FLR DEFENDER MTB THERMAL DRY S-TEX BOOT
1009g 44 (as tested) £119.99
The FLR Defender MTB Thermal Dry S-Tex Boot are aimed at mountain bikers but have proved a great option for wet, mucky wintry roads - just leave the optional studs off. They also represent fantastic value for money. My one minor gripe is the cover flap. While it does settle, with wear, the ankle closure can creep open, allowing very heavy rain to seep inside on longer rides, or following partial immersion.
Pros: Fit, temperate and generally very comfortable.
Cons: Outer closure tab cut merits revision.
These are described as shoes but booties by my reckoning. Semantics, and opinion aired, they’re really well made for the money. The uppers are coated Codura Nylon with a DryS-Tex water resistant membrane and a thin pile fleece lining all designed to keep things temperate and dry.
The internal closure mechanism is a toggle affair, the outer, Velcro, which is simple and generally reliable system (albeit less convenient than the ‘boa’ type found on more expensive shoes/booties). The top Velcro “storm flap” completes the seal and both are easily adjusted/removed in thick, winter weight gloves. A neoprene cuff continues this warm, weather repelling theme. Round the back there is a composite heel and subtle retro-reflective logos/detailing.
The M520 sole is a nylon composite reinforced with glass fibre. The outer soles’ moderately aggressive tread and grippy TPU walking pads and optional studs for good bite on gooey/slippery roads/trails. More rigid than the FLR Rexston but more compliant than a competitive race shoe, which is probably the sweet spot for a winter bootie. It is drilled for SPD/Time and similar twin bolt cleat systems.
Most size guides are pretty accurate these days and using the slightly lazy “one-size up from street shoe” paid off. Our 44 fitted me perfectly. Fit is snug - no issues with summer weight road socks; the sensibly proportioned toe box and supple upper readily entertains thicker/water repellent models, including these Oxford Products OX Socks .
Power Transfer/Sole 3.75/5
This is stiffer than the Rexston but come compliant than my Quoc Pham defaults and for me, FLR have got the balance bang on. Especially on an MTB design, given there’s going to be sometime when you’re going to be walking/carrying the bike.
Whether doing faster 90minute blasts, taking in several big climbs on my fixed, or longer, steadier miles on the Univega, power transfer was very efficient. No hint of power robbing flex or at the other extreme, restricted blood flow, hot spots around the balls of my feet. I also attribute middling cuff height to the lack of restriction felt around the ankles.
Grip and traction say when running with the bike cyclo-cross style, has been reassuringly dependable. The pattern is less aggressive than some, but I’m pleased to report it doesn’t trap mud very readily and sheds the impacted stuff better than I was expecting - no issues with dis/engaging cleats in boggy conditions, either.
Breathability/Water Resistance 3.5/5
Given the synthetic construction, I have been suitably impressed by how well they have regulated temperature. I’ve used ours in conditions ranging from +12 to freezing and regardless of sock choice/tog weight my feet have felt uniformly temperate. No clamminess, no discomfort, even when I’ve been hustling along at 90-100rpm in unseasonably mild conditions.
At the other extreme, bitterly cold December winds have been felt tugging at the outer fabric but the Defenders have kept them outside. They are highly water-resistant but not proof. Submerge them, and they will begin sucking in water. This can be via the cleat drillings, or around the cuff-line.
Dabbing a foot down into an unexpectedly deep puddle, or two and you’ll be fine. Tackling calf-deep flooding, such as this lane will result in damp to very wet feet, depending on whether you’re riding, or shouldering the bike and running.
Thankfully, they still retain warmth, thanks to the fleece lining and neoprene cuff. Talking of which, while it has relaxed with use and is mildly irritating, rather than a deal-breaker, the Velcro cover and ankle closure would benefit from redesign. At present, it requires careful tethering, otherwise they tend to peel away and pop open, which can allow mucky ingress inside.
The Defender are very easy to live with. A quick damp rag wipe-over is sufficient for dismissing mild to moderate dirt. Caked on stuff is best shifted using a gel type bike cleaner and a medium soft brush, such as the Zefal ZB Wash Brush. Impacted mud is easily dismissed from the soles with a medium stiff brush, such as Oxford Products Tyre Scrub , while rinsing the soles under the outside tap is particularly efficient. Get them sodden and bank on 12 hours, at room temperature before they’re dry enough for wearing again. I’ve done 900miles in ours, 600 along cold, waterlogged lanes, the remainder a mix of lanes and bridle path. To date, materials seem hardy and there are no obvious signs of deterioration/potential weak spots.
£120 is hardly cheap but the defender are relatively inexpensive compared with other winter “bootie” designs and all told, offer decent bang for buck. Personally, I’d lay out the extra and go with Shimano MW5, if you’re sold on extended, competitive paced off road fun. XLC Winter Shoes CB MO7 come in at £135, Lake MX180 are £150 and boast a commensurately higher spec.
Those wanting a hell 'n’ high water model for competitive cross country mountain biking would probably be better served spending more. However, I’ve grown very fond of the Defender. If you are seeking a warm, highly weather resistant “bootie” for general winter riding and more moderate trail action, the FLR defender are a competent, and affordable, option.