Bontrager’s new Flatline shoes are, as the name suggests, shoes for flat pedals. The Flatlines are made from a synthetic leather upper with a grippy Vibram outsole, along with an EVA midsole. The Vibram sole has some directional bits under the toes and heel designed to provide grip when scrambling uphill and downhill, while the bulk of the sole’s surface looks a bit like a laptop keyboard – slightly raised squares sticking up a mm or two above the base, which are intended to provide grip on flat pedals, and for walking.
The first thing I noticed after tying the laces and tucking the loops into the little elastic holder, was how the fit is snug around the arch but roomy enough around the toes – perfect. The next thing I noticed was how light they are – I can’t say I noticed once I got pedalling, but I could tell just walking around, which was surprising. They’re also very comfortable to just ‘walk about’ in, or to push the bike, partly because the upper material is very compliant so bends with the foot easily. Having said that, the front of the toe-box features a pretty solid bumper area to lessen the chance of breaking any toes when slamming unseen rocks (which I’ve seen happen in a shoe with less solid protection - ouch).
For reference, I rode these with some DMR Vault pedals (which are some of the grippiest flat pedals available). Once pedalling, the Flatline feels efficient in terms of not collapsing into the pedal, so there was still plenty of support for long hours pedalling uphill, yet I could still feel what was happening underneath my foot, in a good way. Bontrager have struck a good balance in terms of stiffness versus feel.
In terms of comparison, I’m going to compare them to two shoes from competitor Five Ten, both shoes I’ve spent a lot of time in. Compared to a Five Ten Freerider, the Flatline is better to pedal uphill in or to trail-ride in; there is better support under foot, despite being lighter shoes. They’re not as stiff under pedal power as the Impact VXi but they have more pedal-feel. The Flatlines aren’t quite as grippy (nothing I’ve ridden is) as the Impact VXi; particularly when banging about through rough stuff without pumping and weighting the feet heavily, the Flatline would occasionally skip or get bounced off, more than either of the above shoes, but on the plus side they were also a bit easier to reposition a foot if it wasn’t quite in the right place.
In terms of longevity, I’ve been riding them for a couple of months, including 170kms in two days on the Old Ghost Road – there are a couple of small gouges in the rubber from pins, but so far it looks they’re going to last very well. There are no issues with stitching and the Vibram rubber shows no sign of coming away anywhere.
What else? Thanks to the synthetic leather and only small and limited perforations, they’re pretty much splash-proof and shower-proof, which was nice when stream crossing, but on the other hand, when I was sitting around in Wellington’s intense summer sun (!), they could get quite hot; they never felt hot actually riding in them though. Otherwise, they’re also just good-looking shoes I happily wear off the bike too.
Making a good flat shoe for trail riding is more than just making the absolute grippiest sole. My experiences suggest that when making their first flat pedal shoe, Bontrager was aiming for all around trail-shoe, rather than an all-out DH focussed shoe, and I reckon Bontrager have hit the ground… pedalling. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them as a nicely fitting, quite efficient and suitably grippy shoe for all your trail riding needs, especially seeing as all signs so far point to a flat pedal shoe that has a long life ahead of it yet, despite the name.
Distributed by: Trek NZ
Words & Images: Carl Patton
Originally printed in Issue 87 of the NZ Mountain Biker