Most of the flat pedal shoes you see on the trail today are in a totally different ballpark from the repurposed skate shoes we had 15 years ago. But did everyone really want to be in a totally different ballpark? Maybe some of us just want to change the rules of the game a bit.
The folks at Afton Shoes recently came on the scene with aims to do exactly that. The Southern California brand just introduced the Keegan, a flat-pedal shoe that looks remarkably mild mannered. It takes its inspiration directly from the skate and BMX shoes we're used to seeing off the trail and added some subtle but significant tech to make them better on the trail.
The outsole is a rubber of Afton’s own recipe and, of course, of its own catchy sub-brand name; Intact. It has a slightly softer durometer than Five.Ten's Stealth rubber. And just inside the outsole is Afton’s innovative shank that's shaped a lot like a paddle-ball paddle, paddle under the front of the foot and handle towards the heel. And the entire sole assembly is a bit thinner than most trail boots.
That is exactly what drew me to the Afton Keegan. I don't always want a trail boot. Sometimes I want to have a better sense of the bike. I want the precision I get when I slap on my Half Cabs for a sesh at the skatepark. But I also don't want to be sore by the time I get to the bottom of the trail.
Hitting the trail in the Keegans for the first time got me all nostalgic. It brought me back to when I wasn't compelled to get strapped up in bib shorts and draped in moisture-wicking fabric for every ride. They just feel like shoes. That also got me nervous. I was on a trail I'd never done in a country I'd never been, and it had rained all night. I was dropping in on the hand-built, raw masterpieces on the island of Madeira for my first ride on the Keegans. And despite my anxiety, my new shoes handled the new trails gracefully. The tiny micro-adjustments that are necessary in less-than-ideal conditions felt easier and more natural with the intimate feel these shoes offered. But I don't mean they had the deep wrap-around that my skate shoes do. That's ok on smooth, short rides or on my smooth, tall dirt jumps. But it can lead to painful pressure points. Afton's shank technology, on the other hand, kept the pedal from digging in across the arch and in front of the ball of my feet. And it had a subtle leaf-spring effect during impacts when I was white-toe-knuckling through a section. It seemed like grip increased in those critical moments and with no consequence to comfort.
In repeated high-speed high-intensity chatter, the Keegans don't have the slow-rebound deadening effect that burlier, more substantial shoes have. If I was correcting body position or simply hanging on through a fast rough section, some impacts were able to bounce my foot off-axis. But when I was centered and confident with my feet planted, they stayed planted.
When it was time to plant them in the ground, that familiar feel of a skate shoe came back. The light and supple build may not be ideal for long walks up deep scree fields where my hoof-like Five.Tens dig their own steps. But on more technical, varied terrain, I felt like I was running on mountain lion paws. The thin end of the shank allows the sole to flex while walking. And combined with the low-cut ankle, that makes the Keegans ideal for ballet moves across ruts and over rocks.
And despite their technology, they dont look like moon boots. Though they live in my garage, I feel quite naturally grabbing them to wear for a day out in the real world. And they feel quite natural being there. They aptly bridge the gap between too much and too little. Between new school and Old Skool.