Clipless pedal riders have a huge number of options these days when it comes to shoes, there are even subcategories of MTB shoes. You have your “Disco ballerina slippers”, popular with the XC guys where light and stiff is the name of the game and large lugs are used to facilitate max walking traction in muddy conditions. On the other end of the spectrum, the enduro/downhill shoes feature a flatter sole that’s less stiff to flex around the pins of DH style clipless pedals, giving better contact and grip when standing on the pedal unclipped. These DH shoes are often slippery when it’s hike-a-bike time and can be treacherous in the winter. Right between the XC and DH shoes are the “Trail shoe”. Trail shoes are usually toward the stiffer side as far as the soles go but tend to have a bit of both worlds as far as style and weight with a moderate tread pattern, forming a halfway house that’ll suit a wide variety of riding. Ion sent us a set of their Rascal Amp trail shoes to put through the ringer.
The Rascal Amp is Ion’s high-end trail-oriented shoe with a build focused on stiffness in the pedal arch, but to also flex a bit laterally to keep your foot from tilting when on the pedals. Standard laces are aided by a wide Velcro strap at the cuff of the shoe to keep the shoe firmly in place under power, especially when pulling up. A rubberized heel and reinforced toe cap help guard against impacts whilst an EVA cushioned midsole takes some sting out of hard landings. A reinforced shank provides stiffness in the sole to transfer your power to the pedals. The upper portion of the shoe is synthetic, and the inner section of the ankle cuff is raised and padded to give more coverage and protection on the crank side. Laser perforations are made in the upper to allow for some airflow through the shoe to manage the temperature in use.
Let’s talk about this shoe from the ground up. The tread pattern works well here in the currently dusty and dry PNW, but I have a strong feeling the shallow design is going to fill with mud quickly once winter hits, so it may not be the ultimate winter shoe. One thing that a lot of shoes fail at, but Ion nailed is the cleat placement. Many shoes don’t allow for placement of the cleat on the back half of the ball of the foot (I’m looking at you Five Ten) but the Rascals had the perfect placement for my preferences. On that front, the Rascals are stiff, like “XC bro” level stiff, which is not a bad thing, you want that power going into the pedals to move you forward not squishing around the end of them, but often comes with some drawbacks on a bigger platform shoe where the sole won’t conform and renders them ineffective. In the case of the Rascal Amps, there’s enough “twist” in the sole to keep things comfortable and secure when trying to clip in through rough terrain, but you still get to reap the rewards of a stiff sole when hammering on the pedals.
This is a wide shoe, which normally is something I need – I have a wide front foot (not quite Hobbit level, but wide) and a permanently broken toe, so I appreciated the Ion’s roomy and protective toe box…unfortunately that width extends to the entire shoe, not just the toe box. Try as I might I could not get the ankle cuff area to cinch tight and the gap between my ankle and the shoe is big enough to fit two fingers between. I never felt like my foot was moving around in the shoe, but the gap led to a lot of dirt ending up inside the shoe. However, if you have bigger ankles or wear a brace this might be a good thing. One of the Key features Ion notes on its website is the “Extra-wide Velcro strap”, and it is very wide, so wide I had trouble getting it into the metal D-ring to cinch it tight. It was so annoying faffing around with it in the parking lot I ended up grabbing a pair of scissors and trimming the width down just a hair. It’s perhaps something that would ease over time as the material beds in, but out of the box it’s too damn tight. I’ve put a fair number of miles on these shoes over the past several weeks, from a long gravel ride to a “let’s go see where this trail goes”, semi hike-a-bike ride, and they were comfortable and are showing no signs of wear, indicating they’re going to support my two-wheeled adventures for the long haul.
If you are looking for a trail shoe that’s stiff but does not have that “disco slipper” look, the Rascal AMP might fit the bill here, just be sure you need a wide shoe.
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