Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Matt Thompson, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
"Wait wait wait… you want us to test a shoe with no tread? On a mountain bike?"
The proposition seemed preposterous. How could it work? Surely we'd be slipping and sliding all over the place?
Needless to say, the new Five Ten Freerider VXi shoes are an interesting breed. They feature the classic Dotty tread pattern at the toe and heal, but are treadless under the ball of your foot where your pedals rest while riding. The new Stealth Contact outsole pattern is Five Ten's unique solution for those that find the other models to have too much grip. The unique pattern is claimed to allow you to easily reposition your feet without picking them up, but would they offer the same level of grip and pedal security that we'd grown accustomed to?
We received the Freerider VXi shoes at the beginning of the Vital Test Sessions, a multi-day trail bike testing adventure consisting of hundreds of miles on the bike and lots of hiking for photo shoots. This allowed us to get a good jump on the test, and we've been thrash testing the new kicks ever since. Now it's time to break them down in another Vital Tested feature.
Freerider VXi Highlights
- PU-coated Action Leather and Mesh Uppers
- Full Lace Closure
- Contact Outsole with Treadless Design
- Stealth S1 Rubber
- Sizes 3-12 in Half Size Increments, 13 and 14 US
- Weight: 14.4 Ounces (409 Grams) Per Shoe
- Five Ten Red, Pumice, and Charcoal Colors
- MSRP $130
For some, it seems like just yesterday when Sam Hill and Nathan Rennie broke onto the World Cup scene with their signature Five Ten shoes that would revolutionize things for flat pedal riders. The radical "sticky" rubber sole was a breakthrough in many ways, allowing riders to maintain pedal grip through the choppiest of sections while flying down the hill. It wouldn't have been possible without Five Ten founder and President, Charles Cole, who originally developed the rubber to make rock climbing easier.
Stealth S1 rubber has an incredible amount of friction while still being durable. This is a result of the plasticity and elasticity of the material. The sticky feeling we're all fond of is a result of the plasticity, or the ability to absorb the pedal pins, providing that grip we need. The elasticity allows the rubber to reform to its original shape. As an added benefit, the combo of the two gives offers a good deal of shock absorption, reducing foot and leg fatigue. The Steath S1 compound is sticky enough, in fact, that Five Ten is likely the only company that could get away with the radical treadless design.
Aside from the rubber, the Freerider VXi shoes are all-new, and they represent the advancement in construction techniques and technology following the company's acquisition by Adidas. The fit has been refined and slimmed down, offering a shoe that's not only sleeker, but also 50+ grams lighter than the previous Freeriders. The uppers use a combination of mesh and a material dubbed "Action Leather," which is a fitting name given its ability to breath while still being highly abrasion-resistant. There's double-stitching throughout, and construction details and sealing have been improved across the board.
When compared to the previous Freerider models, the VXi shoes also have a reinforced toe cap, which provides more toe protection from stray rocks and stumps as you're cruising down the trail. The ankle area gives more side-to-side support thanks to some added stiffness and height. Finally, an asymmetrical welt (that's the edge of the sole) makes it so that the upper portion of the shoe no longer rubs against the crank, increasing durability.
Initial Fit Impressions
Out of the box, the shoes fit well. They're true to size and consistent with the fit of other Five Ten shoes we've used in the past. While narrower than previous designs, the toe box still offers some room to move around, which is great for comfort. They fit a normal to wide foot well, but those with super wide feet may find require some additional break-in time to relieve any pressure points.
Walking around, we've got to admit that they weren't incredibly comfortable in every aspect when brand new. We were okay with that, though, provided they would wear in over time. A common complaint we've have with many shoes, including some in the Five Ten lineup, is that they can be too bulky (Impacts) or too soft (Freerider). The new Freerider VXi shoes offered something new - they were firm, stiff, and supportive at first, but slim. That stiffness translated into rub on the insides of ours ankles, on the achilles, and where the tongue meets the bottom of the leg. The fit is far from the cushy feel you get with the Impacts and it's a performance feel that clearly means business from the get go.
On The Trail
Over the course of about five or six good rides, the uppers loosened up, formed to our feet, and broke-in well. After that, comfort was very much improved in every way. We were really surprised at the level of comfort considering how stiff the uppers were at first. The shoes never rubbed us raw anywhere, even with the added stiffness during the break-in phase.
How did the semi-treadless Contact outsole design work? When we first put our feet on the pedals, we were shocked by the amount of grip the shoes offered while pedaling or standing. In short, the Freerider VXi shoes are every bit as grippy as the Five Tens already in your closet, provided your weight is on the pedals. Once you lift the shoe ever so slightly, even just by barely unweighting it, it's incredibly easy to move around on the pedals, especially when compared to the standard Five Ten Dotty tread pattern. Quick readjustments were a no-brainer and we didn't have to spend any time thinking about the repositioning process. The radical tread pattern worked, and we were stunned.
What we did have to be conscious about, which was new for us, was keeping our weight on the pedals. Weighted, the shoes held like glue. Unweighted, like when seated and pedaling through a bumpy portion of trail, or occasionally while rallying really rough sections, the shoes can move around a bit too easily sometimes, and we found ourselves on our heals more than once. Although this was a rare occurrence, luckily it was super easy to get back to ground zero. In doing so, we noticed that it's usually much faster to reposition your foot with the VXi shoes, unlike other models which sometimes require repositioning a few times to find the sweet spot.
The Freerider VXi shoes also feature a noticeably more rigid sole than the previous Freeriders. One benefit of a stiffer sole is increased power transfer, which is excellent considering many trail riders will have an interest in these shoes. However, with a stiffer sole comes less pedal feel. During our first few rides it was hard to know where our feet were on the pedals. Once they broke-in the feeling was much less vague. Dozens of rides and three months later, the shoes now offer all the pedal feel we could ask for. Like fine wine, they only get better with age.
One of the reasons we love Five Tens is the phenomenal grip they also offer off the bike while hiking, and the Freerider VXi shoes did well on rocks and hard-pack. When things get loose or wet, and especially in loose over hard-pack conditions, you've got to be aware of your footing. We almost lost it a few times, but we'd take this shoe over most other offerings because the rubber and ability to quickly readjust makes up for it.
Long Term Durability
After hundreds of miles of use, we can tell where our pedal pins contact the shoe, but we think that's neither good nor bad. A softer rubber would likely wear more quickly, and a harder rubber with more durability would yield less grip, so we're happy with how they're doing. The rest of the shoes appear to be very durable as well - there aren't any stray threads, holes in the fabric, or detached portions of the sole, and the shoes look great for the long haul.
What's The Bottom Line?
Five Ten was the first to drastically improve flat pedal mountain bike footwear, and with the Freerider VXi shoes they're doing it once again. The simple fact that their Stealth rubber is sticky enough to allow for a treadless design is mind boggling, but guess what? It works. The treadless innovation (that's what the 'i' stands for in VXi), when combined with the refined uppers and improved construction techniques, yields the best flat pedal shoe for trail and all-mountain riding that we've tried to date. You've just got to be willing to give them a little time to get to that perfect stage. They're now our go-to shoes for just about any bike adventure.
Hit up www.fiveten.com for more details or to pick up a pair of the new Freerider VXi shoes, which are available now.
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).
Matt Thompson - Humble enough not to claim his Master's Downhill World Champ status when we asked him what his accomplishments were, Matt has over 20 years on a bike and likes to go fast. Really fast. At 210 pounds of trail building muscle, he can put the hurt on parts in little to no time.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.