Review: B’Twin 500-series mountain biking shorts

So I’ve talked about Decathlon and its cycling house brand B’Twin on two separate occasions now: my visit to their branch in Singapore a few months before we got our own, and my test of their 500-series cycling bib shorts. But what about our mountain biking brethren?

I lauded the bib shorts for their low, low price, but one could say their MTB baggy shorts are an even better deal. Coming home from that initial trip to the Singapore Decathlon store, I had purchased one pair of their 500-series baggy shorts for the equivalent of PhP680 in our money – or PhP750 when bought locally. I’ve been wearing them for about ten months now, primarily on my ride to work. Let’s see how they’ve held up.

FEATURES

  • Designed for occasional riding
  • Offered in sizes S-3XL; size XL tested
  • Snag-resistant fabric
  • Three pockets
  • Belt loops on waistband
  • No chamois pad

IMPRESSIONS

While these shorts are a little loose around the waist, the length and cut are spot-on.

Immediately obvious is the slightly odd sizing on these shorts. When it comes to spandex, I’m used to the XL size, but these same-size baggies fit pretty loose around my waist, necessitating use of a belt at all times. The shorts would slowly fall off my ass, otherwise.

They’re the correct length, though, with a hem that terminates just over the knee, and a nice cut that tapers toward the bottom. This slight tapering towards the leg opening ensures that the fabric doesn’t snag on your bike or your water bottles as you pedal or dismount and remount.

Out of curiosity, I had another pair in the next-smaller L size, and they were clearly too small – there wasn’t enough in the waist to let me close the top button. The smaller shorts never made it to my saddle.

Attached to B’Twin’s own liner shorts. Photo from decathlon.ph

Hidden in the waistband are a pair of small buttons. They are unobtrusive, and they sit on your left and right flanks when you wear the shorts, but it seems like they’re in there to hook up to a pair of liner shorts on days when you want to ride with a chamois pad on your bum. I thought that was a neat bit of design. Unfortunately, I was never able to test these as I don’t have liner shorts.

My only real complaint: no rear pockets.

The two waist pockets have a very useful depth, and the third pocket on the right thigh is set at a slight angle, covered by a flap you can lock with a button. While the pockets were all great, I wish B’Twin had added a few more, such as two on the bum and another on the left thigh.

My shorts are black, and its fabric is pretty hard-wearing. It’s stood up to repeated launderings just fine, with nothing in the way of threads coming loose or discoloration. That large white B’Twin logo on the left thigh is still there, unlike the reflective B’Twin logo accent on their bib shorts that peels off easily. Worn off the bike, it’s quite easy to live with these shorts as casual wear.

Looking at the seat area shows just how well these shorts have held up. There are a few tiny areas where the threads got worked off their stitches, but nothing catastrophic. More importantly, the fabric shows very little sign of friction wear; no danger here of wearing a hole through these shorts after a year’s worth of riding.

VERDICT

Admittedly, these are a pretty basic pair of shorts. Then again, they do the basics pretty damn well, and cost a very reasonable price. They even have thoughtful touches like the buttons for liner shorts. For bike commute duty, Decathlon’s offering is money well spent, in my opinion.

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The clipless diaries, part 8: SPD cleat setup and adjustment

So I wrote about my new pair of Shimano MT5 shoes, and mentioned that I had already set up my cleat positioning. Here’s how I went about doing it.

You’ll need

  • shoes with two-bolt cleat mounting
  • two cleat nuts
  • waterproof sticker (bundled with many of Shimano’s shoes)
  • an SPD cleat set – I used my old SH56 multi-release cleats
  • a 4 mm hex wrench
  • a torque wrench
  • grease or thread locking compound (e.g. Loctite 243 blue)
  • a bike mounted on a turbo trainer will help massively

A look at the MT5’s outsole shows the cleat pocket, and the two parallel slots within it that are cut into the midsole material. On the photo above, they are covered up by the insole, so that has to come out first.

With the insole removed, we see the midsole. Molded in its front toebox area is a recessed pocket for accepting a cleat nut.

Provided in the box along with these shoes is the rectangular cleat nut, with four holes tapped to accept the threads of the two cleat bolts. Also provided is a sheet of two large, rectangular waterproof stickers, but we’ll get to those later. For now, just drop the cleat nut into the recessed pocket on the inside of the midsole.

Take your cleat bolts and smear the threads with a bit of grease or medium-strength thread locker. While holding the cleat nut in place inside the shoe, thread the cleat nut through the SPD cleat and tighten it with your hex wrench so it’s just snug, but loose enough for adjustment.

What I like to do to find my initial cleat position is put on the shoe and feel where the ball of my foot is along the length of the outsole, then mark it with my finger or a piece of tape. That usually serves as a good baseline. Line up the widest part of the cleat along with the position of the ball of your foot, then tighten with your hex wrench.

Test the position by pedaling a few times on the turbo trainer. If the position feels off, dismount, loosen the cleat bolts, then adjust and retighten. Then try again.

Not wearing the MT5s here, but you know what I mean.

In the case of the MT5s, I had to make a few adjustments. I moved the cleats to push out the shoes away from the crank arms to avoid interference, and brought them closer to the balls of my feet. Keep retesting each change until you’re satisfied.

Once you’ve found your final cleat position, break out the torque wrench and tighten the cleat bolts to 5-6 Nm. It’s important to tighten the two bolts alternately by a little bit until you get to correct torque, as tightening only one side too much will throw the cleat position out of whack.

With the cleats torqued down and set, peel off the waterproof sticker from its backing and put it on the recessed midsole cleat pocket, behind the cleat nut. Return the insole, and you should be ready to ride.

The clipless diaries, part 7: Shimano MT5 mountain touring shoes

I’ve had my Shimano RT33 road touring shoes for a while now, and they’ve held up very well in all sorts of riding – from the turbo trainer, to the commute, to long rides, and even a 200-kilometer audax. They’ve seen better days, though, and walking around in them has worn down the outsole, leading to increasingly frequent cases of the cleats clicking and cracking on hard floors and tiles.

My wife and I saw the revamped Shimano road touring line when we visited Y’s Road in Shinjuku, but were put off by the price. The lace-up RT4 and Velcro-strapped RT5 shoes, as spiffy as they are, each cost more than double my RT33s, so there went my plan of trading like for like.

Shimano RT4 (SH-RT400) road touring shoe

Shimano RT5 (SH-RT500) road touring shoe

While the RT4 and RT5 don’t seem to have made it to our shores, the locally available MT5 (SH-MT500) caught my eye. I picked these up for PhP4550 at Bike Town Cyclery along Chino Roces Ave. Extension in Makati.

A surprise lurked within the box. Shimano throws in a pair of ankle-high white socks for free…and they’re really nice socks. The only complaint I have with them is the shouty Shimano embroidery on the front of the ankle cuff.

The shoes come either in this deep orange-tinted red, or in an all-black colorway with tiny blue accents. Normally I avoid the color, but that red really does it for me; it comes close to the orange Giro used on its nice but pricey Terraduro.

Too many mountain bike shoes look like they escaped from a skate park. It’s not a look I’m a fan of, which is why I gravitated towards the lithe road shoe looks of the RT33s in the first place. The MT5s look more like a normal sneaker, with just enough “chunk” – much like the Terraduro I mentioned.

The MT5’s upper smacks of intelligent design all around. Closure is by a single Velcro strap at the top, with elastic “speed laces” tightened by a drawstring closure at the middle. Putting them on and off my feet is a quick and easy affair, while retaining the fine fit adjustment available with lace-up sneakers.

The slider for tightening the laces has a hook at the end, which is intended to catch on the bottom run of laces. This secures them against getting tangled in your chain and chainrings. Neat.

That “X” on the Velcro strap and the ankle loop at the back are gray for a reason: they’re reflective. Really neat.

While the MT5 is part of a revamped Shimano shoe lineup, its knobbly lugged rubber outsole is actually carried over from older models, such as the MT34 and MT44.

Shimano SH-MT34 mountain touring shoe. The MT5 carries over its lugged outsole.

Walking around in it reveals why. Compared to the RT33 and its stiff outsoles, which you rocked back to front to walk, these MT5s are very comfortable to walk in. They move with your foot, with flexible feel and mechanical grip almost as good as a decent hiking or running shoe. Coupled with a roomy toe box, I feel I can really live in these kicks. (They’re still clumsy to drive a car with, at best.)

Shimano does rate them lower for stiffness. They come up to a 4 on their 12-point scale compared to the RT33’s rating of 5, so that may become an issue on an audax-distance ride.

RT33 vs MT5, front view

RT33 vs MT5, side view

At size 44, the MT5s are larger and bulkier overall than my same-size RT33s. Cleats fitted, I had to push them outward slightly to avoid them bashing into the crank arms while pedaling. They also have double the RT33’s stack height from the thicker outsole.

MT5s on my feet, along with the bundled ankle-high socks.

The MT5s look like a pretty normal shoe.

Despite the slightly lower stiffness, the MT5s behaved well while I was doing high-intensity intervals on the turbo trainer – quite similar to the RT33s when clipped in. The tight heel cup, in particular, is palpable; I can feel it positively surrounding my heels as I walk around or pedal.

So far, color me impressed.