MTB shoes worth hiking in

The last time I’ve written about shoes was, well, never. I have had a history with going on bike rides that involve a lot of hiking. I hate, and i mean HATE with a passion the new carbon soled mtb shoes that have taken over the marketplace. The glued-on tread is hardly better than trying to walk in road shoes. It’s mind boggling that MTB shoe designers have thought this is ok. Everybody walks their bikes at times, everyone. The inverted front to rear height, zero flex of the sole, and ice-like nature of the compound of most shoe soles astonishes me. This is the classic case of ‘lighter is better’ even if it means a crappier product overall and potentially injuring the rider. Slipping, shin splints, bruised feet, oh so many ways!

I’m here to pronounce a couple of positive notes in a sea of shite. But some history first.

The first good clipless mtb shoe I had almost 20 years ago now was a neoprene cuffed shoe from Shimano. I can’t for the life of me remember the name/model but it rocked. How ingenious to have a cuff that didn’t allow dirt, pebbles, and twigs to get inside your shoe while riding and hiking? I remember when they stopped making these shoes, I was crushed. The sole wasn’t perfect but it held up under severe abuse in the Rockies bushwhacking and rock scrambling for new trail and places.

Next came the Lake MX-165 with a Vibram sole. I used a couple of versions of this shoe to race the 2002 and 2003 Montezuma’s Revenge 24-hr race where you do a LOT of hiking – up Gray’s Peak (14er) as well as many of the steep mining roads and ‘trails’ surrounding the little town of Montezuma, CO. If the shoes that exist today were used back then, the entire field of Montezuma’s would be on crutches having lost the use of their feet. Even with good shoes, I had shin splints and strained Achillies for a couple of weeks post-race.

Lake was an early adopter of Vibram soles for MTB shoes but they were pretty heavy. The thick soles were nicely lugged and somewhat bomber, although they did break off eventually and shoe-goo had to be used to continue use. The Lake winter shoes have Vibram soles too which I love even though nothing grips well in snow.

The next good shoe I tried (after some years with Northwaves) in 2004 was from Pearl Izumi. The X-Alp line was made to fill this gap in MTB shoes and in my opinion the first round of Pearl’s shoes were just ok — modified running shoes. I used one of the running shoe versions for a 4-day tour on the singlespeed where i hiked a bunch. They held up well but the lack of sole stiffness was blatant and annoying. Good for a more recreational rider or commuter but not for serious mountain biking.

Just a couple of years ago I ordered a set of the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduros. These are instantly comfortable shoes that hike VERY well. The tread pattern and sole is very nice, like a trail-running shoe but with cleats and stiffer soles.

Fast forward to now. I have been riding a pair of Specialized Rime’s for about a couple of months now. These use a very sleek (slim) Vibram sole i’m guessing to keep down the weight and to reduce the likelihood of the tread from tearing off. The shoe incorporates a BOA dial instead of a buckle and a unique wrap-over tongue that really cradles your foot and doesn’t let your heel rise up while walking. For my skinny feet, these fit right out of the box, true to size, perfect. That is rare for me.

The sole feels nearly as stiff as my carbon Pearl Izumi shoes but better – too stiff gives me sore feet over the course of a long ride no matter what insole i use.

The Rime’s walk better than any other MTB shoe I’ve ever tried. They feel rounded in profile but only slightly so – like an early rise ski tip not a rockered tip. This enables them to walk with a feel almost like a regular shoe with no heel slip but have a very stiff sole to maintain power transfer to the pedal. The wrap-over tongue and the wide BOA belt keeps your feet in place while riding and hiking up the steepest hills. They’re light enough although a tad heavier than the X-Alps.

The con’s of this shoe are what you’d expect. The BOA dial introduces more issues than I think it helps. It works really well though – righty tighty, lefty loosey – not the pop up and loosen type of the Lake winter shoes. But the BOA dial appears to me to loosen over the course of the ride. Not a bunch but at the end of each ride there is slack in the line. It could be that my feet are getting skinnier over the ride (compression? water loss?) or that I’m not tightening up the dial enough before I leave.

EDIT- I’m a dumbass (Heyride informed me that you can unhook the BOA loop to make it easier to get in…)
The biggest issue I have with the shoes is putting them on. It’s similar to getting into rear-entry ski boots. If you don’t know what I’m talking about…sorry…but you’re lucky. To put these shoes on you have to loosen the BOA dial as far as it’ll go (loosen, pull up, loosen, pull up or use two hands and do that simultaneously) and then lift open the tongue from underneath the BOA belt and twist and slide your foot in. Tri-geeks would hate these shoes for quick bike transitions. I have to sit down to put them on because it takes two hands and my balance is questionable.
Other than that, once they’re on they’re on and they’re pretty easy to get off.

The Vibram sole is just ok verging on good. But I feel it’s lacking in tread above the cleat where you really need it the most for steep hike-a-bikes. The tread grips fine on hardpack and rocks, but if it’s at all loose or muddy…good luck. There’s also no spots for toe-spikes. These would make great cyclocross shoes if they had that option and a luggier toebox.

Overall, I really like them. They’re good true mountain bike shoes – where if you hike at all you’ll appreciate the grippy Vibram soles, rounded outer footbed, and snug fit. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the BOA dial was replaced with a buckle in next year’s model.

3 Responses

  1. The BOA cable unclips from the hooky loopy thing on the outerside of the shoe. Makes for easy exit/entry. You only have to loosen the dial enough to unhook. I promise.

  2. So i unhooked the BOA loop for a few rides and i gotta say…it’s not much easier to put the shoes on. The overlapping tongue I’ve decided is what makes it more challenging to put on, it’s not all the BOA’s fault. It’s also not too easy to unhook the loop from the shoe, fingernails are involved, of which I don’t have much of. But it IS doable, but doesn’t help all that much in my honest opinion!

  3. This was a well-timed post for me, as I’ve been sliding dangerously in my shoes when I have to hike-a-bike on rocks. I’m going to check out these shoes.

    Hope you’re still safe from the fire.

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