Words & Photos by Sourpatch | Action Photo by Dusten Ryen
When I started mountain biking almost ten years ago, it seemed like FiveTen was the only brand anyone ever talked about, despite the offerings from other brands, FiveTen’s rubber and shoes were built for an underserved demographic of riders. Fast forward to today and FiveTen is about the last company I think about when it comes to mountain bike shoes. Now that there are plenty of solid options that don’t look like futuristic hiking shoes, riders have a lot more to think about when it comes time to buy a new pair of riding shoes.
Bontrager has been in the shoe game for a long time and have some solid offerings these days as they’ve done some major revamping. Bontrager sponsored our recent eMTB Roundup and supplied a slew of their Flatline flat pedal shoes and the recently reviewed Rally clipless shoes. We excitedly put ten pairs of shoes to the test in the incredibly demanding Palm Springs, CA desert and our home trails ever since coming back.
THE LAB The Flatline is the only flat-pedal specific mountain bike shoe in Bontrager’s footwear line up. Like most flat pedal shoes, the Flatlines have a casual, skate-like appearance with very minimal styling. They’re perfect for those that want a shoe they can wear on a ride, or to the local watering hole. Bontrager kept the Flatlines clean with a traditional lace closure system and solid black color offering with a hint of orange. Bontrager does offer two other colorways, which are a bit more boisterous.
Getting into the technicalities, Bontrager equipped the Flatline with durable Vibram rubber outsoles. The outsoles themselves have a uniformed tread pattern which provides a proper connection between the pedal and shoe. Bontrager also added directional tread in the toe and heel sections to provide plenty of traction should one find themselves off the bike hiking up or down the trail.
Cushioning on the Flatlines come in the form of an EVA midsole and offers a nice ride. It’s not as refined as Ride Concepts use of D30, but the shoes are also not as stiff, which means they’re a bit softer under foot anyhow. The upper on the Flatlines is comprised of a durable, synthetic leather. Like the Rally Clipless shoes, the Flatlines use the same “GnarGuard” coating on the toe box and heel area. We scuffed these shoes on lots of rocks, cacti and dirt over the last few months and they still look great.
THE DIRT I began riding in the Flatlines at the start of our 2020 eMTB Roundup, immediately putting them through the ringer. The Flatlines offer a true-to-size fit in a stiff carcass, but not too stiff to where the shoes would be uncomfortable to wear. The break-in period was relatively short, after the first full day of riding, the Flatlines had softened up and felt just like any other skate shoe in terms of comfort.
On the bike, the Flatlines offer a solid point of connection to the pedals. The checkered, uniformed pattern on the outsole meshes nicely with most flat pedals on the market. I did notice that the Flatlines paired much better with Bontrager’s Line Elite nylon pedals versus their metal pedals. They stayed firmly planted on the nylon pedals, providing an almost clipped in feeling. These shoes honestly grip pedals very well! We were all very impressed with on-bike traction.
After a week of continuous, rocky desert abuse, the Flatlines still look as they did out of the box, albeit a little dusty. The outer of the Flatlines are extremely durable and show no signs of scratches, gashes or any other sort of damage. Even the Vibram outsoles show no major signs of wear from pedal pins and foot plants.
There is one area where the Flatlines faulter and that is with the toe box protection. The GnarGuard is more of a surface protector designed to protect from abrasion and rubbing but is not very stiff or protective in terms of impacts. I had the unfortunate experience of finding out just how soft it was. After clipping a rock on a fairly rapid descent, resulting in being catapulted off the side of the trail and earning a purple pinky toe. Compared to stiffer shoes like my Ride Concepts TNT or Wildcats, the shoes do not offer as much protection in the toe box. They are also more flexible, comfortable for casual riding and walking however as the softer overall shoe does have some advantages. If you don’t regularly go bashing through axle-deep rocks, it may not be an issue for you.
Off the bike, the Flatlines blend in with their skate shoe appearance. The directional toe and heel pattern on the sole outsole make hike-a-bike, or even just hiking sections of trail easy and offer a surprisingly good amount of traction, something other mountain bike shoe companies should take note of.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Bontrager did a phenomenal job when they designed the Flatlines. The aesthetics and performance of the Flatlines is top notch. The Flatlines provide an impressive connection to the pedals, are highly durable and offer the best off-the-bike traction of any mountain bike shoe I’ve worn. But like most other shoes on the market, there is always room for improvement in one area or another. For the Flatlines, the toe box is one area that I think needs to be improved, it just needs to be stiffened up to offer a bit more protection. We’d also love to see them add a high-top version to the Flatline offering. Overall, the Bontrager Flatlines are a great shoe at a mid-tier price point of $130.
Simple Styling and Colors Planted On-Pedal Feel Durability Off-Bike Traction
Soft Toebox Protection Don’t Have a High Top Version
LEAVE A COMMENT, WIN FREE SWAG!
Want to win some free schwag? Leave a comment and vote up the most thoughtful comments and each month we’ll pick a winner. The person with the smartest and most helpful replies will earn some sweet new gear. Join the Pack and get the latest news and read the latest reviews on the top mountain and electric mountain bikes.