Lets start with a fact, the contact points on your bike define how you ride and wearing the wrong footwear will ruin your flow, full stop! Even in these product savvy days, it is amazing how many riders you see charging round on 2-3 grand bikes in a pair of cheap runners. Pedal manufacturers spend countless design hours testing and refining platform size, adjusting concave and getting the pins ‘just so’, all in the pursuit of the perfect connection between you and your bike. Anyone who has ridden on cheapy plastic pedals will know how they can make a great bike almost unridable at speed. If you are a flat pedal rider, a ‘relatively’ small investment in a decent pair of riding shoes can really improve your enjoyment of the trails. We have been testing two of the big players in the flat pedal specific shoe market for the last 3 months to see how they perform.
There are now a bewildering array of quality shoes designed specifically for maximum traction and control. The market is arguably still dominated by FiveTen, where a strong climbing background has created some of the stickiest soles known to biking. There is however a new player in town, footwear giants Teva have a lightweight shoe targeted directly at FiveTen fans. To see how they compare we have been riding a pair of Teva Links and FiveTen Impact 2’s back to back for the last 3 months, and the result was a bit of a surprise!
FiveTen Impact 2’s £89.99
I have to admit to already liking these shoes, they are my third pair of impacts and I have always enjoyed the feeling of security and protection they offer. They are a substantial shoe, feeling more like protective moulded armour. Featuring a solid toe box that really helps if you clip rocks, the construction is confidence inspiring, solid and hard wearing. A recreational user would expect to see a fair few seasons out of a pair. I wore my last set for 8 months, day in day out for 6-8 hours riding a day and after a very wet season the sole unit did fall apart, however they were tested far beyond normal use and I cannot imagine any other shoe faring any better under such abuse. The fit is snug through the foot, with a good grip on the heel, and I would say that they offer medium flex through the sole. You can still feel the pedal underfoot, but they have a sturdy and robust feel. The grip of the shoe is outstanding and certainly class leading! The stealth rubber on the sole evolved from their climbing shoe range and offers tenacious grip on the pedals. Being kicked from the pedal is a rare occurrence with a set of FiveTens and you can hold grip through tough rock gardens with ease. The only issue for a UK rider is water retention, the originals would take about a week to dry out after a thorough dunking. The new action leather on the impact 2’s is better, but the shoe still gains weight considerably when wet and does take a fair while to dry out. Overall though it is a quality shoe, well thought out and dependable.
Teva Links £85.00
When I was first introduced to these shoes by a Teva rep, he made big noises about the new Ion Mask technology. Basically he gave me a couple of tissue discs, one had been coated in Ion Mask and the other was untreated. Dunking both tissues in some water, the plain disc quickly absorbed the liquid, whilst the coated disc beaded water away and could be magically shook dry. Teva coat the entire shoe in Ion Mask and it does seem more than just marketing voodoo, while it will not keep your feet dry if you pop them in a river it does seem to stop the shoe absorbing vast amounts of water and becoming problematic to dry for repeated rides. If you are a regular rider in wet conditions this could well be a factor. The shoe is also a lot lighter than the FiveTen with a different feel on the foot. The Links are quite a soft and comfortable shoe and feel more like a training shoe to wear, there is still good support through the arch but in comparison the sole feels thin and sensitive on the pedal. They come in a variety of colour patterns, and each come with 2 sets of laces, one lairy and one more muted. I loved the yellow laces on the stand, but felt a bit daft wearing them so popped in the gray’s. The shoe has a 365 Spider Rubber sole and offers a secure grip. The waffle sole design integrates perfectly with a set of Hope F20’s and although the grip was not up there with the FiveTens offered a different kind of ride.
Head to Head
So which is best? In the end I found it depends on how you define your riding, and the more time I spent in each shoe the more I started to see the benefits of each, developing an understanding that outright grip is not everything! If I were riding in predominantly rocky terrain then the Impacts would get my vote every time. Offering a protective and robust shell with tenacious grip, these are certainly the shoe of choice for grip enthusiasts. Moving from the Impacts to the Links, initially the feeling was disappointing with less grip and structure to the shoe! However, as I spent more time in the Links, I started to ‘get them’. It is sometimes not all about outright grip, even though outclassed by the FiveTens, the links were plenty grippy enough and I never slipped a pedal! However what the Links did offer was a more sensitive shoe, you can really feel the pedal beneath your foot with more connection to the bike! You can smear your foot back into position if you get unseated slightly, unlike the FiveTens which need a lift and reset. For riding in the woods where its all about flow through switchbacks and tight turns, the Links feel more in tune with the ride, allowing you to feel and work the pedals a bit more when snapping from turn to turn, they are also a lot lighter giving a sharper more responsive feeling.
Both shoes feel robust and have handled 3 months riding with ease, as expected of a premium price shoe. When I started this I expected to find a clear winner, and expected it to be the FiveTens, however in conclusion I was left with more questions about what I needed from a shoe. Off the pedals there was little to separate the shoes, with their Ion Mask the Links would arguably be a better option for AM riders in temperate climates, and if wet weather was expected, especially combined with some seal skin socks. It should be mentioned that the Links waffle soul was not as grippy in Hike a Bike situations though, especially on wet mud and rocks! In this time of divergence and specialty, to me it felt that these shoes excelled in very different areas.
The FiveTens offer unrivaled grip and protection for hitting alpine or DH gnar, while the Links delivered a more sensitive, snappier ride, and perhaps more fun in the turns… and I thought it would be a simple one horse race!
Word and Photos: Trev Worsey