breathability 10

Comfortable fit

Responsive

Quality BOA system

No third strap over toe box

Sizes a bit small

MSRP
$350.00
BEST DEAL
Bont Riot MTB+
92
Stiffness/Power 10
Fit/Comfort 7
Closure System 7
Durability 9
Breathability 9

Incredibly stiff

Responsive

Heat moldable

Subpar closure system

Almost too stiff

Sizes large

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Specialized S-Works XC
92
Stiffness/Power 8
Fit/Comfort 10
Closure System 7
Durability 9
Breathability 8

Stiff

Responsive

Comfortable

Customizable fit

No Quick Release BOA

Not overly breathable

MSRP
$400.00
BEST DEAL
Giro Empire VR90
92
Stiffness/Power 7
Fit/Comfort 10
Closure System 9
Durability 9
Breathability 7

Comfortable Fit

Responsive

Laces give fully customizable fit

Stylish

Micro adjustments on fit impossible while riding

Not very breathable

OK power transfer

MSRP
$300.00
BEST DEAL
Specialized Rime Expert
91
Stiffness / Power Tr... 6
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 8
Construction / Durab... 9
Off-Bike Performance 10
Stiffness-to-weight 9

Relatively stiff for category

Closure dial easy to use and great micro adjust

Wrap tongue hugs and minimizes pinching

Extra-high padding over vulnerable inner ankle

Closure cable must be threaded each time

Flimsy insole

Heavy and clunky

MSRP
$180.00
BEST DEAL
Giro Code VR70
89
Stiffness / Power Tr... 7
Fit / Comfort 10
Closure System 8
Construction / Durab... 8
Off-Bike Performance 9
Stiffness-to-weight 7

3 interchangeable arch supports included

Snug contoured fit and excellent heel hold

Vibram sticky rubber lugs for excellent grip and durability

Could use a large ventilation cutout on upper

No micro loosening

Lacks sufficient sidefoot protection for Trail/Enduro riding

Heavy

MSRP
$250.00
BEST DEAL
Bontrager XXX Mountain Shoe
89
Stiffness/Power 9
Fit/Comfort 6
Closure System 7
Durability 9
Breathability 8

Stiff

Responsive

Quality BOA system

Fits a tad large

Very stiff upper

MSRP
$400.00
BEST DEAL
Louis Garneau Granite
87
Stiffness / Power Tr... 8
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 8
Construction / Durab... 8
Off-Bike Performance 6
Stiffness-to-weight 8

Supple upper with glove-like fit

Excellent stiffness and power transfer

Burly but sleek reinforcement around toe, heel, and outer

Among lightest in class

Reverse tightening with left hand

Does not allow micro-adjust loosening

Arch support almost non-existent on flimsy insoles

Lugs could be more grippy

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
Shimano M 163
86
Stiffness / Power Tr... 5
Fit / Comfort 9
Closure System 8
Construction / Durab... 7
Off-Bike Performance 10
Stiffness-to-weight 7

Secure, comfortable fit and heel hold

Adjustable cleat position/removable bolt plate

Strong center Velcro strap closure

Low-profile for good feel and stable off-bike

Outsole too flexible even for Trail/Enduro

Relatively heavy

No micro loosening and only single-click tightening

MSRP
$150.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Pearl Izumi X-Project P.R.O.

The Pearl Izumi X-Project P.R.O. is a high end XC style mountain bike shoe that does everything well. They are stiff without being uncomfortable and feature a plush upper. The closure system works well to lock rider’s feet into the shoes, but the tongue makes putting the shoes on a pain. Surprisingly, for how stiff the shoes are, they are decent to walk in, making them suitable for just about any riding conditions.

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Specialized S-Works XC

The Specialized S-Works XC shoe is a high-end, cross-country style shoe that fits like a glove and includes inserts to further customize the fit for the individual rider. It is not the stiffest shoe in this testing batch, but it is still quite efficient at power transfer. The biggest downside of this model is the lack of a full release on the BOA dials, a common feature on shoes of this caliber.

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Bontrager XXX Mountain Shoe

The Bontrager XXX Mountain shoe is a high-end cross country style shoe that excels at power transfer while maintaining a reasonable amount of comfort. For the right rider under the correct conditions, these shoes could be some of the best out there. Others may find the fit a little finicky, it’s best to find a pair to try out first.

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Giro Empire VR90

The Giro Empire V90 is a stylish, throwback lace-up style mountain bike shoe that is full of modern touches. It is incredibly comfortable and the laces allow for outstanding flexibility when dialing in the fit, keeping the rider comfortable hour after hour. However, it is not as stiff as comparable shoes and is not nearly as breathable as the other shoes in this test.

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Bont Riot MTB+

The Bont Riot MTB is an interesting shoe. It is absurdly stiff and heat moldable for a fully customizable fit, yet it lacks some of the features we would expect on shoes in this category. The closure system is subpar and the fit of the shoe out of the box is polarizing. Finally, the stiffness of the shoe is almost too much for some riders. If you know and love Bont, you will likely love this shoe, otherwise, demo it before buying.

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Louis Garneau Copper T-flex

The Louis Garneau Copper T-flex is a high quality shoe that performs day in and day out. It is a simple shoe that simply works, the fit is comfortable, the closure system is excellent, and they vent well yet stay surprisingly warm in cooler weather. They are not without their issues though, as they do run small, so be sure to size up or try a pair on before buying. While plenty stiff, if you’re looking for the stiffest shoes out there, these are not them. Finally, while the BOA system does work very well, our testers would appreciate a third Velcro strap over the toe box for additional flexibility in dialing in fit.

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See All Mountain Bike Shoes Reviews

Mountain Bike Shoes Review Results

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Stiffness/Power Transfer

Every shoe in this roundup is plenty stiff and efficient at transferring power to the pedals. The Bont Riot MTB is by far the stiffest in the bunch – notably stiffer than its rivals. The Bontrager XXX is another very stiff shoe, with Bontrager rating it as a 14 out of 14 on their own “Stiffness Index.” Fit issues helped rob some of that stiffness while pedaling, but if the shoe hugs your foot shape, making it is an excellent choice. The least stiff shoe is likely the Giro Empire, but it conforms so well to the rider’s foot that there is almost no power loss while pedaling.

Fit/Comfort

There are a number of stars in this category. The Giro Empire, Specialized S-Works XC, and Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro are all incredibly comfortable shoes that fit our tester’s feet well. They all felt like a big sock, and when not specifically thinking about it, we completely forgot about them while riding, which in the end is the best you can ask for. The Specialized ships with a variety of inserts to further customize the fit. On the other side of the coin, our testers were not crazy about the fit of the Bont Riot MTB or Bontrager XXX. The cut of the Riot is very low, and the toe box seemed oddly shaped. Granted, they are heat moldable so the fit can be fully customized.

Closure System

The star in this category was the Giro Empire. The lace-up design allows for infinite fine tuning which cannot be achieved with a BOA dial. Granted there is no quick adjustment, but the stiff upper of the shoe held the fit once they were tied, so it was not an issue. The Bont Riot lagged far behind it’s competition, using only a single BOA dial and Velcro strap.

Construction/Durability

Every shoe in this roundup is built to the highest standards, and we had no issues with any of the shoes during our testing period. We would expect that any of these shoes would last for many seasons.

Breathability

The LG Copper T-flex is the star here. They were comfortable in a wide range of riding conditions, somehow consistently hitting the Goldilocks spot of never too hot nor too cold no matter the weather. The Coolmax insert is a wonder. The weakest performer here was the Giro Empire, which, given the thick upper to help keep the laces adjusted, is not very breathable. During summer riding days, the shoes would get fairly warm, especially given our black test pair. Every other shoe performed adequately in this category.

Review Conclusion

The world of high end mountain bike shoes has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. As the crop of shoes featured in this testing roundup shows, it is entirely possible to have a shoe that can do it all and do it all quite well. Stiff, efficient, comfortable, breathable and capable of standing up to years of abuse? Check.

There are certainly differences between each of the shoes, but we would be happy to ride any of them. The Pearl Izumi X-Project Pro stood out as the best of the best due to its ability to excel in each category.

Test Methods

Shoes are tested by riding a lot. Footwear is an often overlooked or forgotten part of the riding experience but it can have a huge impact on the enjoyment of any ride. Two of the most important testing criteria are fit and comfort. If a shoe fits poorly or is uncomfortable, performance will suffer. It is immediately apparent if a shoe fits well. The next most important criteria is stiffness and power transfer. Quality shoes are one of the best upgrades you can make to your ride. The stiffer and more efficient a shoe is, the less energy is wasted during the pedaling motion. The closure system (BOA, lace, Velcro, etc.) has a massive impact on efficiency and comfort. If the shoe does not stay adjusted or hold the rider’s foot in place, power is wasted.

Each shoe is assessed for any construction faults like poor stitching or bonding. The shoes are pushed hard during the testing period to see if they are durable enough to stand up to tough and demanding riders. Finally, breathability is assessed by riding in a variety of conditions.

To conduct this test the shoes were tested over a season of riding in Western Montana, on all types of trails, including plenty of hike-a-bike slogs and long days in the saddle. All of these shoes are very high quality and would serve people well for day-to-day riding, but after a season on the bike, we discovered a number of subtle differences noted in the summary below as well as the individual reviews.