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!