I may have a Problem: 4 Shoes Reviewed
There is a problem at my household, and the problem is I have more shoes than I have feet for. I have been testing out a few pairs of shoes in the past year and this created a first world problem I didn't know existed. It turns out I haven’t been very nice to my body and even less so to my feet. Throughout my youth I favored cheap over comfortable when it came to buying shoes. Riding flatland bmx meant I would destroy shoes with all the scuffing and pivoting on the pegs and tires within a few months. The only viable options were bulky, skate shoes of the late 90s and early 2000s These shoes were quite versatile in their fit and style. I knew a couple of friends who wore them at their own weddings. I couldn't believe a bride would put up with a stunt like that.
As my weary feet started barking more and more with my advancing age, I decided to get ahead of this rapid downward spiral of potential immobility.* I started putting my hand up for every shoe review opportunity that came up.
*FYI, I still have beautiful feet that make most women jealous.
Bursting at the seams, the shoe rack holds the following shoes in the regular rotation:
Initially I didn’t think that a shoe would be the influencing factor to what kind of riding was on the menu but with some overlap, these four shoes offer four distinct riding experiences. Like wine for a particular dish, I wanted to look into what kind of personality I can pair these with.
Specialized 2FO DH Clip
These shoes are the newest of the bunch. Released not too long ago, alongside 2 flat pedal versions, Specialized 2FOs are intended to be high tech, without looking the part.
If you’ve been cycling on and off the road for any period of time, you’ve likely heard Specialized’s Body Geometry lingo. It turns out the very skate shoes we lived and pedaled in were destroying our knees and the saddles were ruining our reproductive powers. Specialized decided to get out ahead of this.
The 2FOs have a relaxed fit. I wasn’t sure what this meant but quickly realized it just meant loose fitting. My feet floated inside the shoe freely. This was a strange feeling. I couldn’t tighten up the laces easily to take up the slack. The laces were grabbing on to the lace holes firmly and not slipping through. This pre-set fit meant that when I utilized my standard index finger shoe-horn technique, I nearly destroyed my fingers. The material inside the shoe was anything but slippery and my feet refused to slip into the shoe. Unlike a modern sapien who would loosen up the laces to give themselves a room, I just tried to shove my feet into a less than ideal sized opening repeatedly. This got old pretty quick.
The achilles pad folded in often and caused an ill-fitting shoe. I hated myself more than I hated the shoe for all this. But Specialized, where the hell is the BOA? Seriously. Make my lazy dreams come true and put a proper single BOA lace on these shoes for the next gen. Please.
I do understand the intended purpose of a DH shoe, but the ability to loosen up or tighten a shoe during and post ride is a great feature. It makes every shoe more comfortable and riders happy. That said, I can't ignore the fact that laces are easily obtainable just about anywhere in the world in a rainbow of colors. They are cheap and heck of a lot simpler to install than a BOA system that requires a T6 Torx tool to service and replace.
Actually though, it turns out there is a way to mess up the simple lace formula as well. As the 2FO shoes lace from the top of the lace holes, they bind. Moving the laces to come in from under the lace holes solved this problem and resolved the fit issues that plagued the first couple of weeks.
The idea of the Body Geometry is a 1.5mm outboard tilt. That equals a 14°outside tilt on the feet. This aligns your ankle, knee and hip better for huge knee irritation relief. It is strange for a DH-oriented shoe to have this feature but I welcome it.
At first, I thought my cleats were installed wrong. My feet didn't seem to be where I thought they were on the pedal. Clipped in however, and staring at my heels as I pedaled, I found them to be where they needed to be. The Body Geometry tilt was doing its thing keeping things aligned while feeling alien at the same time.
I mount my cleats as far back as they will go. That's the only consistent way to set up multiple sets of shoes for me. And one that works really well for descending performance. Having the cleats back moves your feet further forward on the pedal spindle and takes the stress off your achilles and calves. You can relax more and absorb the terrain more efficiently. The downside is the uphill torque delivery suffers and your effective femur length shortens. You need to adjust your saddle height accordingly as your ankle will not be articulating as much.
Time cleats and Speciale 8 pedals worked really well with the 2FOs. No binding on the entry and ample support from the pedal body. When I rode unclipped on the random part of the sole, the Slipnot Rubber kept its promise and did not slip. I re-clipped at the next possible opportunity.
Hike-a-bikes were comfortable with plenty of traction on rocks and loose dirt. As a side effect of where I ride, my shoes often fill with pine needles and dirt. Emptying these happy little reminders of a great ride is a regular thing.
The chosen synthetic material for the inside and around the Medial Malleolus of the Tibia, is similar to a moto foam. This material is excellent for shedding water and does not absorb any, however makes cleaning dirt and pine needles impossible. Not a deal breaker but a small annoyance.
This shoe however does not absorb water! The Expel sole is a brilliant design that sheds water right through. This 500-gram shoe could definitely do without the added weight of water.
The toe box is sturdy enough for the unexpected rocks that kick up from the front wheel.
The 2FO DH Clip is a great option for those looking for a high-tech shoe with lo-tech lace system.
If and when Specialized brings back the 2FO Cliplite (this shoe with a BOA) it will be a fantastic option for people searching for a roomy, all-weather shoe.
$245 CAD // 170 USD
"How do you like my dancing shoes?"
That's the voice in my head each time I put on the BOA-laced ME5s.
The trail-focussed lightweight and stiff ME5 at first intimidated me with its intended purpose. I never felt encouraged to pedal harder by a shoe before these. They are somewhere in the middle of Shimano's stiffness index at 6, and while it’s not a very clear scale, they feel stiff when you are standing on the pedals. These are not XC race shoes-stiff, but excess flex is not noted on hard efforts either. Shimano blue looks nice on the lightweight foot covers. They are around 360 grams for a size 42 or 150 grams lighter than the Specialized 2FOs. That kind of sets the tone for when I reach for these shoes:
- Hour of power laps from the house early in the mornings
- grueling non-stop pedal missions to the top of the hill
- commuting to the store for some essentials
- Doing some FSR riding (gravel grinding)
I chose these when uphill speed was as important as flat out downhill performance. I even started pairing fancy, coloured socks every time I wore them. I pretended to be a high performing athlete and drinking fancier coffee when the ME5s were out playing. There is no denying that the ME5s have a sophisticated feel to them. The uppers are thin and soft and they feel good with thinner socks.
These shoes fit snug. Not like sausage in a casing but more of a cordon bleu. The BOA lacing lets you adjust the fit on the go. Nothing comes close to this for convenience; leave them loose for the long climb up the road and snug them down for the downhill. Or find a happy medium for technical climbing and leave them as they are. I found these shoes to have two volume adjustments with the BOA routing. Single loop on the lower hooks for high volume feet, double loop for low volume feet. The difference is noticeable.
There is so much to the lacing patterns of shoes in terms of fit, that I don’t think many people realize they can change the way a shoe fits by changing the lacing pattern. If you are having problems with the fit of a shoe, I recommend trying a few different lacing techniques.
On the downhills, I didn’t feel the shoe was lacking in terms of comfort or pedal interface. It turns out, looking like an XC shoe vs riding like one are different. I found positive contact between my Time pedal body and the lugs of the ME5. They aren't as secure and supportive as the 2FOs but certainly sufficient.
The stiff shank of the ME5 doesn’t make for a fun hiking shoe. On the rocks, I was extra cautious not to slip and when I wasn’t paying attention, I tea-bagged my foot into a creek on crossings. The aggressive lug pattern works well in loose soil but isn't entirely confidence-inspiring on the steep granite. The crazy thing is, I’ve seen in person (or maybe I was high altitude hallucinating) Joe Murray hike over an Andean mountain pass in these shoes. Rocky, uneven steep terrain which the rest of us brought actual hiking shoes for.
These shoes are just really that comfortable. Once they are on, you want them to stay on forever. The symmetrical inner cuff is appreciated with shoes you wear on a bike, clips or flats. ME5s have ample padded protection on the inside ankle.
I haven’t tested these shoes in really wet and cold weather but I didn’t think I needed to. I have a pair of Shimano MW5 Winter boots for that purpose. I thought, “obviously it would be an area they would fall short”. I was slightly wrong. If you own a pair or two (you definitely should) of merino or waterproof socks, you should be fine in colder weather.
The inner sole is made of poly carbonate which doesn’t absorb water.. The shoe is virtually the same weight when dry and wet. What the shoe lacks in waterproofing materials, it makes up for in how it sheds water.
This shoes will set you back 250CAD // 160 USD
Shimano has been making the AM9s in one form and name or another for the past decade. A burly shoe with a full size lace cover is a really smart idea. Getting rid of the laces and implementing a “Speed Lace” system is also a great idea, if it's designed to hold up years of abuse.
The Shimano SPD line up of pedals and shoes have a reputation for being indestructible. It is not uncommon to see generations old shoes and pedals on bikes from the mid 90s still rolling around on the pathways of Vancouver. Just change the cleats every 10 years and you are good. This kind of track record is a tough one to live up to as societal habits shift from buy once, to buy often. The AM9s are by no means a disposable pair of shoes.
As we ride harder and deeper into the mountains, the amount of abuse the shoes receive has increased dramatically. To keep up with new styles of riding, shoe makers will have to come up with clever solutions. The AM9s fit a little snugger than ME5s because of the extra padding and protection around the entire shoe.
Once you are in, all you have to do is pull on the Speed Lace tab which instantly tightens the shoe around the top of your foot. Then you just slide the spring loaded keeper down, fold the tab forwards and tuck it under the massive lace flap that keeps it all together and stops the debris from entering the shoe. There is also another velcro strap on top for additional security and fit adjustment.
The stiffness index of 5 is on the softer, more forgiving side of the spectrum. It makes sense on a shoe of this purpose; an All Mountain shoe where you may often be off your bike pushing through and balancing on slippery things. The toe box flex allows for an extremely comfortable walking position for those who often wander off the beaten path.
When it's time to walk down some weather-beaten slick rocks, you can balance yourself on the tip of your heels and dig that soft rubber in. Creek crossing with a couple of moss covered icebergs sticking out to prance on? No problem for the AM9s and their flexible sticky outer soles.
Shimano has gone a little Italianesque with their toe-box design. This shoe fit very roomy in the past but it's now a little narrower. This is an issue for the duck feet but I am borderline so I got away without much discomfort. I’d suggest a half or full size up with these shoes. Considering what they are designed for, you can use the space up front to be honest. A size 42 guy here who could happily pedal around on a size 43.
These are a similar weight to the Spec 2FOs; around 500 grams for a single shoe. While heavier than ME5s, this wasn't very noticeable once on the bike. The Flex in these shoes is appreciated on the pedals. Especially if you use a pedal with a platform around the clip. I found these shoes to work really well with the Time Speciale 8s.
A pedal like Shimano Saints would be just like standing on flat pedals I imagine. So much pedal and a flexible sole would feel great for flat-out downhill riding, which is where I loved these shoes. They feel very secure and protective while throwing yourself down the hill. The extra material does not interfere with a quick out and back in action on the pedals.
Wet weather riding performance is where I had mixed impressions of the AM9s. The lace flap does an incredible job of keeping water out. Splashes rarely faze the ventless shoe and you carry on. However, the same water tight construction also prevents the water that comes in around the ankles from escaping. While not an everyday occurrence, there were a few occasions where a full dunk resulted in a cold bath for the remainder of the ride.
Speaking of cold, the cleats act as a heat sink and suck all the heat away from your toes. This was more of an issue with these shoes than the others in the test. It may just have been a colder period of the season. I understand the concept should apply to all clip in shoes, but I noticed it the most with the AM9s.
The speed lace system is holding up well and unless you are a bit of a lace yanker, I don’t see it breaking any time soon. If it did, I could probably run a regular lace through the hoops.
250 CAD // 160 USD
Bontrager Rally shoes
We reviewed these shoes a while ago before Andrew Major decided to take a sabbatical from riding clipped in. I don’t think pedal decisions need to be that cutthroat but he is a better rider for it now I imagine. Out of all the shoes in my house and the ones I’ve seen on the shop floors, Rallys look like the most like the skate shoes we used to rock in early 2000s.
A Round, and Voluptuous Design.
The Bontrager Rallys have a simple lace design and top strap. The laces have a positive feel to them when you pull. They slip through their guides without binding and adjusting them takes no time. The uppers are cushy and flexible, and oh my are they ever comfortable.
Just put them on and leave them on the whole day. As long as the day is not a scorcher, you’ll have happy feet in cold or wet. All this material adds up to a shoe that soaks up plenty of water in the wet, but the water does not penetrate as quickly as one would imagine. They wouldn't be my shoe of choice if it was already raining hard, but getting caught in a downpour or splashing through puddles is not an issue.
The walking comfort is also second to none. Which is facilitated by the softish sole. Also the tip and the heel pieces are extra soft when you need to dig in for traction on rocks. All this softness requires a big pedal. They work well with the Time Speciale 8s and anything bigger will also work well. Softer sole is noticeable on the uphills, the shoe will give a little under heavy efforts. If you are a sit and spin rider, you wouldn’t notice much but out of saddle efforts feel soft and vague.
This is one of the few shoes that look great or absolutely horrendous depending on the colour combo you buy. The Olive green is easy on the eyes, while the Black and White version looks questionable to me. There are no high tech gizmos hidden within the Rallys and mine had the cleat shank crack in half and pull out of the bottom of the sole, which was warrantied swiftly by the maker
200 CAD / 150 USD
I do appreciate each and every one of these shoes for the duties I've assigned to them.
- Specialized 2FO DH Clip for uplift days and enduro style riding.
- Shimano AM9 for a great all arounder in warmer weather.
- Shimano ME5 for hard uphill efforts and lightweight summer rides.
- Bontrager Rally for when there is some walking involved.
I may be wrong, as I often am, but being able to divide the wear between multiple pairs of shoes seems like a smart idea, cost-permitting of course.
LMK your thoughts below.