The Best Mountain Biking Shoe You Are Not Using?
Product Managers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to build the right product, for the right audience. Sometimes in that pursuit, they accidentally also build the perfect product for an unintended customer. Such is the case with the Trainer from NOBULL Project.
When it comes to mountain biking, I am of the flats-for-life camp when it comes to downhill and cross-country. It is with that in mind that I make the following audacious statement: “The NOBULL Trainer is the best mountain biking shoe you are not using.”
The NOBULL product line is built specifically with crossfitters in mind. Every product they build is intended to perform in a variety of scenarios. NOBULL’s competitors took a strong technical approach to solving the problems of an athlete who needed to combine the best benefits of a trainer, lifter, and running shoe in a single platform.
NOBULL took the opposite approach: they went simple.
Déjà vu: 1999.
When I picked up my first pair of NOBULL trainers two years ago I was immediately reminded of the BMX and skate shoes of the late 1990’s. At that time companies like Airwalk, Vans, Etnies, DC, and even Puma were cashing in on the Extreme Sports craze creating products for X-Games hopefuls. Though the products of the day were not the best quality, they were highly functional. Especially the gum outsole, which seems to stick-like-glue to skateboard decks and platform pedals.
Etnies Barge LS in Black/Grey/Silver
SuperFabric Used in NOBULL Trainers
The biggest problem with those kicks from the ‘90’s was durability, a problem that NOBULL has solved through supplying upper materials from SuperFabric. To be clear, SuperFabric is not proprietary to NOBULL. Companies from Birkenstocks to Vans and Rocky Boots all produce footwear made from SuperFabric. SuperFabric has been used to make jackets, pants, bags, and during the authors days in soft goods development, gloves. It also found it way into the 2012 model year Ferrari’s.
SuperFabric was first invented by Dr. Yong-Hwa Kim in 1996, with its first commercial application coming in the form of a fishing glove in 2000. For the next eight years SuperFabric was primarily used in Outdoor applications, until it showed up on footwear in the 2008 Olympic games.
The core performance characteristics of SuperFabric are its durability, abrasion resistance, stain resistance, breathability, quick-drying qualities, slash/cut resistance, its weight, and the fact that it is environmentally friendly.
In terms of crossfit, but more specifically mountain biking, the SuperFabric alone is worth considering the NOBULL trainer above all others.
In no uncertain terms, to answer a question asked by many:
is SuperFabric worth the money? Yes. Without a doubt, yes.
Construction of NOBULL Trainers
In terms of construction, there is nothing groundbreaking about the NOBULL trainer. However, that does not mean that it is not well thought out. There is but a single seam on the upper, located in the heel under a piece of branded seam sealer. Aside from that, you will not find a single stitch or pressure point on the upper. Whether we’re cutting trail, or doing burpee box jumps, we can all appreciate that.
It should be noted that the upper is available in two materials: SuperFabric and leather. For the purposes of summer in South Texas, I opted to use the slightly more breathable leather version, because when it’s 110 degrees, you need all the help you can get. However, my fiancé constantly rides with the SuperFabric version, with little complaint.
Regardless of which upper you choose, the build notes are the same: no seams, no pressure points, and lots of breathability.
The footbed of the NOBULL trainer is unremarkable with a simple insole, but because of this, pedal feel is unparalleled
The footbed of the NOBULL trainer is unremarkable with a simple insole, but because of this, pedal feel is unparalleled.
When I use this shoe for CrossFit, I appreciate the simplicity of the footbed for the same reasons I do on the trail: feel. I would be remiss if I did not point out that this shoe is not a runner. It suffices when an athlete is performing 400-meter intervals, but for anything more than that, this shoe will punish your foot, knees, and back.
The midsole of the NOBULL trainer seems to be made of a composite similar to the gum outsole. One build note that I would like to point out is the quality of the workmanship in joining the mid- and outsole. When I purchase shoes, one of the first things I investigate is the care with which the layers of the product are assembled.
One build note that I would like to point out is the quality of the workmanship in joining the mid- and outsole
For example, I have yet to find a pair of Under Armour anything that do not have excess glue coming out from every press-point. Contrast that to a Nike shoe, such as the Metcon, or the NOBULL trainer, where you find little evidence of bonding compound, and the buyer can be confident that the materials will not separate any time soon.
The gum outsole on the NoBull training is pure 1999 bliss
The gum outsole on the NOBULL training is pure 1999 bliss. With an added benefit coming from the fact that even the spikiest of platforms do not shred the material. I will admit, the 16-year-old in me who wore his tore-up outsoles as a form of hardcore honor is a little bummed that the outsole is so durable, but the mid-to-late 30’s consumer is certainly impressed by the durability.
The outsole sticks like glue to the platform, holds its own when traversing rocky cliffs, but does get sketchy when things get wet. If the rocks you are trying to navigate are wet, you will likely slip.
Fit of the NOBULL Trainers
The NOBULL trainers fit true-to-size, and the company produces consistently sized products across materials and upper heights.
As mentioned before, I have not experienced any hotspots or pressure points when riding or training in these shoes.
No frills, they simply work and take punishment with a smile.
No frills, NOBULL trainers simply work and take punishment with a smile
Durability of the NOBULL Trainers
Back to the idea of Texas riding, most days I will happily trade breathability, but on days the cacti are exceptionally aggressive, I sure wish I had opted for the puncture resistant SuperFabric variant. For those of you who often ride Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona, I’m certain that you can relate.
On days the cacti are exceptionally aggressive, I sure wish I had opted for the puncture resistant SuperFabric variant
A common complaint of the SuperFabric variant of the NOBULL trainer is that the “nubs” can fall off. I have noticed this in areas of the shoe where there is flex: near the collar, mid-point of the upper; however, we should note that this does not degrade performance.
With regard to the leather shoe, the only defect that I noticed is in the leather tongue. The leather becomes brittle after repeated exposure to excessive sweat. However, once I moisturized the leather, the tongue returned to its initial supple state, and the upper material looked as good as new.
Bottom Line on the NOBULL Trainers
It is very possible that the NOBULL trainer is the mountain bike shoe you have been longing for
It is very possible that the NOBULL trainer is the mountain bike shoe you have been longing for. NOBULL is currently in growth mode, trying to keep up with the demands of their CrossFit market. They are frequently dropping new colorways and variants of their tried-and-true Trainer.
Interested in more mountain bike content? Check out 10 Lessons I Learned While Mountain Biking.
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