Stereotypically or not, I have always had a bit of a shoe thing, but usually in the sporting form. Road shoes, trail shoes, gym shoes, climbing shoes, road cycling shoes, mountain biking shoes…. The list goes on. But this little piece is about the latter.
As a climber, I always tended to use Red Chillies, but then I converted over to Five Tens as I found their shape and stick was better for my style. So when I discovered the world of mountain biking five years ago, it wasn’t long until I was wearing their shoes for that as well. Ask around and many riders will swear by them, especially if you ride with flat pedals.
It wasn’t until July 2016 that I reluctantly tried another brand. I had arrived early at a Downhill race venue to practice the track before the event only to discover I had left my shoes behind! I was mortified! Leaving your shoes is like leaving your arms behind. They are more than shoes. They are an extension of your body. They are what connects you to your bike and lets you feel EVERYTHING that’s going on. I had lost my arms.
I desperately asked other racers if they had any spares, but being a female that rides flats I tended to find people only had sizes too large (thanks anyway gents!) or the shoes were SPDs/Clipless. After a lot of phoning around (which is hard when you’re battling with Mid-Wales phone signal) and I finally found a shop that had flat shoes in my size, just one hour drive away….
Rushing into the shop I found the shop owner and he had the pair ready for me. He opened the box to reveal a stunning pair of blue and yellow Specialized 2FOs. They were pretty. They looked the job, but I’d never seen anyone ride in them. Giving a quick prod to the sole I could tell they were sticky, but were they as good as my Five Tens? At that point in time I didn’t care, I needed shoes and this was my only option.
So how did they ride?…
They were firm, supportive, super sticky and best of all, waterproof! I felt at odds at first with how firm they were, being so used to the flex in my Five Ten Freeriders. The thicker sole meant I had less bend in my foot and that meant I had to work harder to get my heels down (I have terribly inflexible ankles due to old injuries), but the casing and the shape meant that my foot as a whole didn’t move a millimetre. I was in love!
As the months went by I began to wear my Freeriders less and less and opted for the 2FOs more, especially if the weather was looking wet. I’d sometimes feel a little pang of guilt as I grabbed the pretty blue shoes from the rack, leaving the dusty grey and pink ones to sit and stare on as I tied the laces of another.
This new love went on through the winter months and on into the new year, riding when I could, which unfortunately was not nearly as much as I would have liked. If I was lucky I would be out riding most weekends, but sometimes work meant that if I rode twice a month that was considered good going.
Come May time I found myself to be having a downward turn with my riding. Illness and overtraining from running events meant I hadn’t spent that much time on a bike, and subsequently my confidence suffered.
I rode familiar trails, but something wasn’t right. I was crashing on basic turns, losing my balance on rocks and skipping out on roots. I’m far from a seasoned pro but when I lost my feet completely on a rooty berm I was on the verge of tears in frustration. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on!
One evening, after another failed attempt to learn skills and gain some confidence on the bike, it was mentioned that my feet were skipping off my pedals on basic terrain. I immediately retorted that my inflexible and tired legs were the cause, but was then prompted to look at my shoes.
The soles of my 2FOs had disintegrated. I ride pretty aggressive pedals (Shimano Saints) with large pins for support, but it was obvious to see that the pedals had eaten away at the soles. I rode a few more times, shifting my feet a little more forward to gain the familiar grip, but the foot placement felt alien and wrong. I was devastated.
For my next few rides I dusted off my Freeriders, feeling a bit awkward and exposed in their soft fabric with all their flex. Pedalling along the flat sections I could feel a sense on connectivity with the pedals and the bike, I noticed the changes in the track more. The moment of truth came when I returned to the trails that had shaken my confidence previously.
As I sped down the trail, hitting the berms and ploughing through the roots all I could think was how solid my feet were. My shoes would bend and twist with bike as it moved over the terrain, but they didn’t jump up once. They were solid.
Slowly my confidence came back. I wasn’t losing it, I wasn’t going mad, I had just lost my soles.
So as shoes go, the Specialized 2FOs were a superb affair. They provided everything I needed and more but like the summer lovers that they were, they weren’t in it for the long haul. Specialized have created a fantastic shoe that gave support unlike anything I had felt before (am I too used to the bendy Freeriders maybe?), however at the cost of £90.00 and only lasting 10 months, that means essentially I had spent £9 a month to get less than a year’s worth of casual use.
My Freeriders (RRP £85.00) are coming up to 2 years old now and still going strong. I’m aware that if you’re concerned about shoes being waterproof then Five Ten do make other style of shoes, but as far as grip and longevity are considered, Specialized should maybe sneak into the Five Ten HQs and figure out how to make soles that are truly sticky, flexible and long lasting. My Freeriders are once again taking pride of place next to the door, soaked in mud and smelling of damp, but I wouldn’t change them for the world.