Anatomy of a Mountain Bike Shoe
Shopping for new mountain bike shoes can be daunting. There are so many options out there that have different features, fits, rider benefits, and intended riding disciplines—it can be hard to know where to start. Understanding the different parts of a mountain bike shoe and how they affect the fit and your ride can be a good starting place to help you find the right shoe for your riding style or discipline.
So, let’s start from the ground up by defining the different components of a Ride Concepts MTB shoe and then we’ll dive deeper into explaining the function of each.
1) Outsole: Rubber exterior that makes contact with the ground/pedal
2) Shank: Unique to clipless shoes, a stiff layer of plastic or carbon between the outsole and midsole to hold the cleat
3) Midsole: A layer of EVA foam to support and protect the foot
4) Insole: AKA the footbed, oftentimes interchangeable
5) Last: The interior mold around which a shoe is built
6) Upper: Includes all material components that surround our foot
7) Tongue: Material that lies under the closure system and over the top of the foot
8) Closure: How the shoe is secured
9) Collar: The opening of the shoe that we step into
The outsole is the rubber on the bottom of the shoe that makes contact with the ground or pedal and provides the grip that keeps your feet on the pedals. This is arguably the most important aspect of a flat pedal MTB shoe. Generally, the softer the rubber the better the grip because it allows the pedal pins to penetrate the outsole more easily and provide a stronger pedal connection. Ride Concepts has developed three different rubber compounds that we use for specific purposes. Our MaxGrip rubber—the perfect blend of grip and durability—is our softest compound and is used on our trail and gravity oriented flat pedal mountain bike shoes. We employ HighGrip rubber on our more dirt jump and slope style shoes to allow for easier repositioning while throwing tricks. For clipless (aka clip-in) mountain bike shoes, we use our ClipGrip rubber—a firmer compound that won’t get hung up on the pedal while clipping into SPD pedals or other clipless pedal systems.
The shank is a piece unique to clipless (aka clip-in or clip) MTB shoes that lies between the outsole and the midsole. Not only does the shank provide a place for the cleat to be attached, but it offers extra stiffness to increase power transfer and reduce foot fatigue.
This is a layer of high-density EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) foam that provides the lower part of the shoe with structure as well as support, cushioning, and protection for your foot. We tune the amount of flex in our shoes by optimizing this layer for youth, men’s, and women’s-specific shoe models.
This is the piece of material that our feet actually rest on and are often removable and interchangeable to accommodate different degrees of arch support or additional comfort and cushioning. Ride Concepts utilizes D3O® in our premium line of MTB shoes to dampen vibrations from the trail and absorb harsh impacts when sending big features or riding gnarly technical sections of trail. We substitute D3O® with our Dual Density EVA foam in our more entry level shoes to provide similar cushioning but at a more affordable price.
The last is the three-dimensional mold around which a shoe upper is built and correlates to the volume of the shoe, which largely determines how a shoe will fit. The mold is an abstract representation of the human foot and is developed by averaging different dimensions of our feet. Ride Concepts uses three different lasts—low, medium, and high volume—to accommodate different foot shapes. Buying a MTB shoe that closely matches your foot shape will ensure comfort and stability on the pedals. While it is technically possible to fit a higher volume foot into a low volume last, it is not advised, as this can cause unwanted pressure-points and numbness throughout the course of your ride.
A shoe upper is compiled from several other, more specific components (vamp, heel, quarter, etc.) and is essentially what covers our foot. A good mountain bike shoe upper needs to be breathable, durable, provide protection from trailside hazards, and withstand the changes of all the different microclimates that we ride through. Ride Concepts uses a variety of materials—micro-fiber, suede, canvas, and Cordura® fabrics—throughout our lineup to optimize the performance of our shoes for their intended use. We use a layer of TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) around the toe and heel of our shoes as we prioritize protection and durability. One of our most popular models, Hellion Elite, uses up to 30% post-consumer recycled material.
This is the piece of material that rests on top of the foot and under the laces or closure system. It’s crucial that the tongue stays in place so that the laces or closure system don’t come in contact with the foot and create friction. All of our MTB shoes employ a gusseted tongue to keep it in place and minimize the amount of dirt and debris able to enter the shoe. The gusset is a piece of elastic material that is connected from both sides of the tongue to the interior sidewalls of the upper, aiding in a snug and secure fit.
This refers to how a shoe is “closed” and secured to the foot. Most commonly, laces are used as they are simple, effective, and economical. However, a lot of technical and mountain bike footwear designers are looking for alternative closure systems. We partner with BOA® to provide a quick, durable, and customizable solution on some of our premium shoes. BOA® uses a dial that cinches a woven lace to equally distribute tension around the foot. This provides the rider with an unmatched level of micro-adjustability to get the most precise fit.
This is the opening where you insert your foot and should offer comfort and a degree of protection to the rider. We use a layer of thick foam to provide comfort and cushioning, lined with an antibacterial mesh to keep odors at bay. For added protection, some of our shoes are designed with an asymmetrical collar, which means the inside collar rises to cover the ankle bone and reduce impact or direct contact with the crank arm.
There you have it, the anatomy of a mountain bike shoe explained. The three most important aspects to look for when buying a mountain bike shoe are:
1. Pedal interface and what kind of outsole you need (i.e. flat or clipless)
2. Buying the correct volume for your foot shape, and;
3. Choosing a shoe appropriate for your riding style or primary riding discipline