IMG_9924
An aging XC nerd’s attempt to evolve away from race shoes and toe spikes

The Cobbler's Blues

Words Mike Ferrentino
Photos Mike Ferrentino
Date Jul 7, 2022
Reading time

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy first appeared as a BBC radio series, well before the books, the TV series, and decades before the movie of a few years ago. That radio series covered some unique ground, with whole story arcs and supporting characters that never made it out into the mainstream. One such story arc involves the planet Brontitall, where the resident species has evolved into birds that do not have feet, in the aftermath of a planetwide footwear related catastrophe referred to as the Shoe Event Horizon.

See, on Brontitall, the economy of the entire planet became shoe-based. In order to support the widespread proliferation of shoe shops necessary in a shoe-based economy, shoes were manufactured with intentional shoddiness to be increasingly uncomfortable and ill-fitting. As a result, people would limp around complaining about their shoes, taking them to incompetent shoe repair shops without any successful resolve, before ultimately throwing them away and buying more shoes. A massive industry specializing in various forms of podiatry blossomed. Thus the economy boomed. Eventually the economy became completely lopsided, the people revolted, evolved into footless birds and went to live in a 15-mile tall statue of Arthur Dent throwing a teacup, leaving the planet surface below crusted in a layer consisting of decaying old shoes.

Whenever it comes time for me to buy some new riding shoes, I think of Brontitall, and I wonder about… things. Once upon a time, I wore Sidis. They were incredibly comfortable, suitably racy, and generally not very long lasting. Then, about the time Sidi switched to their replaceable sole system, I became a Northwave guy for a few years. For the past 20ish years, however, I have alternated between Shimano or Giro. Neither seem as comfortable as Sidis, but they are tough and stiff and consistent in quality. In every case, for the better part of three decades now, I have worn XC shoes that either have toe spikes in them or at least have the little holes where I could screw in toe spikes “just in case”. I have tried, Lord have I tried, to wear those floppy things that people use with flat pedals, and I have also attempted to wear the SPD-friendly versions of those same floppy things. Hell, once upon a time back in 1992 I even jobbed up a pair of fiberglass insoles and hacked holes in the bottom of some Chuck Taylors in an attempt to be cool and clipless. That particular experiment was a resounding failure, by the way. And so I always end up back in the XC shoe zone. With little screws at the toes where the spikes go.

Toe spikes are great for racing cyclocross in the mud. They are not good for much else, except maybe protecting the toe rand of expensive XC shoes from disintegrating rapidly. I haven’t raced cyclocross in a very long time, so why, then, do I have so much trouble breaking away from this style of footwear? In an attempt to figure out some of this why, and maybe wean myself away from tap shoes, I rounded up a couple of very different contenders: Specialized’s 2FO Cliplite Boa, and a pair of Adidas Velosamba Vegans. Let’s see how this goes.

IMG_9927

Must... not... drill... little... holes... in... the... toes...

Specialized 2FO Cliplite Boa

These are my latest attempt to buck the toe-spike XC nerd trend, and I am surprised by how well they work in many ways. But in a few other areas, I’m still left feeling like maybe I’m just not wired to be new school or, as the kids say, “sendy”. But I am wired to be spendy. In the case of the 2FO Cliplites, that'll be a hair under 150 USD spendy.

The good stuff: BOA closures rule! I can go from bare feet to locked and loaded in the blink of an eye. These are maybe the easiest shoes to put on and take off this side of a well broken in pair of flip flops. The BOA closures are super easy to dial in, although it takes a few rides to get fully accustomed to finding the sweet spot between snug enough and BOA constriction. But even then, they are idiotically easy to adjust. And when they are snugged down just right, that shoe is staying right there on your foot. Speaking of staying on my feet – I am somewhat Flinstone-ish in terms of foot shape, with a broad foot, decent arch and an average heel. Usually, I have to size up one full size or opt for whatever wide option is available. Meaning, I have about a size 42.5 length foot, but generally run a 43.5 in order to not strangle myself below the ankle. These shoes (in size 43.5) fit my feet really well. I could probably even go down to a 43, but since my heel never even hinted at lifting, I’m fine with them the way they are.

The Slip-Not sole material is grippy and compliant when hiking (I can’t really say how it compares to Stealth rubber or any of the various other super grippy soles out there since I am coming off a pair of pinner XC shoes, but it feels pretty grippy when walking around on rocks), and the very comfortable insoles feature lots of fancy words stamped into them. The understated green colour hides dust pretty well, and after a three or four ride break-in the shoes ranked mighty high in overall comfort. Sole stiffness was up there on par with most nylon or composite last XC shoes; meaning stiff enough to pedal efficiently, not flexy when jumping, but still comfortable enough for steep hike-a-bikes without worrying whether an Achilles tendon is going to twang.

The not so good stuff: BOA closures suck! Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But, they do stick out quite a bit from the shoe, and even though I haven’t scrubbed any of them off on a rock yet, I kinda think they’re asking for it. Also, as mentioned upstream, it takes a few rides to get the right amount of snugness dialed in. I noticed that it was easy to get a little too enthusiastic cranking the BOA dials down, necessitating a reset to back them off about ten minutes into my ride. This, combined with a stiff tongue that took a few rides to break in and get fully comfortable, made the first few rides less than “favorite pair of slippers” comfortable, but not really any different than the break-in period of most decent XC shoes. And finally, I’m not really sure how to parse this, but appearance-wise, the 2FOs seem a little “orthopedic”. This is strictly an aesthetic thing, and while these are nowhere near as bulky as a lot of the flat-pedal shoes favored by the meat-hucking set, I’m still having trouble adjusting to them visually.

That said, they only weigh a couple ounces per shoe more than my old Shimano XC5 kicks, feel about on par with them for stiffness, are easier to get on and off, and are a whole lot easier to walk around in. So, as far as easing out of my old toe-spike habit, they do the job admirably. Just so long as I don’t look down while riding.

IMG_9933

How is it that the svelte looking little number on the left manages to be heavier than that gumboot on the right?


I’m still left feeling like maybe I’m just not wired to be new school or, as the kids say, “sendy”. But I am wired to be spendy.

Adidas Velosamba Vegan

Be still my beating heart! When Adidas released the Velosamba a year ago, bicycle riding hipsters, bicycle riding aging skaters and bicycle riding football fans around the world swooned and the damn things sold out instantly. I personally felt cheated (see the bit upstream about where I tried to make my own SPD Chuck Taylors), and vowed that one day, I would own a pair. Even though I was never hip, can’t skate, and don’t really know jack about futbol, I absolutely LOVED the original Sambas. The fact that Adidas decided to craft an SPD-friendly version of them felt like some sort of cosmic righteousness. And I was crushed when they became instantly unavailable. But then they recently released the new Vegan Velosamba, and I slapped down the plastic to the tune of 120 USD without a second thought.

The good stuff: Well, they’re Sambas, which means they rule. And they’ve got slots and plates in the soles so you can run clipless pedals. The soles are substantially stiffer than the Sambas of old, with a full length nylon plate making this new interpretation of the SEVENTY-THREE year old original actually decent enough to pedal around in. In a functional sense, a Shimano SPD cleat recesses completely in the sole, unlike most that sit a tiny bit proud, rendering these the most comfortable walking bike shoes I’ve ever slipped on my feet (again, size 43.5). The soles are a nice soft grippy synthetic rubber, and the entire footbed seems to strike a really nice blend of flexibility that makes them really comfortable to wear around when not riding. As a testament to how comfortable they are, during my “walk around in them” phase of getting to know the Velosambas, I spent four hours this afternoon raking gravel while wearing them. They were more comfortable than my Salomon hiking boots and my Ariat shitkicker work boots, both of which I rate as “all-day” comfortable. These are really comfy shoes. And damn, they look good.

The not so good stuff: They may be really comfy, but they’re not that great for mountain biking. This was a hard pill for me to swallow, but I was kind of expecting it. One, they have laces. Decent laces, that do a decent job of staying laced, with a cool little elastic band to tuck them under and a couple extra lace holes on the upper for people with different shaped feet, but still, laces. Exposed laces, just waiting to get snagged on vegetation and stuck full of stickleburrs and foxtails. Two, the full length insole, while way stiffer than OG Sambas, is not really very stiff. This probably plays into the walking around comfort, but isn’t that great when pedaling with any sort of intent. So, anyone who weighs more than about 120 pounds is going to find them a bit flexy, and after a couple hours of flexy pedaling, my feet get kind of bummed out. Three, they don’t really do much to stop water and dust and crud getting in. Four, even though they look the business, all svelte and hipstery, they’re chunky little buggers, clocking the scale at a little more than 100 grams per shoe heavier than the old XC5 and 42 grams per shoe heavier than the 2FOs.

Still, if I was going to be riding urban or taking the clipless pedal bike for a day-long social cruise, these would be the shoes I reach for first. If I was commuting, and wanted to wear only one pair of shoes for the day, these would be my choice (unless I was commuting in the rain. But I live in California, and I work from home, so, ummm… nevermind).

Did I Learn Anything?

Yes and no. In a perfect world I would give anything to get the looks of the Velosamba with the no-nonsense efficiency and functional performance of the 2FO. Yes, I am that vain. Then I would willingly throw my extensive and varied collection of toe spikes away without a second thought. In the meantime, the old Shimanos aren’t getting discarded to be part of the planet’s crust. But neither are the 2FOs or the Velosambas. They all have a lot of ground to cover this summer.

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Comments

Ripbro
Ripbro
3 months ago
+3 Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman Crabbypants

I had a pair of lake mx-some_number shoes that finally died. I had been using these for ages, and they looked like it. Found a guy selling some previous generation Shimano ME7 shoes that he used once. They are awesome. Simple ratchet strap at the ankle, and a speed lace system not associated with snakes. I love them.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months ago
0

They're a favourite for sure.

Reply

mikesee
mikesee
3 months ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Cr4w Mammal

I'm sorry, but did Mike just cop to *weighing*, um, shoes?!

*moment of sigh-lence*

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+3 Konrad Mike Ferrentino NealWood

Shoes are rotational weight!

Reply

kos
Kos
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

But I've been told I pedal in squares!

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
+2 shenzhe Cooper Quinn

Mike, I weigh everything! Doesn't mean I always cleave to the lightest, but I have absolutely made some very bad choices in the name of gram saving over the years.

Reply

mikesee
mikesee
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Points for honesty.

Which is 'merikun for "Your transgression has been noted".

Reply

just6979
Justin White
3 months ago
+3 Tjaard Breeuwer Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino

As soon as you mentioned (cheekily, I assume) "those floppy things that people use with flat pedals", I immediately predicted you'd find the VeloSambas too soft. I haven't ridden them, but I wore regular Sambas almost exclusively from like Grade 8 to well after Grade 12, and I have flexed some VeloSambas in hand and could immediately tell they would suck for actual off-road riding.

However, "those floppy things" aren't that floppy anymore. There are plenty of options to have either very soft flat pedal shoes (My daily shoes are FiveTen Sleuths, and they're damn soft, like OG Sambas even, but technically considered bike shoes), or noticeably stiff flat pedal shoes that you could potentially crank on all day. Freerider Pro (and Contacts before that) have a nice shank, the burlier Ride Concepts models are pretty firm, and obviously ones that are "practically boots" like the FiveTen Impacts are plenty stiff, just for a few examples.

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HollyBoni
HollyBoni
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I don't know if there is something wrong with me, but I prefer soft shoes for some reason. I've been riding in Altra Lone Peaks for the last year and they're probably the most comfortable shoes i've ever tried. I just don't think about my feet at all, and that never happened before. I do everything from all day bikepark rips to 8-9 hour day rides and multi day bikepacking trips in them. When I look at photos of me riding, I can see the shoes (and my feet) bending around the pedals on impacts or when I just push down harder, but I don't actually feel it. Tried stiffer flat pedal shoes, but they just felt weird, like I lost feeling in my feet/legs or something.
And they reminded me of riding clipless which I hated. 😁

Reply

ThadTheRad
Jake Smith
2 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I've got a buddy who has done bike park days with Vans BMX slip on's, which are only maybe a hair stiffer than your run of the mill Vans. Is was admittedly because he forgot his five tens, but now he does most of his MTB rides with the slip ons. I can't handle much more than commuting and townie trails on mine, but they are great casual flat pedal shoes otherwise.

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kos
Kos
3 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Todd Hellinga

Been down this road. Ended up back at true xc shoes. Best compromise for me. Just can't get away from the stiff, light feel.

Reply

neologisticzand
Chad K
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

While I agree that it is true you can't match the stiff, light feel of an XC slipper, I think 2FO style shoes have their place. Just this past week I did a ride that required what was essentially a 1.5 mile hike a bike to a mountain peak/ridgeline where there are parts that required you to carry your bike up rocks (essentially a scramble). Doing that in XC shoes would be a nightmare. 

I'd also argue you can get much better pedal to shoe contact with flat-soled shoes, which is also nice for bigger travel bikes that take more effort to muscle around

Reply

FlipFantasia
Todd Hellinga
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

yeah I just went through this decision process this spring, tried the 2FO which were incredibly comfy, but ended up with the Recon 2.0 which seemed more functional and appropriate for what I was looking for, and no complaints thus far.

Reply

danithemechanic
danithemechanic
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Lately i learnt that laces soak up mud. It adds another thing that helps water soak your shoe if you ride in the rain and another thing to wash in the aftermath.

Now i'm officially part of that group of riders looking for a robust, waterproof, Boa flat pedal shoe that doesn't look like a skate shoe.

I really wish those 2FO's came with the option of flat sole - Boa closure.

Oh and Boa has a lifetime guarantee on all their systems, wich means you can smash those dials in all the rocks you want, the spares are going to come for free!

I'm never going to invest in another pair of Sidi or Northwave with their propietary closures because of this policy, that they don't bear.

Reply

Flatted-again
Flatted-again
3 months ago
+1 danithemechanic

Is the crank bros stamp boa flat too skate shoe?

Reply

danithemechanic
danithemechanic
3 months ago
0

That's actually one of the few (three models?) flat boa i'm looking at.

It seems like CB did their homework on those, but since i can't tell if i like or hate the looks and how stiff/grippy is from web pictures, i'll have to touch some firsthand before buying.

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Flatted-again
Flatted-again
3 months ago
0

If you've got shoes you like (except for the laces), Salomon sells their quicklime thingie-ma-bobs. I use them on my AT boots, but it might play a bit of havoc with lace holes. 

(https://www.salomon.com/en-us/shop/product/quicklace-kit.html#color=34672)

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
0

That's good to know about the BOA guarantee. I've had good luck with them in the past, and haven't needed a replacement yet, but being able to do so is solid peace of mind.

Reply

Flatted-again
Flatted-again
3 months ago
+3 Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino cxfahrer

A bit ago I had an issue with one and they sent a replacement, no questions asked.  Turns out the one I was going to replace had just gotten a bit dirty and with a quick clean its been fine ever since. Now I've got a spare boa set just in case.

Reply

neologisticzand
Chad K
3 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Merwinn

Whenever I get a pair of shoes with a new boa style I don't have, I just go ahead and order the replacement boas in advance, just in case I ever need them. 

I've really had great luck with boas on my biking shoes. I think I've now had at least 6 different pairs of shoes with boa dials and boas are part of my criteria for buying a new shoe.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
Merwinn
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

This. I had a pair of Pearl Izumis years ago with Boas, and I wish I had pre-ordered the replacement Boas. Had to wait a 5 days for delivery, but they were no too bad to re-lace and install if I remember correctly.

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pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months ago
0

The last gen Shimano GR9 would fit your bill Dani - it has laces but the lace covers would prevent mud absorption.

Reply

danithemechanic
danithemechanic
3 months ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

Pete, i'm sure Shimano are great shoes but a lace cover isn't doing it for me. 

I mean, laces make a shoe fit much more precise to your foot shape, but the practicity of Boa and such are incomparable whether you're adjusting your shoes mid-ride while gloved, or throwing them off to cross a river bare foot, i swear they made me save so much time after lunch break rides too.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 danithemechanic

No argument there - including the time savings. I've actually written before how BOA as well as the quick draw lace and buckle system Shimano uses has saved me tons of time when racing out the door for a quick ride.

Reply

danithemechanic
danithemechanic
3 months ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

But you gave me an idea and then i found the ET7!

Thanks!

Reply

mammal
Mammal
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

IMO the 2FO looks better than the Shimano XC's by a country mile.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
+2 Pete Roggeman Cr4w

Most riders who didn't spend several years shaving their legs would probably agree with you. I remember being laughed at in a coffee shop once, by a complete and total stranger, who was literally pointing and laughing out loud at my Paola Pezzo edition Northwaves...

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino cxfahrer Tjaard Breeuwer

There was only one Paolo Pezzo, and only one person who could pull off her outfits. Didn't know that included her shoes but there ya go.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I've been a Specialized Cliplite 2FO user for many years; I'm on my second pair. For me they've been perfect. They were the first clipless shoes that were slotted sufficiently rearward to mimic a flat pedal position. Plus you can adjust the BOAs while riding and they are consistent when wet - two things impossible to do with laces. They look nicer than disco boots while being super stiff, very light and very walkable. The only real catch is they are pricey.

I should order another pair while my size is still available :)

Reply

T-mack
T-mack
3 months ago
+1 Cr4w

I have 2FOs as well purely because they make my size.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
0

When I started to write this, the 2FO Cliplite was $200 on the Specialized website. By the time I was ready to hit send, the price had dropped to $149.95. Still spendy, but they do seem really nicely put together...

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craw
Cr4w
3 months ago
0

Might be worth picking up a fresh pair. If I miss them from this batch who knows if they will ever be available again!

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Love my ME7 shoes. I had similar issues with "needing" xc race shoes. I’m over that now but I can’t bring myself to get into something that is trying to look like a skate shoe too much. The other thing I got away from is tight shoes. Maybe my feet are getting bigger but I wear my shoes much less cranked and snug than when I a racer. Part of the reason I’ve weaned off race shoes is all the broken buckles I had. That strap often sticks out too far and catches trail side stuff and flips the buckle up where it gets bashed by the same debris. Cutting the strap short helps but the ME7 method is perfect. The ME7 for those not familiar with it is backwards with the strap at the bottom or side of the shoe and goes into the buckle from the opposite direction.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
+1 Andy Eunson

I've had a couple pairs of ME7 as well, but have each time ended up back on the XC shoe end of things. the ME7 buckle always seemed fussy to me, but it is pretty low-profile. I think my beef with the ME7 is that it always felt like it ran hot. My feet felt like they were cooking in them. But they fit the bill in so many other respects as far as performance and aesthetics that are not full-skate.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Andy Eunson

Andy: as we age, our arches naturally fall a bit, so it's natural for your foot to increase in length over time. 

Mike: I've had several pairs of ME7 but never had the hot foot issue with them. Then again, even a long, hot day in Whistler isn't the same as what you often have to deal with, so maybe personal, maybe regional. Also no buckle breakage problems here.

Reply

robnow
robnow
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I'm with Mike. Owning both the ME7s and XC7s, while I don't mind when I have to wear the MEs, I too find they run hot, feel heavier, and more finicky to put on...but appreciate that awesome sole on the more hiking days. I'm always happier running the XC7s, lighter, cooler, snappier...but obviously the toe lugs wear down quickly when hiking (I put toe spikes in that have been ground down to help minimize the wear on the toe).

I keep waiting for Shimano to give the ME5 shoe the ME7 treatment, meaning make a more premium version of the ME5 with the better materials of the ME7 (stiffer, Michelin sole). I imagine however their athletes must like things the way they are...Mike, please give Jesse Melamed a shout and ask if he/they (other athletes) have any input on the shoes and if they like the ME7 just as it is.

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pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

The ME7 is very popular in the Sea to Sky with all the pros around and regular riders alike. Great for off the bike moments, a bit of armouring, good range of cleat positioning. Hadn't heard people complain they were too hot before but you make two in here alone.

Don't see as many ME5s, maybe that's why they haven't updated it as you detailed.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
3 months ago
+1 Tjaard Breeuwer

The need to "reset" the Boas after 10 minutes or so is the main reason I always look for the 2-way adjustable Li2 dials  for bike shoes*. With a 2-zone shoe, the four 2-way dials might be too much for their margins, but I'd much rather have a single zone with a 2-way dial than any number of zones that always need a full reset to loosen even the slightest bit.

*(for snow boots I'm ok with 1-way dial on 2 zones because I'm pretty much either: tightening after every other run (not because they loosen, but because I get warmed up and ride harder and harder), or going full loose for a hike to a pow stash (top zone only) or lodge session (both zones))

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
Tjaard Breeuwer
3 months ago
+2 Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman

Indeed. The great thing about Boa’s is being able to adjust while on the bike. But that needs to be both looser and tighter.

I have a pair of old Specialized Rime  shoes that luckily have that.

I am guessing on snow you are talking about snowboard boots? Because for me, if I had a pair of the AT ski boots that have Boas on the foot, I would want the dual direction system there as well: sometimes while hiking/skinning I want it a bit snugger, sometimes a bit looser.

Reply

neologisticzand
Chad K
3 months ago
0

That's what I love about the OG Specialized 2FO cliplites, they have the older style of boa that allows micro-adjustment both loose and tight. The new version unfortunately lack that feature

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

There are quite a few versions of BOA now, so Spesh must have changed the spec, but you can definitely still find shoes that have BOA that goes both ways.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

It's not an necessarily an older style of Boa, just different. 2-way dials still exist, Li2 is the name to look for.

Reply

joseph-crabtree
Joseph Crabtree
3 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Still rockin' my Sidis. Tried the pseudo skate route, just too clunky feeling and lots of heel rub.

Reply

lamar454
Peter Appleton
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

performance, comfort and fit are all that matter, ride what takes care of those criteria first

forget about the latest trends folks when it comes to shoes....

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mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months, 4 weeks ago
0

but... but... but... VELOSAMBA!

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trumpstinyhands
trumpstinyhands
2 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Makes me want to find a pair of the Adidas Tango Bogota trainers that I had in the 80's. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ga0kOoHzAg 

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Polk
Polk
3 months ago
0

My Bontrager Cambion shoes (yep, they're proper XC-racer shoes) have the BOA dials almost on top, rather than on the sides. This makes a lot of sense in that they are much less likely to get smacked when passing too close to a rock, stump, etc.

Reply

DogVet
Hugo Williamson
2 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Lightweight shoes fine irrespective of lacing until you hit a sniper tree stump on an overgrown trail, then you wish you had bought a shoe with a proper toe box!!

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