Andy Mink

Upside down but trying harder
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It's no secret that I'm a newbie mountain biker, or might as well be. My last bike was an early '90s Specialized Rockhopper with no suspension. That bike spent more time on the road than the trails so, technically, I had an early gravel bike. Fast forward to 2021 when I bought a Cannondale Habit Neo 2 from @Tricia. Yes, it is overkill for my skills. Yes, it's an e-assist but I argue that the only thing getting cheated is my couch; I'm getting out and spinning the pedals (because if the pedals don't turn, the bike doesn't move!).

I started riding it with a pair of Adidas Terrex trail runners because, well, that's what was in the closet. Other than some dedicated hiking boots, the Terrex had the stiffest footbed I owned. They served me well as I got used to all the niceties that come with a bike from this century. As trails got harder and confidence got higher I was coming off the pedals more often and, in some cases, to a painful end. It was time to step up to function-specific footwear.

@Philpug, @Tricia, and I travelled to Auburn, CA for a summer buyers gathering where reps for various brands met with buyers from stores. While there, I met Chris from NCPsales and he showed me some of the Etnies products and offered a pair for review. I gladly took him up on the offer with the understanding I wouldn't have any other true MTB shoes with which to compare the Culvert MTB.

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The Etnies Culvert MTB shoe is a purpose built MTB tool

On to the review.
First impressions: These shoes are beefy. They're heavy compared to the Terrex I was using, coming in around 1075 grams per pair (size 11US, 45UK), or 2 1/2 pounds. They appear to be very well made with no obvious missed stitches, hanging strings, or unglued or poorly glued parts. They are nicely adorned with the Etnies logo on the outside of the shoe and the Etnies name on the pull tab. Nothing garish, just low key. They didn't feel very form-fitting at first due to the thickness of the sturdy upper material.

Construction: From the Etnies website:
  • Sticky Michelin compound provides excellent pedal and surface grip
  • Force Shield reinforced upper
  • Hot-melted toe and heel cap
  • Repel treated upper blocks moisture
  • 3M Thinsulate™ lining
  • Tongue Gussets shields moisture, dirt and pebbles
  • The Lace Pocket on top of the tongue
  • TPU molded Pedal Shank 2 in the midsole
  • Pro Foam 1 molded PU footbed
  • Die Cut EVA foam midsole
  • Nylon pull loop on heel
  • Action Nubuck/Synthetic
On the trail: After a couple weeks out of town followed by a ton of smokey skies that precluded any riding, I've been able to log around 75 miles on mixed trails in Reno and Tahoe City in between hazardous AQI readings. The first thing I noticed is how stiff these shoes are, both in the sole and the uppers, though the uppers are softening as miles accumulate. Thank the Michelin soles and the TPU pedal shank for the stiffness that transfers power more efficiently while making the platform feel larger. Should your foot be off the pedal some you still have good grip and don't feel like you're going to come off the pedal. I do notice a reduced pedal feel compared to the much softer trail runners in that I actually have to occasionally look down to see where my foot is on the pedal. I'm getting better with that, though, and becoming used to the new feel. The tradeoff of not coming off the pedal is worth it!

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Michelin soles provide the traction to keep you on the pedals

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Along with the soles, the TPU pedal shank keeps the shoe stiff while retaining pedal feel.

The toe and heel caps are solid. I've whacked a few obstacles and caught a few rocks with my toes that would have hurt with the Terrex; the Culvert shed them like water off a duck's back. Speaking of ducks, the Thinsulate is a water repellent/moisture wicking layer, not an insulating layer for which Thinsulate is known. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to ride in anything remotely resembling moisture. While the sides of the shoes have Nevada pinstripes from running against various stiff-branched bushes, the material itself is only scuffed at best; nothing has cut into the nubuck.

How do they hold to the pedals you ask? Quite well. I have Vex Origin 8 pedals on the bike and initially used 8mm pins. The Culvert were noticeable better holding on to the pedals of bumps and rough shifts than the trail runners. I put 10mm pins in and WOW! it's like being glued down but not to a point where you can't move your foot if necessary. The Michelin soles are starting to get pockmarked a bit but even with lots of riding I don't see them wearing very quickly for a recreational rider.

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The soles are holding up quite well after 75 miles on 8 and 10mm pins.

Back to the stiff sole, in its defense the Culvert is built and marketed as a enduro/downhill shoe. I am far from that type of rider. The stiffness would definitely be a positive checkmark for hardcore, heavy duty riders. Having flexed several other flat pedal shoes, I think for the riding I do something with a bit less stiffness *might* be better but I'd rather be on the stiff and burly side instead of going too soft. As with other new things, time will bring familiarity.

The niceties: The Culvert has some features that, while not crucial, add some nice function. The heel cap is highly reflective which is nice if you ride at night and have to negotiate paved streets to return to the trailhead or home. The tongue has a built in pocket to stow the laces and keep them out of chain rings and bushes. To assist getting the shoes on there are functional pull loops, double stitched, that one can actually get a finger into.

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The heel cap is reflective for low light outings.

Overall, the Etnies Culvert MTB flat pedal shoe is a solid, well built, well performing, purpose-built tool. It runs true-to-size. I wear an 11 in most shoes and the Culvert 11 fits well with no toe bang or slop after a bit of break-in time. They're good looking, and are available in four color schemes. There is also a Culvert Mid MTB for those who seek a bit more support and protection around the ankle. I appreciate the opportunity to get into a REAL pair of riding shoes and would not hesitate to suggest the Etnies Culvert or one of the other Etnies MTB shoes to anyone looking to get into a pair or replace a pair.

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After getting some miles, they may be a bit dusty but they're still solid! Note the lace pockets, the heel pull loop, and the hot melted toe caps.

Who is the Culvert for: Those looking for a solid, competitively priced MTB flat shoe for riding rough trails, downhill, or enduro.

Who is the Culvert not for: The casual rider who keeps both wheels on the ground or rides mostly smooth trails. A softer flexing shoe may be more to your liking.

Amateur tip: Don't be put off by how stiff the Culvert is out of the box. They will start flexing more with use.
 
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Andy Mink

Andy Mink

Upside down but trying harder
Moderator
SkiTalk Tester
Joined
Nov 12, 2015
Posts
9,229
Location
Reno
Long Term Update: I've now ridden in the Etnies Culvert MTB for close to 1,000 miles of mostly desert trails with a few tree rides around Tahoe. Rocks, sticks, and and pokey bushes abound. A few rides in the Tucson area provided some sporty cactus riding too. Overall, the Culverts are holding up really well. None of the glued areas are coming loose, the stitching has remained solid, and the material, although scratched by brush and rocks, has not been cut. A couple of solid toe bashes and a few unplanned get-offs have not caused any damage (to the shoes). They remain stiff under foot, giving a good platform from which to pedal. Grip off the bike is like what I've read about many other flat pedal shoes: not their forte. If you get off in loose conditions do be careful. The sole is obviously showing signs of wear but if you had 10mm pins poking you, I imagine you would too! The only time I wasn't comfortable in the Culverts was riding on a "warm" day in January. These are not winter riding shoes, but I knew that going in.

Would I spend money on these (remember, these were provided as test/review shoes)? Yes. I've been impressed with how well they perform from actual riding and pedal feel to how well they hold up getting banged around.

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The soles are still in good condition with plenty of meat left. They are not designed as ground grippers.

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Close up of pin wear

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All the glued and stitched parts are solid.
 

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