During Usain Bolt’s record breaking 9.58 second 100 m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, it has been estimated that his terminal velocity was 43.9 km/h with a power output of 2619.5 watts. Now, with power like that, you may think his shoes are the hardest working on the planet, but we would argue that mountain biking shoes have it even tougher.
Think about it, we ride in all weathers, pelt our trail shoes with rocks, soak them, dry them, soak them, leave them in wet kit bags – then complain angrily on forums when they dare to fall apart. When mountain biking we ask a lot of our footwear, we demand total reliability, we demand comfort, we demand weather protection and we demand performance, hell, we even want them to look cool. Some riders like to hike for hours, bike on back, seeking out epic new first descents, some chase milliseconds in international races watched by millions, while others simply want to cut a few skids in the woods with their mates before propping up the bar in the local pub. What unites these riders? They wear the same shoes. No, it’s not easy being a mountain bike shoe.
The best trail shoes should only absorb the minimal amount of water.
In the search for the ultimate clipless trail shoe, we put 6 of the best to the test. This was no small task, living with a shoe can be like having a bad relationship, it’s all exciting and new at first, then it becomes very comfortable, before ultimately falling apart. To be sure we experienced every high and low we ran the each pair of shoes with testers for an entire season. Over 3,000 cumulative kilometres were ridden through rain and shine, sun and snow. The shoes were abused in many ways, left in kit bags, dried out by the fire, one was even left on the roof of the car before driving off – a successful rescue attempt ensued. In the end we had some surprises, and a very worthy winner.
|Value for Money
|Five Ten Hellcat
|Giro Terraduro Mid
|Mavic XA Elite
|Specialized 2FO Cliplite
* per shoe, size 43
What makes a great trail shoe?
The best trail shoes will be light, comfortable and fast-drying should they get wet. The fit should be easy to adjust and the sole should be stiff enough for efficient pedaling, but not so stiff as to make the shoe a nightmare to walk in. The sole unit should be grippy enough for short muddy hikes and the cleat pocket should be wide for easy engagement and allow the cleats to be run in a wide range of positions. A lace system that allows precise and comfortable adjustment without working loose or producing uncomfortable hot-spots will result in top marks. And let’s not forget, the most memorable trail rides often finish in a cafe or bar, the best shoes should blend high performance with cool looks, it’s time to say no to XC disco slippers.
Stiffness is good, Stiffness is bad
Just like as in carbon wheels and frames, stiff is good, too stiff is bad. All clipless trail shoes have a shank running inside the sole to provide stiffness, allowing you to efficiently transfer your leg power to the pedals. However, if the sole is too stiff, the shoe will be uncomfortable off the bike and lack sensitivity for more theatrical riding, a bit like going dancing in ski boots. The correct level of stiffness for you depends on your riding style, if you want a super efficient shoe for XC style power-fests, then stiffness is good, if you want an all-rounder for long days or after-work shreds with the crew, then something a little more flexible will be more fun.
Say no to the wet feet blues
Nothing says ‘winter’ more than a cold damp shoe in the morning, and putting on sopping wet shoes is as much fun as a trip to a blind dentist. To avoid that sinking feeling, the best trail shoes should only absorb the minimal amount of water. To find out which were the fastest drying shoes, we measured the total amount of water each shoe absorbed after one minute of full immersion. We then worked out how fast each shoe dried out at a constant 17 °C, you know, just like in your front hall. The results were startling.
The worst performing shoes by far were the Five Ten Hellcats, drinking 670 ml – over a pint of liquid – per pair, that’s over 6 times more than the Specialized and Shimano’s, and were still very wet after 5 days of drying. The rest of the group were much closer together but the shoes that performed best were the Shimano SH ME7 and Specialized 2FO Cliplite both of which only absorbed just under 60 ml per shoe and dried fast. For those who ride in the wet, these results are eye-opening.
So which is the best shoe?
After a full season of riding it is time to crown a winner. We have to discount the Five Ten Hellcats first as their woeful water absorption make them hard to live with for ‘all-weather’ riding. All the testers loved the comfortable padded fit of the Mavic XA Elite shoes and their price is very tempting, however the very stiff sole makes long hikes uncomfortable. The Shimano SH ME7 and Giro Terraduro Mid both offer amazing weatherproofing and very powerful pedaling, but it was the BOA and lightweight construction of the Specialized 2FO Cliplite that win them Best in Test. However, for €219.95 the price is eye-watering, and it was the more affordable ION Rascals with their ride/walk balance, appealing price and very cool shred-to-bar looks that take top honours for the Best Buy trail clipless shoe, a firm team favourite.