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A Toe-to-Toe Comparison of Two FiveTen Mountain Bike Shoes

Two shoes with two very different approaches are given an in-depth test out on the trail.

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Greg Lamont

FiveTen has been making some of the industry’s best rock-climbing shoes for decades now, and every mountain biker worth their salt was grateful the company decided to give bike shoes a shot 15 years ago. Their approach to shoes (intended for climbers to wear during rocky approaches to their vertical climbs) worked just fine on the pedals through the late ’90s, but their MTB-specific models released since then, like the Hellcat and Freerider, have offered riders increased stability and comfort tailored for use on contemporary pedals and all forms of dirt. In keeping with their tradition of constantly improving on purpose-built footwear, FiveTen currently offers two of the best trail-riding kicks around: the Impact VXi (a sneaker-style platform pedal shoe for the all-mountain rider) and Kestrel (a clip-less shoe with a streamlined profile, rigid midsole and BOA closure).

FiveTen Impact VXi

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One of the ways FiveTen shoes have benefited cyclists is by gently pushing back against the trend in the bike world of shrinking shoe profiles. The Impacts VXis, though thinner than some of FiveTen’s other offerings, can only be described as chunky. They are wide enough for normal-to-wide feet and don’t skimp on the cushioning that is essential to a mountain-bike rider’s overall foot comfort. I have wide feet and often have trouble finding a shoe that fits well, but the Impact VXi is wide enough for me to feel comfortable without the shoe feeling loose.

This is a shoe I would wear to the trail, on the bike, and even for a walk around town.

The traditional lace closure allows for a truly customized fit from heel to toe. I like my shoes loose over the instep and tight up at the ankle to really lock down my heel, and laces accomplish this more readily than other closure methods. Some folks worry that laces will get caught on debris while riding off road — and though I’ve never had a problem with that, the laces can easily be tucked in.

As for the feel, the Mi6 rubber compound is the stickiest rubber I’ve ever ridden, and combined with a pair of pinned-out VP Vice pedals there was more than enough connection to the bike (I almost convinced myself I could supply upward force). The shoe’s shank and midsole are also stiff enough for efficient energy transfer, but not so stiff that I was uncomfortable during hike-a-bike sections. On the contrary, this is a shoe I would wear to the trail, on the bike, and even for a walk around town after a ride.

Buy Now: $86+

FiveTen Kestrel

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In many ways, the Kestrel is the yin to the Impact’s yang. It’s FiveTen’s newest and slimmest shoe, designed to improve power to the pedals and a snug fit with the acclaimed BOA closure system. A single knob located on the outside of the shoe, right where the upper lace loop might be, collects a cable lace that crisscrosses the length of the shoe. The knob rotates one way to tighten and the other way to loosen and can also be popped out to release the cable all at once. The massive benefit of the system is that a rider can quickly and easily put the shoe on and tighten, all with one hand. It also allows for on-the-go adjustments without unclipping.

The Kestrel is by far the stiffest of any FiveTen shoe and provides a noticeably more efficient pedal stroke.

Two potential drawbacks: Though the BOA system is easily tightened and loosened, it is impossible to adjust the shoe to a custom fit, as can be done with traditional laces, because the cable tightens evenly across the shoe all at once. If you have a normal-ish foot, this isn’t much of a problem, but if you have an oddly shaped foot, the BOA closure is not ideal. The other drawback is durability. If your BOA system breaks on the trail, you’re pretty much out of luck, and with the plastic tensioning knob located on the outside of the shoe, it’s possible it could snag on a rock or low-hanging foliage.

The Kestrel features dual-compound rubber for the sole, a smart feature given the dual role of the clip-less MTB shoe. Stealth C4 rubber surrounds the cleat of the shoe, FiveTen’s hardest and most durable rubber being the sensible choice for the areas in constant contact with the pedal surface. The rest of the shoe is wrapped with Mi6 to give riders the best traction possible when forced to walk, scramble and climb their way out of hairy situations. The recessed cleat platform is large enough not to allow the rest of the shoe to interfere with connection and deep enough to keep your cleat off the ground when walking.

The Kestrel is by far the stiffest of any FiveTen shoe and provides a noticeably more efficient pedal stroke. The super-trim profile of the shoe also gives an advantage when trying to squeeze through tight technical sections. While there is minimal cushioning, the shoe seems to be quite stout and resistant to abrasion. The toe box is especially durable, with a hard synthetic shell and some perforated sections to improve airflow to the foot. Like most stiff-soled shoes, the Kestrel was not particularly pleasant to walk in, but compared to other clip-less MTB shoes, they come out near the top in hiking performance and comfort. These would be an ideal shoe for a normal-footed enduro or XC rider looking for an easy-to-use, highly efficient and seemingly durable off-road shoe.

Buy Now: $125+

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