In a year that could best be described as a never-ending dumpster fire, 2020 was an unexpected wellspring for flat pedal aficionados in the form of lower prices and refined functionality. Not wanting to miss out on the pedals’ increased popularity, shoe manufacturers responded with more choices for flat-friendly footwear. Is more necessarily better, though? To answer that question, I spent nine months testing flat pedal shoes from Five Ten, Northwave, Pearl iZUMi and Ride Concepts.
With their relatively simple appearance, one might think that choosing (or designing) a shoe for flat pedal use is a no-brainer; pick one with a grippy sole and you’re good to go. Traction is certainly important, but other factors such as pedal feel, stiffness, and comfort all contribute to a shoe’s overall performance. Ultimately, every shoe is a compromise, and what works for one rider may not be right for another. Whether you ride gravel, technical off-road trails, or commute, consider your personal must-have features when shopping for flat pedal shoes.
It should come as no surprise that sizing often varies between shoe brands (and sometimes within a single brand). I have average width feet, and typically wear a US men’s 11 or 11.5 athletic shoe (size 45 in most cycling shoes). While I didn’t have the luxury of trying on any of the shoes prior to testing, I was pleased that no exchanges were needed due to major sizing errors. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to confirm your store’s return policy, and test shoes indoors before hitting the trail.
|Model||Weight (pair)||Available Sizes||MSRP (USD)|
|Five Ten Trailcross LT||830 grams (sz 11)||6-11.5, 12, 13, 14||$140|
|Northwave Clan||1,038 grams (sz 45)||36-49 (whole sizes)||$150|
|Pearl iZUMi X-Alp Launch||803 grams (sz 45)||39-49 (whole sizes)||$150|
|Ride Concepts Vice||1,065 grams (sz 11.5)||7-12.5, 13, 14, 15||$100|
Using a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the best), I rated each shoe on traction, pedal feel, stiffness, and comfort. Traction was the combination of the outsole material’s grip and tread pattern efficacy. Pedal feel is exactly what it sounds like–how well you can feel the pedal while riding. Stiffness describes how much–or, how little–the shoe flexes when riding and walking. Lastly, comfort takes into fit, padding and ventilation. Note that ratings are relative, and not absolute. For example: a shoe that received a 5-out-of-5 rating for stiffness scored better than the others in this test, but won’t be as stiff as a carbon-soled clipless shoe.
A Word About Pedals
Unlike their clipless counterparts, flat pedals and shoes rarely suffer compatibility issues. That said, different types of soles often perform better with specific pedals. To ensure a fair comparison, I tested each shoe with range of flat pedals, including Crankbrothers’ Stamp 3 (large size), Deity Deftraps, Pedaling Innovations’ Catalyst, the modular Squidworx pedal, and Yoshimura Cycling’s Chilao (large size).
Five Ten Trailcross LT
Looking more like a trail runner than a cycling shoe, Five Ten’s versatile Trailcross LT is equally suited to on- and off-the-bike exploration. The Trailcross’ mesh-and-textile uppers provide plenty of ventilation, while mid-foot drain holes help put an end to waterlogged shoes. As you’d expect, Five Ten’s Stealth® Phantom rubber outsoles deliver abundant grip, but overall traction proved to be heavily pedal dependent (with the Catalyst and Chilao coming out top). All-day comfort is excellent thanks to the flat pedal shoes’ light weight, sturdy heel cups, and durable EVA midsoles.
|Traction||4 out of 5|
|Pedal Feel||4 out of 5|
|Stiffness||3 out of 5|
|Comfort||4 out of 5|
Known primarily for their clipless shoes, Northwave’s top-of-the-line Clan flat pedal model boasts a specially designed Michelin sole, which the company claims to offer, “unprecedented grip on the pedals.” Did the Clan live up to the hype? Absolutely–Michelin’s rubber compound may just be the stickiest I’ve tried. Not unlike Five Ten’s Trailcross, however, the Clan’s overall traction varied with pedal choice (favoring the Deity and Squidworx’s smaller-diameter pins). While the Clans were the stiffest shoe in this test, that stiffness does come at the expense of pedal feel.
|Traction||4.5 out of 5|
|Pedal Feel:||2.5 out of 5|
|Stiffness||5 out of 5|
|Comfort||3.5 out of 5|
Pearl iZUMi X-Alp Launch
With their slender profile and BOA closures, you might mistake the X-Alp Launch for one of Pearl iZUMi’s clipless models. That’s no accident–in addition to the aforementioned BOA closures, the flat pedal and clipless Launch share much of the same technology, including seamless, perforated Cordura uppers, reinforced toe boxes, and EVA foam midsoles. The Launch’s Goodyear® rubber soles proved extremely durable, but couldn’t match the grip of the competition’s stickier compounds. If you’re a clipless user who’s making the switch to flats, you’ll appreciate the X-Alps’ snug fit.
|Traction||3 out of 5|
|Pedal Feel||3 out of 5|
|Stiffness||3.5 out of 5|
|Comfort||3 out of 5|
Ride Concepts Vice
Designed for BMX and dirt jump use, it’s no surprise that Ride Concepts’ Vice delivers unmatched grip and pedal feel. Unlike flimsy skate shoes, however, the Vice pedals like a much stiffer shoe (without sacrificing pedal feel). Sturdy suede uppers provide plenty of support (but not much ventilation), and the shoes’ fully gusseted tongues keep out dirt and debris. TPU toe protection guards against rock strikes, while the D3O High Impact Zone Technology insoles provide additional cushioning. And despite being the heaviest shoe tested, the Ride Concept kicks didn’t feel bulky in use.
|Traction||5 out of 5|
|Pedal Feel||5 out of 5|
|Stiffness||2 out of 5|
|Comfort||3.5 out of 5|
If you’re looking for maximum traction, it’s hard to beat Northwave’s Clan or the Ride Concept Vice (with the latter less dependent on pedal choice). And when it comes to stiffness, the Clan is at the top of the list. If pedal feel is more your thing, the Vice has it in spades. For two-wheeled or two-footed adventures, Five Ten’s Trailcross LT would be my first choice (especially in hot weather).
Disclosure: The aforementioned companies provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.