Shoes, pedals, and combinations thereof are things that have been occupying my mind of late. Exciting, huh!
On previous travels I’ve always ridden in SPDs – I love the sense of connectivity with the bike, especially over long, sustained climbs. I admire their single-minded efficiency – the unambiguous snap of a shoe bolted firmly into place – and revel in the slipper-like feel of a light racing shoe.
But as my explorations become ever more backcountry orientated, the quotient of hike ‘a biking is increasing, and my needs are changing. That, along with scrabbling up mountain sides to take photos, means a more versatile sole is now perhaps a better option. Kicking around town in the same pair of shoes I ride in is definitely appealing too – particularly over a long journey.
In the past, I’ve used SPD shoes that are designed for both on and off the bike – like Shimano’s hiking boot (the MT-91), with its burly Vibram-sole. But for this trip, I want to kick the SPD habit completely – and be done with that discordant grind of cleat on rock and cobbles. Admittedly, weening myself off SPDs has been a learning curve. Mating the right shoes to the right pedals seems to be the key to flat pedal happiness – and it’s taking some experimentation. Today’s downhill pedals, with their protruding pins, are a far cry from the plastic pedals of yesteryear. And the shoes that accompany them are either tacky and grippy, or fashioned with honeycombs to keep the pedal in place
So – as my Keen hiking shoes recently blew out at the ankles (warrantied by REI without issue, I should add), I’ve invested in a new pair of shoes – shoes which are riding orientated rather than hiking-designed. Actually, my first choice straddled the two – Five Ten’s excellent looking AEscent – but no one local has them in stock, and I’m loathe to order without trying first. Then I checked out the gravity-designed Impacts, which garner rave reviews. But these things are HUGE, burly and massively padded. Overkill for my needs. For now, I’ve settled on the lighter, airier Freerider VXi, which have both a shallower tread and a bald patch around the midsole – which I’ll admit, I was initially a little sceptical about.
But after a weekend of riding my local trails, I’m really happy with them. They’re super grippy on the bike and great for kicking around town. Construction seems excellent, and I’m sure they’ll soften up nicely as I wear them in. One of the first rides I have planned in Peru is a 5 day hike ‘a bike ordeal around the Huayhuash trekking route – so I’m interested to see how they fare.
In terms of general mountain biking, I’m feeling more and more confident on flats. With their roomy surface area, there’s acres of space to move around. I’m particularly enjoying descending on them – they’re teaching me how to be light on the bike. Inevitably, I still miss SPDs at times – but I’m sticking with flats for now.
Here’s a good review.
I bought my Five Tens from Bikeworks in Albuquerque – highly recommended it for its friendly service. Any bike shop that has a Krampus, Pugsley and Burley trailer out front is my kind of shop.
If you have any flat pedal riding advice for now or next time, please let me know!
You ask for flat pedal riding advice, all I can say is that I’ve been using the Hope F20’s for a while now and they are the best flats I’ve ever had.
I’ve been through the ranks of various flats, Shimano DX and DMC’s less spendy equivalent, Shimano PD-MX30, and assorted bear-trap style affairs and am now glued happily to my Hopes. Thin profile, long pins, one piece alloy, great bearings, strong as, you can’t go wrong. Pricey, but I’ve never regretted buying quality. They’ll be with me for years unless someone steals them.
Re. shoes, I’ve been a sandals man for a long time. Never been down the cleats/SPD’s road, a throwback to starting my cycling life on a BMX. Too complex, not versatile enough, (can’t hop off a bike into a shop/cafe w/o clicking like a horse), they look prone to bringing on knee injuries if not correctly adjusted, I like moving my feet around on the move and using different muscles, I don’t want to be glued to a machine – ever, and I’ve seen far too many riders fall off sideways at traffic lights.
Have been favouring Ecco’s Andes sandals and several years down the line am on my fifth pair. I spend more time off the bike than you, so horses for courses, but I can say that the tread is excellent, the fit very comfy, the rubber will cope with repeated abuse on the harsh edges of Cornish granite (I’ve destroyed most sandal sole rubbers – Merrell/Caterpillar/Karrimor/Vibram/Columbia, etc.), there’s enough protection to deal with spiky plants such as gorse, you can go running in them (not ideal but functional – tho’ these days I prefer a flatter drop – currently on New Balance MT10’s, amazing!), they’re great for walking and mountains, (I’ve taken them up Snowdon and surrounding peaks, in the snow, I might add, much to the dismay of Welsh Mountain Rescue bods), coastpaths and all terrain, and great for general daily life, look cool, they’re stiff enough to cycle in and flexible enough for other applications, feature neoprene/leather uppers, if it gets cold just wear socks (I’ve figured out that if you wear funky enough socks the sandal/sock nerd factor doesn’t wash – go stripy, think Dr Seuss!), if it’s raining either let the rain clean your toes or if too cold and extreme put on some Sealskin socks (which aren’t as waterproof as they’d like you to believe but shed the bulk) or overshoe covers. Downside is that the uppers take a little while to dry out being leather, so you can end up with athlete’s foot and mushy toes in prolonged wet conditions. But hey, as a go to shoe for doing everything in, they’re pretty good. A tad heavy because they’re somewhat over-soled, but they’re well made and will last a few years depending on abuse. The front sole lips up for toe protection and you’ll find yourself treading a little more carefully than you would with your feet totally encased but the upside is comfort and most importantly your feet can breeeeathe! (My main reason for being a sandal wearer – I get claustrophobic toes – (besides being a hippy beatnik)).
Other downside is that I once got some kind of weird plant toxic reaction on a toe that is still with me years later, from stomping around wild camping in sandals, akin to a Giant Hogweed burn but not UV sensitive. But hey, that can happen anytime, anywhere, on any patch of skin.
I’ve also recently purchased a pair of canvas uppered Evolv Cruzers after spotting some in a photo on this site, worn by your pal from Rivendell. Interesting. Grippy. Feel like a gecko, (tho’ still working on the anti-gravity thing). Low profile, tiny drop, suits the barefoot vibe. For a tour they’re way too encased for my toes, too lightweight generally and the jury’s still out on the durability of the sole and construction, but for daily purpose use, including cycling on flats, tho’ somewhat flexy they’re pretty rad, breathable, light, minimal, chic. Cycling wise, muscles in foot arches make up for any over flex in shoes. (Barefoot running helps with strengthening these muscles).
Guess if your shoes don’t work out you can always fashion something out of an old car tyre/leather and some string/lace, African styley, or perhaps huarache style, (think Born To Run)!
Ultimately we’ve all got far too much choice. Barefoot is still the best way to be. Tho’ not on the pins of bike flat pedals! And sandals are the best compromise for me. Tho’ obviously not for you ’cause you’d already be there. So enjoy your new shoes funkster!
Anyway, blurb, blurb, verbal diarrhea, tapping keys and staring a screen for too long, gotta go, a life is calling!
Happy exploring you!
That’s quite a reply, Justin!
Those MT10s look really nice. For a long trip, I’m worried I’d beat them up (I’m very hard on shoes) but for general use, I like the look of them. REI has the 2012s on closeout… At the weekend, they have one of their famous Scratch and Dent sales – there’s always a bunch of returned, nearly new barefoot shoes with crazy discounts.
I’ve toured in sandals before (Shimanos, with SPD) and while they were great for tropical climates, I just want more toe protection for riding mountain biking. I’m clumsy, and stub my toes a lot…
As it is, I’ll stick with Five Tens for now (I just spent a load of cash on them) but I’d love to try the approach-style AEscents.
I’m still debating on taking my Merryl Trail Gloves with me, as I love to trail run (and now that I’ve gone ‘barefoot’, running in anything else feels weird). Have to see how I do for space…
Great to have so much food for thought. Thanks!
Yes, over verbose again, oh well, thanks for putting up with me!
MT10’s what can I say? Best and most comfy pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned. get the version 2, they’ve sorted the toe strap problem.
I hate Inov8’s – too narrow for my toes, still musing over the rather odd sole rubber of my Vivo Barefoots, declined the Five Fingers path because of the awkward sock issue, (from what I gather you need the Injinji socks otherwise things quickly get stinky unless you plump for the more natural and breathable kangaroo leather/suede option), and have yet to try your Merrell Trail Gloves (which look very comfy). Absolute fave option is barefoot along a low tide.
My MT10’s fit like a glove and do everything that you’d want from a running shoe. Excellent sole, flexible, minimal upper, no rubbing, well constructed, intelligent use of materials. I’ve been putting around 50/60 miles a week on mine for the last three months on roads, forest trails and granite coastal paths here in Cornwall and apart from a little wear to the outer forefoot edge of the sole where I land (and faded stitching colour due to the strong UV) they’re still good to go. 9.5 out of 10! (I’ll be getting another pair!) You’d be hard pushed to destroy them, even on a long tour, unless you stomp around like Frankenstein. And they’d be a good option for general wear. Wouldn’t wear them for long on a bike tho’, flat pedal pins would wreck havoc with those soles.
Sandals. I’ve been wearing them for years. You walk a little differently, place feet a little more carefully. I don’t do the kind of riding you do tho’ and can understand your concerns about protection. Last thing you want up a cold mountain is a busted toe on a bumpy descent. Horses for courses. I think part of me hankers after playing the role of zen monk. Open toes seem appropriate!
PS. Regarding your REI link, I don’t have the leather ones. Those look better for general purpose use. I have the synthetic option, available here, (sorry don’t yet have the HTML skills to put in a nice neat link):
Glad you found the shoes that work for you Cass. I love the impacts myself because I can ride or walk around all day long and the thick cushioning means my feet don’t get tired at all. They are the most comfy shoes I’ve ever had and I don’t even bother with hiking shoes any more after getting these.
The other good thing is that they grip like crazy on wet rocks or when shouldering the bike over streams, obstacles. I recently tried on a pair of the Danny ‘Megaskill’ free riders but the insoles just didn’t seem so comfy so I bought another pair of Impacts for when my regular pair wear out. i practically live in them these days.
Only problem with Five tens is that they take days to dry out after getting soaked. Think i might experiment with some kind of waterproof coating.
Happy riding! Five tens rule! I can’t believe people ride bikes in sandals and crocs! What are they thinking?
Maybe I should have given them more of a chance. They just felt so big and spongy that I was worried about exactly what you’re saying – that they’d stay wet for days. The tread looked awesome though. The Freerides feel great – my only worry with the bald spot is hiking on loose, scrabbly ground – and longevity. In terms of sticking to the pedal, they do their job.
Impacts do feel overbuilt when you first get them but after wearing them for a bit they are great. I wear thinner socks in them. The grip is totally awesome!
I thought the bald spot on the freeriders was stealth rubber too but …..maybe not? I’ve now got two pairs ( luxury) so if I get a pair wet I can switch to the back ups while the others are drying out., at least when I’m riding close to home.I’ll try some DWR spray though and see if it does the trick. I think your freeriders will handle some hiking too as long as you have grip at the front and rear of the shoe.
Five Tens ( and my Burley Travoy trailer which is absolutely brilliant! ) are two bike items I can’t live without these days.!
Ha! Five Tens and Burley Travoy. Two products I wouldn’t have expected in the same sentence!
I believe the bald spot is stealth rubber. We’ll see how it fares.
Look like a great shoe. I’ve been told there are multiple concoctions of Vibram rubber, from the durable versions used in hiking shoes to the grippier (and less durable) rubber used in climbing and approach shoes. Do you suspect these to be more like the rubber in climbing shoes?
Saints still look good. The first (and coincidentally last) time I went to Bikeworks, they offered a cold pint out of the keg as I bellied up to the service area to read some Bicycle Quarterly and chat with friendly staff. Good to hear that ABQ has finally caught the fat tire bug!
In terms of durability, I’m hoping it will be the former – which is kind of why I went for biking shoes over approach ones. Certainly, the rest of the construction of the shoe is excellent. I now find myself eyeing up everyone’s shoes out on the trail. Windsor was awash with shuttlers at the weekend.
Re the Saints. They look and feel good. Jeremy has a set too. If he doesn’t destroy them, I figure I’m in the clear. In a bout of fanaticism, I’m now experimenting with washers and pin lengths…
I’m sure you’ve eyeing up the new Surly wares…
Oh yes, shoes that stay wet for days are the worst, as noted above. In these situations, less is more, although I can’t imagine wearing a sandal in changing weather at 4000m.
Just to be clear, Impacts will handle riding in fairly rainy conditions no problem, It’s only when they get totally soaked through in typhoon like weather. or when submerged crossing rivers (in which case you probably need goretex) I heven’t tested them in mud.
Say Cass, do you know anyone that’s tried the 45 North pedals?
They sure look interesting..but pricey.
Steve, I agree. Shoes that repel water and dry quickly are not always easy to find. I prefer Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid GTX for my purposes. Without too much cushioning to get waterlogged they dry out quickly, and are great for scrambling uphills. The midheight version gives me a bit of extra shit-kicking confidence when pushing through the weeds, and keeps some trail detritus from finding its way inside.
Sounds like a good option. Time was when shoes stiff enough for pedaling were useless off the bike. These days thanks to good design at least we’ve got some choices so we can’t complain too much.
I recenty went on a two week tour and decided to try riding unclipped again. I chose a pair of Five Ten approach shoes, VO Sabot pedals, and Hold Fast straps. The shoes were really comfy on and off the bike, and other than being a bit slow to dry, I had no complaints. Post-tour they’ve been great for easyish trail riding, short hikes, and scrambling around the rocks at Lake Tahoe. Time will tell how long they hold up, but I’m optimistic. The pedals are absolutely superb. The straps…well, don’t be too bummed they won’t fit on your pedals. They seem really well made, but when they were wet (which was often) they wouldn’t hold their shape and it was tough to get my foot into them without reaching down to pull them up. I took them off after about five days and realized they weren’t helping my pedal stroke much anyway. I’m sure they’re great for their intended purpose, but my experience was that they weren’t advantageous for touring.
Thanks for your feedback Casey, as that’s a similar combo to what I’d envisaged. I’m hoping with the more aggressive pins of the Saints, I’ll feel confident tackling some of the more challenging trails in Peru. One I rode last year was called ‘La Dentista’ – and was like a massive set of bad teeth!
Thanks for the review–I am searching for shoes too for my VP Vice pedals. Chacos work great, but sandals have limitations. In any case, I read a review at Pinkbike of the Freeriders that might be of value to you as it addresses their hike-ability. http://www.pinkbike.com/news/Five-Ten-Freerider-VXi-Shoes-review-2013.html
Thanks for that Christian. I can imagine myself agreeing with that review. I’m hoping the slipperyness in the wet won’t be such an issue, as I’ll be riding in the dry season for most of the way – at least for the kind of terrain that demands hike-a-bikes. Ideally, I think the same build quality (which seems excellent) and construction, with an Impact sole, would me my ideal shoe.
I hope they work out. In dry conditions they sound promising. Here in Virginia it’s been raining a lot and most trails are rocky and rooty anyway so it sounds like the 5.10s might not be the best. I’m going to try Montrail Mountain Masochists–I need a pair of trail shoes anyway so I’ll see how these work on the bike too. Perhaps not stiff enough.
Sambas with VP pedals (http://www.universalcycles.com/shopping/product_details.php?id=38284) have been doing me right for the past year. I think I’ve done 3 rides with SPDs this year. I don’t miss the SPDs at all. I definitely don’t miss my Sidis. I don’t know that I’d tour Peru on Sambas but they’re great for long mixed terrain rides. Did multiple 100 mile rides this year on them.
Looking forward to your pictures from Peru. I was there on foot in 2003 and had a great time.
Thanks for the input. I have the exact same pedals I use for round town and local touring. I’ve been very happy with them too. I’m hoping the Saints, being heavier, will be a bit tougher for mountain biking – I’ve managed to score some nice divots in my VPs on the local trails. Ungainly riding technique, no doubt.
Similar in idea to your Sambas, I’ve also got a pair of Chrome sneakers which a super grippy and nice to ride in.
Can’t wait to get back to Peru. It’s going to mean some massive changes (he said, removing a Rohloff cog from Sage’s mouth) but I’m looking forward to it.
I use the women’s 5.10 Karver shoe and a Forte flat pedal with rather aggressive pins, and the grip I get with that shoe and pedal combination is great! Be prepared to feel ALMOST as though you are clipped in when the setup is brand new; even now after two years of riding with this combination the grip and holding power is very good. There is seldom any unintentional slip, and trying to reposition the foot by ‘sliding’ around on the pedal is impossible without lifting the foot up off the pedal . The stealth rubber sole has very low profile treads, which may feel slippy during a hike-a-bike on steep, loose trail, but I’d rather be in those 5.10’s than a stiff soled SPD type shoe not meant for walking in.
I’ve used the 5.10 Impact Lows for years as my main MTB shoe.
– combined with a quality flat pedal with aggressive pins they are amazingly secure
– very comfortable both on and off the bike
– excellent traction for hike-a-bike
– a bit bulky…not a real problem, but some may be put off by the style
– very durable
– takes a while to dry when wet
That last point is my main hang up about using the Impacts on a MTB tour. I hate wet feet and I face repeated water crossings on some tours as well as rain.
I tried the 5.10 Freeriders reviewed here for a few weeks, but the sole started parting ways from the shoe after 5 rides or so which was disappointing. I returned them as they didn’t seem to offer anything over my Impact Lows beyond better style.
Given my experience with other 5.10 shoes I chalk my Freerider problems up to a batch assembly job and would have just grabbed a new pair if I loved them, but the Impact Lows feel better on my feet and their sole is grippier in dry and wet conditions. The Freeriders look to be about the same in terms of challenge drying them once wet.
I’m currently trying some 5.10 Aesecent approach shoes. They are not a bike specific model, but the sticky sole, low slung stiff chassis and partial mesh construction seem to offer a good blend of support, grip and drying once wet.
I’ve had them out for one tour and a dozen other rides. So far so good. One difference between these shoes and the Freeriders and the Impact Lows is that they are not heavily cushioned. On the bike this is actually desirable for a great pedal/shoe connection. I like the stiffness for hike-a-bike as the shoe puts the foot low to the ground for great stability in off-camber situations. You just can’t pound around heavily like you might in a running shoe. You have to treat them a bit more like a barefoot shoe although they offer far more structure, but are similar in the lack of impact absorption.
For the time being these are going to be my goto bikepacking shoe.
I hope you are feeling better and back on the road soon Cass!
I was looking for decent shoes for riding when I tried a pair of New Balance Minimus Trail that I had for a couple of years now. I generally use them for hiking and trail running on anything but concrete and tarmac, so the soles are in good shape.
I was wearing them when I read the above comment about “New Balance MT10,” which is the same shoe. Ha! I’m not the only one who discovered these awesome shoes.
I decided to try them on the flat MTB pedals I’ve been using for a few months now (after kicking the SPD habit) and was blown away with how comfortable they are. I haven’t had the chance to go out on a long expedition yet, but around town (dirt alley ways, local trails, streets) they’re awesome. I’m wearing them with thinnish/medium wool socks (Chrome brand). I’ve worn them with with different brands of thin cycling socks also, and they’re just as comfortable.
They have one downside — or maybe two. The insoles seem to soak up water and stay wet, but they don’t feel heavy or soggy. I battle tested them walking through a flooded creek and discovered they grip under water on slick mud and rocks as well as they do on steel-spiked flat BMX pedals. Also, the mesh on top can be a bit fragile with the sharp pointy things one may encounter in central Texas. However, I’ve run hundreds of KM on these and only have one small tear (like 2mm) in one shoe.
However, the outsole and minimal midsole are wonderful. I feel like I can walk or run straight up walls. They disappear on my feet when walking or running with a proper gait. It’s the same on the bike … they just disappear.
I feel like I should hoard a few pair (or maybe get the other two colors) just incase they’re discontinued.
Deity makes a polymer pedal that’s pretty cheap but good. Grippy studs, light, & a flat surface that would pair amazingly well with your shoes – or any non-big lugged flat-soled shoe out there, even the Salomons, like Nick & I use. I think I got mine off jensonusa.com
The fyxxation Mesa MP’s are great too. A bit of a nicer version of the Deity’s maybe.
I’ve been thinking about 5.10s, DCs, or Airwalks for biking on flats for a while, too, but I live in AK and if I get em wet, they might dry by the following summer…
I hope they treat you well.
Thanks for that Josh.
Several months on, and the 5.10s have been great. Ruggedly built, nice to kick around in, and nice to ride in. However, best avoided if tackling mud, wet grass, and I expect, snow…
Mesa MPs look nice. My Saints have held out ok, but not great. The bearings on once side are kind of shot, so I’ll probably have to replace the axle.
I ditched my SPD’s for bike commuting/touring two years ago when I went car-free, and now my toes no longer go numb! Even during my daily rides up Tucson’s Mount Lemon.
The perfect shoe for me ended up being La Sportiva’s Boulder X approach shoe.
Stiff sole for the pedal, grippy sole for scrambling and hiking, fits like a slipper and is the most durable hiking shoe/boot I’ve owned in the last ten years — and I’ve been through a lot working for years in the Sonoran Desert backcountry.
Love your site, Cass!
Thanks Ken. A daily ride up Mount Lemon sounds very nice indeed!
I’ve just got hold of a pair of 5 10’s approach shoes – http://fiveten.com/products/footwear-detail/13823-ascent-charcoal-slime – so I look forward to seeing how they fare.
Hi Cass, I am looking to forgo clipless pedals and stick with flats and a good sturdy shoe. I really like the idea of the 5 10 Approach shoes, only problem is the size. I know it’s a super long shot, but do you (or someone you know) know of a shoe that is equally qualified and would fit a small lady’s foot? I understand it’s unlikely you will have a good answer to this, but figured it would not hurt to ask. Thanks for your time. I really enjoy your photography and writing.