Are Vans Good For Mountain Biking?

Alex Ortiz
By Alex Ortiz 18 Min Read
18 Min Read
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Do You Need Special Shoes for Mountain Biking?

Alright, let’s get straight to the point. If you’re rocking those flat pedals, do you really need those special mountain biking shoes? Well, not exactly. But, trust me, they can be a game changer!

What About Those Fancy “Clipless” Pedals?

Now, if you’re thinking about those snazzy clipless pedals (hang on, I’ll break down what those are soon!), you’re gonna need some specific shoes. And nope, Vans won’t work here (more on that in a sec).

Why Bother with Special Mountain Biking Shoes Then?

You might wonder, “If I don’t need them, why should I even think about getting them?” One word: GRIP. Imagine a shoe with a super flat, grippy bottom. This gives your foot more room to really stick to that flat pedal. What does that mean for you? Well, you get to pedal harder, have a stable ride, and most importantly, stay safe. Ever had that mini-heart attack feeling when your foot slips off the pedal? Yeah, special shoes can help with that!

Hold Up, What’s the Deal with Flat Pedals and Clipless Pedals?

Before we dive deep, let’s get our terms straight. Let me break down the difference between flat pedals and those mysterious “clipless” ones. Ready? Let’s go!

Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Pedals

Flat Pedals

Even though they’re called “flat,” these pedals have a little more going on than you might think! Sure, the body of a flat mountain bike pedal seems… well, flat. But, they often have these cool metal pins or little plastic bits sticking out. Why? They help your shoe stick to the pedal, especially when you hit those rough patches on your ride.

Shapes of Flat Pedals: Concave and Convex

You’ll find flat pedals in two shapes: concave and convex. Let’s break it down:

  • Concave: These are like tiny bowls for your feet. They hold your feet super snug, which is great! But, if you need to shift your foot a bit when you’re on a tough trail, it can be a tad tricky. (I know because I’ve tried!)
  • Convex: Think of these like gentle bumps under your feet. They might not hug your foot as tight, but they’re forgiving when you need to shuffle your foot around for that sweet spot.

Who loves flat pedals? Riders who love the thrill of enduro, freestyling, and parks! Plus, they’re a top pick for newer riders. Why? If things go sideways and you need to jump off your bike quickly, it’s a breeze.

Clipless Pedals

Clipping in with Clipless Pedals

Alright, let’s chat about “clipless” pedals. They lock onto special cleats on your mountain biking shoes, kind of like how ski boots lock into skis.

“Clipless” But They Have Clips?!

Okay, I know it sounds weird. “Clipless” pedals… with clips? Let’s rewind a bit. Back in the early days, mountain bike pedals had toe straps (called “clips”) to keep your foot in place. When the new spring-loaded design came around, they got rid of those old clips. Hence the name “clipless”. It was clear back then, but now with the rise of flat pedals, it’s a tad confusing!

Who Uses Clipless Pedals and Why?

Many riders who love cross-country trails and races adore clipless pedals. They keep your foot in just the right spot and boost your pedaling power. Not only can you push down, but you can also pull up for a smoother ride.

The tricky part? There’s a bit of a learning curve. Especially when it comes to quickly getting your feet out. Imagine tumbling over your handlebars… and your bike’s still attached to your feet. Yikes!

Vans for Mountain Biking: Pros & Cons

1. That Awesome Grip:
First and foremost, let’s talk about that signature Vans sole. Flat and super grippy – perfect for mountain bikers using flat pedals. Those pins on your pedals? They’ll love digging into the Vans rubber sole, ensuring your feet stay put and you stay upright!

2. Looking Out for Your Ankles:
Ever banged your shins or ankles on those pesky pedals? Ouch! Some Vans models come in a mid-height design, offering a bit more protection and support around your ankle. Trust me, your shins will thank you!

3. Friendly on Your Wallet:
Here’s another win – Vans are usually kinder to your pocketbook. Most of their models, including the BMX-specific ones, will set you back somewhere between $60 and $80. Other specialized biking shoes? They often start at $100 and can even reach a whopping $150!

The Hiccups: Where Vans Might Fall Short

1. Comfort Quandary:
I’ve rocked Vans for ages and, while they definitely score points in the style department, they’re not the coziest shoes around. The padding around the ankle is a bit skimpy, even with the hi-top versions. So, if I’m planning a long day on the trails, Vans might not be my first choice.

2. About That Iconic Tread:
The famous Vans waffle-pattern sole is great… until it’s not. It works wonders in dry conditions. But introduce some mud and dirt, and the grip can vanish pretty quickly as the tread gets clogged up.

3. Comparing with Specialized Mountain Biking Shoes:
When you stack Vans up against shoes designed especially for mountain biking, there’s a clear difference. Many biking-specific shoes have a design that tackles mud and maintains grip – raised bits for grip and smart spaces in between to prevent dirt buildup. Basically, the total opposite of Vans.

Other Mountain Bike Shoe Brands to Consider

let’s dive into some other shoe brands that cater to mountain bikers. Remember, Vans doesn’t roll with clipless-compatible shoes, so our focus here will be on similar flat-pedal models. But here’s a fun fact: all the brands I’m mentioning do offer shoes for the clipless gang. So, if you’re a clipless rider, keep reading—you might find a new favorite!

Five Ten: More Than Just a Number

1. Designed with Bikers in Mind:
Five Ten is kinda like the rock star of the mountain bike shoe world. And it’s my go-to brand. Why? Because they breathe mountain biking. They don’t even bother with road cycling shoes; it’s all about the trails.

2. That Super Grip:
Their tread pattern is genius—it keeps mud and dirt at bay while ensuring you stay grounded. And that Stealth rubber compound? Super sticky and probably one of the best I’ve come across.

3. Comfort and Variety:
Expect a cozy ride with these shoes, especially with that cushioning around the ankle. And with almost 50 models in all shades and designs, you’re spoilt for choice. If you don’t find a match, you might be setting your bar too high!

4. Built to Last:
Now, here’s my Five Ten love story. I got my first pair, the Warhawks, in 2011. And guess what? They were my adventure buddies—from biking escapades to my parkour phase (Yes, I hopped around screaming “Parkour!” too. Let’s keep that between us!). I only had to replace them recently with the Freeriders, and that speaks volumes about their durability.

5. The Price Tag:
Good quality usually doesn’t come cheap. You’re looking at a starting price of around $100, but when you consider they could last a decade, it’s a steal!

Ride Concepts: The New Kid on the Block

1. Fresh in the Scene:
Ride Concepts is the newcomer in town, giving a good competition to Five Ten.

2. Purely Mountain Biking:
Just like Five Ten, they’re all in for mountain biking. Their slogan says it all: “Premium Performance Footwear for Mountain Biking.” No roads, just rugged trails.

3. Style and Features:
When it comes to shoe designs, Ride Concepts is slightly flashier. Want a shoe that screams neon yellow? They’ve got you! And the similarities with Five Ten don’t stop with the designs. Their features and prices are pretty much neck and neck.

4. Sandals with a Twist:
Now, here’s the fun part. They have sandals that come with that same epic grip. While it’s a big no-no to hit the trails with these, imagine flaunting that extra grip at the beach or a pool party!

Pearl Izumi

1. From Road to Trail:
While Pearl Izumi has a strong reputation in the road cycling community, it doesn’t shy away from mountain biking. The brand might not offer the same range as some competitors, but it brings unique features to the table.

2. The BOA Advantage:
One standout feature is the BOA closure system. Forget the hassle of traditional laces; with BOA, you get a snug fit without worrying about stray laces causing a mishap.

3. Vibram and Goodyear Affiliation:
Pearl Izumi also collaborates with Vibram and Goodyear for the soles of some of their shoes. These brands are synonyms with top-notch grip, making these shoes reliable for trail adventures.


1. All-Rounder Brand:
Specialized doesn’t just stop at shoes; they manufacture mountain bikes, too. This might give them a unique perspective when designing mountain bike shoes.

2. Features to Boast:
Similar to Pearl Izumi, Specialized also equips some of their models with the BOA closure system and Vibram soles. Their price range falls in the same bracket as Pearl Izumi, offering value for money.

3. Road Heritage, Mountain Features:
While they share similarities with brands like Pearl Izumi and Giro, their extensive experience in the mountain biking industry might make them a go-to for many riders.


1. Road Pedigree:
Giro’s legacy primarily rests on road biking, but they haven’t completely neglected the mountain biking community.

2. Limited But Value-Packed:
While their range for mountain biking shoes designed for flat pedals is limited, Giro offers affordability without compromising quality.

3. Ideal for Casual Riders:
If you’re someone who occasionally hits the trail or is just starting out and isn’t willing to splurge on high-end models, Giro can be a fantastic choice.

Who Should Consider Buying Vans for Mountain Biking?

Vans, originally designed for skateboarding, have now crossed over to the mountain biking world. These shoes have generated significant interest, with riders using them on the trails and bike parks. However, is it a wise choice for mountain biking? Let’s delve deep into the circumstances where Vans might be an appropriate choice.

1. Casual Riding and Beginner Bikers:
Are you new to mountain biking and unsure about investing a significant amount on dedicated mountain biking shoes? Vans can serve as an excellent entry-level shoe for beginners. Their sticky sole and flat design offer decent grip on flat pedals, making them suitable for newbie riders trying to get a feel of the trails.

2. Pump Tracks and Bike Parks:
For those riders who frequent pump tracks or bike parks, Vans can be a suitable choice. These areas don’t typically expose riders to harsh or excessively muddy conditions where specialized shoes are necessary. The grip and comfort provided by Vans are generally enough for these types of rides.

3. Budget Constraints:
If you’re on a tight budget, Vans can be a great choice. They’re often more affordable than specialized mountain biking shoes, and if you already own a pair for casual wear, you can hit the trails without spending any extra money.

4. Style Statement:
There’s no denying that Vans have a unique style quotient. Many riders might choose them simply because they love the brand’s design and the statement they make, both on and off the bike.

5. Dry Weather Riding:
Vans perform best in dry conditions. If you’re sure you’ll be riding in regions where the weather is primarily dry, and muddy terrains are infrequent, Vans can be a decent choice.

However, Some Points of Caution:

  • Muddy Terrains: Vans might not be the best in muddy conditions. Their sole can get clogged easily, reducing the shoe’s grip.
  • Lack of Protection: Mountain biking shoes usually offer toe protection and other safety features, which Vans might lack.
  • Durability: Vans might not be as durable as specialized mountain biking shoes when exposed to rugged terrains and harsh conditions regularly.


Mountain biking demands specific gear for optimum performance, safety, and enjoyment. While Vans offer a stylish, affordable, and grippy solution for casual or beginner riders, especially in dry conditions or on pump tracks and bike parks, they might not be the go-to choice for more aggressive terrains or muddy conditions. Specialized mountain biking shoes, though often pricier, are specifically designed to tackle challenges on the trail, ensuring better durability, protection, and overall performance. Ultimately, the right choice of footwear hinges on individual preferences, riding conditions, and budget. However, when safety and performance are paramount, investing in specialized footwear can make all the difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ 1: Are vans suitable for mountain biking?

Yes, vans can be a good option for mountain biking. They offer ample space to carry bikes, gear, and equipment. Additionally, they are often equipped with features like roof racks, tie-downs, and customizable storage solutions.

FAQ 2: Can vans handle rough terrain?

Most vans are designed to handle various terrains, including rough mountain trails. However, it's essential to consider the ground clearance of the van, suspension system, and whether it has features like all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive for better off-road capabilities.

FAQ 3: Are vans comfortable for long rides to mountain biking destinations?

Many modern vans come with comfortable seating options, climate control, and advanced suspension systems that provide a smooth ride. Additionally, vans can be customized with additional amenities like sleeping areas, entertainment systems, and portable toilets for added comfort during long journeys.

FAQ 4: Can I securely transport my mountain bike in a van?

Yes, vans often provide secure methods to transport mountain bikes. You can use bike racks or mounts, interior racks, or even build custom bike storage solutions within the van. It's important to secure the bikes properly to prevent damage during transit.

FAQ 5: Do vans have enough storage space for mountain biking gear?

Vans typically offer ample storage space, which can be utilized to store mountain biking gear, helmets, tools, and spare parts. Additionally, some vans have built-in storage compartments or options to install storage racks for better organization.

FAQ 6: Are vans cost-effective for mountain biking enthusiasts?

Vans can be a cost-effective option for mountain biking enthusiasts as they eliminate the need for expensive hotel accommodations during biking trips. Additionally, a van can serve as a multipurpose vehicle for everyday use, saving on the costs of maintaining separate vehicles.

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