There were recently a couple of blog posts on Remolition about mountainboarding footwear/shoes – it was great to see these and have a read as it means, once again, I’m not the only one thinking about these things!
In true Rem fashion, they went more along the freeride and hiking road (seeing as they are avid freeriders) however I go along the traditional competitive routes – namely BoarderX, Downhill and Freestyle.
The thought and the past
A few years ago when I was in my last semester at Uni, I had a thought – ‘I bet bikers wear different types of shoe for different types of riding styles/terrains’. Seeing as your shoe and feet are the things that connect you to your board (or bike), surely there is a marginal gain to be had there from using the right equipment for the job. I had contemplated this on and off for a few years without realising it – I used to ride in hiking boots for my first few years on a board and got really good pop/height, and I have pondered how much of that was due to riding heavy, stiff boots over the years without drawing (or attempting to draw) a conclusion. Anyway, back to the point; very swiftly I had an answer – yes, there are specific shoes for different types of riding.
Let me take an extreme example – you wouldn’t be wearing clip on road bike shoes at Crankworx, and you wouldn’t wear beefy World Downhill Shoes in the velodrome. Very extreme examples, but the premise is no different – why would you wear ‘freestyle’ shoes for freeriding or Boarderx when they are very different disciplines? Surely there is an ideal shoe for BoarderX and that shoe is different to the ideal shoe for Freestyle?
Freestyle needs flexibility for tweaks, spins and flips while also providing some ankle support in case of contorted falls. BoarderX and Downhill need a robust shoe that will translate your input straight into the board for immediate response. Also the BoarderX and, especially, Downhill terrain will be rougher than Freestyle so the ideal shoe would have some impact absorption capabilities.
Now then, I haven’t gone all the way to discipline specific shoes but I have taken the first step. For a few years I’ve made a poorly kept secret of having Downhill/BoarderX specific shoes, and swapping them out for a different shoe when I hit Freestyle or more trick oriented runs. Way back when, I decided to take the plunge on some fairly expensive Teva mid-Pro Downhill/Freeride mountainbiking shoes – the first image in this article. As stated in the article, unfortunately Teva have stopped making mountainbiking shoes (boo!).
Reassuringly, I have been proven right about my hypothesis time and time again. I noticed an improved response from my board on the first ride and a decreased vibrational sensation on rough terrain. The stiff sole and shell of the shoe means I get minimal toe lift when putting the power down on a heelside carve, translating more of my power to the trucks equating in greater turn (this also worked in reverse on the toes). There is some dampening foil in the sole as well to increase the shock absorption.
An extra benefit is that the shoes themselves are rather chunky, so fill out my bindings much more which enables me to get a more secure fit in the bindings. The ‘mid-top’ profile gives some good ankle support and I’m yet to have any issue with my ankles while riding these shoes (I’ve sworn off low-tops due to ankle rolling issues).
My first season riding these more discipline specific shoes I noticed an improvement. A marginal gain, sure, but an improvement nonetheless and the shoes have been well worth the money I paid for them – not to mention that if they degradation rate is anything to go by, they still have some years left in them.
What about stunts?
I’ve neglected Freestyle a bit here, and there is a reason for that. As it stands, I’ve stuck with my norm in the Freestyle shoe department – I go for a high-top skate shoe. Last season I opted for a more lightweight high-top shoe and that was nice. It made the board feel a little lighter on my feet but the biggest advantage I found was that they were aerated and so my feet didn’t get so hot. Not necessarily a gain but I think I prefer the lightweight, aerated feel. From experience of Freestyling in my BoarderX shoes, there is definitely something to be said about using lighter, more flexible footwear!
Until writing this, I hadn’t considered changing my Freestyle shoe but that is not a good enough reason not to change or at least research. I’ll be going away and doing some research to see if there are any interesting sounding alternatives out there. The important thing will be being clear on what I want from a Freestyle shoe.
High-top/great ankle support is a must – I hurt my ankles more in Freestyle than any other discipline and now that I am doing more one footers, than in a very long time, I’m at a much greater risk of ankle injury.
I want a lightweight, aerated shoe to reduce the weight on my feet and increase airflow through the shoe. It’s also important to be able to flex at the ankle a bit and to also be able to flex the sole of the shoe – I often use my toes to hold on to my binding/deck when riding into a jump for or landing a one footed trick. A lightweight shoe also comes out of and slides back into the binding much easier.
Inside the shoes
It’s not all about the shoes though, what’s inside them also counts. I’m not talking about feet (although you’ll be better off with your feet in your shoes instead of your hands) but insoles. I’ve been using some impact absorbing insoles for a good 9 months now and impacts do feel a bit easier on my knees and back. It’s hard to say how much they help, but at the very least they make my shoes comfier so it takes longer for my feet to get sore.
On top that, I wear custom orthotics as I have flat feet and it causes me issues. I definitely notice a benefit from using these so any shoe I purchase needs to have a removable insole (or one that is lightly glued in) as well as having enough space in it for me to put my custom orthotics and insole in.
If you’re interested in trying out an impact absorbing insole, hit up ATB Shop as they have a few in their range – I recommend FootPrint (FP) King Foam insoles (you may be better off giving them a call). My insoles don’t have any arch support as I’ve got my own custom orthotics, but some arch support wouldn’t be a bad idea considering we crank some bindings down over our arches!
To quickly sum up, getting the right footwear for the job is a great idea and the right footwear extends further than just the right shoe. Take a look around and find something that suits your riding needs; a good pair of shoes and insoles are worth the money.
If you’re interested, keep an eye out on my shoes next time you see me at a comp and you’ll see what I mean. The pictures below are from the 2016 World BoarderX Championships, taken perhaps an hour apart but most importantly in different disciplines – notice the difference in shoes? If you happen to catch me changing shoes, you’ll notice me pulling my insoles and orthotics out of one and putting them into another!