Reportage

Laces, OUT!: Testing Seven BOA-Equipped Flat-pedal MTB Shoes

After four months riding BOA-equipped flat-pedal shoes from Scott, Crankbrothers, Pearl Izumi, Leatt, Giro, and Ride Concepts, Travis Engel has come back with a thorough review on how each performed according to protection, comfort, fit, and ease of ons and offs. Oh, and of course, which ones will actually stick to a pedal. Continue reading below for the full rundown on these seven options in a MTB footwear category that’s grown quickly in just a few short years…

Scott VoltCrankbrothers Stamp shoeLeatt 3.0 Flat Pro

If you drew a venn diagram encompassing fans both of flat pedals and of BOA laces, I reckon there’d be a healthy slice of overlap. Maybe it feels a little odd to combine roadie tech with skater style, but why should it? Now that flats have escaped the bike park and are freely spreading among the general population, it’s high time we got an enclosure system more advanced than Velcro and bunny ears. After all, we’re finally nearing the end of the flat-pedal shoe’s awkward adolescence. Sure, there’s still a hint of tokenism to many entrants in the category, with brands like Bontrager offering just one option, and Shimano, Shimano, offering just two. But most brands realize that the flat-pedal world contains multitudes. Just look at the variants and sub-variants offered by Five Ten, though they are conspicuously absent from this list. At the time of writing, Five Ten tells me no BOA-equipped flat shoes would be coming any time soon, so we’re starting this party without them.

We’re also starting without Vaude, Supplest, and Crono, who don’t sell or promote their BOA flats outside of western Europe. And without Northwave, because theirs won’t fit my size 48 feet. But that still leaves us with seven BOA-equipped flat-pedal shoes. Or technically six, since Leatt uses off-brand “MOZ” dials. I spent at least 15,000 vertical feet together with each model, mixing wet and dry, rocky and smooth, pedaling and pushing. I ended up with a few favorites, but the strengths and weaknesses were so diverse, numerical rankings would be a bit misleading. So, in no particular order, here we go.

Scott Volt

Scott Volt

Currently Scott’s only flat-pedal shoe, I’d describe the Volt’s chassis construction as “light duty,” with regards to its balance between support and flexibility. The padding around and behind the ankle isn’t nearly as generous as the Ride Concepts Tallac, CrankBrothers Stamp, or the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX.

Scott VoltScott Volt

And although there are plenty of functional mountain-bike-specific structures like a reinforced toe-box and heel-cup, they’re all integrated into the shoe’s skin, not conspicuously grafted to the outside. This gives the Volt a familiar, skate-shoe-like feel and look.

Stepping into the Volts is nothing like stepping into a pair of Five Ten Freeriders. They’re supple, almost slight-feeling. Like most flat-pedal users, I started in Vans, and that’s much how I’d describe how the Volts feel. Partly because of the traditional build, but also because of the relatively flexible sole. They’re in a tie with the Leatt 3.0 Flat Pro and Giro Tracker for the most intimate pedal feel of this bunch.

Scott VoltScott Volt

I really appreciated that on the climbs. My foot position sometimes has a habit of floating into and out of place over the spindle under light pedaling. But the Volts don’t require excessive downforce to securely find a home, so they stayed put while spinning. That was also helped by the deep, sparse tread. Compared to most flat-pedal shoes, these are mud spikes. That also made them one of the best hike-a-bikers in the mix, second only to the Giros.

They rely a lot on that flexible sole and aggressive tread geometry to hold onto the pedal, which I found had its limits in high-frequency, high-intensity situations. Part of that’s just because I wanted some more midsole support for hard hits, but there’s more to it. I can’t help but make comparisons to Five Ten’s Stealth Rubber, and Scott’s Sticki proprietary compound isn’t quite there.

Scott Volt

To be fair, though, none but the Ride Concepts shoe truly matched what Stealth does, and that shoe doesn’t offer the Volt’s traditional style and feel. These won’t be my go-tos for chaotic chunder fests, but when actively cranking through bumps, they offer a close connection to the pedal. If you want a higher-tech version of the skate-shoe days, this is the best way to get it.

Pros:
Comfortable and capable for hiking
Simple styling
Flexible sole for those who want toe-wrap on the pedal
Good value

Cons:
Minimal midsole protection for hard hits
Can get bounced around in rough terrain

Price: $119.99

See more at Scott 

Crankbrothers Stamp shoe

Crankbrothers Stamp BOA

The Crankbrothers shoe lineup was built around the all-caps mantra, MATCH. The shoes are meant to MATCH the pedals that Crankbrothers has been producing for years. That makes perfect sense with clips, when precise lateral support around the cleat adds power and comfort.

Crankbrothers Stamp shoeCrankbrothers Stamp shoe

But on a flat-pedal shoe, I’m skeptical. Crankbrothers’ Stamp flat pedals are excellent, but I don’t think I could keep my feet centered well enough for the Stamp’s pin constellation to always line up with the corresponding sipes in these shoes. So, I stuck with my Yoshimura Chilaos throughout this test.

Both Crankbrothers and Leatt position their dials over the frontfoot, letting an old fashioned Velcro strap do most of the actual work keeping your foot securely captured. Crankbrothers’ Velcro strap is secure and easy to cinch thanks to its flexible construction and low-friction plastic eyelet. But I’d much rather have the more advanced closure system up near my ankle where the more important and dynamic load is concentrated. This just seems like a waste of BOA’s potential. But if you generally find yourself adjusting tension over your midfoot more often than around your ankle, maybe Crankbrothers’ approach is for you.

Crankbrothers Stamp shoeCrankbrothers Stamp shoe

The structure of the rest of the Stamp shoe is both soft and robust, if that makes any sense. It’s not as breathable or stretchy as the uppers on the Scott, Giro or Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch, but has significantly more padding around the ankles, heel and even tongue. It makes for the most one-with-the-shoe feel out of all the models I tested. The Stamps also sized slightly tighter than all the other 48s in this round-up, probably because of all that cushion.

Embedded in that cushion, there are silicone traction dots around the heel to hold onto your foot. But in my experience, they didn’t hold onto my foot. They held onto my sock, while my foot would grind against it every time I took a step, rubbing my heels raw on one particularly hike-heavy ride. The problem was so severe, I scoured other reviews to see if anyone else complained, and somehow nobody has. But scabs don’t lie, so I’ll still warn against walking anywhere near a mile in these shoes.

Crankbrothers Stamp shoe

On the bike, I had no complaints. This roundup happened to feature several relatively flexible soles, but the Stamp was more firm and supportive than all but the Ride Concepts. It was also just barely behind Ride Concepts in its performance on especially aggressive terrain. It wasn’t only that the Stamps offered good lateral grip. There’s also a noticeable impact-damping quality, keeping me from being bounced vertically out of position. Even without the “wrap” of more flexible-sole models, I still felt a positive connection to the pedals in the Stamps. They strike a difficult balance between hearty boot-like support and supple, glove-like control. Despite disagreeing with some of Crankbrothers’ design choices on the Stamps, I really can’t quarrel with their performance.

Pros:
Nearly top-of-the-list grip
Impressive hard-hid absorption
One-with-the-sole fit and comfort

Cons:
Dial only adjusts front-foot tension
Traction dots at heel may cause irritation while hiking
Not cheap

Price: $180
See more at Crank Brothers

Leatt 3.0 Flat Pro

Leatt 3.0 Flat Pro

This is the only non-BOA shoe in our BOA-equipped round-up. MOZ dials work pretty much just like BOA, though. Twist to tighten, pull to release. There’s also a little plastic pull tab to add slack to the system when it’s released, but that kinda happened naturally when lifting my foot out. The tab even got in the way of my thumb sometimes, but a couple careful snips, and the system would work fine without it.

Leatt 3.0 Flat ProLeatt 3.0 Flat Pro

Like Crankbrothers, Leatt puts the dial over the front-foot, not the ankle. Again, I don’t like this approach, but I can see why some people would. Problem is, the Velcro strap bearing most of the load is not optimal. There’s an odd steezy zigzag at the end, but it only lines up when the shoe is too loose, so there’s never maximum surface-area contact.

And there’s no plastic eyelet where the strap threads through, causing excess friction that kept me from easily cinching it tight. But I do like that the dial is on the tongue, not the side, so it’s well out of harm’s way.

Leatt 3.0 Flat ProLeatt 3.0 Flat Pro

The construction on the uppers is about as burly as any other shoe in this mix, with obvious external heel cup and toe box protection, and some smart rubberized panels on either side of the shoe. I say “smart” because they border and support a couple very breathable mesh patches, likely the shoe’s only weak spots.

The Leatts are also a little wider than the rest of the pack, worth noting because none of these shoes come in a wide version. Adding to the comfort is a quick-drying liner material. Although the Giros shed moisture better than any other shoe in this group, the Leatts were the only other ones whose wicking performance bore mentioning.

Leatt 3.0 Flat Pro

My only comfort complaint is that there’s not much support at the heel and ankle. The techy neoprene cuff makes for a nice, tight seal against debris and even shed some water when riding in pants, but it doesn’t do much for heel retention.

Leatt 3.0 Flat Pro

Beneath all that, the sole construction on the Leatts is surprisingly supple. Given Leatt’s gravity pedigree and the burly build, I thought these would be bulky chute boots. But they offer a clearer pedal sense than all but the Scotts and Giros, neither of which felt nearly as protective in their uppers as the Leatts. It’s a unique combination that I think will appeal to the precision-oriented brawlers out there. The devotees of short travel and 27.5 wheels who don’t want to be numbed to their enduro terrain. Although these ended up mid-pack when it came to vertical impact damping, and near the back of the pack in repetitive sharp impact fatigue, the overall grip left me with few complaints. If I wanted to lap jump lines in a park all day, these would be my go-to.

Pros:
Protective, comfortable upper construction
Flexible, classic-feeling sole rarely found on such a robust shoe
Noticeably breathable

Cons:
Dial only adjusts front-foot tension
Velcro strap is difficult to pull tight
Aggressive riders may want more midsole support

Price: $149.99

See more at Leatt

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch

Pearl is the only brand with two BOA flat-pedal shoes in their lineup. Three if you count the discontinued X-Flow Pop. Pearl’s approach to flat-pedal shoes has been pretty diverse for a brand already spread across so many cycling disciplines, and they’ve been iterating relatively quickly on their models. The X-Alp Launch seems to be aimed at the trail sector. They’re the lightest shoes I tested, next to the decidedly minimalist Giro. That’s impressive, since there’s some stout protection around the X-Alp Launch’s heel and toe box that’s lacking on the Giro.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp LaunchPearl Izumi X-Alp Launch

The interior isn’t especially padded, but instead relies on a close fit and supple chassis to connect you to the sole. Much of the upper material is constructed of a canvas-like fabric that isn’t especially breathable, but is thin and flexible. The X-Alp Launch has a second-skin sort of feel, which is exactly what I’d want out of a light-duty trail shoe. In fit, finish and overall build, they seem to take some inspiration from slim, pump-track and dirt jump shoes like the Five Ten Sleuth. But they do stray from that category in the sole design.

There’s an uncharacteristically stiff midsole under the otherwise lightweight X-Alp Launch. It’s not thick or bulky, but there’s a robust shank within the Goodyear-branded rubber. For anyone who gets hotspots with more flexible, less supportive flat-pedal shoes, this is welcomed, but it puts extra burden on the rubber compound and midsole cushioning to provide grip and shock absorption.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch

In those departments, the X-Alp Launch falls short. It was plenty comfortable, but without much flexible toe wrap, the rubber compound didn’t do enough to keep me in place. And there’s not enough damping in the midsole to keep me from bouncing out of line. I appreciated the light weight and comfort, but in all but the mellowest of trails, I’d reach for nearly any of the other shoes in the mix.

Pros:
Very lightweight
Impressive protection considering the weight
Stiff, supportive midsole

Cons:
Sub-par grip performance

Price: $150

See more at Pearl Izumi

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX

Sharing much of the same DNA as the low-top X-Alp Launch, the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX (hereinafter Mix WRX) also shares much of the same pedal-grip woes. These two did not perform as well as the rest of the pack when it comes to on-bike grip.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX

But the Mid WRXes will absolutely be staying in rotation for me because they are the perfect trailwork shoe. Until now, my go-to was the Five Ten Trailcross Mid Pro, but their flexible, breathable construction wasn’t holding up when kicking rocks all day. The Mid WRX, on the other hand, has boot-like ankle support and overall protection. No, I don’t feel especially confident shredding my way to the worksite, but who would with a pair of 24” loppers strapped to a pack full of a day’s worth of food and beer?

I’d hoped that these could also become an option for wet-weather riding, given that the Mid WRX appears to have some weatherproofing features like faux-leather panels sealing the openings on on either side of the tongue, and the “water-repellant membrane” touted on the Pearl Izumi site.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRXPearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX

But they were only marginally more water-resistant than the low-top X-Alps Launch. And that ankle support, however useful, was too thick to rest underneath the cuff of my waterproof pants, so there was nothing to keep runoff from pouring in. To be fair, none of these shoes did much to protect against wetness. But I think it was a missed opportunity that there wasn’t more structural integration of water-shedding features to make the Mid WRX stand out more.

Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch Mid WRX

I’m not giving up on Pearl Izumi, though. Again, their track record has proven that their flat-pedal program can evolve, and can do it quickly. Hopefully these will survive the many work days I’ll put them through until that happens.

Pros:
Burly, supportive, protective uppers
Stiff, supportive midsole

Cons:
Sub-par grip performance
Not as water-resistant as I’d hoped
Not cheap

Price: $175

See more at Pearl Izumi

Ride Concepts Tallac BOA

Ride Concepts Tallac BOA

If the only criteria we’re judging is grip, Ride Concepts wins. When it comes to straight-up pedal-to-shoe traction, as well as impact absorption and bounce resistance, the Ride Concepts Tallac BOA is as good as it gets. The performance was nearly indistinguishable from the industry benchmark Five Ten Freerider Pro. There’s just something calming about how the tread interacts with the pedal.

Ride Concepts Tallac BOA

They almost slowed down time with their ability to hang on through chatter while allowing me to make minor adjustments when needed. Keep in mind, all the superlatives I’m tossing out really only apply at high speeds and in deep chunk. Anywhere south of enduro, most of the other shoes on this list are worth a look. And I say that because the Tallac Boa is not perfect.

Ride Concepts Tallac BOARide Concepts Tallac BOA

As rad as these are when things get serious, they’re a little Herman Munster in some scenarios. To be fair, the same can be said for a lot of gear that makes enduro riding better. Long travel, DH-casing tires, full-face helmets. All of which are worth it, depending on what you’re after. But it’s hard to get a sense of the pedals in the Tallacs. They feel relatively thick and stiff until you’re at speed. For those who started running flats in the post-Five Ten era, that may be just fine. But sometimes I long for the closeness I felt in the Vans days. Small nitpick, I know, and not enough for me to ever want to go back, but it’s something to consider before jumping into a set of Tallacs.

They’re also a little clunky when hiking steep or off-camber stuff, especially compared to the Giros and Scotts. Again, absolutely worth it for the gravity crowd, but I found myself feeling topheavy in these. When stepping on jagged, uneven terrain, there was a bit of an on-not-in relationship with the soles. None of this is present while on the pedals, though. And despite their seemingly narrow DH focus, I had no problem riding in these all day. They weren’t especially cool or breathable, but few of these shoes were, aside from the Giro or, to a lesser extent, the Leatt and Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch.

Ride Concepts Tallac BOA

But they were remarkably comfortable. Just the right amount of padding, stretch and support, and I appreciated the Velcro strap to independently adjust tension over the front-foot. There’s also a lot of protection and reinforcement in the uppers, though the tread condition showed more wear than any other shoe in the mix. But that’s kinda what you sign up for when you opt for optimal grip. More than any other shoe I tested, these are all business.

Pros:
Best grip in the bunch
Excellent on-bike comfort and impact protection
Frontfoot Velcro strap helped with fitting

Cons:
A little thick and clunky-feeling when walking
Not cheap

Price: $190
Find more at Ride Concepts

Giro Tracker

Giro Tracker

So, I was worried I’d made a mistake when I first opened these up. Everything about them indicated they were light-duty multisport shoes. Like they were marketed towards commuters or campers or XTERRA Triathletes. And looking at the imagery around the Giro Tracker (not to be confused with the Geo Tracker), I don’t think I was too far off.

Giro TrackerGiro Tracker

These seem to be aimed at the flat-pedal bikepacker who’s not granola enough to rock socks and Birkenstocks. And that makes sense, given that Giro already offers the Latch, which is more similar to the rest of the shoes in this round-up. But until there’s a BOA-equipped Latch, I figured the Tracker should be included. And you know what? I did not make a mistake.

These are the most comfortable shoes in the bunch. They’re the most breathable and most flexible. They’re also the easiest to take off and on. That’s huge, given that many of us opt for BOA specifically for quick exits. The tongue-mounted dial offers ample slack when released, and the shoe can unhinge like a python’s jaw.

Giro TrackerGiro Tracker

Also, the plastic loops seem to have less friction against the BOA cord than the nylon loops every other shoe used. That allowed the single BOA’s tension to extend further towards my toes. I’d prefer the independent Velcro strap like the Ride Concepts had, but that would have likely ruined the seamless, minimalist chassis that I liked so much about these.

Of course, they do nothing to keep out the water, but they do everything they can to evacuate it once it’s in there. At one point, I got every one of these shoes soaking wet, and the Giros were the only ones never to actually “fill up” inside. I wouldn’t pick them specifically for wet days, but if I ever had no choice but to step into a creek with these, I’d be alright with it.

Giro Tracker

Given all the focus on light weight, breathability, flexibility and hikeability, I wasn’t expecting these to perform all that well in aggressive terrain. And though I’d put them behind the Ride Concepts and Crankbrothers in grip and stability, they held on incredibly well for shoes not necessarily meant for the type of riding I was doing with them. Really, the only situation where they fell short was absorbing hard hits. I got bounced out of place relatively easily, but the Trackers lack the slow-rebound midsole material Giro puts in their more traditional Latch shoes. Still, on long rides and hot days, these will be at the top of my list.

Pros:
Slipper-like comfort
Slipper-like weight
Impressive pedal grip
Breathable and quick-drying
Easy in, easy out
Good value

Cons:
Few durability or support features in the uppers
Thin, flexible sole offers little stability or impact protection

Price: $130

Find more at Giro

Just a few years ago, there were zero shoes in this category. As such, I think there’s still some room for it to grow and improve. I’d like to see some double-BOA options, and I’d love to see Five Ten finally jump aboard. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens as it catches on. There may be skepticism about durability among often-abusive flat-pedal users. Durability, by the way, is a topic this test didn’t aim to address. A few of these shoes, though good for their intended audiences, didn’t suit my riding style and thus wouldn’t get the months of use needed to fairly judge their longevity. But half of them will be staying on the rack. Things are looking good for our little sliver of the venn diagram.