A Sticky Rubber History 17
Earliest evidence for the use of shoes comes from a cave in China during the Middle Paleolithic period 40,000 years ago.
Technically sandals were more popular than shoes for a long time. It’s all right though, socks weren’t invented until some bearded Roman geology professor figured he needed an accompaniment to his sandals. At this precise moment the invention of style is put back a few more millennia.
First unverifiable claim of the invention of the bicycle is attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. It had no steering and was made of wood. It still had better handling than anything internet forum e-engineers can come up with today.
Invention of sliced bread.
Invention of mountain biking occurred sometime in this period. It’s still up for debate who actually invented it. Gary fisher still tries to claim it by dressing like a psychedelic time traveler from the 1800s.
Invention of the mountain bike. Again still argument over who exactly did so, but in Marin County a rag tag bunch of grease-fingered hub-packers invented the mountain bike, of that we can be certain…cause they told us so.
A postgraduate rock-climbing wanderer, Charles Cole, comes up with the idea for a rubber compound formula for climbing shoes that is incredibly high friction and hard wearing. Stealth Rubber is born.
The invention of the Stealth rubber MTB shoe. Finally, the phrase *best thing since sliced bread* finds a legitimate home.
Mad scientist, Jeff Steber of Intense Cycles, approaches Charles Cole (inventor of Stealth rubber and founder of Five Ten shoes) about developing a bike-specific shoe. Jeff being the man with some crazy inventive ideas took a skate shoe, cut the sole off and then re-attached a piece of sticky rubber rock climbing shoe sole to the skate shoe with the idea that it could stick to pedals better while racing downhill. From there the concept was born and Jeff later re-developed the idea with Five Ten into a prototype to test.
Chris Kovarik is the first rider to try the prototype shoes.
The following season Steber had a bunch of radically designed and wildly coloured high- and low-top sticky rubber stealth shoes ready to try. They were branded with the Intense moniker as Jeff paid for the specific tooling and molds to make the bike-specific shoe happen at Five Ten.
It was late in the season that Kovarik hooked up his buddy and fellow flat pedal mangler, Nathan Rennie, with a pair of these Stealth rubber shoes, Rennie ran these shoes into the ground. They were smelly and almost in pieces at the end of his season as they were a valuable tool and hard to get.
Now the public can buy the same shoe. They dance in the street and burn effigies of disco shoes. However, the joyous celebration is short-lived as the limited production run soon sells out and no more are produced for four more years.
In mountain biking circles these years were referred to as the Fug Years. The fug being the hideous and visible odour given off by the feet of mountain bikers who refuse to throw away their beloved Stealth rubber shoes, saying that it would be akin to taking a step back in evolutionary terms. Wives and girlfriends, sick of the smell, start dating pig farmers instead.
At the first World Cup race of the season in Fort William Kovarik demolished the downhill field, winning by over 14 seconds using the Intense Stealth rubber shoe on a track that was wet and muddy, blown out and rutted, a record margin unheard of that still stands today.
The following week the World Cup circus traveled to Maribor, Slovenia and Kovarik managed to take out the win again on the Stealth rubber making that his only ever second World Cup win. He was now crowned the UCI downhill leader in points.
A young guy named Sam Hill is given his first pair of Five Ten brand shoes. Rumors are that the Devil himself gave them to Sam. Sam Hill claims the Devil had a name badge, and on it, it said Jeff Steber. At the Kaprun World Champs that year Hill takes the junior World Champion title using Stealth rubber shoes.
Rennie wins the UCI World Cup overall title on flat pedals, and yep, you guessed it, Stealth rubber shoes. More and more riders start to podium on Stealth rubber. Sam Hill demolishes the junior men’s field to defend his title. In fact he does so with a crash in his final run and still pitches a time that would have placed him third in the Elite men’s field.
Forget the drunken era of the nineties enfant terribles, the gang that really shook things up off AND on the racetrack was Kovarik, Rennie and Hill. All three using flat pedals to slay the euro disco road shoe peloton. With one foot out and one finger raised the Aussie marauders stamped a Stealth rubber mark on podiums far and wide.
A chap named Steve Delacruz approaches Five Ten founder Charles Cole about re-releasing a Five Ten MTB specific shoe. For a short while MTB Internet forums users tried taking credit for the re-release, but then someone reminded them that no one actually takes notice of what MTB Internet forums have to say. EVER.
Five Ten takes a radical route and sponsor a bunch of unruly Australian heroes (like Sam Hill, Nathan Rennie, and the Australian National junior DH team) rather than the more obvious US homegrown zeros. What an inspired move that proves to be.
Sam Hill wins the World Championship Downhill title. He becomes first rider ever to do so on flat pedals. The clips vs. flats argument goes into hyper overload on the Internet forums and magazines. Unfortunately, none of the internerds are killed in the fighting.
The Sam Hill and the Nathan Rennie signature Five Ten shoes are designed. The prototype that Sam Hill uses at the World Champs that year has the number two on the heel cup. Panic hits the design department of Five Ten. Rennie also uses his prototype to take third at the Worlds. Kovarik, sans a signature shoe despite being the first warrior battling with them, gets fifth place. Amazing that the podium is stacked with flat pedal riders on a track that many people said had a lot of pedaling.
Sam Hill wins the World Champs and the World Cup Series using the shoe.
Long time staunch users of clipless pedals, Steve Peat and Nicolas Vouilloz both use Five Ten shoes at various stages during the weekend of the Champery World Cup round. Lance Armstrong takes note and considers using Five Ten shoes for the treacherous cobblestone Tour De Flanders.
Sam Hill loses the Crankworx Garbanzo race by the narrowest of margins. After crossing the line the cheeky bastard says he lost time because his shoelaces had come undone and his right shoe slipped off in a muddy bog. A victorious Gee Atherton is understandably dumbstruck by this revelation. Surprisingly, no one offers to buy Hill some Velcro laces with ‘left’ and ‘right’ monograms on them.
Chris Kovarik is finally given his own signature shoe called the Karver. It's colored to look like he had just stomped on a baby mongoose. Kovarik gets in a little flap about the first batch though because the shoe is missing the flap over the laces he specifically asked for. It’s very hard to tie your laces when there are animal entrails all over your gumboots.
Just days after coming second on the pedal fest Canberra World Champ course, Greg Minnaar is in Las Vegas, not to watch the latest Barry Manilow show, but to release his signature CLIPLESS compatible Five Ten shoe (watch it here).
In a move that so obvious that it came as a surprise, Five Ten bolts cleats onto the Stealth Sole. Hundreds of Internet forum users groan and say that the idea was on the tip of their tongue.
Now that the Clips vs. Flats argument is resolved, Five Ten are asked to intervene in the Middle East peace process.
Sam Hill has to borrow a pair of his own signature shoes from another rider for the first World Cup in Maribor because he left his own somewhere. Surprisingly, no one offers to stitch his next pair to his feet.
Five Ten in space. NASA are testing Stealth rubber to use on the next robot to Mars. Perhaps if the poor little Spirit robot had Stealth feet it wouldn’t be stuck up to its belly in Mars sand.
-Special thanks to Chris Kovarik and Steve Delacruz for their vital bits of history and knowledge.
Review them in the Vital MTB Product Guide.