Many riders swear by flat pedals for mountain biking, and the flat-pedal shoes from FiveTen are both legendary and widely popular among riders. Not to leave clipless riders out in the cold, FiveTen offers the Hellcat, a flat-style shoe that’s designed to work with clipless pedals. Does this shoe offer the best of both worlds? Read on to find out.
Design and construction
The Hellcats sport the iconic styling FiveTen is known for, with no visible indication that these are clipless-pedal shoes. FiveTen currently offers two color options, which seem to change from season to season. Chris Daniels reviewed the Hellcats just last year in a Red and Black colorway that no longer appears to be available.
The Hellcats underwent a major revamp last year to address durability issues with earlier versions. Looking at the 2018 shoe, it’s clear FiveTen is not messing around when it comes to durability and quality construction. Most of the shoe is covered in real and synthetic leather, and the rubber sole is thick and meaty. All of that adds up to some serious heft: my size 12 shoes weigh 571g each, without cleats. That’s more than a kilo for the pair, for those keeping score.
A lace enclosure is augmented with a strong, wide, velcro strap that is easy to cinch and keep tight. I’ve actually been quite pleased with how secure the strap feels, and it keeps my heel planted in the shoe through the upstroke. The velcro strap also keeps the ends of the laces lashed down and out of the way.
Unlike more aggressive shoes from FiveTen, the Hellcats don’t feature ankle protection. The upshot is the shoes don’t have all that added weight, and they don’t feel especially hot during summer rides.
Mountain bike shoes need to need a fairly stiff insole, particularly those designed for clipless pedals. The FiveTen Hellcats feature a suitably stiff sole — stiffer than one would think just looking at the shoe — but they’re still quite comfortable for hike-a-bike. Power transfer feels great, and nearly on par with a more traditional clipless pedal shoe.
FiveTen made a name for itself based on the sticky “Stealth” rubber used in their line of rock climbing shoes. Mountain bikers love Stealth because it absolutely sticks to flat pedals and doesn’t move. There are various grades of Stealth rubber, and the Hellcats utilize a compound known as Stealth C4. This isn’t the stickiest Stealth rubber compound out there; that would be Mi6, which is used in the popular Freeriders. Stealth C4 was selected for its ability to dampen the vibration introduced by the stiffer sole, and it also promises to wear longer than other compounds.
The tread pattern, called “Dotty,” is one that’s familiar to FiveTen fans. It’s basically big circles, and while the tread isn’t deep, the rubber more than makes up for it with good grip on solid surfaces.
Finally, FiveTen has done a good job with the cleat recess on the Hellcats. Walking across concrete in a pair of clipless mountain bike pedals tends to sound like a tap-dance routine, but I find the Hellcats to be quite stealthy. That’s because the cleats — at least the Crankbrothers ones I run — are at precisely the same level as the sole (or maybe just a hair lower).
The recessed area itself is reinforced with a hard plastic material, and it’s located further toward the middle of the foot than a traditional clipless mountain bike shoe. There’s a big range of adjustment, which is great for those who are used to riding flat pedals closer to mid-foot than big toe.
On the bike
Most riders will want to pair the Hellcats with a clipless pedal that offers a decent platform, like the Crankbrothers Candy or Shimano M530 pedals. In spite of the deep recess, clipping in took very little extra effort compared to shoes with a more front-and-center cleat placement.
I did experience a hiccup with unclipping the Hellcats. Essentially, the wide toe, combined with the cleat placement, causes the crankarm to block the twisting motion required for me to unclip. This turned out to be a problem from the beginning, and it didn’t matter if the cleat was slammed all the way forward or back.
Granted, I wear a big shoe with a long toe box, so I suppose not everyone will experience this. Also, not everyone unclips the same way; I tend to rotate my heel out, but I know Leah rotates hers in, so she probably wouldn’t experience this issue. My solution is to unclip in the 12 o’clock position which places the crankarm out of the way. Still, I’ve had many close calls when I found myself unable to quickly unclip in my usual manner.
Even with cleats, the Hellcats work pretty well with flat pedals, thanks to the deep cleat recess in the sole. I had some concern about the cleat catching on the pedal, but didn’t find this to be an issue in limited testing. This is probably off-label use anyway, so take this with a grain of salt.
I also tried the Hellcats, sans cleats, with a set of platform pedals and they worked even better. In fact, this worked so well I thought I might like to just run the Hellcats without cleats. Unfortunately the backer plate inside the sole tends to move around when it’s not secured by a cleat. So to be clear, with the Hellcats, cleats are required.
Best of both worlds? Not this time.
Flat pedal mountain bike shoes are great: they’re comfortable, they look good, and they provide a ton of grip on rocky surfaces. Clipless pedal shoes are great too: they’re efficient at transferring power and they prevent pull-ups off the pedals in the air. So it seems like combining the two could offer the best of both worlds.
Unfortunately, based on my experience, I think we ended up with Dewitos instead. I don’t fault FiveTen here — the shoes are incredibly well-crafted and offer all the features mountain bikers expect in a shoe. But for me, I’d prefer to keep two sets of shoes in my closet; FiveTen Freeriders for flat pedals, and a different, more traditional clipless MTB shoe for everything else.
After all, I don’t ride a hybrid bike either.
Thank to Adidas/FiveTen for providing the Hellcat shoes for review.