Bontrager Flatline MTB Shoes: Grippy and Durable
After years of riding in 5.10’s classic Freeriders, Cass thinks it’s time to give another trail shoe a go: Bontrager’s Flatlines. After six months of use, find out how he got on, and whether their Vibram tread survived the rigours of bikepacking, city sidewalks, and regular trail riding…
What’s the best bikepacking shoe? It’s a perennial yet impossible-to-answer question, of course. We all have different needs, depending on how we define and enjoy bikepacking – be it fast gravel, techy singletrack, or casual dirt – and what we do in our shoes the rest of the time. But I think we can all agree that durable, long-lasting footwear that can handle the rigours of multiple days on a bike is a good starting point.
In case you didn’t know, I’m especially hard on my shoes, simply because once I find a pair I like, I’ll wear them into the earth. Last summer I moved back to clipless pedals for a while, to refresh my perspective with SPDs and give my flat-pedal footwear a break. But when it boils down to it, flats pedals are my preference for the majority of my riding, be it multi-day campouts, commuting, or local singletrack, the bread and butter of my cycling.
As a mountain biker, I’ve always erred towards 5.10 Freeriders. Whilst these shoes are undeniably an excellent option, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that they simply don’t last long enough for my needs. I’m lucky if I’ll get six months out of pair, which makes for both expensive running costs and more trash in the landfill (mine tend to blow out beyond repair). Like many shoes, they fall prey to the spikey, kung-fu grip pedals we’ve all come to love – a far cry from the plastic flat pedals of yesteryear – because in a battle between rubber and metal, we all know who wins…
Which is why I decided it was time to give a pair of Bontrager Flatlines a try. At $130, they’re certainly more expensive than standard Freeriders (more on par with the Pro version), but you can find them cheaper if you shop around.
I’m guessing a part of this higher cost is their Vibram sole and its stellar reputation across the outdoor industry. Vibram offers a wide variety of durometers, depending on intended use, and the Flatlines are considered midway in terms of their grippy-to-hardwearing ratio.
This has certainly rung true for me in my riding experience with the shoes. After half a year of regular but not exclusive use, there’s certainly some signs of wear and tear. But it’s relatively minor and mostly caused by the large and unforgiving pins of my Hope HP20s, which are especially hard on shoes. I have to be honest and say that the decrease in tackiness wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. They still hold on to the pedals more than sufficiently; I’ve tried them across a number of models and I found the pins catch and hold nicely in their grid-syle tread pattern. What’s more, there’s enough dampening in the sole to protect my feet from bouncing around along rough terrain, combined with a suppleness that feels comfortable when I’m walking around.
Speaking of tread – or lack thereof – that’s where these shoes fall short, at least in some conditions. As a bikepacking shoes, the main compromise to riding in a dedicated flat pedal trail shoe will always be hike-a-biking in muddy conditions. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all: more aggressively lugged soles, whilst good for winter muck and off-the-bike clambers, offer their own set of compromises on the bike, typified by a ‘wiggliness’ between the pins and the shoe. As expected, the Flatlines won’t be performing any miracles in mud and wet grass, just like my 5.10s. They really are at their best when you’re riding, which is a compromise I’m prepared to make.
In terms of build, I’d describe the Flatlines as tough and well made, with protective bumpers in all the right places. After use in sodden conditions in the UK and New Mexico’s harsh sunshine, there’s no cracking in the front of the shoe to report, as I’ve experienced with my 5.10s after repeated wet/dry riding. Nor have the heels broken and the padding become exposed, which sometimes happens if I slip shoes on without being sure to unlace them sufficiently – though note that there’s small split along one of the ankle edges, as pictured below.
In comparison to the Freeriders, I don’t think the Flatlines are quite as bulky and padded. This is something I like as it means they dry relatively quickly. Laces keep things simple and can of course be easily replaced, whilst providing a nice and snug fit when required, which no slipping in the heel. They run long but there’s a lace-tidy, which I always forget to use. Fit wise, I’d say they run a little small, so it’s probably worth nudging up half a US size (or a Euro size), as the fit is relatively snug, except for the width of the toe box, which feels spacious. For instance, I tend to wear either a 43 or 44, depending on the brand – and I was definitely a 44 in the Flatlines. The shoes feature a shock-absorbing EVA midsole and Ortholite footbed, all of which contribute to a comfortable shoe both on and off the bike. I’ve ridden for hours and spent plenty of time kicking around town, with no sore feet to report. They’re also available in a wide variety of sizes and there’s a women’s specific model too – we’ll add feedback on that later.
- Price $130
- Weight 770g (size 44)
- Colours Viper Red, Blue/Marigold, Black
- Sizes EU 36-48
The Flatlines have become my favourite day to day trail and mid-range bikepacking shoe, usurping my trusty Freeriders from their top spot. They hook up well to a variety of pedals and the Vibram rubber compound allows for easy micro-repositioning. I err towards a shoe that offers the least compromise when I’m riding and I think the soles strike the right balance in the tackiness versus longevity debate. After six months of regular use, I’d consider the Flatlines’ tread to be fairing very well, even if there is one noticeable tear. The overall build quality is also very good, with a lightly padded profile that bodes well for riding/drying out in mixed weather conditions – though as noted, there’s some damage to the outer ankle area on one shoe.
As a bikepacking option, this style of grippy trail shoe will always be most compromised in muddy conditions, especially if you’re often shouldering your bike. But that’s to be expected and the mix of zig zag and grid-style tread is certainly no worse than anything else I’ve tried.
At $130, the Flatlines aren’t cheap (prices do seem to vary online) but I’m more prone to spending money on a shoe that lasts. After half a year of regular, the Flatlines certainly appear to be built for the long haul, so they get my stamp of approval!