Five Ten Freerider Contact Review: Pair Down
In our search for the perfect ‘one pair’ shoe for extended bikepacking trips, we put the super-comfy and ultra-sticky Freerider Contact to a 800 mile test in southern Spain.
On previous bikepacking trips, I’ve always alternated between running clipless pedals and aggressive platform pedals, generally giving preference to the former. But in an ongoing quest to pair down the pack list (no pun intended), I’m striving to carry just one set of shoes for longer journeys: ones that work equally well for both riding and everyday use.
Although there are clipless shoes that are relatively comfortable for hiking and “pushwacking”, if you plan on spending extended periods off the bike, a relatively flexible non cycling-specific shoe often works better as a one-pair solution. This said, bikepacking is a broad term that can refer to all kinds of of trips, ranging from overnighters to a six month overseas odysseys to a hike-a-bike laden ‘bad ideas’. Each adds variables that effect what this ‘one pair’ of shoes needs to accomplish, and how long they need to last.
For most flat pedal mountain bikers, the most important factor to consider is how well the shoes stick to the pedals. For optimum performance from a flat pedal, it should be paired with a sticky rubber sole. That’s Five Ten’s specialty. In an ever-evolving lineup, Five Ten has a broad range of rubber compounds which they apply to different products for specific activities, such as cycling, rock climbing, and approach (pre-climbing). The stickier compounds are pretty amazing in combination with aggressive pedals, such as the Specialized Boomslang. The hawkish studs meld with the rubber and create an effect that can at times feel like being locked into a clipless system. This not only ensures that your feet stay on the pedals in the rough stuff, but also improves power transfer on part of the pedal upstroke.
For our one month trip in Spain, which we knew would involve a substantial amount of rocky and technical sections, Virginia and I opted to try the new Freerider Contact. The Freerider Contact uses the Mi6 rubber compound, described by Five Ten as having, “superior cushioning properties combined with unparalleled friction … the most sensitive rubber we make”. The softer rubber is not only used to ensure that it sticks to the pedal, but for its damping quality, which lessens trail chatter and foot fatigue. So we were very curious as to how the Stealth Mi6 rubber compound would fare when used for big days of riding, rocky hike-a-bikes, and general walking about.
On the trail the Mi6 rubber performed as, or better than, expected. The Freeriders kept my feet glued to the pedals over rough and technical descents. And, just as importantly, the sticky rubber provided leverage well through the 4 o’clock position of the pedal stroke. The treadless pedal contact area on the sole proved its purpose, enabling foot positions to be fine-tuned throughout the ride. The flat patch had me slightly concerned at first, thinking that they would turn hikes into slip n’ slides. It was a bit sloppy when walking down steep pea-gravel surfaces (which only came to be on a couple of occasions), but in general, when hiking up, I had no issues.
Fit & Finish
The new Freerider Contact is the latest offspring in Five Ten’s ever-evolving Freerider line, its closest sibling being the VXi, introduced just 2 years ago. The Contact is aimed at the ‘all-mountain’ or trail segment of mountain biking, but when perusing the shelves at Interbike, we saw it as a good candidate for bikepacking. It has a stiff sole to ensure comfort and efficiency when pedaling all day, but it’s also somewhat plush, which means comfort off the bike. Its also fairly lightweight, at around 390g per shoe.
First and foremost, this is the most comfortable cycling specific shoe I’ve tried to date, for both pedaling hours on end and walking city streets. Granted, everyone’s feet are different; for me, the Contacts fit like a glove. On extended and steep hike-a-bikes, there was absolutely no heel slippage thanks to the plush and well formed rear upper. Virginia has lower back issues and was concerned that the Contacts wouldn’t provide enough support for her, but she found them to be as comfortable as any walking or hiking specific shoes she’s tried. The tongue of the shoes is well padded, although not too big, and has a lace keeper that helps it maintain a center position.
The Freerider Contacts aren’t waterproof. Given that most of our riding was in a dry and dusty environment, this wasn’t an issue for us. But if wet mud is commonplace, you’ll probably appreciate that Five Ten have added a rubberized toe coating to the Freerider. As a result, they do seem to shed water and dry very quickly, based on the few occasions that we gave them a solid dousing in creek-crossings.
The one issue we did have is that the sole on one of the four shoes started to delaminate after two weeks of use. After speaking to Five Ten about the issue, they assured me that this manufacturing flaw was only present in an early pre-production batch, and the problem has since been resolved. Five Ten happily sent a new pair.
- Model (as tested): Five Ten (size 9.5)
- Weight: 390 grams per shoe
- Price: $150
- Place of Manufacture: TBD
- Contact: FiveTen.com
Five Ten has a corner on the market for good sticky rubber, so that’s a no-brainer. And visually, the Contact has a far more streamlined and substantially lighter design than that of its predecessors. But even without the extra material and bulk, the Freerider Contact is sturdy and stiff enough for hard riding. Some might complain that it’s slightly low cut, but I had no quarrel with this.
Gin and I both wore them and agree that they are amazingly comfortable both on and off the bike. If you are looking for a flat shoe to use for fairly aggressive bikepacking, the Freerider Contacts are the ‘one-pair’ to beat.