Etnies Culvert Mid Shoe REVIEW
Words by Robert Johnston
Photos by Adam Lievesley
When I tested Etnies last offering, the Camber Crank, I came away very impressed overall, but had the simple wish of a higher cut that offered more protection for the ankles. Little did I know that Etnies were a step ahead and already well into the process of developing a mid-top addition to their Michelin-soled, gravity cycling specific shoe range. The result is the Etnies Culvert mid, and I was very excited to see if it would fulfill my wishes and create what may just be the ultimate mountain bike shoe. Read on to find out if this is the case.
The Culvert is the latest model in Etnies’ bike-specific shoe range, developed with a growing list of bike-riding athletes on their roster and aimed to provide the best performance for enduro and downhill. Etnies offers the Culvert model in a regular cut as well as the mid-top version tested, allowing riders to choose their preference of style and performance. Carrying on from the Camber Crank, the Culvert series features a Michelin sole, this time utilizing the OCX 4 rubber that is the stickiest featured in an Etnies shoe yet. The sole pattern remains unchanged, with shallow recesses in the pedal-zone and deeper lugs on the toe and heel designed to offer purchase on loose terrain when walking. Under the foot is the Pro Foam 1 insole, which sits on top of an EVA foam midsole that is reinforced with a TPU shank to add stiffness and improve power transfer to the pedal.
The mid top design is slightly asymmetric, with increased coverage on the inside to protect against impacts with the crank. A “power strap” sits across the top of the midfoot, allowing the shoe to be cinched down hard to provide a solid fit during hard pedaling efforts. The action nubuck synthetic upper is reinforced with “force shield” paneling to improve the wear-resistance, and a Repel treatment is added to resist moisture ingress. A hot-melted toe and heel cap are tasked with providing long-lasting protection that will not come unstuck. A 3M thinsulate lining sits just inside of the upper, providing insulation to keep the feet warm during colder days. The padded tongue sitting below the power strap is fully gusseted to prevent stones and dirt entering and features a lace pocket to keep the laces out of harm’s way. Retailing for £99.99/$143.99, the Etnies Culvert Mid is a chunk cheaper than most of the premium gravity shoe offerings – in Europe at least – without cutting any corners in terms of features and materials.
I was eager to strap the Etnies Culvert Mid’s onto my feet, excited to set about some hard charging with the extra protection giving me peace of mind. The fitment is very similar to the Camber Cranks, with a fairly average fit and a good internal volume to cope with riders with a high instep or slightly wider foot. The laces only cover the front half of the foot, with the power strap called upon to provide the security around the ankle when pedalling. Fastening the laces at a regular tension followed by yanking the power strap down extra-tight produced a very comfortable and secure fit on the foot, thanks to the padded tongue helping to distribute the pressure evenly. Improved from the previous Etnies tested, the laces were able to be stowed neatly out of harm’s way in the tongue pocket, not only shielding them from damage but also preventing them from undoing or getting as wet and muddy.
Underfoot, the excellent grip and pedal feel of the Camber cranks remain, with a slight increase in ultimate “stick” that ranks them up with the best when it comes to keeping your feet firmly put on the pedals. The rubber just latches on to the pedal pins for dear life, and there’s enough feeling transmitted through the midsole to feel the extremities of the pedal platform, without being overly soft and fatiguing. Yet, with all that grip, foot repositioning is still better than most – if not all – gravity shoes on the market, and longevity is acceptable too. I think Etnies and Michelin have really nailed the shoe to pedal interaction, it leaves me with very little to desire. That’s not to say it comes without some form of compromise though, as walking grip is still poor. The main tread offers little purchase on muddy ground, and the lugged sections are small and require some very considered footwork to actually make contact with the ground.
The stability offered by the mid top, combined with a healthy amount of padding around the foot and sturdy heel and toe boxes makes the Culvert mid a reassuringly safe feeling shoe, without feeling overly cumbersome or “numb”. With some historic incidences connecting my feet with trailside obstacles, and a rolled ankle or 5 from BMX riding, the mid-top is a serious bonus, and its asymmetric cut adds ankle protection where it’s needed the most. The weight sits at 1218g (EU45, actual), which is certainly portly but not ridiculous for a gravity-oriented shoe. There is enough give in the upper and sole to prevent it restricting the natural movement of the foot and ankle during riding, especially once things have bedded-in over the initial couple of rides.
The weatherproof upper fends off moisture very well, with only a proper soaking or some over-top splashes letting any moisture into your socks and is suitably durable to handle the duress of aggressive mountain biking too. There are no holes in the upper to let water in and the shoe sits high enough on your ankle to avoid much ingress whatsoever. This weatherproofing comes at a price, though. Combining the lack of air movement into the shoe with the thinsulate liner and the mid-top means there’s a lot of factors working together to keep the cold out. This ultimately leads to a whole lot of heat being kept in and made for a sweaty environment once the temperatures climbed out of the single digits (50F). My feet do tend to run on the hotter side of things, so this may be less of an issue for some. I was thankful for the insulation on a couple of wet and cold rides, but they’re a hot shoe for warmer temperature pedaling. Perhaps not the ultimate year-round shoe for a pedal-happy rider, but it was significantly less of a concern on lift-assisted days, even in the hotter days of the British summer.
With some of the best grip and pedal feel on the market, and the protection and stability of the weatherproof mid-top construction, the Etnies Culvert mid shoes have a lot for gravity mountain bikers to like. The off-bike grip leaves a lot to be desired and they run very hot so they won’t suit everyone’s tastes, but they form a very welcome addition to my heavy-hitting shoe closet.
Price: – £99.99 /€124.95 /$143.99
Weight: 1218g (pair, EU45)
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