Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas
Five Ten was founded by rock climber Charles Cole. In 1985, Cole created the Stealth S1 rubber compound, which quickly became the gold standard within the climbing community due to its tenacious grip and durability. In the early 2000’s racers like Kovarik and Hill were dominating DH and helped to make Five Ten the go-to shoe among flat pedal riders. When Greg Minnaar came on board, he asked for a SPD-compatible shoe with the advantages of stealth rubber. The Impact Clipless VXi and the Maltese Falcon LT are their most recent shoes that have not only won the hearts of the DH community, but the trail riders too. We’ve been hoping for an even more pedal friendly shoe for a while now, and Five Ten let them out of the bag at Crankworx last summer.
Five Ten Kestrel Highlights
- BOA closure system for performance fit
- Dual Compound Outsole
- Stealth Mi6 rubber on heel and toe for great grip and shock absorption
- Stealth C4 rubber where pedal contacts shoe to increase power transfer
- Ortholite sock liner
- Carbon infused shank for increased sole stiffness
- Uppers are polyester synthetic and textile
- Synthetic toe for splash resistance
- Perforated upper and tongue for breathability
- Rubber toe bumper
- Weight: 403g per shoe (Size 9 US)
- MSRP: $180 USD
At first glance it is clear that the folks at Five Ten took a new approach with the Kestrel. Compared to the Maltese Falcon, Hellcat, and Impact VXi clipless, this shoe was built with all day epics and efficiency in mind. The Kestel upper is more streamlined than other Five Ten models, although still more robust than a typical cross-country race shoe. The heel and toe areas feature synthetic materials and rubber for durability and water resistance, while the tongue and uppermost portion are ventilated for heat management. The sole of the shoe is pre-cut for cleats and allows for plenty of adjustment with ample cleat room regardless of brand. The Mi6 and C4 rubber are seamlessly bonded.
The most notable feature is the BOA closure system. The system is comprised of steel lace, nylon guides, and a mechanical reel located on the outside of each shoe. It is meant to provide a more precise fit, eliminate pressure points, improve adjustability, and reduce weight. The BOA may be a first for Five Ten, but it has been successfully utilized in a wide variety of applications, including cycling shoes. Functionality aside, it also adds to the sleek aesthetics of the Kestrel.
The general style of the Kestrel parallels that of the Impact VXi and Maltese Falcon Race. Black, grey, and red highlights are stylish without being over the top bright. Style is subjective, but we dig the look of the Kestrel.
To help you position the Kestrel in the Five Ten range, here is a comparison chart of the different clipless models on offer:
On The Trail
This ‘winter’ the Pacific Northwest has seen mild temperatures and a healthy dose of rainfall. The shortage of good skiing (unless you enjoy boilerplate and avalanche debris) has meant plenty of riding and in the worst conditions imaginable, perfect for product testing.
Shoe fit is accurate and consistent with other Five Ten models. We were a little concerned about sizing at first as the BOA system and performance fit prevented us slipping them as easily as others, but once we had our feet in we were reassured that not only was the sizing accurate, but that the Kestrel contours the foot better than just about anything else available.
The BOA can be easily adjusted to personal taste. On our first ride it took a few attempts to get things dialed, due mainly to our inexperience with the system. Once we found the sweet spot, the advantages of the BOA became more and more apparent. The steel cable and nylon guides spread the load evenly across the foot without any pressure points. The system allowed us to tighten and adjust the shoe very precisely for a snug fit – no energy is wasted by gaps within the shoe. Traditional laces will always attract riders looking for a certain style of shoe, but in our opinion the BOA simply performs better.
For a number of weeks now the Kestrel has suffered through wet conditions. Although it isn't 100% waterproof, the Kestrel sheds water easily. The thin uppers absorb very little water, they dry out quickly and mud can easily be wiped off. We haven’t experienced sweltering temperatures, but breathability is improved over the Maltese Falcon LT, which we happily use during the summer months.
The Kestrel is Five Ten’s stiffest shoe to date. The carbon infused shank definitely improves power transfer, yet the sole hasn’t been made so stiff that pedal feel is lost. We like the Maltese Falcon LT, but we were hoping for a little more stiffness which the Kestrel has in spades. Too stiff? We don’t think so. The compromise between the improved pedaling efficiency and flat pedal security is bang on.
Part of the reason Five Ten chose to use a dual compound sole was to improve the interaction between clipless pedals and the Kestrel. The Stealth C4 rubber is meant to make clipping in and out easier, in addition to improving energy transfer to the pedals. The ease with which we could clip in and out was indeed slightly improved depending on the pedal tested. Small cages had more than enough contact with the sole of the shoe, but the Kestrel truly shone when paired with larger bodied pedals. In particular, we had great success with Shimano XT Trail and Crankbrothers Mallet 3 pedals. The Mi6 rubber on the heel and toe ensured that we still had the grip we’ve come to love when things get wild or when hiking.
We did our best to avoid crash testing the Kestrel, but a few roosted rocks found their way to our instep throughout the test. While the tongue has less padding than the Impact VXi, it has enough that the stray rocks didn’t bother us more than usual. Protection is on par with most all-mountain shoes and better than pure XC shoes. We feel that the trail-oriented Kestrel has struck a good balance between minimalism and protection.
Things That Could Be Improved
After a few months of abuse, we are having a tough time finding fault with the Kestrel. It really is that good. Folks with a high instep may find that the BOA doesn’t allow enough slack to slip into the shoe without some effort, but we’re just nitpicking. The inner nylon guides are showing slight signs of wear from rubbing the cranks occasionally. After a year or two of riding, it is likely that this might weaken the guide to the point where it might fail.
Long Term Durability
We had our reservations about the BOA system and the mechanical reel being susceptible to damage. No such luck however, even with a few direct encounters with deadfall and rocks throughout the test. The uppers show no sign of the abuse they suffered, regardless of our maltreatment. The soles have held up well throughout the test, with little visible evidence of where the pedal pins directly meet the Stealth C4 rubber. Full marks here.
What's The Bottom Line?
Five Ten has produced another winner with the Kestrel. It retains what we’ve come to love about Five Ten, but it features a few upgrades that meet a trail rider’s needs better than ever. It is the ideal shoe for any trail rider, enduro racer, or beer leaguer. It isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for with the Kestrel. Stiff? Relatively light? Durable? Functional? Stylish? All of the above.
Visit fiveten.com/products/bike for more details.
About The Reviewer
Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.