Tested: Bontrager Flatline Shoes | $130 | BIKE Magazine
I get paid to be picky, and I'm good at it, which means that I stick to my favorite pieces of apparel whenever I'm not forcing myself to try something new. I'm particularly particular about shoes. Few pairs advance past the perfunctory try-on round, and fewer yet make it beyond the first ride. Fewer still seem to be viable alternatives to Five Ten.
Recently, though, two promising new flat-pedal shoes have come into my life. First came Giro's Riddance. They felt good enough out of the box that they actually made pedal contact. But that contact was short-lived. The Riddances lived up to their name, proving too eager to rid themselves of the pedals, so I quickly ridded myself of them.
The Bontrager Flatline shoes were the second pair of untested kicks to grace my pedals. Both Giro and Bontrager partnered with Vibram for their outsoles, but Bontrager got a stickier compound out of the deal. I'd say the Flatlines' square-lugged outsole has 80 percent of the grip of Five Ten's Freerider Pros, and a little less compared to the Impact Pros. That means they mostly stay put, but the Vibram rubber isn't quite as tenacious as Five Ten's illustrious Stealth compounds. The Bontragers simply don't have the adherence that Five Tens do, so more attention is required to keep them from bumping off when the trail is chattery, and it's easier to slip a pedal when climbing.
Not all Vibram outsoles are created equal. I’m not sure if it’s due to differences in compound or lug pattern (or both), but Bontrager’s Vibram outsoles are stickier than Giro’s.
The framing of “easy repositioning of feet” as a feature has always seemed to me like an attempt by brands to justify why their shoes don’t stick to pedals. After all, you only need to reposition your feet if they’ve just come off your pedals. But if you’re the type who often purposefully takes their feet off the pedals or just likes to shift their shoes around, then easy repositioning might be a good reason to go with Bontrager over Five Ten.
The Bontrager Flatlines also have the advantage when it comes to pedal feel. I've been reaching for them for fat biking (on snow), when sensing subtleties in rear-wheel grip is paramount. During the dry season, the zigzagged rubber on the toe and heel grips rocks and roots well enough to get me through short hikes without falling on my face, but the Flatlines aren't any better for hiking than any of the other shoes I've tested.
Of course, they wouldn't have even made it out of the house if they weren't comfortable. The synthetic leather uppers are pliable and the tongue comfortably cushioned. There are no chafing seams inside. Note, however, that the Flatlines fit a half size small: I'm typically between a 10 and 10.5 US or about a 43.5 EU, but the 11 US/44 EU Flatlines fit me nicely. They seem to be of average width.
Bontrager nailed the details, too: There's an elastic loop on the tongue to keep your bunny ears from getting caught in your chainring, and the flat laces are matched to oval eyelets that help keep them from twisting. If Bontrager skimped anywhere, it was on protection. The rock texturing around the toe box lends that zone slightly better guarded than the rest of the upper, but it isn't enough to really shield from rock strikes. The story is the same around the cuff: There's some light padding, but it's relatively minimal.
The rock texturing isn’t going to fend off a strike from an actual rock. Is it better than nothing? Hard saying not knowing.
Less padding means less weight and bulk, though, which might be what I like most about the Flatlines. They're light, airy, and slipper-comfortable. And I never had problems with them rubbing on crank arms. They've held up well, only showing wear on the outsoles where pedal pins have begun to chew away at the rubber. With a couple hundred miles on them now, I'd say the outsoles look similar, if not a little better, then where a pair of Freerider Pros would be.
Not everyone wants their shoes to stick like a felony conviction, which is good news for Bontrager. What the Flatlines give up in traction, they gain in pedal feel. And since they keep up everywhere else, I'll call them a viable alternative.