I love mountain biking, I use flat pedals on my bike, and I’ve owned a pair of Vans for years. BUT, would I recommend putting these 3 things together? In other words, are Vans shoes good for mountain biking?
Vans shoes have grippy soles and can be a good choice for mountain biking with flat pedals, if you ride only in dry conditions. They’re also often cheaper than other shoes designed for mountain biking. However, Vans tend to be less supportive than other brands, and they also lose traction in muddy or wet conditions.
If you’re considering your options, then Vans are good to keep in mind, but they’re not the only choice out there. Let’s take a look at why you may want to consider a pair of Vans to go with your flat pedals…or why you may want to choose a different brand instead.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Table of Contents
Do You Need Special Shoes for Mountain Biking?
If you ride with flat pedals, then you don’t necessarily need specific mountain biking shoes…but they sure do help!
If you’re considering clipless pedals (I’ll explain what these are in just a bit), then you do need to invest in some special shoes. But in this article, we’re going to focus on flat pedals, because Vans are not going to be compatible with clipless pedals (you’ll see why in a minute).
So if you technically don’t need special mountain biking shoes for flat pedals, why should you still strongly consider getting them?
It’s all about grip! A flat, super grippy sole provides a larger surface area to stick to a flat pedal. More contact between foot and pedal means more pedaling power, more stability, and more safety: it’s hard to maintain control of your bike if your feet keep slipping off your pedals!
Before I go any further, let me explain the difference between flat pedals and clipless pedals.
Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Pedals
Flat pedals are flat…kind of.
Flat mountain bike pedals have a generally “flat” body, but feature metal pins or plastic lugs on the pedal’s riding surface. These pins help your shoe grip to the surface of the pedal and stay put during your ride, which is especially important when the trail gets bumpy.
Most flat pedals feature a slightly concave or convex shape to suit different riders’ preferences.
A concave shape offers a superior bond between the pedals and your feet–but it’s harder to make mini adjustments to your foot position when riding, which can be annoying if you’re about to tackle a difficult trail section and your feet aren’t set quite right. (I run this kind of pedal so I speak from experience!)
Convex pedals are just the opposite–they don’t grip your feet quite as well, but it’s much easier to make little adjustments to find the most comfortable riding position.
Flat pedals are generally favored by enduro, bike park and freestyle riders, but also by newer riders (like me!) for the same reason: it’s much easier to bail if you get in a tricky spot. Nobody wants to be the person that starts to fall, can’t unclip their feet from the pedals, and ends up with the bike on top of them!
Clipless pedals feature spring-loaded clips that lock onto cleats on the bottom of special mountain bike shoes (think of stepping a ski boot into a binding).
But wait a minute…”clipless” pedals have clips??
I know, doesn’t make sense, but that is how they’re labeled?
In the early days of mountain biking, pedals had toe straps that would go over the front and top of your foot to keep it in place. These were called “clips.” When the spring-loaded pedal was created to replace clip pedals, they had to call it something…so they became “clipless.”
At the time, this was perfectly fine. But now that flat pedals have become a popular alternative to clipless, things get a little confusing.
Many cross-country riders and racers prefer clipless pedals because they provide a more consistent and secure foot position. They also increase pedaling power, since in addition to pushing down on the pedal, you can pull up during the other half of the pedal stroke for a more consistent cadence.
The biggest downside to clipless pedals? There’s a learning curve. Getting your feet in and out during a ride can be challenging at first. This also makes it a lot harder to bail during a fall: if you have an over-the-handlebar crash, your bike is coming with you!
When people talk about Vans, they’re talking about Vans’ flat pedal shoes (i.e. the shoes without clips in the bottom), so that’s what I’m going to focus on for the rest of this article.
Vans for Mountain Biking: Pros & Cons
If there’s one thing Vans are known for–besides looking cool–it’s their flat, grippy sole. That’s the most important feature in a mountain bike shoe for flat pedal riders. The pins on a flat pedal dig into the soft rubber sole–keeping your foot on the pedal, and you on the bike!
Vans offers some mid-height options for those that want more ankle protection and support. With the amount of times I’ve busted my lower shins on the pedals, this would be a welcome feature!
They also tend to be quite a bit cheaper than many similar shoes. Most Vans models–including their BMX-specific range–will cost an average of $60-80. As a comparison, you’d be lucky to find a shoe from any of the brands I’ll talk about below for less than $100…many are closer to $150!
I’ve owned a pair of Vans for years, and though they look cool, I don’t find them to be the most comfortable shoe. They don’t offer much cushion around your ankle–even the hi-top versions are pretty thinly padded in that area. So would I want to wear them on an all-day mountain bike trek? Probably not.
And though the soles are flat and grippy, it’s the tread pattern that may be an issue. The Vans iconic waffle-pattern sole works great in dry conditions, but once dirt and mud clog up the tread, traction goes out the window.
Compare these to some of the mountain bike-specific shoe designs from the brands listed below, which have raised lugs to provide grip and narrow, shallow channels in between to limit dirt buildup: basically the exact opposite design of the Vans sole.
So if you ride in mostly dry conditions, Vans would be a good choice. But if mud is a frequent trail feature, or you want something more comfortable and supportive for longer mountain bike rides, consider the following brands:
Other Mountain Bike Shoe Brands to Consider
NOTE: Since Vans does not offer clipless-compatible shoes, I’m only going to compare similar flat-pedal models from other brands. However, all these brands do offer clipless-compatible models. So if you ride clipless, these brands might also be interesting to you.
Five Ten is one of the most popular mountain bike shoe brands…and my personal favorite!
They’re designed specifically around the needs of mountain bikers: in fact, they don’t even make any road cycling shoes!
The tread pattern helps shed dirt and mud while maintaining traction, and their Stealth rubber compound is one of the grippiest I’ve ever used. They have tons of cushioning around the ankle, making them more comfortable on longer rides.
Currently their website has almost 50 different models in various colors to choose from, so if you can’t find something you like, maybe you’re too picky!
The best part about these shoes is their durability. I bought my first pair of Five Ten Warhawks in 2011, using them for everything from biking to weightlifting to parkour (…yep, back when it was new and everyone would run around jumping off things and yelling “Parkour!”…don’t judge me, you know you did it too!)
I just bought my second pair (Freeriders) a few months ago, when my Warhawks finally fell apart. I’d say surviving 10 years of heavy use says a lot about their quality.
You can expect to pay at least $100 for a basic model, and it only goes up from there. As usual, quality comes at a price, but if they last you a decade, that’s a pretty smart investment!
Ride Concepts is a relatively new company, and a direct competitor with Five Ten.
Like the previous brand, they cater more to the mountain biking freeride crowd: their company tagline is “Premium Performance Footwear for Mountain Biking.” No road cycling stuff to be found here!
Models, features and prices are very similar between these two brands, but Ride Concepts tends to have some flashier color schemes (neon yellow, anyone??), so if that’s your thing, this may be the brand for you!
They also make sandals with the same grippy sole: and while you shouldn’t wear them mountain biking, who wouldn’t benefit from a little extra traction while running errands or hanging out by the pool??
Pearl Izumi is probably better known for their road cycling gear and apparel, but they also offer a few really good mountain bike shoes.
While you won’t find as many options as the brands above, Pearl Izumi does make some shoes with an interesting feature that sets them apart: the BOA closure system. Rather than dealing with laces–which can come untied–the BOA system ensures your shoes stay tight with no laces flopping around.
They also offer Vibram and Goodyear rubber soles on some models. Anyone who knows anything about outdoor inspired shoes knows these brands provide superior grip on any surface.
The only brand here to actually make mountain bikes as well, Specialized may have some good insight into what makes a great mountain bike shoe.
Specialized also uses Vibram soles and the BOA closure system on some models, with prices similar to Pearl Izumi.
The models they offer are more similar to Pearl Izumi and Giro (since they all focus more on road cycling shoes), so they’re definitely designed with a different rider in mind compared to Five Ten and Ride Concepts.
Another brand with more of a road bike heritage, Giro does make mountain bike specific shoes…but not very many. There are even fewer designed for flat pedals.
But the shoes that do fit the criteria of this article are cheaper than the brands they compete with, so if you’re looking for a budget option or you’re just a casual rider, Giro may be a good choice.
Who Should Consider Buying Vans for Mountain Biking?
Though there are a ton of mountain bike shoe brands out there, Vans are still a good choice if you like riding pump tracks, bike parks or trails that don’t get too muddy. They definitely offer enough grip for these riding styles. Or if you’re just getting started with mountain biking and don’t want to spend a lot, Vans will serve you well as a beginner.
But if you ride more aggressive terrain where trail conditions can get pretty muddy, you may want to consider other brands with tread patterns that shed mud easier while still providing excellent grip.
They may be more expensive, but quality shoes will last a long time. And you really can’t put a price on the safety, control, and fun that extra grip provides!
Ever wondered if you can put pegs on a mountain bike? Read our article about putting pegs on a mountain to get an answer.