Etnies is an extreme sports brand that needs no introduction, its roots are planted in the worlds of Skateboarding and BMX; where it's produced some of the most iconic shoe designs for some of the world's best known riders. And of late it's delved into the realms of mountain biking with a line-up of new shoes designed alongside a host of well-known pro riders to perform on everything from slopestyle to downhill mountain biking.
Etnies packs a serious punch in the extreme sports world, but does its gravity-focused Culvert shoe perform as well as the best MTB flat pedal shoes and our current favorite MTB kicks? Keep scrolling as Bike Perfect hits the trails to find out.
Design and aesthetics
In our opinion, the Etnies Culvert is one of, if not the best-looking MTB shoes currently on the market. With an aesthetic derived from the world of skateboarding, it blends casual skate shoe looks with a host of features that are said to be mountain bike specific.
At the base of the shoe lies a Michelin branded sole, which according to Etnies, uses its softest, grippiest rubber blend to date. The tread pattern uses a shallow cross-section tread pattern across the pedal zone with deeper, chunkier tread at the toe and heel to help provide traction when hike-a-biking.
The desired sole stiffness is provided by a TPU molded shank, which is on the stiffer side of the spectrum with aim of offering the required stiffness and comfort for enduro/downhill disciplines. Adding to this comfort internally is a Pro Foam molded PU insole that visually looks like it’ll do a stellar job of providing support and impact protection.
While the upper portion of the shoe may look casual it’s not short of technical features. The synthetic upper of the Culvert is manufactured using a force shield reinforced upper which is then lined using 3M Thinsulate - these two work together to block moisture and keep feet warm on colder days. Tongue gussets add to this and offer protection against the elements and prevent stray dirt from finding its way in. There’s also a neat lace pocket on top of the tongue to keep lace loops safely away from any moving parts.
Hot-melted toe and heel caps are in place to offer protection from on-trail obstacles and pull loops on the heels make putting them on a cinch. Retailing at $133.99 / £95.99 the Culvert is cheaper than most first-rate gravity shoes without any obvious differences in the overall construction.
If you’re looking for additional ankle protection, Etnies offers a mid-top version of the Culvert. They cost slightly more but are worth considering, especially if you’re jumping and jibbing.
Etnies will also plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold - credit to Etnies here, this gets props from the Bike Perfect crew.
Ultimately, the most important feature of any flat pedal shoe is the level of physical grip they have on the pedals. The contributing factors to this grip tend to be the tread pattern, sole shape, and most importantly of all, rubber compound. The best shoes for mountain biking usually have all three of these, and the good ones maybe have one or two, ultimately, the Etnies Culvert falls into the ‘good’ category. The rubber compound itself is brilliant, it’s well-damped and holds onto the pedal pins with good security, however we can’t help but feel the shape of the sole and tread pattern limit the potential of the Michelin rubber. Take a look at the pictures to see how the sole of the shoe tapers in towards the mid-sole, due to this being in the ‘pedal zone’ it limits support and reduces how much of the shoe is actually in contact with the pedal - when compared to our current favorite shoes the slim Culvert uses fewer pins and overall pedal surface.
In our experience, the best shoes use a dotted or waffle tread pattern in the ‘pedal zones’. These tread patterns just seem to seamlessly mesh best with most pedals and pins currently on the market. We think the Culvert’s performance could be increased by switching to a similar design, currently, it feels like the crossed tread pattern doesn't grab the pedal pins as well as the best. Again this could be down to the shape of the sole and how it tapers in towards the center.
It’s worth stressing the rubber is good and there’s plentiful grip on offer, but the above factors do seem to hold the Culvert back from beating the best.
Under power the stiffness to sole flex ratio feels great, there’s enough support to prevent any foot pain on longer descents, yet there’s enough flex that your foot still wraps around the pedal to add further traction and maintain a good pedal feel.
The upper itself is stiff too meaning there’s a predictable connection when changing direction quickly or stamping on the pedals out of your favorite turn. For a non-winter-specific shoe, the Culvert also does a superb job of keeping your feet warm a dry, something that’s especially useful year-round in the UK.
Following on from a tough summer of riding and digging and our test shoes are still looking remarkably fresh, which leads us to believe they’re manufactured to last.
While the sole could be wider and we’d prefer to see a slightly different tread pattern, the Etnies Culvert still provides sufficient grip on the trail and looks awesome while doing so. The sensible price, huge size range and perfect aesthetic make them a good choice for modern gravity-focused riders, but the performance isn’t quite good enough for them to become our new favorite everyday riding kicks.
Tech Specs: Etnies Culvert flat pedal shoe
- Colors: Black/Orange, Grey/Red, Black/Lime (mid-top only)
- Sizing: EU36 - EU48 (inc 1/2 sizes)
- Price: $133.99 / £95.99