It’s not often that I treat myself to nice things, but every once in a while, I understand that a man has to indulge in the guilty pleasure that is shoe shopping. With my previous pair of mountain biking shoes being ready for a hard-earned retirement, I struck out in search of a new pair of kicks to replace my stretched-out and shredded Northwaves that were coming apart at the seams, exposing my digits to the elements. Since I rarely find myself purchasing new shoes, I wanted to be sure that my hard-earned dollars and cents were going toward something worthwhile that would keep my feet happy for many miles. Having owned a pair of Five Ten rock climbing shoes for several years, I was definitely intrigued when I began seeing them dip their toes (get it?) into the world of mountain biking gear. After spending a season with my big toe poking through my last pair of mountain biking shoes, I decided to treat myself to Five Ten’s Kestrels.
Five Ten offers a wide range of footwear choices for riders of all disciplines, with the Kestrel occupying the racier-end of the shoe rack. The Kestrel, while not as svelte as dedicated XC race-oriented shoes from other manufacturers, is still notably slimmer when compared to Five Ten’s other offerings, which have a wider sole designed more for gravity-assisted riding. Thankfully, the oh-so grippy Stealth rubber compound that has been a defining feature of Five Ten’s products for years coats the undersides of all of their mountain biking footwear.
As a rock climber myself, I can vouch for the Stealth rubber’s ability to cling to all but the most polished faces, and this exceptional grip has thankfully made the transition from keeping climbers attached to walls to keeping riders stuck to their pedals. Should the grades turn too steep to pedal, the added stickiness of the Kestrels allows the newly un-saddled rider to shoulder their bike and hoof it up unrideable sections of trail without any worry of losing their footing. This level of grip also makes life easier for those silly enough to race cyclocross, where frequent dismounting and run-ups punish riders whose shoes struggle to find purchase in muddy conditions.
This riding season has found me pedaling all over the country, with days spent in the rain-soaked forests of Alaska, carving the loamy PNW goodness in Washington, and tackling Colorado’s loose and arid trails–yet no matter where I set my feet, I was always impressed with how secure the Kestrels felt in the varied conditions. The tread design of the Kestrels is wide open, with raised dimples of that glorious Stealth rubber giving riders plenty of grip while preventing the shoes from becoming caked with soil. I was literally ankle-deep in the slop during cyclocross season and was still able to keep myself upright and moving forward with no concern of having my feet slip out from under me.
With a carbon base, the Kestrels are firmly planted on the stiffer end of the spectrum, providing the rider a very direct connection with their bike. This solid link between the rider’s feet and the pedals ensures that all of the rider’s effort is transferred directly to the cranks without any loss due to the sole flexing. While this is an absolute boon for race day, longer rides may find some wishing for a more pliable, forgiving shoe, especially if longer bouts of hike-a-bike are on the agenda. In my experience, however, I’m definitely willing to give up a bit of cush in the name of performance, and wouldn’t want to replace my shoes with anything less stiff on race day.
One thing worth noting about the Kestrels is their top-notch waterproofing: even after stomping through a field of ankle-deep muck all weekend at the local cyclocross races, I’m happy to report that I did not contract gangrene and my feet remain happily attached to the rest of my body. This is due in large part to the synthetic, non-permeable outer material that Five Ten have specced for use in their shoes. While this is completely welcome for outings in wetter climes, this can also work against riders who are a bit more laissez-faire when it comes to post-race cleanup, as this same impenetrability also means that the Kestrels aren’t the best for air-drying. In fact, this author’s forgetfulness has led to his own pair of shoes becoming something of a petri dish of unholy-smelling things that needed an above-average dose of Dr. Scholl’s to dispatch.
Five Ten opted to use the BOA enclosure system in lieu of a standard lace-up or buckle and strap design, and it works fairly well for the keeping the Kestrels secured to the foot of the cyclist, as any self-respecting shoe should hope to do. The BOA system makes for quick tightness adjustments both on- and off-bike, with the two-way dial’s solid detents giving the rider a reassuring click as the tension of the steel cabling is tailored for the preferred tightness.
However, if there is any shortcoming of the Kestrel, it would be the lack of a second BOA adjuster for fine-tuning of fit. Aesthetically, the single knob gives the shoe an unfettered look, but if you’re spending enough time shoegazing to notice the Kestrel’s cleanliness while riding, it may be time to readjust your priorities. Adding a second point of adjustment would only benefit the Kestrel, as the current single-adjustment setup favors tightness at the top of the shoe, leaving the rest of the cable system loose by comparison. While not a deal-breaker, it certainly makes me wonder how much better the shoe could perform, given what would be a relatively simple addition of a second BOA knob. Perhaps a future Kestrel 2.0 iteration will address this and bring complete satisfaction to my podiatric preferences.
Even with the single tensioning point on the shoe, I am still a fan of Five Ten’s Kestrel and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others who are looking to keep themselves attached to a crank arm–especially if said riders are looking to show up on race day and make sure that when they check into the wattage cottage, their efforts aren’t for naught due to a flexing sole. Even for a more casual rider, the benefit of having a solid connection to their mountain bike is hard to overstate–it allows the rider to stop worrying about whether or not their pedaling efforts are in vain and allows them to focus more on the simple pleasure of riding a bike.