When it comes to flat-pedal shoes, the first question that’s usually asked is, “Are they as sticky as Five Tens?” Five Ten has retained the crown of flat-pedal stickiness, despite dethroning attempts by nearly every mountain bike shoe manufacturer out there. Many have come close, but thus far, there has been no equal—that is until now. Unparallel (UP) shoes came into being last year, and despite the brand’s youth, its quick rise to power should come as no surprise taking into account who’s behind the southern-California-based upstart.
Unparallel shoes was started by Sang Lee in 2017. Who is Sang Lee, you ask? Close friends with the founder of Five Ten, Lee handled development and production of Five Ten rock-climbing and bike shoes up until Adidas closed the Five Ten Redlands outlet in 2017 and ceased partnership with Lee’s Fullerton-based factory. After parting ways with Five Ten, Lee started UP and brought along former employees for production in California and for new a UP gym in Redlands where Five Ten headquarters were.
Steve Delacruz, the initial creative director of UP, actually designed the first Five Ten bike shoes back in 2006, which were manufactured by Lee until the 2011 Five Ten acquisition by Adidas. Delacruz’s role has now been taken over by Erik Levandofsy, who has a background in both the technical and sales side of the shoe business. Rounding out the design team is Franck Boistel, who designed shoes for Etnies for twenty years. On North American sales are Jason Jackman and Joel Rocha—Jackman previously tested and developed rubber compounds for Five Ten.
If that weren’t enough, Lee also worked on the design of Teva’s mountain bike shoes through its parent company, Deckers, which brings us back to the new UP’s shoes. If you haven’t already noticed, the West Ridge’s outsole looks a lot like the old Teva’s. There’s a good reason for that because they are Tevas—sort of. In 2014, when Teva stopped making riding shoes, Lee bought the tooling for the Teva’s outsole, and used that design for the basis of UP’s riding shoes.
The soles, on the other hand, are Up’s own creation. Two rubber compounds are co-molded together to create a sole that is super sticky where it interfaces with the pedal (58-63 durometer), and harder at the toe and heal for better durability (70-80 durometer). The sole also changes thickness for the two types of rubber, the center being 4.2 millimeters and the perimeter 3.7 millimeters.
Unparallel makes a few different shoes, the West Ridge being the more freeride/dirt jump-oriented offering. And UP actually changes rubber compounds and sole stiffness for each shoe to achieve different levels of grip. The West Ridge is a “medium soft” stiffness with 58-63 durometer rubber at 4.2 millimeters thick, while the Dust Up, the low-top, all-mountain shoe, is a “medium” stiffness with a softer (and even grippier) 48-50 durometer rubber and a 3.5-millimeter thick sole. That’s a lot of numbers, but the point is that UP has adjusted how each shoe feels to suit each intended use.
Worn side by side with a pair of Five Ten Freerider Pros, I couldn’t tell a difference in grip. They stick to pedals like a proper riding shoe should, even when it’s wet and cold enough for snow to be on the ground. While the outsole is based off of the Teva tooling, the tread design in the area where the pedal grips is very similar to the Five Ten dots, which isn’t much of a surprise considering the history of UP. The midsole stiffness falls somewhere just shy of the Five Ten Freerider Pros, but is a bit stiffer than the regular Freeriders. Long descents haven’t resulted in any foot fatigue, but the sole seems to flex well over the pedal to provide extra grip.
When it comes to durability, I’ve only had the chance to put in a handful of rides on the West Ridge, but the shoes are holding up well. However, in a few small places, the welt has started to peel away, as I’ve seen with nearly every other riding shoe I’ve ever worn. I haven’t exactly babied the West Ridge, and have been doing quite a few hike-a-bikes between my ride-a-bikes, but it’s still a bit disheartening to see this. A couple small drops of super glue seem to have fixed everything up for the moment, but I’ll be keeping on eye on this for the rest of the test.
The West Ridge comes in three colors and in sizes 5-14 (US men’s). Not all sizes and colors are quite in stock yet, but should be in the near future. Sizing and fit is similar to Five Ten, with my pair of US-12 fitting the same as a US-12 Five Ten Impact Pro, and slightly larger than a US-12 Five Ten Freerider Pro.
For a company as new as Unparallel, it sure has come out of the gate swinging hard. With its collective resumé though, it’s not too surprising that a shoe like the West Ridge came to fruition so fast—it’s well thought out and based on the first few weeks of testing, well executed. Stay tuned for a long-term review later this spring.
To learn more about Unparallel shoes, visit their website here.