THE BIG TEN
Every cyclist has to decide whether to go clipless or use flat pedals. Each option has its pros and cons. The main benefits of clipless pedals include efficient power transfer for blasting up hills, feeling like you are one with the bike, the ability to maintain an efficient cadence, an increase in rear-wheel control and staying connected when pedaling over rough terrain. Of course, there is the flip side. If your clipless pedals are not set up properly or used appropriately, they can lead to an injury.
We covered the advantages of flat pedals in a previous shoe showdown, so, in this feature, we will be comparing our top choices for clipless shoes. While pedal choice is key, wearing the proper shoes for your riding style in a clipless system is equally important. Shoes come in a broad range of fits and offer different features. The wrecking crew here at MBA is aware that shoe comfort is subjective. For this breakdown, we thought we would test a few brands with models in different categories to help with your decision in a world of endless options.
We took 10 shoes and snapped them right into our pedals for testing! For every shoe in our lineup, we had our main test rider (size 10.5 U.S., 45 EU) swap to different clipless pedal systems while sticking with the bike that the shoes were intended to be used with. This allowed us to focus specifically on shoe performance and feel for the given discipline. All the shoes in this test fall in the price range of $130 to $399.
SHIMANO RX8 [ WINNER CROSS_COUNTRY CATEGORY ]
Tech features: Although this shoe is intended for gravel racing, the Shimano RX8 is also a superb cross-country riding shoe. Although it is the lightest option in this category, the RX8 is still loaded with needed features. The outsole is made with a lightweight carbon composite attached to an upper made of synthetic leather and mesh. The shoes also feature sturdy TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) lugs, one BOA IP1 dial with a Velcro strap and can be used with SPD pedals.
At the pedals: The RX8 takes the cake in this category. For our main test rider, the fit was perfect. The carbon sole provided a stiff (but not overly hard) platform for power output to the pedals. While our test rider’s foot is narrow, it is worth noting that Shimano does offer a wide version of this shoe (this is unique, as no other brand we tested has this option). The Gaerne has a bit more cushion in the tongue, but the RX8 from Shimano has better ventilation for rides when temperatures are high. All in all, we chose this shoe as the winner for this category because of its value, versatility, durability, comfort on/off the bike and light weight.
Weight: 662 grams (1.5 pounds)
Outsole: Carbon fiber
Fit: BOA IP1 and Velcro strap
SIDI DOMINATOR 10
Tech features: First up is an option from Sidi that fits right into our list and meets the demands of cross-country riders. You may recall our previous review of these, so we will be brief and just touch on the top features. The Sidi Dominator 10 offers an RS17 sole, a replaceable toe insert, a non-slip Sidi logo, and toe-spike compatibility. The upper is made with Sidi’s Technomicro material that is designed to be durable but also light, breathable, supple, water-repellent and eco-friendly. The Tecno-3 dials help control the fit along the entire length of the shoe. While ratcheting into the shoe, the proprietary Sidi Wire acts like shoelaces that help the upper material contour to the shape of the rider’s foot.
At the pedals: Similar to other Sidis, the Dominator 10s were comfortable from the moment we slipped them onto our feet. The upper material seemed to have virtually no break-in period. The Sidi Wire was non-binding and allowed for quick comfort adjustments. While not as stiff as other carbon sole contenders in this category, we found the RS17 sole has a great balance of walking flexion and pedaling stiffness. Unlike with the Shimano and Gaerne shoes coming up, Sidi offers a replacement for the small parts in this design. Nonetheless, we were impressed with the durability of the entire construction. Overall, the Dominator 10 shoes are a fine example of Italian comfort/breathability for long rides, but these shoes were not our favorite in terms of stiffness/power transfer for this category.
Weight: 798 grams (1.8 pounds)
Outsole: RS17, nylon/PU blend
Fit: Tecno-3 dials with Instep 4 closure
GAERNE CARBON G SNX
Tech features: Another made-in-Italy shoe made our list for this category. With almost the same weight as the Dominator 10s, these Gaerne Carbon G SNX shoes are loaded with tech. They feature an anatomic heel cup and a tarsal support system that is designed to provide power transfer and control on the pedals. The seamless construction of the G SNX utilizes a BOA Li2 closure system, an EPS comfort insole, a carbon fiber sole with Michelin rubber tread, and a tongue with a variable-thickness cushioned layer.
At the pedals: The Gaerne G SNX was the stiffest shoe we tested in this lineup. It offered great support for every ounce of power being transferred to our pedals. These shoes also have the advantage in tuning fit with the micro-adjustment found on the BOA Li2 system. While our main test rider thought they were a great fit, they did run a little narrow in contrast to our other two contenders. If racing is your goal, you will not be disappointed with the efficiency and technology these shoes use to maximize performance. On the other hand, the price may deter you if you are on a strict budget.
Weight: 796 grams (1.8 pounds)
Outsole: Carbon fiber and EPS
Fit: BOA Li2 fit system
Tech features: A rider who is looking to embark on an all-mountain adventure where he might need to hike a bike, dig a new line, and remain casual with a clean look will like these next four shoe options. We start this category off with a lesser-known choice from the brand Exustar. The E-SM817 is intended to be an all-around mountain bike shoe. It has a semi-flexible design reminiscent of a simple pair of sneakers. With mountain adventures in mind, the SM817 is constructed with a PU (polyurethane) sole, a nylon midsole, and an upper TPU connected to a breathable mesh.
At the pedals: Exustar claims these shoes are great for clip-in and platform pedals; however, we recommend sticking to a clipless system with these shoes, as they have very little grip on a flat platform pedal. The shape of the sole also had our test rider messing around with cleat shims to properly make contact with the clipless pedal body. Once adjusted to our liking, the rubber sole proved to have great grip and hold to the pins. At the end of the day, these shoes performed well on/off the bike, and the upper offered the comfort of a pair of trail-running shoes. We would have liked to have a bit more durability in the compound of the sole, and extra protection would be more confidence-inspiring, as we seemed to tear into the SM817s after a few trail rides.
Weight: 834 grams (1.8 pounds)
Outsole: Rubber and nylon with EVA wedge
Fit: Laces with tuck strap
SPECIALIZED 2FO ROOST CLIP
Tech features: This all-new 2FO from Specialized is designed to be a versatile trail shoe. Specialized has some fancy names for the tech, starting with its Body Geometry sole construction and footbed. The features continue with a Stiff Lollipop nylon plate, SlipNot FG rubber sole, 4mm extended cleat box, EVA midsole, and an upper made with synthetic leather.
At the pedals: The firm yet pliable Body Geometry design of the 2FO Roost clip transfers power well while helping align your foot properly. Compared to the Exustar, these shoes are not as breathable, but the 2FO does have a much stiffer sole, and the dense rubber compound still provides plenty of traction off the bike. Notable is the extended cleat box that allows a rider to run his or her cleats further back than any other shoe in this showdown. All things considered, this was a close second place to our other contenders. We like the style, simplicity, and price point of this shoe, and it performed well for all-mountain riding or taking time off the bike for trail work.
Weight: 854 grams (1.9 pounds)
Outsole: SlipKnot FG rubber
FIZIK TERRA ERGOLACE X2
Tech features: With a weight similar to that of our other competitors, the Fizik Terra Ergolaces are evenly tied with the 2FO option, but for the extra $10, you do get some noteworthy features. The Ergolace X2 has a nylon shank for support, an EVA midsole, Vibram tread, a rip-stop fabric upper, a PU laminated toe cap, and side reinforcement for added protection.
At the pedals: The special-edition 90’s colorway will get your attention. While we love that aspect, of course, the look is only part of the equation in creating an ideal all-mountain shoe. In comparison with the other three shoes in this category, these are quite flexible but not as flexible as the Exustars, and they are significantly less rigid than the 2FO Roost. This made the Ergolace a great blend of pedal power and off-the-bike traction for backcountry missions. We really appreciated the lace-up closure and the extra ankle protection/support provided with this design; however, the next contender also tempted our wrecking crew.
Weight: 822 grams (1.8 pounds)
Outsole: X2 with Vibram tread
GIRO VENTANA FASTLACE [ WINNER TRAIL/ALL-MOUNTAIN CATEGORY ]
Tech features: We were eager to see how the Giro Ventana Fastlace, built to blend trail and all-mountain, stacked up in comparison to the other three options in this category. The upper is constructed with a one-piece Synchwire. This is a stitch-less material that is vented to allow airflow while maintaining structural integrity. The footbed has a molded EVA with medium arch support, while the outsole uses an EVA cushion and Giro’s Sensor Rubber compound. Last but not least, the robust heel and toe-box construction offer further protection.
At the pedals: Right out of the box, the Fastlace closure system makes the Ventana shoes easy to secure to your feet. In comparison with the other three shoes in this category, this option is by far the most rigid. While some might not need the extra stiffness, it was great for all-day trail rides when power transfer and support played a major role in staying on the bike. Beyond modern trail riding, these shoes also worked as traditional shoes with a performance-oriented fit. Although the arch might be high for some, these shoes worked well for traversing off the bike and there were no issues matching up with our pedals. Overall, these shoes won our vote for their solid value, well-thought-out design, durability and versatility.
Weight: 944 grams (2.1 pounds)
Outsole: Sensor rubber
Fit: Fastlace with Velcro strap
CRANKBROTHERS MALLET SPEED LACE
Tech features: Tackling fast downhill runs or the demands of technical enduro tracks is what this next category is all about. We start off with a brand known more commonly for its pedals. Crankbrothers recently launched models of shoes that are identified according to the pedal they are intended to be used with: Mallet, Mallet E and Stamp. For this test, we focus on the Mallet Speed Lace. Our subject comes with a lace pocket to safely prevent entanglement and large mesh panels accompanied by a perforated tongue for ventilation. For protection, there are TPU panels at the toe and heel. The heel cup is well-padded, and there are gripper dots to keep the rider’s heel from lifting out. The MC1 compound used for the outsoles is a mid-friction rubber compound to help provide a solid platform for power transfer.
At the pedals: Unique to any other brand, the Mallet Speed Lace comes with pre-installed cleats in the neutral position. The Mallet’s outsole is as comfortable when absorbing trail features as the other styles in this test. If you do have to pedal, the Mallet Speed Lace shoes are well-supported for performance. It’s worth mentioning that some riders may want to replace the stock insert with something with more arch support. Once clipped in, there is no doubt that the coordination and contact on the Match System harmonize well, but riders should keep in mind that it is not necessary to run Crankbrothers pedals with these shoes. Swapping over to the SPD cleats required no shim at all, as Crankbrothers intended. Overall, Crankbrothers first run of shoes is impressive for both downhill and enduro, but these shoes were not our first choice among all the contenders.
Weight: 958 grams (2.1 pounds)
Outsole: Match Compound MC1
Fit: Speed Lace
Tech features: Sidi entered the world of enduro and gravity with its Dimaro shoes. As with all of its products, Sidi focused on specific features to achieve performance. Unlike the other shoes in this category, the Dimaros are versatile in that they can be converted to a flat-pedal shoe with a plate that bolts over the cleat box. The Dimaros feature a Vibram outsole, laces with a Velcro strap, and an elastic band at the heel to prevent debris from entering.
At the pedals: Just as with Dominator 10 in our cross-country category, the fit was immediately comfortable out of the box. The size-45 Dimaro we tested was the second heaviest shoe in this category; however, the weight did not keep us from transferring efficient power to the pedals. When trying them out as a flat-pedal shoe, the rubber piece used to fill the cleat box tended to collect debris underneath the plate. Regardless, it was easy to remove and set up the cleats. The Dimaros provided all-around protection with the laces covered by Velcro straps, the elastic heel band, and the protected toe cap. Overall, we were impressed with the Vibram soles’ support, durability, and reassurance when facing rough terrain. Given their versatility and technical features, we would choose these over the Mallet Speed Lace; however, there is another option we prefer over both of these shoes.
Weight: 1006g (2.2 pounds)
Fit: Lace-up with Velcro straps
RIDE CONCEPTS TRANSITION [ WINNER ENDURO/DOWNHILL CATEGORY ]
Tech features: The Transition was designed by Ride Concepts to change the rider’s perception of how a clipless shoe should come in contact and connect with your pedals. The shoes have some of the most desirable features we have seen yet packed into mountain bike footwear. The outsole is made with Rubber Kinetics DST 8.0 Mid Grip. This compound is not the most adhesive rubber in the Ride Concepts line but is made to last. Furthermore, the shoes utilize a weather-resistant microfiber upper, a 40mm-wide cleat box, long-range cleat adjustability, D3O impact protection, a molded toe cap and a shoelace closure accompanied by a power strap.
At the pedals: Transition footwear (and the women’s-specific Traverse) was developed with the help of Atherton Racing, so it goes without saying that these are geared towards a rider looking to be fast on downhill runs. Pressing into the 40mm cleat box, we found the shoes had smooth communication with the pedals. The extended box area also allowed us to position the cleat further back while remaining in an optimal position for pedaling comfort when riding enduro. Our wrecking crew was impressed by the tremendous comfort—not only for lift-access laps but also for a blend of trail and enduro styles of riding. The D3O impact protection provided support that helped take the edge off big hits to the ankles. Could we ride in them every day? Yes, without question. All in all, this is a solid option if you’re looking for a remarkably durable clipless shoe that can manage the toughest downhills and somehow not sacrifice pedaling efficiency if you ride enduro. We will admit that they are not the lightest by any means, but given their fair pricing, durability and versatility, we have our winner for this category.
Weight: 1200 grams (2.6 pounds)
Outsole: Rubber Kinetics, DST 8.0 Mid Grip
Fit: Lace-up with top Velcro strap