Are Vans Good For Mountain Biking? (Read This First)

When you’ve just started mountain biking, your first instinct is to grab a pair of Vans and start cycling. But can you actually mountain bike in Vans? Are they good for mountain biking?

You can mountain bike in Vans shoes, but they are not the best choice. While the lack of stiffness is great for control, Vans shoes can cause fatigue on longer rides. The soles may also get torn to shreds quickly if you use pedals with any sort of pin.

That said, you can always alternate between wearing MTB shoes and Vans. In this post, let’s explore whether Vans are good for mountain biking or not.

Are Vans Good For Mountain Biking?

Vans are not good for mountain biking because they are not as stiff as MTB shoes, which can cause fatigue on longer rides. Additionally, Vans are not water-resistant, rendering the soles next to useless if they are wet, muddy. or slippery.

For most cyclists, it’s totally normal to consider wearing Vans sneakers. After all, it’s the tires on the bike that are rolling down the trail, and not your feet, right?

Let’s explore the three reasons why Vans are not good for mountain biking in greater detail:

1. Vans are not as stiff as MTB shoes

The first reason why Vans are not the best for mountain biking is that they are not as stiff as MTB shoes. Not only are MTB shoes much stiffer than the average sneakers, but they are also stiffer than the average skateboarding shoes.

During racing situations, stiffer mountain biking shoes allow you to transfer force more efficiently from your foot to the pedal since stiffer shoe flex or bend less.

While Vans shoes are quite tough, they are not as stiff as MTB shoes.

In fact, you can even bend Vans shoes to make them looser.

2. Vans don’t grip the pedals as well as MTB shoes

Secondly, Vans don’t grip the pedals as well as MTB shoes. Look at the sole patterns below and you’ll notice a big difference.

The image on the left shows the outsole pattern of the Vans Pro, and on the right is the outsole pattern of the Five Ten Freerider. While the grip on skateboarding shoes is above average, the grip on MTB shoes is far superior.

Mountain bike shoes typically have “grippy” soles for added traction on rugged trails. According to REI, there are two types of mountain biking shoes:

  1. Shoes that clip into clipless pedals, which have two-hole cleats that are recessed into the sole, making walking easier.
  2. Shoes that work with flat pedals, which have a sticky rubber sole but no cleats.

Skateboarding shoes, like Vans, are designed to maintain a grip on a skateboard, which is completely different from a bike pedal. Additionally, if you’re mountain biking in a wet and rainy environment, Vans are not effective which brings us to… 

3. Vans are not water-resistant like MTB shoes

It’s no secret that regular Vans shoes are not waterproof

While not all MTB shoes are water-resistant, they offer more protection than the average sneakers. If the terrain is muddy or slippery, MTB shoes are more capable for the job.

Old Skool Vans vs. Five Ten Freerider 

For those who don’t know, the Five Ten Freerider is an MTB shoe praised by many avid cyclists and mountain bikers for its supreme comfort and durability. Let’s compare Vans vs. Five Ten:

Old Skool Vans (buy on Amazon)

  • Loose and floppy since they are made of canvas.
  • Soles get torn easily, especially if you use pedals with pins.
  • Lack of midfoot support, which causes fatigue for longer rides.
  • Not waterproof.

Five Ten Freerider (buy on Amazon)

  • Firm and sturdy.
  • Tacky rubber soles which allow the metal pins to bite into.
  • Stiff and supportive for longer rides.
  • Waterproof and easier to clean.

As a beginner, I tried wearing my Old Skool Vans when I first got my bike.

The Vans were fine at first, but I started to notice pain at the bottom of my feet and lower calves when I started doing more rowdy trails.

Also, the soles got torn up badly after a month of riding.

It was during this time that I decided to buy the Five Ten Freerider MTB Bike Shoes.

After consistently wearing the Five Tens, I quickly realized how vulnerable I was leaving my feet to injury. The main problem is that Vans shoes are loose and floppy since they are made of canvas.

On the other hand, the Five Tens are sturdier and grip the pedal very well.

There’s also a lack of midfoot support in the soles which can cause fatigue on longer rides. Sure, the lack of stiffness is good for control but you need something stiffer for longer rides.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that the Vans’ soles get torn to shreds pretty quickly, especially if you use pedals with any sort of pin.

The soles are also next to useless if they are wet, muddy, or slippery because they cannot grip the pedals very well.

Overall, the difference in support between the Vans and Five Tens is very noticeable.

My Mountain Biking Shoes Recommendation

I don’t claim to be a mountain biking expert, as I’m probably an amateur compared to you guys. That said, I’m here to share with you what I think works best.

If you want the best comfort for your feet, buy a pair of Five Ten Freerider. The soles are a lot “stickier” and definitely stiffer (which makes them much more comfortable).

They will also protect your feet since they are hard, sturdy, durable, and waterproof. If you have the means to buy them, the Five Ten Freerider is a solid choice.

That said, you can always alternate between wearing your Vans and Five Tens.

I recommend wearing the Five Tens for trail riding, where you want your feet to get “stuck” on the pedals securely. Alternatively, you can wear Vans for dirt jumping, where you want to be able to get your feet on and off the pedals quickly.

Sure, Vans gives a “floatier” feel than the sticky feeling synonymous with MTB shoes, but they will work fine! They also have softer soles so your feet will wrap over the pedal more as opposed to giving you a solid platform like the Five Tens.

However, you should always keep in mind that Old Skool Vans don’t offer much protection against snow and moisture, so they are better suited for the summer.

To summarize: If you’re just messing around, you should be able to wear Vans for mountain biking casually. But if you’re planning on cycling longer distances, then MTB shoes with stiffer soles are definitely recommended.

Final Verdict

Now you know whether Vans shoes are good for mountain biking or not.

If you have the means to buy a pair of MTB shoes, then you should invest in a pair to make your rides much more enjoyable! The Five Ten Freerider is a solid choice because they are waterproof and grip the pedals very well. Happy riding!

Reviewed by: Robert Martin