Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $249
Distributor Shimano NZ

Heading out on my local trails over recent years, I’ve noticed a resurgence of people riding with flat pedals and shoes. There’s still plenty of riders choosing to clip-in, but it feels like these people are fewer than before. Some of this has been the change of mountain biking demographics as the number of people just out for a good time, not a fast time, has increased – in part due to the Covid lockdowns and associated ‘bike-boom’.

With an increase in people looking for the comfort and convenience of flat pedals, so too the number of shoe and pedal options on the market has increased. Shimano recently revamped their MTB shoes line and, although it seems like they do this every couple of years, they continually knock it out of the park and have top-shelf, but generally subtly styled, options available – regardless of your riding genre.

It’s not just sticky rubber that makes a quality flat- pedal shoe. A well-thought-out flat-pedal shoe is a sum of all its parts, and if any part is lacking they’ll be heading for the trash heap to join the other 22 billion shoes globally that end up in landfill. I’ve been spending time back on flat pedals after years on clips, and it’s been refreshing to ride flats again – no doubt helped by the new Shimano GF 6 shoes. So far, they’re affirming the “buy once, buy right” adage and it appears they’ll last longer than other flat shoes I’ve seen in the market recently.

The GF6 upper is constructed from hardwearing synthetic ‘leather’. Some texture and reinforcement are added around the front of the shoe for increased toe protection and some styling. The toe box area has a matrix of holes punched in it to help with breathability, and more holes further toward the back of the shoe also help with this. The upper is relatively slim-line – gone are the days of overly-padded heel cups and shoe tongues – replaced by lower profile, but equally (possibly more) comfortable foams. Less padding and the use of modern foam means that in wet conditions the shoe doesn’t become a sponge and get weighed down once sodden. A slightly higher cuff to the ‘inside’ of the shoe offers some additional protection to ankle bones. Following the slim-line trend, the tongue isn’t bulky and sits nicely in place once laced up. Two subtle features on the tongue are worth noting: an elastic loop with a small pull tab for lace storage, stopping laces from snagging on trail debris or coming undone while riding; and the label on the ‘top’ of the tongue is slightly rubberised, offering a bit more grip to grimy hands while pulling the shoes on. These are both minor details that could easily go unnoticed, but these little touches are proof of Shimano’s experience when it comes to developing shoes.

Shimano has utilised a new fit for the GF6: the ‘Volume Trail Last’ gives ample room at the toes for comfortable walking, while from the ball of the foot back the fit becomes slimmer and more precise, ensuring maximum power transfer and bike control. I am regularly a size 9 US in most sneaker brands, but I find Shimano MTB shoes fit a fraction larger than an equivalent Nike sneaker. My feet aren’t ‘Frodo Baggins’ wide, but they sure aren’t ‘Euro-pro XC racer’ slim either – they’re somewhere between the two; pretty regular-shaped Kiwi bloke feet I think (although I don’t go around checking out other people’s feet!). With this in mind, the fit of these shoes is pretty spot on for my hooves; they’re not quite as comfortable as regular sneakers but you forgo some of the sneaker plushness while walking in favour of pedalling comfort and efficiency. The roomy toe box is certainly noticeable -and a welcome change from the clip shoes I’m accustomed to.

Shimano brings yet another rubber compound to the category with the ‘Ultread GF’ sole – which claims to be optimised for gravity riding. I’m unsure why you’d want a different rubber compound for regular, non-gravity riding, but it seems Shimano think you do. I’d imagine the best rubber for gravity-assisted riding would also be the best rubber for less demanding trail rides or eBiking. Whatever the case, the rubber they’ve used on the ‘Ultread GF’ sole is plenty grippy, seemingly a combination of the raised hexagons that form the tread, and the soft, slow rebounding rubber. Why a slow rebounding rubber? Slower rubber doesn’t try to push the pedal pins away, helping to keep it in place until you take the weight off the pedal, a huge factor in how grippy a flat shoe is. There’s ample grip on offer with the GF6’s; I never once slipped a pedal and even during some sketchy moments, the shoes were surprisingly well “locked on” to the pedals. There’s a tricky tread design on the toe and heel areas of the sole that adds some extra bite while walking.

It’s worth noting that a good flat-pedal shoe is only as good as the pedal you’re using them with. Throughout the test period, I used them with a popular ‘large’ sized pedal featuring a slight concave and 10 regular-length pins per side. The downside of so much grip was the complete inability to adjust my feet on the pedals, while even just slightly weighted – I needed to lift a foot to then adjust where it sat on the pedal. This was a slight niggle that’s just a drawback of such an effective interface between pedal and shoe… but if it’s grip you want, then it’s grip you get!

The midsole has a very skate-esque appearance, and the EVA rubber offers some comfort while walking – not heaps, but enough. What it does do, though, is provide a good level of comfort when on the pedal. The midsole also features the ‘Torbal 2’ torsion plate which, according to Shimano, offers increased flexibility on the edges of the shoe, adding control during gnarly descents. In the real world, I can’t really feel the subtleties of what they’re on about, but there’s certainly a welcomed level of stiffness to the sole while pedalling but it still retains a comfortable amount of torsional flex which I’d imagine does help pedal traction whether you’re swinging off the back while tracking over the chunder, or making shapes while shralping turns.

What’s the verdict then? If you can look past all the marketing hype, acronyms and brand names for every shoe feature and simply take into account the comfort and overall level of grip on offer, I’d have a hard time suggesting that anyone would need anything different from the GF6. There are no weak points on the shoe. If they fit your feet properly and you like the subdued style, there’s no need to look elsewhere.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

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