The Mountain Bike Life

For years, mountain bike shoes have fallen into the ends of the mtb spectrum. Either the bastard children of road bike shoes and figure skates or the clunky progeny of skate shoes. There hasn’t been much in the middle. Either plastic tap-shoes or wimpy lace-ups with gummy soles. It amazed me that so few manufacturers could produce something in between. I wanted something better. What’s more, I needed new shoes. My beloved Sidi dominators, while still in service for use on my singlespeed, had always been sketchy on Colorado’s dicey hike-a-bike terrain. Their plasticky soles had left me skittering down rack faces too many times. I had been riding Pearl Izumi Alp-X Launches for the past couple seasons, but their uber-soft soles had delaminated early on and my gorilla-glue fix had proven no match for miles of vertical scree climbing to the singletrack heavens in the rocky mountains. Plastic, or gummi-bear. I wanted something better.

My requirements are simple: Stiff, with a secure closure. Flat soles to interface with my Crank Brothers Mallet DH’s. Rubber soles for hike-a-bike traction. Clipless compatibility (yes clipless. Not “clips” or “clip-in”. Pedals which provide a positive mechanical connection via a cleat affixed to a shoe are called “clipless”. It has to do with what we had before clipless pedals. Look it up). Oh, and I wanted a shoe that didn’t completely peg the dorkometer as I clippety-clopped my way to order a beer at my local post-ride watering hole. There had to be a goldilocks shoe out there.

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Enter the Five Ten Kestrels: Out of the box, the Kestrels are stiff. The whole friggen shoe. The uppers are very stiff and supportive. They are actually a little difficult to get into coming from shoes like the Sidi Dominators and Pearl Izumi Alp-X Launches with ratchets and hook-n-loop straps that open all the way up. The look of the shoes is pretty tame. A little less Le Tour and skater delinquent, a little more stealthy. Subdued. Borderline “normal”. The soles are among the stiffest I have ever ridden including some super fancy custom-fit carbon-fiber soled Shimanos (more on those later).

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Pedaling efficiency is terrific, on par with an XC shoe. Off the bike, the dual-compound sole shows it’s colors. Five Ten put a squishier rubber on the toe and heel where traction is paramount, and a harder, more durable rubber in the middle to defend against pedal wear. The result strikes a highly practical compromise between hiking and pedaling.

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Build:

The toe box is thick and well-armored versus rocks and trees compared to typical XC tap-shoes. A lightly padded tongue protects the top of the foot without being uncomfortably bulky. The upper is well-ventilated, but the “water-resistant” toe box could prove to be a solar oven in the dead of July in desert climates. The Boa cables are anchored on both sides by denser plastic sheets which wrap the foot and disappear into the soles. Overall I am impressed with the construction and apparent ruggedness of the shoes.

Sizing:

I wear a 43 in the Euro sizes which works out somewhere between a 9.5 and 10 in ‘Merica size. I got the 9.5s and found them to run just a fraction bigger than I expected. My typically mid-width foot found the toe box to be ample and comfortable.

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Boa Closure:

This is my second pair of Boa-equipped footwear and the idea is growing on me, although I’m not sold yet. The Boa on my other pair of shoes blew up after 1 ride. Boa completely took care of me and shipped me a no-cost replacement within 36hrs. This new multidirectional Boa on the Kestrels functions perfectly. It is easy to tweak the fit of the shoe on the fly to compensate for swelling feet or soggy shoes. I found the Boa system to feel very secure with no hotspots or problems. That being said, although the Boa laces in a similar fashion to a traditional lace, it is more difficult to adjust the tension in the tiny diameter cables. It takes a little bit of jiggering when you first put them on to get the laces right, but once the tension is balanced, it stays that way throughout the ride.

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Kestrel to flat clipless (Mallet DH) interface:

The Kestrel is the first shoe I’ve found that fits and performs like a proper cycling shoe, but also matches up with my Mallets. The cleatbox is deep enough that the pedal can engage it without suspending the shoe above the pedal and shallow enough that the sole isn’t jammed into the pedal body, unable to rotate for release. I did need to screw in the pins on the Mallets to adjust for this a bit, but between a single shim under the cleat and a couple of turns I was able to precisely tune the entry and release characteristics of the pedal.

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Cons:

The only real issue I have found with these shoes is that they do their job too well. The are a very stiff, very flat shoe which connects very well to a very large (stiff), very flat pedal. Midway through my first ride in the Kestrels I developed severe lateral foot pain. I once had similar pain that pair of afore-mentioned Shimanos. Looking at every other pair of shoes I own, workboots, running shoes, dress shoes, even my beloved Sidi’s I noticed that the outside edges wear out first. In my Sidis, I practically roll off the outside edge of the sole.

In all my bike shoe/pedal combinations I have worn over the years I have almost always had enough flexibility in the system to bend my shoe into compliance with my whacked-out anatomy. All except those brick-stiff Shimano and now the Kestrels. The Mallet Dhs exacerbate this in that the wide platform provides no pedal edge over which to roll, and the carbon-infused shank isn’t going anywhere anyway.

This issue isn’t a problem with the shoe, it’s a problem with me. What I really need is a proper bike fit from a professional to align my pedals/shoes/feet- and on up. Probably help with my intermittent IT band issues, now-that-I-think-about-it. Currently, I am experimenting with some BikeFit In-The-Shoe wedges to provide 1.5-3 degrees Varus forefoot tilt. Today I rode with 2 wedges in the toes and didn’t notice any forefoot pain problems. I’ll post up in comments my longer term results. I think that it is important to consider this type of anatomical phenomenon when fitting bike shoes. Especially ones that, by design, keep flat feet that by nature wobble to the outside.

Summary:

For $180USD, the Kestrel packs a lot of previously contradictory features into one shoe. Efficient, walkable. Clipless, flat. Rubber sole, light weight. Racer fit, barhopper tolerable.

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