One of my trailbuilding compatriots made the observation, “It seems like no matter what you are doing, it comes down to shoes.” For any specialized pursuit, there is a corresponding niche of footwear, whether it be flyfishing, rock climbing, skiing, running, or mountain biking. Specialization in mountain bike shoes has largely been in the vein of stiff, shiny slippers replete with buckles, straps, and cleats as a means of attaching yourself to the bike. As platform (or flat) pedals have become a more ubiquitous choice for mountain bikers, the market for shoes designed for flat pedal riding has grown by leaps and bounds.
Though I had been riding platform pedals for several years, it had always been on second hand shoes – Goodwill finds, or Wal Mart brand Chuck Taylor knockoffs. Last year, James Flatten hooked me up with a pair of Teva shoes through Grassroots Cycles while we were building for Singletrack Trails last year at Granby Ranch. The difference between the mtb specific Teva shoes and the clapped on Wal Mart kicks was absolutely amazing. The Chuck Taylor knockoffs I had been wearing were not much more substantial than cardboard slippers, and I had come accustomed to my feet blowing off the pedals half a dozen times on any given run. With the Links shoes, it felt like my bike gained another two inches of plush travel in comfort and control. Instead of bouncing off the pedals, my feet stayed planted, and cushioned footbed absorbed many of the shaper impacts I felt before. The hex pattern in the sole interfaces very well with the platform pedal pins.
After almost a full year of riding and near daily wear, the Teva Links are reaching the end of their useful life. While the outside construction is still holding quite solid, the shock pad in the heel has collapsed, and the ankle nub padding has ripped out. The blown ankle padding can largely be attributed to my lazy habit of slipping shoes on and off without untying the laces. As in every shoe with a cushioning heel pad I have owned, the pad eventually collapses, leaving a cavity in the heel area, and followed by an aching in my feet and knees from the awkward fit. The Tevas have gone the same route, which seems the inevitable demise of any shoe so cushy. For as haggard and clapped out as the inside of the shoe is looking, the outside has been remarkably durable. The tread has worn down, but only a small chunk has been been ripped out by pedal pins. The Ion-Mask technology that is supposed to keep the shoe’s material from absorbing water on a molecular level didn’t do much for actually keeping my feet dry, but it is worth noting that after a year of relentless trail builder bachelor use, there is no undue funk emanating from the shoes.
When climbing shoe company put their super-stick Stealth rubber on a pair of beefed-up skate style shoes and Sam Hill began slaying World Cup downhills in them on flat pedals, the market for platform specific shoes began to take off. This spring was my first chance to rock a pair of 5.10’s, and I was excited to try out their famous rubber on platform pedals. There have been a lot of comments that 5.10 shoes with quality platform pedals are “almost like being clipped in.” While I’m not quite certain I would go as far to say that, they do feel very solid on the pedal. Solid is definitely the overall feeling of the 5.10 Freeriders. The footbed does not have the comfort & support of the Tevas, but the fabric lining of the interior is much heavier material, like Carhartts v. yoga pants. All this contributes to the legacy of durablity 5.10s are renowned with. The heavy duty construction feel makes it more likely I will use these more as riding only shoes, compared the new cushy bedroom slipper feel of the Tevas that invite you to wear them everywhere.
Recently I made a trip out of town, bike in tow with the idea of hitting up some trails on the way. About an hour down the road, I realized I had forgotten my new to me 5.10 riding shoes. After berating myself for overly rushed packing, I decided to see what might be available in the wondrous aisles of Wal Mart. For $19.98, I scored a pair of Airspeed skate shoes, with a promisingly sticky sole. Though I have only had a few rides on them, I am impressed so far. They are just as sticky on my Straitline pins as either the 5.10’s or Tevas, and feel quite similar on the foot to the 5.10’s, but with noticeably less insole support than either shoe. While it hasn’t been a factor on short trail rides or dirt jump sessions, I would be reluctant to take them on long, rough, rocky rides or lift served resort riding, where too much pedal sensation underfoot becomes painful rather than pleasant feedback.
“Vanity, vanity, everything is vanity,” the Teacher of Ecclesiasties tells us. So let us take a moment to consider these shoes from the vanity standpoint. In this case, the flashy 5.10′s with their grey and white zebra stripe pattern win for me. I never really cared much for the purple of the Teva, though I do find myself partial the alternate grey/blue/yellow color scheme. The Airspeeds are definitely the most subdued of the three, and could be mistaken for your grandfather’s slip ons. Some people are into that, especially if it matches their sister’s jeans…
Of the three pairs of shoes, the Teva Links were by far the most comfortable. While the cushiony feel may be connected to its eventual demise, it seems a reasonable tradeoff, especially considering that the comfort directly correlates to control. This comfort, combined with the diamond shaped pockets in the tread pattern make for a grip easily on par, if not greater than the less comfortable, more durable 5.10’s. As for the Airspeeds? At $20, you can’t really consider them a waste of money, as the sticky sole adhered to the pedals just as well as either bike specific shoe, but lack the support to make them suitable for extended wear, and durablity remains to be seen. Of all three shoes, I would be most likely to buy the Tevas again, as they could well be the most comfortable shoes I have ever slipped my feet into; that carefully engineered comfort resulted in a very perceivable increase in control on the bike, and the life span is reasonable, considering how relentlessly I used them.