September 18, 2008
The Gear Junkie: The Do-All Bike Shoe
By STEPHEN REGENOLD
A common question I get from first-time multisport athletes revolves around the versatility of footwear in sports such as adventure racing and off-road triathlon. Namely, newbies aspiring to speed transition times or cut back on the quantity of gear carried in a race wonder whether one pair of shoes might make it through multiple legs during an event, including cycling, trail running, and potentially paddling and off-trail navigation in an orienteering section.
The do-all shoe concept has long been a pipe dream for footwear designers, and a couple companies have pushed shoe products to market advertised as hybrids that’ll clip to a bike pedal and grip on a trail. The Northwave Mission, one example I tested, is a shoe made for biking with a recessed pedal cleat and a Vibram sole for traction.
The Northwave Mission
The Mission shoes ($99.99, www.northwave.com) clip in and spin for efficient pedaling on a mountain bike. For hiking and trail running, they grip on dirt and stone for adequate traction, and the contoured outsole and comfy footbed is fine for many miles of off-the-bike motion. A recessed cleat area keeps the metal clip from contacting the ground.
But the shoes are heavy — about 1.25 pounds per foot with my size 13s — and they are too stiff for running any long distance. Typical of hybrids I’ve tested over the years the Mission makes compromises to acquiesce with two very different activities. A bike shoe needs to be stiff in the sole; a hiking or running shoe needs flex. The Mission meets at a middle ground that accommodates both activities, though neither with great success.
Another entry, Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Enduro ($110, www.pearlizumi.com) shoes, have a nylon plate in the sole to provide the stiffness needed for pedaling. But off the bike a cushioned EVA foam midsole similar to that seen on the company’s running shoes makes the X-Alp feel almost like it’s not a bike shoe in disguise.
Pearl Izumi’s X-Alp Enduro
Further, the company designed a beveled heel on the X-Alp and a “flex groove” on the sole just behind the toes. These features accommodate a running stride and a toe-off spring while hiking.
In my test, the X-Alp — which comes in men’s and women’s models — gripped rocks and dirt while hiking on a trail. At just more than a pound per foot, they were a couple ounces lighter than the Northwave Missions. For running, the X-Alp passed the basic exam, flexing in the forefoot with my gait and accommodating an adequate toe-off stride motion.
For mountain bike races with sections of foot travel — sometimes called hike-a-bike — these shoes would be an excellent option. But I would not mark them as capable of the performance needed for foot sections on an adventure race or an off-road triathlon. I’d rather carry a pair of lightweight trail runners clipped on my pack, or keep them stocked at a transition area, and then make the quick switch to new shoes before running off.
A final hybrid I tested, the Keen Commuter ($115, www.keenfootwear.com), appears to be a normal sandal from above. But a hollowed area under the forefoot accommodates a cleat to let you clip into a pedal. Like the Missions and the X-Alp, the Keen shoes are heavy (1 pound 2 ounces per foot) and stiff in the sole. For casual use the Keens are fine, but in the woods — or even for a long walk around home — I’d wear something more specific to the activity and more suitable for the terrain.
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)
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