Sunday, July 1, 2018

Shoes Three Ways: A Flat Shoe Review

When I got started with mountain biking, I didn't have an idea how much fun I would have with acquiring shoes. I was never a person who lived a "fashionable" life nor did I have 20 pairs of shoes. When it came to mountain biking, I soon realized that your experience could be made or broken depending on what type of pedal and shoe you wore.

There are two ways to roll with mountain biking, riding "clipless" which really means wearing shoes that have a cleat at the bottom of them that snap into pedals. The other option is using "flats" which means a flat pedal with traction pins and wearing shoes without cleats. You can wear tennis shoes, skate shoes, really just about anything- but there are brands making shoes specifically designed to work with flat pedals.

I've been trying out shoes from Five Ten for several seasons now and I've really liked them. In 2018 Bontrager released a flat shoe earlier in 2018 called the Flatline, and since we sell a full size run of those shoes at Decorah Bicycles, I figured I should try them out. Also in 2018, Specialized redesigned the 2FO shoe- the brand I originally started out on.

I thought "wouldn't it be neat to have a post that talks about multiple brands of shoes?"

Without further ado, we'll run down the list of shoes I've been wearing on a regular. My ranking of each shoe will be based on several factors.

#1. Durability
#2. Multi-Purpose Use
(as in, can I wear the shoes at work comfortably for a full workday from 4-10 hours?)
#3. Grip

Five Ten Freerider Shoe w/ Stealth® S1™ rubber
These were the first Five Ten shoes we invested in- I loved the simple black with pink accent concept. The shoe pictured is 1/2 of the second pair that I have just been recently using. My first pair were retired this season because after wearing them on the bike and to work regularly (and my natural gait) I developed a few holes in the sole. (Heel and ball)

First off, if you are seeking a stiff shoe, these will not be very stiff. If you're looking for a very supportive shoe- this will likely not be it. They start out stiff, but as you walk/ride/wear them, they will become more walkable and more like an everyday shoe that has grippy soles. Travis likes this because he really wants to feel the pedals under his foot- I'm more on the side of wanting a stiffer sole for more support/less foot flex.

Durability?
I wasn't super impressed. I assume they are designed more for riding and not being a shoe for wearing all the time. (Multiple multi-hour workdays) I did feel they worked well for a multi-purpose shoe, making it easy for me to have one shoe to "do it all" and I wouldn't have to worry about having a spare pair of shoes at the bike shop for one reason or another. I would recommend purchasing 2 pairs to rotate through to help them last longer.

The grip is fine and a very solid option for a flat pedal shoe. You may notice it takes a bit for them to feel really grippy, but after you break them in you'll have great pedal to shoe contact. As I mentioned- Travis really likes that vs. a stiffer shoe. It's going to be dependent on how you ride and what you're looking for overall, on whether the Five Ten Freerider is the shoe you'd want to go with.

Five Ten Freerider Contact Shoe w/  Stealth® Mi6™
When the Freerider Contact shoes came out, I was super excited to try them out! I have a full review here on my first pair.

I would say the durability of the sole of these shoes far outlasts the Five Ten Freerider shoes. I also went the route of purchasing two pairs of the Freerider Contact shoes so I could better rotate. I have not noticed heal wear quite like I have on the Freeriders.

You'll see in the smooth part of the sole, pedal pins do "chew" the rubber, but not to the degree (yet) where it is an issue.
For multi-purpose use, I have found them to be comfortable enough to wear on a regular basis at work. They are a stiffer shoe but do "break in" a little bit, but they will not be as flexible as the Freeriders. I've spent many hours wearing these shoes on the bike and at work without a problem.

When it comes to biking, I've preferred the Freerider Contact over the Freerider due to the stiffness and how grippy I feel the sole is. I quite like having the smooth area of the shoe vs. the honeycomb pattern that is commonly seen on flat shoes. For me, it sticks well but still allows me to move my foot around with ease. I've worn these shoes for mountain biking, gravel rides, and races- they've been a solid investment.


Five Ten Freerider Pro Shoes w/ Stealth® S1™
These shoes are relatively new, so I can't write a whole lot on them to the degree of the other shoes listed.

So far, I have to say I like the fit and feel of them. I will admit, that the two other styles of Five Tens I own are actually too big for me- wearable, but too big by a size. I went with a 7 1/2 (I was under the impression I was 8 1/2) and found the shoes to be spot on for my foot size.

Durability is something I'm on the fence about (I feel they may be like the Freeriders above.) The rubber soles are super grippy, but I noticed after riding to work one day that I had made some interesting markings in them. I sometimes drag my heel when I walk, and noticed that the rubber scuffed up pretty easy. This made me decide to not wear them regularly for work and keep them more for strictly biking (or wear them to work before a group ride.)
When comparing the bottoms of the Freerider Pro shoes to my older Freeriders, I would question if the compound is truly the same or if since I have an older pair of Freeriders, that it changed due to age or something. The Freerider Pro was more affected by one ride to work and on the trail than the original Freerider. It makes me suspect that the rubber on the newer shoe is more "delicate"- the contact and grip is GREAT, but I wouldn't suspect it to be durable enough for daily wear/tear along with riding in them regularly.

For biking, I really like the grip! I feel like I stick to my pedals nicely but have the ability to move around without issue. They are flexible yet stiff, the first few rides have not left me with fatigued feet, so I'd say that's great!

We'll see how these shoes last and how they transform after a few rides. They have some features to them like an impact resistant toe-box and are also supposed to be lighter weight than the original Freeriders with a weather resistant upper.

Overall, Five Ten is a very solid brand of flat shoe that has been around for quite some time. I would say, from my experience, it's the most recognized name. However, both Trek and Specialized have come out with flat shoe options worth of trying.


Specialized 2FO 1.O SlipNot™ 2.0
My very first flat pedal shoe was the original Specialized 2FO shoe in a blurple color with ion accents. This shoe was, for better words, interesting. The whole shoe felt like some sort of weird, plastic shoe and the sole was stiff and just didn't seem to grip the best. Earlier in 2018, after seeing the redesigned 2FO shoes, I decided to snag a pair of Dynamite Panther 2FO 1.0 shoes. These shoes promised a better overall feel and a grippier rubber sole.

I admittedly have not worn these shoes to work due to their super fun color- but I feel they would be a fine shoe to wear at work comfort-wise.

From Specialized:
SlipNot™ 2.0 rubber compound is our softest, grippiest rubber, and it's optimized for the ultimate in pedal connection.
Engineered lug pattern designed specifically to integrate with pedal pins.
Internal bootie provides improved comfort and control.
Captured foam in the upper protects the foot from impacts.
Air mesh on tongue and upper provides protection and quickly sheds water weight.
Smooth thermobonded upper for lightweight durability and a snag-free profile.
Cushioned EVA midsole is sealed with a protective skin for support and tear resistance.
Lacelock™ elastic keeps laces out of chainrings.


In my opinion, the rubber is grippier than the original 2FO shoes I had, but not quite as grippy as the Five Ten soles. I find myself being able to move a too easily. I also noticed my feet were more fatigued after wearing these shoes during a ride than the Five Ten Contacts/Freerider Pro/Bontrager Flatline shoes. Ultimately, I wouldn't choose to wear these shoes for a bike race.

The internal bootie is a fine feature, the thermobonded upper is nice- less fabric to clean. The best feature tho, is the lace loop band! I wish that all of my Five Ten shoes had this elastic band to keep the laces tucked. Rather, I have to shove my laces under my laces and hope they stay in place. The elastic band is a very great asset and makes it super quick to lace up and go.

These shoes are a vast improvement on the originals and are certainly worth a shot, but if you're used to the Five Ten shoes you'll likely not find them to be quite on the same level. There is a 2.0 level of the 2FO shoe, and that may be a good option to look at for a shoe that's a bit stiffer and less flexy.


Bontrager Flatline Shoes Vibram rubber
We brought in the Botrager Flatline shoes this season at Decorah Bicycles to offer a simplified flat shoe option (Five Ten has a lot of options) and I decided I should give them a whirl because how can I sell a shoe that I don't wear?
I will admit, I was skeptical. I've not preferred any sort of pattern on my soles, and thus far, my Five Tens have ruled the show.

From Bontrager:
Vibram rubber outsole for an optimized shoe-to-pedal interface
Uniform tread pattern provides consistent, predictable interface between pedal and outsole
Directional tread at toe and heel gives off-bike scrambling traction, uphill or down
Shock absorbing EVA midsole
Durable, synthetic leather upper
Ortholite insole for long-wearing comfort and durability

I've worn the Flatlines fairly regularly since I've purchased them and really enjoy them. I find their soles (rubber and design) to be gripper than the Specialized 2FO 1.0 shoes. They are relatively flexible, but I can't recall feeling as tho my feet have felt fatigued after riding in them for either long or short rides.

For a workday, they are fine to wear. I've not noticed premature wear on the heels or sole, and I love the fact that they have a lace bungee! Again, another shoe that doesn't require me stuffing my laces under laces. Neat and tidy.

Frankly, I was impressed with these shoes, and would say that they are darn close to the connectivity I have with the Five Ten Contacts. I really like the zigzag pattern near the toes, and for times when I position my foot on the pedal more ball-toes, I feel I have excellent grip.

Wearing these shoes regularly has made them look a little rough around the edges. So I would say durability wise, it's still a test, but I'm hoping that the upper portion of the shoe is just as durable as the sole.
So, how would I rank my own shoes?
Five Ten Freerider Contacts
Bontrager Flatline Shoes
Five Ten Freerider Pros (based on a couple rides)
Tie:
Specialized 2FO 1.0 and Five Ten Freeriders

For me, being I work at a bike shop and I bike a LOT I figure I will typically wear my cycling shoe to work. So, being able to work in them as well as ride in them does play fairly high on my criteria list. Most consumers are likely looking for a "biking" shoe that's comfortable to wear off the bike post-ride for a beer vs. a biking shoe to wear all day, every day.

How stiff you want the shoe to be is going to be personal preference. Like I mentioned, I prefer a stiffer sole to alleviate foot fatigue. Travis likes a sole that flexes more as he feels more connected to the pedals that way. Really, the only way to know what works well for you is to try a couple different options and put them through their paces. The important thing to remember is that a good pair of flat shoes and pedals are an investment. You have to look at the shoes and pedals like equipment, not "accessories" as equipment can make or break your experience.

Looking to delve into the world of flat pedals but don't want to break the bank? Check out Race Face Chester pedals. Sold locally at Decorah Bicycles, you can snag a pair of these lightweight, grippy pedals for $54.99. Women can also go the route of supporting the local mountain bike trails and women's riding group: Fearless Women of Dirt by paying $20.00 and in doing so, you'll save 15% off your purchase.

If you aren't local to Decorah, please don't shy away from asking your local bike shop! There are several places they could look at to order a pair in for you- all you need to do is ask.

I've personally used the Chester pedals on my fatbike and was really impressed with their grip. I ride in snow boots in the winter months and have found mixed success with grip with other pedals. The Chesters really impressed AND work awesome with any of the shoes listed.


Finding a bike shop that carries flat shoes may not be easy because flats (in my opinion) are still catching on and/or flat pedal shoes are not the bread and butter of most bike shops. Decorah Bicycles carries the Bontrager Flatline shoes and has availability of ordering in Five Tens, but do not regularly stock Five Tens. I would say based on my current experience, that the shoes do fit relatively true to size as I'm approximately a 7 1/2 in the three brands used for this review. Either way, I highly encourage supporting local shops if you can. Ask questions, do some research- if you come prepared with knowledge you'll likely be able to order a pair of shoes at your local shop without issue.

Getting a great pair of flat shoes and pedals can be a gamechanger for many! Even if someone rides clipped in on a regular basis, you'll hear of folks transitioning to flats for short periods of time to work on technical skills. Either way, if you're riding trails on flats all time or just starting out, I hope this review helps you find the pair of shoes just right for you!

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